Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and a way of life—how to connect with nature and all of creation.
It has been practiced by indigenous peoples around the world for centuries. While each indigenous culture has its own unique practices and stories connected to the people and place from which they emerge, many western scholars have noticed underlying similarities across cultures.
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with what they believe to be a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.
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 counter-cultural movements 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, as well as faced a backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation, exploitation and misrepresentation when outside observers have tried to represent cultures to which they do not belong.
Mircea Eliade writes, “A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = ‘technique of religious ecstasy’.”
Entheogens have been used in a ritualized context for thousands of years; their religious significance is well established in anthropological and modern evidences. Examples of traditional entheogens include: peyote, psilocybin and Amanita muscaria mushrooms, uncured tobacco, cannabis, ayahuasca, Salvia divinorum, iboga, and Mexican morning glory.
There is an endeavor in some contemporary occult and esoteric circles to reinvent shamanism in a modern form, often drawing from core shamanism—a set of beliefs and practices synthesized by Michael Harner—centered on the use of ritual drumming and dance, and Harner’s interpretations of various indigenous religions. Harner has faced criticism for taking pieces of diverse religions out of their cultural contexts and synthesising a set of universal shamanic techniques.
European-based neoshamanic traditions are focused upon the researched or imagined traditions of ancient Europe, where many mystical practices and belief systems were suppressed by the Christian church. Some of these practitioners express a desire to practice a system that is based upon their own ancestral traditions. Some anthropologists and practitioners have discussed the impact of such neoshamanism as “giving extra pay” (Harvey, 1997 and elsewhere) to indigenous American traditions, particularly as many pagan or heathen shamanic practitioners do not call themselves shamans, but instead use specific names derived from the European traditions—they work within such as völva or seidkona (seid-woman) of the sagas.