A guide to spiritual traditions – What is a shaman?

What is a shaman?

For some people, the word 'shaman' conjures up images of a malevolent tribal character who dabbles in hexes and curses. While this depiction may be popular in Hollywood, the reality is often very different. 

Shamans have existed across many cultures throughout history, so it can be difficult to describe a single set of characteristics that applies to all practitioners. 

However, there are a number of powers and abilities commonly linked to most shamans that make them essential spiritual guides for their communities. 

This guide will help you to understand the history of shamanism and tell you more about how practitioners bring peace and prosperity to the people they help. 

Where did the word shaman originate?

A large number of cultures, both historically and in contemporary society, have established shamans or a spiritual healer who has shaman-like powers. 

The English version of the word, however, is thought to come from a translation of the Tungusic word 'saman'. The Tungusic people are inhabitants of eastern Siberia and Dutch traveller Nicolaes Witsen is believed to have brought the term back to Western Europe in 1692. 

Soon after, a German merchant named Adam Brand wrote an account of a Russian Embassy mission to China. A subsequent translation of this work is typically cited as the source of the word for English speakers. 

Shaman can be roughly translated to mean "one who sees in the dark" – an apt description given their ability to connect with the murky spiritual world. 

Shamanic powers

As mentioned, shamans are known for their skill at navigating both the physical and spiritual worlds. Practitioners can gain valuable insights, look into the past and future, and provide healing for the mind. 

Shamans are also skilled at talking to the spirits of the dead, which can help to resolve unsettled issues or deliver messages between realms. 
Due to their deep experience and familiarity with other worlds, shamans can also guide spirits to their final resting place. This can be done one at a time or in groups. 

Not only do they have the ability to mend the soul on an individual level, they can restore imbalances in the community by finding solutions in the spirit world. 

Divination, fortune telling and other powers may be facilitated through the use of various paraphernalia, including bones, runes, feathers, rattles, gongs and drums. 

Some practitioners may also have an influence on weather conditions, as well as showing a high tolerance for extreme temperatures, sickness or pain. 

The spirit world journey 

Many shamans have different techniques for establishing their connection to the spirit world, although it is common for practitioners to enter a trance. 

Meditation, sometimes aided by rhythmic music or dance, helps a shaman to begin the spiritual journey. Gradually, they descend deeper into a trance until they have reached a stage where they may experience visions, flashes of insight or intuitive understanding. 

Some shamans require a guide who aids them during their travels in the spirit world. Although usually a human ancestor, some cultures have animal or energy-based spirit guides. 

This entity helps the shaman navigate the other realm, while also protecting them against malevolent spirits. Spirit guides are a valuable source of knowledge themselves, offering profound insight and answers. 

Importantly, any changes wrought in the spirit world will have an impact on ordinary reality – creating functional and emotional benefits for people who seek the services of a shaman. 

Other abilities 

Not all shamanic powers are supernatural, and many practitioners play an important part in the community as a leader and adviser. 

This often includes preserving a culture's history and traditions through storytelling and writing. They may also offer general emotional support and information on topics such as fertility, psychological wellbeing and diet. 

Ultimately, the role of the shaman is to enhance the quality of relationships, health and life of the people they help, which can cover a significant number of areas not typically associated with shamanism. 

Practitioners can be found all around the world. However, traditionally speaking, genuine shamans do not advertise themselves as such. The community usually bestows the title upon them. 

Still, shamans can be difficult to find, so if you feel in need of spiritual guidance, there are plenty of other options available. 

For instance, why not try getting in touch with highly skilled psychics and mediums through portals such as Psychics Online? 

Providing a range of services, these specialists can help you to overcome a number of issues through emotional, spiritual and functional support. 

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