Shamanism is possibly our oldest form of spiritualism
Claimed as the oldest spiritual practice, shamanism is still embraced by many small-scale societies around the world. A shaman takes on the role of mediator between the everyday world and the spiritual dimension. By entering into a trance, he or she “journeys” to the otherworld in an attempt to resolve some difficulty or dilemma in the human domain. Shamanic cosmologies are frequently formed from three regions: a middle world corresponding to our everyday reality on earth; an upper world relating to the sky and celestial realms; and a lower or underworld, which reaches deep down into the earth. These three regions are connected by a central axis, and are often represented by a tree.
The Shaman practices using trance, drumming and herbs, he or she can shape-shift and journey to the other worlds. Most types of magic have their roots in some kind of shamanic tradition.
Early forms of shamanism included the medicine man or witch doctor, who assumed a supervisory relation to disease and its cure. Formally, shamanism is a religion of Ural-Altaic peoples of Northern Asia and Europe, characterized by the belief that the unseen world of gods, demons, ancestral spirits is responsive only to shamans. The Indians of North and South America use religious practices similar to the Ural-Altaic shamanism.
The word shaman comes from the Tungusic (Manchuria and Siberia) saman, meaning Buddhist monk. The shaman handles disease almost entirely by psychotherapeutic means; he frightens away the demons of disease by assuming a terrifying mien.
The 1970s saw the emergence of contemporary shamanism, also called neo-shamanism or Western shamanism, as a new form of spirituality emanating from the USA. The central idea of Western shamanism is regeneration and a revitalization of earth-based “ways of knowing”. Inspired by the idea that shamanism is humanity’s most ancient and authentic form of spirituality, many modern shamanic practitioners turn to what they see as a primordial means of healing and creating connections to nature.
Practices include techniques for self-realisation and making contact with an other worldy realm of spirits. Some practitioners emphasize the importance of traditions, such as those practised by native American Indians, while others place more importance on finding new ways of engaging with the living world.