Shamanism is not a particular religion but rather a broad term that covers a range of beliefs and practices unified by the belief that some practitioners, called shamans, can encounter the spiritual world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness. Shamanism is also not a religion in the traditional sense because it does not claim sacred texts and revelation. But shaman spiritual leaders are sought by their communities as links to traditional culture and to the world of spirits.
Shamans are the spiritual leaders of the community who operate in spiritual worlds as both mediator and healer. Their actions in other worlds are believed to have noticeable effects in the human physical world. Margaret Stutley, in her book “Shamanism: An Introduction,” traces the origins of the human shaman to a tradition of the Buriat people of Mongolia. According to this tradition, humans began to have problems because some “hostile” gods sent disease and death to them. But some gods were helpful to the humans and sent an eagle as a shaman. Due to the obvious communication barriers between humans and birds, the helpful gods commanded the eagle to shamanize the first person it found. The shaman is expected to restore a spiritual balance to his particular community. Shamans bring all the community's problems to the spiritual world to find spiritual solutions.
Spiritual Essence of Everything
Shamanism regards everything in the world, whether living being or inanimate object, as having a spiritual existence. Margaret Stutley explains: “All forests, trees, waters, and animals have spirits or 'Masters' by whom they are animated.” Whatever the object's form, it was merely a place wherein the spirit could act in the world. “Both spirits and animals can assume human form,” writes Stutley, “sometimes the owl and the ermine become warriors.”
Shamans exist in several small-scale societies and while core beliefs are the same, there are differences in specific world views. Chukchi shamans, for example, believe in the existence of five, seven or nine spiritual worlds located under the Pole Star. These are the worlds shamans are said to visit as they restore spiritual balance. There are three classes of spirits in these worlds, called “Chukchi” spirits. These include invisible spirits that bring diseases and death to people, cannibal spirits that are equally lethal and those spirits found in nature in forms such as animals and trees.
Followers of shamanism believe that shamans have healing powers. They are believed to heal the physical body by actually healing the spirit, which is the real problem or imbalance to be resolved. To restore spiritual order, shamans conduct rituals that often involve singing and dancing.
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