The word "shaman" comes from Tungus language where it refers to a person who enters into an altered state of consciousness to facilitate a journey into non-ordinary reality. Although the term is from Siberia, the practice of shamanism existed on all inhabited continents.
Shamanism is not a religion and it may not even be a spiritual practice. However, it is the most ancient form of healing, practiced by humans around the world and it is a method for connecting and working with spirit. Once in non-ordinary reality the shaman is able to request healing and advice from personal power animals animals, humans and other spirits including spirit guides and nature spirits. Spiritual healing is complementary to modern medicine, therapy and training. Often it is the missing link, the wind in the sails that allows healing, recovery and training to rapidly progress.
Is shamanism a religion?
A “religion” is usually defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Shamanism does not have any prescribed doctrines or belief systems. In fact, shamanism doesn’t have any beliefs at all. I learned from Andean shamans in Bolivia and Peru and they didn’t “believe” in spirit helpers like the Apus or mountain spirits. They worked with them every day and knew them. The Andean shamans didn’t believe in spirits any more than they believed that they wore clothing, ate food or lived in a home. Shamanism isn’t a faith-based system, rather, it is experiential and so rather than believing something shamans knowbecause they have experienced. If you begin to practice shamanism then you too will eventually come to that knowing.
Shamanism coexists with Buddhism and Lamaism in Siberia. In Japan it coexists with with Buddhism and Shintoism. In fact in some Buddhist traditions a monk is ordained as a Shamana. In South America shamanism coexists with Christianity and you will find shamans who place Christian symbols on their mesas.
So it if is not a religion, what is it? It is a method, a way of working with spirit. It is also a holistic approach to healing that can work alongside and with contemporary Western medicine. A shaman’s role in society is not to convert others to a way of believing, it is to use spiritual means (as in working with Spirit) to help the people become well and whole, not to prove that his or her system is the only one that works.
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice modern druidism and contemporary shamanism.