The Roots of Shamanism

The Roots of Shamanism 

The Roots of Shamanism

Painting by Howard G Charing

Shamanism is a religious practice found in many parts of the world. It refers to various belief systems that involve communicating with the spirit world. In some anthropological and religious circles, Shamans are regarded as intermediaries between the natural world and spiritual realm. Although Shaman belief systems are found across the world, variations in practice are evident. However, some of the basic beliefs regarding Shamanism are that spirits may be good or bad and can play a significant role in human life; Shamans can liaise with spirits to bring good to the community; and Shamans have the power to heal the sick and also have magical and psychic powers.

Role of a Shaman

The role of a Shaman tends to vary from one culture to another. Typical Shaman roles include dream interpreter, herbalist, magician, mediator, medicine man, rainmaker, spiritual advisor and priest. A Shaman may be a man or woman. In most cases, Shamans command a great deal of respect in the community. Their powers are associated with the supernatural and may also be inherited. However, even those who take up the role as a result of heredity must undergo intensive training that leads to being initiated into the role.


The history of Shamanism dates back to prehistoric times. It is a spiritual belief system that is closely related to animism, which is widely regarded as one of the oldest belief systems in the world. Animism upholds the belief that all creatures and objects have a soul. It is not clear exactly when Shamanism arose. However, the word “Shaman” is believed to have originated in Siberia. Based on findings in a cave in Siberia, archaeologists estimated that this spiritual belief system was about

The Roots of Shamanism painting by Howard G Charing

The Roots of Shamanism
painting by Howard G Charing

50,000 years old. In the 19th century, anthropologists studying indigenous nomadic herders in Siberia observed that their spiritual healers had unique practices. These healers were referred to as Shamans by the local communities. Later, linguistic researchers discovered that these tribes had in fact branched out from one ancient original tribe, a process which occurred over several thousand years. The researchers further discovered that originally, before the tribes branched into numerous separate ways, the only Shamans were female. Once these findings were published, anthropologists across the world adopted the term “Shamans”. Since ancient times, Shamanism has been used as a healing and restorative practice. Human beings, animals, plants and the entire planet all benefit from the role of the Shaman in society. This is because Shamans often make journeys into the spiritual realm to seek help for the community. Once the Shaman receives this help, he/she journeys back into the natural world to advice people on specific issues. This makes the Shaman a powerful medium for channeling help to people. Shamans play a vital role in maintaining an ongoing relationship between the natural and spiritual world.

Western Shamanism
Shamanism is firmly established in modern Western culture. In the USA, the practice has grown considerably partly because of New Age movements. Various organizations advance Shamanic practices as a way to promote healthy living and viable communities. Online training on Shamanic practices is also available for those who wish to learn more about this ancient system of beliefs.

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What is Shamanism? Retrieved April 3, 2012. Alehzon Sacred Journeys.
What is Shamanism? Retrieved April 3, 2012. Shaman Portal.
Shamanism our Ancient Roots Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism