What is a Shaman?

The word Shaman comes from a Tungus-speaking people in eastern Siberia known as the Evenk. Its origins are actually both noun and verb. This describes well the Shaman's role in the community. It is both a grounding force and an active one. It was in the 20th century that the term Shaman first came into general use. It primarily became popular by anthropologists working in the academic arena, and was used to describe a particular role in certain communities. Although it is a label attributed to people in many cultures, it would be foreign to them. For example, Medicine Man or Woman would be the correct term to use in North America, Kam in certain parts of Siberia and mara'akame among the Huichol in Mexico. Whatever the title is, his or her community bestows it upon the Shaman. Therefore, as Peter Vitebsky says in his book, The Shaman, "There can be no Shaman without a surrounding society and culture."

Translated, Shaman means, "to heat up; to burn; to work with heat and fire." In this context, it implies that the essential characteristics of Shamans are the mastery of energy and fire as a medium of transformation. Shaman’s primarily work with spirits and energy. Everything has a spirit, everything is comprised of energy. The rituals attributed to the Shaman are to raise the energy levels for their use.

The principles of Shamanism usually encompass the idea that everything around us is nothing but an illusion, a manifestation of individual perception. This not only includes the realm of spirit, but also the physical realm where we reside. Thus, when attempting to change anything in this physical world, which is only a matter of our perception, we simply need to change our perception. It becomes a simple task, with practice, for the Shaman to enter these other realities-above, below and the other planes that co-exist with the physical world-focus on the changes they would make, and then use the raised energies of ritual to bring about changes here, in the physical.