Shamanism refers to beliefs and practices by a spiritual person or being that believes in his or her ability to interact and communicate with a spirit world or worlds through various forms of metaphysics. Shamanism predates all organized religion and that is why there are many different variations of shamanistic practices that vary mainly due to cultural differences. It should be noted that the very first ever so called holy men or women would have been shamans. They would have been the spiritual leaders of their people. They would have been thought of as the “ones who know”. The word medicine man or witch doctor has also been used to describe shamans. The belief by many shamans in their ability to heal the sick and use magic is where modern science has cast such a negative light on the practice or belief. However it is amazing and worth noting that primitive cultures around the world would have the same core belief system without having any knowledge of each other. The core principles of shamanistic beliefs are a belief in a spirit world or worlds, belief that communication with spirits is possible, spirits can be good or evil, divination of the future or psychic reading, vision questing for knowledge, the shaman’s spirit can leave the body and travel between worlds for information or communication, and yes many believe in the ability to help and heal the sick. Nature and animals play a very big role to many shamans as well. Most are very knowledgeable about the local plant life and herbs as well as various gem stones or crystals.
Considering there are so many different cultures around the world, one can imagine how many variations of shamanistic practices there are. The core beliefs of interacting with a spirit world however, are practically the same. It is a common practice for the shaman to induce himself into a trance-like state of ecstasy by using rhythmic drums or rattles, dancing, chanting, sweat lodges, and many use a form of hallucinogens as well, but not all. It is usually within this state of trance, that the shaman does his or her most serious work or tasks. Many shamans also believe in the use of power animals or totems. They perceive these animal spirits as guardians or helpers to themselves and others. Shamans are capable of changing their consciousness at will to interact with the spirits (human or animal) for whatever purpose deemed necessary. This is why shamans can be referred to as “ones who know”.