It is very common for people to confuse shamanism with the type of work done by medicine men and medicine women in tribal societies. Whereas, not all medicine people are shamans. In fact, most medicine men and women are not shamans. Many (shamans) fill social roles more like that of priests. To most Native people the shaman is seen as an all-around sacred practitioner, healer, herbalist, doctor, mystic, storyteller, dancer, and singer of songs. Hopefully, the information in this paper will help to eliminate some of the Western misinterpretations about who the shaman really is and the role in which they truly play within their society.
The Native American Shaman:
The Source of Sacred Knowledge
The first thing that comes to mind (to most Westerners) when the word, "Shaman" is used, is witch doctor, magic, medicine man, medium or psychic. Each of these words has its own certain connotation or implication, some of which is filled with superstition and negativity. But if we truly want to understand who the shaman really is, it is important to understand first, that the word, shaman was chosen from the language of the Tungus tribe in Siberia. And it is not a Native American term (Beck et. al, pg.96). The word (shaman) was specifically chosen by anthropologists, in order to accurately describe certain individuals in native societies who perform specific responsibilities in their community (Doore, pg.7). The shaman was often seen as an all-around sacred practitioner; a mystic, a doctor, an herbalist, a diagnostician, a hunter, a dancer, a singer, a storyteller, an artist and a person of knowledge (Beck et. al, pg.100).
It is very common for people to confuse shamanism with the type of work done by medicine men and medicine women in tribal societies. Whereas, not all medicine people are shamans. In fact, most medicine men and women are not shamans. Many (shamans) fill social roles more like that of priests. An important difference between a shaman and a priest is that a shaman "journeys" and otherwise works in "another" reality while in an altered state of consciousness; whereas, priests work basically in an "ordinary" reality (Doore, pg. 9).
According to Mircea Eliade, a great scholar of comparative religion, "a shaman is a man or woman who "journeys" in an altered state of consciousness, usually induced by rhythmic drumming or other types of percussion sound or in some cases by the use of psychoactive drugs"(Doore, pg.7). These "journeys" are made in order to help members of their community in a number of different ways. For instance, the shaman may journey for the purpose of diagnosing or treating an illness, for divine guidance or prophecy, for acquisition of power through interaction with "spirits", "power animals", and "guardians" or other spiritual entities. The purpose of the shaman making contact with guides or teachers of the spirit world is to solicit advice on tribal...