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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Shamanism \Sha"man*ism\, n. The type of religion which once prevalied among all the Ural-Altaic peoples (Tungusic, Mongol, and Turkish), and which still survives in various parts of Northern Asia. The Shaman, or wizard priest, deals with good as well as with evil spirits, especially the good spirits of ancestors.
--Encyc. Brit.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1780, from shaman + -ism. Related: Shamanistic.


n. a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world

  1. n. any animistic religion similar to Asian shamanism (especially as practiced by certain Native American tribes)

  2. an animistic religion of northern Asia having the belief that the mediation between the visible and the spirit worlds is effected by shamans [syn: Asian shamanism]


Shamanism ( or ) is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a 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.

The word "shaman" probably originates from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia. According to ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen, "the word is attested in all of the Tungusic idioms" such as Negidal, Lamut, Udehe/Orochi, Nanai, Ilcha, Orok, Manchu and Ulcha, and "nothing seems to contradict the assumption that the meaning 'shaman' also derives from Proto-Tungusic" and may have roots that extend back in time at least two millennia. The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552. The term "shamanism" was first applied by western anthropologists to the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as well as those of the neighboring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking peoples. Upon learning more about religious traditions across the world, some anthropologists began to also use the term to describe unrelated magico-religious practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas, as they believed these practices to be similar to one another.

Mircea Eliade writes, "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = 'technique of religious ecstasy'." Shamanism encompasses the premise that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.

Shamanic beliefs and practices have attracted the interest of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, including anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, religious studies scholars, and psychologists. Hundreds of books and academic papers on the subject have been produced, with a peer-reviewed academic journal being devoted to the study of shamanism. In the 20th century, many westerners involved in the counter-cultural movement have created modern magico-religious practices influenced by their ideas of indigenous religions from across the world, creating what has been termed neoshamanism or the neoshamanic movement. It has affected the development of many neopagan practices.

Usage examples of "shamanism".

For centuries, the value of shamanism had been scorned by practitioners of Western medicine.

How strange it was that the child Alara meditated for had no gift for shamanism, the child she bore in her youth was gifted, but not outstandingly so, and the child that was not of the Kin at all would be a fit apprentice for Father Dragon himself if only she were of draconic blood and breeding.

His early life was involved with the myths, legends, shamanism of his people, and since this background was still a strong element in his character, I tried to show this by interspersing in the narrative my paraphrases of different sections of the Navajo creation myth and other appropriate legendary material.

Fred Alan Wolf's drug-induced mystical experience led him to this startling realization: "I was on this quest [using the psychedelic vine ayahuasca] trying to understand shamanism from the point of view of physics.

He acknowledges that a few shamans very likely transcended their own path and disclosed causal and nondual occasions, but the central and most defining characteristics of shamanism seem to be quite clearly subtle-level phenomena.

I mean, I'm not here to name names, but I'll assure you the major marketers of non-psychedelic shamanism were turned on to the power of shamanism by their experiences with psychedelics and I take a very hard-core position on this just to infuriate people.

This is the core philosophy that lies behind Shamanism, Buddhism, Taoism, this is the perception of the perennial philosophy, and I believe that using the lessons of the 20th century -- what was learned at Auschwitz and in the Haight-Ashbury, and at Alamogordo and Nagasaki -- using the lessons of the 20th century, the new youth culture can at least create a viable human alternative.