Even before going into to what a shaman is and does, you have to understand shamanistic worldview, which is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces and/or spirits which affect the lives of the living, the elements and nature in general. Everything/anything either has or has potential to gain awareness and/or consciousness. Secondly, there are several levels of existence, worlds of the mortals being one of them. Others include the Underworld, where the dead go, and the Upperworld, where great spirits/gods live.
What a Shaman isEdit
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing. Shamans are normally "called" by dreams or signs which require lengthy training. However, shamanic powers may be "inherited". See: Cat Makwa
The wounded healer is an archetype for a shamanic trail and journey. This process is important to the young shaman. She/he undergoes a type of sickness that pushes her or him to the brink of death. This happens for two reasons:
- The shaman crosses over to the underworld. This happens so the shaman can venture to its depths to bring back vital information for the sick, and the tribe.
- The shaman must become sick to understand sickness. When the shaman overcomes her or his own sickness she/he will hold the cure to heal all that suffer. This is the uncanny mark of the wounded healer.
Shamans gain knowledge and the power to heal by entering into the spiritual world or dimension. Most shamans have dreams or visions that tell them certain things. The shaman may have or acquire many spirit guides, who often guide and direct the shaman in his/her travels in the spirit world. These spirit guides are always present within the shaman though others only encounter them when the shaman is in a trance. The spirit guide energizes the shaman, enabling him/her to enter the spiritual dimension. The shaman heals within the spiritual dimension by returning 'lost' parts of the human soul from wherever they have gone. The shaman also cleanses excess negative energies which confuse or pollute the soul.Shamans act as mediators in their culture. The shaman communicates with the spirits on behalf of the community, including the spirits of the deceased. The shaman communicates with both living and dead to alleviate unrest, unsettled issues, and to deliver gifts to the spirits. Shamans assist in soul retrieval. In shamanism it is believed that part of the human soul is free to leave the body. The soul is the axis mundi, the center of the shamanic healing arts. Shamans change their state of consciousness allowing their free soul to travel and retrieve ancient wisdom and lost power.Because a portion of the soul is free to leave the body it will do so when dreaming, or it will leave the body to protect itself from potentially damaging situations, be they emotional or physical. In situations of trauma the soul piece may not return to the body on its own, and a shaman must intervene and return the soul essence.Shamans perform a variety of functions depending upon their respective cultures; healing, leading a sacrifice, preserving the tradition by storytelling and songs, fortune-telling, and acting as a psychopomp (literal meaning, "guide of souls"). A single shaman may fulfill several of these functions.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 gifting, flattering, threatening, or wrestling the disease-spirit (sometimes trying all these, sequentially), and which may be completed by displaying a 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 a 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 leading sacrificial rites ("priest"), or to a raconteur ("sage") of traditional lore; there may be more of an overlap in functions (with that of a shaman), however, in the case of an interpreter of omens or of dreams.
A shaman is someone who has both ability and training/knowledge to both perceive the spirits and their effects and how to contact and manipulate them, either by bargaining, tricking, or forcing them to abide by the shaman's will. Thus the shamans main ability is how to contact the spirits and how to send their spirits outside to roam the world or enter other levels of existence. By manipulating the spirit-world, shamans can direct the spirits use of their abilities and powers for their behalf in a vast variety of ways. In fact, there isn't much that a skilled shaman with patience and right contacts in the spirit world can't do, as long as they are willing to pay the price.
Types of ShamansEdit
Black shamans are the most powerful of all the shamans and they get their power from the Northern direction. They are warrior shamans and overcome evil by battling might vs. might. They are the models of courage and discipline. Historically, Black shamans had fulfilled roles in both times of peace and in times of war. In wartime, they boosted the soldiers’ morale and did cerimonies to help in battle. The power of the army was connected to the Black shamans, so these shamans were heavily recruited in times of war. During times of peace, Black shamans served as advisors and conducted foreign policy by making peace and alliances. During the time of the Mongolian Empire, all treaties were ratified by shaman ceremonies.Both historically and today, Black shamans do many other types of shamanic work. They do hunting rituals, healing work, protection, divination, and curse enemies. Black shamans have to be careful to stay in balance, for a shaman that curses too much, will lose their ability to heal and would become an outcast.
White shamans get their power from the white Western direction. Because of this, they direct their prayers to the Western Heavens. White shamans are shamans of peace and have a special relationship with the spirits of nature. Their main focus is on pacifying angry spirits and helping mankind to live in balance with nature. White shamans also do divination and blessings. One thing that they can not do is a shaman’s curse. During the Mongol Empire, while Black shamans dealt with foreign affairs, White shamans dealt with local affairs and served as administrators and concerned themselves with the day to day lives of the people. White shamanism in present time has Buddhist inluence in it’s trappings and style. Some chants are of Buddhist origin and White shamans burn incense instead of the wild plants that Black shamans burn. It is an incorrect stereotype that all shamans use drums. White shamans do not use drums, but instead have a wooden staff and ring bells during cerimonies. White shamans also do not wear the antlered headdress of the Black shamans, but instead wear a cape called a nemerge. Lamaism was the main cause of the decline in the numbers of White shamans. During the 17th to 19th centuries, the White shaman tradition suffered most among the Khalkha and Barga tribes, and throughout Inner Mongolia. In present day, white shamanism is returning.