Shamanism is a blanket term for a way of perceiving the universe. It is not a religion or a philosophy, and cannot be explained in terms of formalized practices. Shamanism cuts across cultures and centuries, and exists as a relationship between the physical and the spiritual worlds themselves.
Ideally, the physical and spiritual worlds can be perceived as integrated and wholly one, as shamans believe they are. It is the act of this merged interpretation of human experience that sets the shaman apart. When the shaman is most deeply invested in this perception of physical and spiritual reality, he or she can be said to be in an ecstatic state. This state will vary from person to person, perhaps being quietly meditative and trance-like or even full of energy and dancing. It is often referred to simply as an altered state of consciousness, which is a broad enough term to encompass many kinds of practices. A shaman, however he or she practices his or her craft, is one who has mastery over the altered state, and in doing so sees the spirit world with conscious eyes.
A shaman navigates the world of spirit alongside the world of physical experience. But what exactly is spirit?
The concept of spirit is almost beyond definition by its very nature. Spirit defies physical limits, labels, and laws. For instance, spirit can be thought of as energy, but in doing so, one ought not to think merely of energy as it is defined in science texts. Often, explanations of spirit sound puzzling. Spirit is that which exists when all else doesn’t; and spirit is the force behind all forces. Spirit may be described as Being itself. Spirit is, and always has.
Most shamanic beliefs include the existence of individual spirits, as well as archetypal spirits, nature spirits and god-like spirits. A river might have a specific spirit or it may simply embody the Spirit of River – and also both, simultaneously. A spirit might be human, animal, natural (as in vegetable or mineral), otherworldly, or any other concept of being.
A shaman establishes real relationships with spirit and spirits. These relationships empower him or her to better navigate the spiritual world and take action within it. The work of the shaman is to mediate between the spirit world and the physical world for the benefit of others. The benefit provided is broadly defined as healing work. A person who consults a shaman might experience physical healing as a result, but what is really being healed is the balance and relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds relating to that person in some way.
All shamans work differently, thus in practice it is deeply personal. If you consult a shaman for healing, the messages, advice, and healing you may receive will, on the surface, reveal how the shaman interacts with the spiritual world. However, there is no one “right” way of preforming a healing. The one strict rule with regard to shamanism is the necessity for a relationship between the shaman and spirit; how that relationship works or is expressed is freely open.
There has been controversy over the use of the term “shaman”, and also the dangers of appropriating another culture’s beliefs and traditions. However, spirit relationships are open to all.
If you feel drawn to shamanism, you are experiencing first and foremost a side of your humanity, as you are yourself a being of spirit. With effort and humility you will discover whether you are being called to be a spirit-worker yourself. But whatever the calling is, pay attention to spirit as you would to the physical world, and open yourself to the relationship that spirit can offer.
For more on this topic, please visit my shamanic site, Spirit Walking Wild: https://spiritsent.wordpress.com/