Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. A practitioner of shamanism is known as a shaman, pronounced /ˈʃɑːmən/, /ˈʃeɪmən/, (|ˈshämən; ˈshā-|) noun (pl. -man(s)). There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world and several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Shamans are intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. They can treat illness and are capable of entering supernatural realms to provide answers for humans.
There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world; and several common beliefs are shared by all forms of shamanism. Common beliefs, identified by Eliade (1964) are the following:
- Spirits exist and they play important roles both in individual lives and in human society.
- The shaman can communicate with the spirit world.
- Spirits can be good or evil.
- The shaman can treat sickness caused by evil spirits.
- The shaman can employ trance inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy.
- The shaman's spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers.
- The shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers. Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. In contrast to organized religions like animism or animatism which are led by priests and which all members of a society practice, shamanism requires individualized knowledge and special abilities. Shaman operate outside established religions, and, traditionally, they operate alone. Shaman can gather into associations, as Indian tantric practitioners have done.
- Shamans perform a variety of functions depending upon their respective cultures: healing; leading a sacrifice; preserving the tradition by storytelling and songs; fortune-telling; acting as a psychopomp (literal meaning, “guide of souls”). In some cultures, a shaman may fulfill several functions in one person.
The necromancer in Greek mythology might be considered a shaman as the necromancer could rally spirits and raise the dead to utilize them as slaves, soldiers and tools for divination.
The functions of a shaman may include either guiding to their proper abode the souls of the dead (which may be guided either one-at-a-time or in a cumulative group, depending on culture), and/or curing (healing) of ailments. The ailments may be either purely physical afflictions -- such as disease, which may be cured by flattering, threatening, or wrestling the disease-spirit (sometimes trying all these, sequentially), and which may be completed by displaying some supposedly extracted token of the disease-spirit (displaying this, even if "fraudulent", is supposed to impress the disease-spirit that it has been, or is in the process of being, defeated, so that it will retreat and stay out of the patient's body) --, or else mental (including psychosomatic) afflictions -- such as persistent terror (on account of some frightening experience), which may be likewise cured by similar methods. Usually in most languages a different term, other than the one translated "shaman", is applied to a religious official ("priest") leading sacrificial rites, or to a reconteur ("sage") of traditional lore; there may be more of an overlap in functions (with than of a shaman), however, in the case of an interpreter of omens or of dreams.