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Michael Harner

In the languages of the old ones wisdom meant one word. In Tungus it was Saman, in Tocharian it was Samane, in Prakrit it was Samana and in Sanskrit it was Sramanas.

The word Shaman is a cognate to the word Saman, first used by a Tungus-speaking people, the Evenk, in Siberia. The role of the Shaman in his/her society was/is a vital one. They talked to spirits and animals and saw visions of the future. Born from the reverence early humanity had for their surroundings and the eternal wonderment of the spirit world, Shamanism held a distinction as being different than a magician or healer in early society. For the Shaman would walk the pathway to the spirit world routinely. Through altered states of consciousness induced with or without the aid of a catalyst, the Shaman would converse with the spirits. As a faith, Shamanism fits into many types of belief systems, due to the fact that is independent of dogmatic, institutionalized religion.

Shamanism is one of the oldest divinatory practices in the world to promote healing and spiritual wellness. By archaeological and anthropological evidence the practice has existed for some 20,000 to 30,000 years. Evidence of Shamanism has been found globally in isolated regions of the Americas, Asia, Africa, regions of Europe and Australia.

It is most prominent in tribal cultures. Today, various tribal peoples in the Republic of Tuva, China, Siberia, Samiland and Australia as well as several Native tribes of North America practice this ancient religion. In tribal culture the Shaman is a person who can enter an ecstatic state of altered consciousness. While in the state of altered consciousness or trance he communicates with his guardian spirit who gives him information and/or power to heal the sick person. Usually the shaman who enters the trance is said to seek information from another reality.

Most believe that they must have a close connection with nature because their guardian spirit usually is that of a plant or animal. Many say the guardian spirit takes the Shaman to the other reality where he is given his needed knowledge and power through a hole in the world. The Shaman may also seek information to help his people and village. In the various cultures trances are induced by singing, dancing, chanting, and drumming. Some cultures also used psychedelic drugs to actuate trances.

The Shaman relied on alliances with spirits for their magic. They were believed to have the power to foresee the future, heal the sick and bring success to the hunting or fishing expedition. The Shaman was also thought to control the weather and affect what it does. Because of the close contact with spirits they were feared and lived away from the villages in the forests. The Shaman was responsible for traditional myths of death, rebirth, the connection between human and animals, and the connection between the natural and supernatural.

Shamanism In Europe was derived from Celtic and Germanic cultures rising out of the Indo-European tribes and unfortunately was successfully wiped out by the church and the inquisition. Traditional Shamans disappeared but many Shamanic fragments remained in the belief of the common folk and their cultural folklore. Cultural anthropologists have in the past defined Shamanism as an initial stage of the institutionalized religious systems. That is a false analysis. In reality Shamanism was/is actually the beginning steps toward human spiritual development.

Siberia Shamanism is an important part of the identity of indigenous peoples. While most westerners think of Shamanism in terms of a technique involving trance journeying and healing, most people in Siberia describe Shamanism as their religion and an expression of their inner faith.

The practice and philosophy of shamanism is an essential part of Siberian cultures in particular. Elder Shamans are respected as carriers of traditional knowledge, and as powerful individuals possessing vision for the future as well as knowledge of the past. In each area, there are strong traditions of Shamanic culture, including healing, ceremonials connected with the land and human concerns, divination, and, in some cases, accompanying the souls of the dead to the next world. Shamans were and are highly respected members of Siberian society.

Copyright 2000-2005, Foundation for Shamanic Studies


The Foundation for Shamanic Studies
P.O. Box 1939
Mill Valley, California 94942 USA

Sources: The Way of the Shaman - By: Michael Harner, Fire In The Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit - By: Thomas C. Cowan, The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Bullfinch's Mythology, In Search of The Indo-Europeans - By: J.P. Mallory. Video Documentary: Drums of the Ancestors; Manchu and Mongol Shamanism.

Bio: My writings have been published in 23 countries and translated into 17 languages, including Welsh, Chinese, Romanian, Croat, Malay and Tamil. I am an Assistant Editor with a seat on the Editorial Board of The Harrow, an Internet-based magazine of speculative fiction ( I am a university researcher by day and a struggling novelist by night. I write poetry with the viewpoint of the ancient world and the promise of the stars eternal in both my heart and mind. My chosen mindset is that of the Goddess-based cultures of the Bronze Age and Iron Age Eurasian world, as well as the world of the Indo-European Celts coupled with the world to come. My poetry is intended for all those who look to Mother Earth and Sister Sky for inspiration regardless of their spiritual bent.

I am currently attempting to earn a Ph.D., in Anthropology with a focus on spiritual practices within the societies of the Indo-European Tribes. I am also attempting to complete my debut novel. I am a practicing Indo-Eurasian Shaman and Celtic Mystic by faith. I am also a sponsoring member of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.

Find your bridge to the ancients!