Thoughts on defining shamanism: an ‘active belief system’

Here’s some thoughts I had recently about how I view shamanism:

Shamanism has been defined many different ways over the years.  In actuality, its hard to define exactly.  Generally, it is viewed in a number of ways such as:

  • By the ecstasy and journeying of the shamans.
  • By particular beliefs, such as a world tree.

Though these describe aspects of shamanism I’ve never felt they were good.  Most of how I view shamanism is based on my own experiences.  When the ‘shamanistic tendency’ appeared in me I did not know what it was, nor did I know how to interpret it.  The manifestations were so bizarre and odd that I did not know what to make of it at all.  It was a friend who told me about shamanism after I confided to him about the things that happened (as I kept it very secret – from the very beginning there was always this sense of secrecy about it).  I had never heard of it before but was stunned at the similarity after I began to learn about it.  It was some years after this that an event happened where I stood back and looked at what I was doing and had a horrible thought:  that I was going out of my mind.  For many years I had nothing to do with it for that reason.  But a need for it kept appearing.  As time went on I began to appreciate what it was about and decided to take it seriously and begin a major inquiry as to what was going on.

Most people in this society would say it was ‘mad’ or something (which is what I thought after I realized what I was doing).  There tends to be great resistance to the ability to acknowledge and accept the shamanistic phenomena.  Much of the problems for this in this society often relate with a number of subjects such as:

  • The problems caused by previous religious viewpoints and conflicts.  The religious wars, disputes, etc. have left a horrible ‘bad taste’ in many peoples mouth with anything involving religion.  You just mention anything with religion and they are apprehensive.
  • The new age movement.  I personally feel this movement has done more harm than not for religion and spirituality . . . I generally view it as destructive.  A lot of it is based, or motivated, by cold war hysteria than a genuine religious feeling.  This fact still appears when they speak of saving the world, or the environment, peace, and such.  Because of stuff like this I don’t acknowledge it as genuine.  The so-called ‘neo-shamanism’, created by the new age movement, has, as far as I’m concerned, devastated and completely warped shamanism.  The best source of shamanism is from actual accounts and anthropology, I’ve found.
  • A frustrated religious feeling.  Many people, nowadays, are frustrated at religion and spirituality.  Many find it difficult and can’t relate with it.
  • A fear of belief.   Many people, I think, have a fear of believing anything.  The chaos of modern life tends to crush any belief system.
  • A tendency to glorify any religious experience.  May people are so starving for spirituality that any ‘hint’ of a religious experience (such as shamanistic journeying) is glorified and exagerated beyond belief.
  • A different way of life.  The current modern way of life does not foster or develop shamanistic tendencies (as I describe below) which makes them appear ‘alien’.
  • The effect of science and logic.  People think that science and logic replace religion making them unwilling to accept any shamanistic belief as legitimate.

These all make it hard to not only acknowledge shamanism but to define it.  As a result, it tends to either not be accepted at all (science) or its over-accepted to the point its distorted (neo-shamanism and the new age).  Not only that, we must remember that this society can’t relate to what its about anyways.  Often, the defining of shamanism is really nothing but a reflection of the stance you take (such as new age or scientific).  In that way, shamanism is only an interpretation based on some other point of view, which makes it more like a second-hand point of view than a real interpretation of what it is.

How then does one define shamanism?

It just so happened that, one day, I found myself thinking and defining shamanism in this way:

Shamanism is an ‘as-happening belief system’.

In order to understand this one must understand . . .


Shamanism is what I call an ‘active belief system’.  What this means is that the belief is actually actively happening.  The gods, spirits, etc. are actively helping and doing things in our lives.  This is primarily what shamans do, actively participate with the spirits, gods, and such.  Shamanistic journeying, for example, is an active association with spirits and even to the point of catching a persons soul or being transformed by a spirit.  The shaman is actually considered as being separated from his body, as well, during these journeys.  This makes it more than ‘just a ceremony’.  This creates a unique and special as-happening belief system:  shamanism.  As a result, shamanism is an as-happening active participation.

Many people, in this society, don’t seem to fully understand the reality of this.  In so doing, I think the basic ‘point’ of shamanism is missed.  In many ways, shamanism is an active performance or show of ones belief, where gods, spirits, etc. are actually playing part as if in a great play or show.  As a result, I speak of this as the ‘belief show’.  The ‘belief show’, an active as-happening demonstration of belief, is all but absent in this society but I have found that it is powerful in its effects.  In fact, its so powerful that it cures people from disease and ailments.

Normal religion and belief, as we now know it, is what I call a ‘passive belief system’.  These have qualities such as:

  • A defined and delineated belief.  Often, this is written down and adhered to strictly to the point that even the context of grammar or usage of words must be adhered to.  In fact, there can be a splitting of the belief system based simple on the interpretation of the defined and delineated belief system.
  • Defined ceremonies with defined results.  The ceremonies are usually almost mechanical with a ‘do-this, get-that’ point of view.  Mass causes this effect, marriage causes that, and so on.
  • ‘Mechanical’ conjuring.  If there happens to be any conjuring, say, to receive guidance from the gods, its usually almost ‘mechanical’.  By this I mean that they do something specific with specific interpretations of the results (such as tossing bones or reading the entrails of birds).  Sometimes, though, there can be some ‘active’ elements in how it works . . . its not always exactly ‘mechanical’ all the time.
  • A prevalence of priests, ministers, etc.  The people who represent the belief system often do nothing particularly active beyond ceremonies and rituals.  In some cases, all they do is ‘preach’ the belief (such as with ministers).  So we see that there is an absence of people to perform the ‘belief show’ actively and they do no as-happening things.
  • It tends to be organized.  The nature of the ‘passive belief system’ tends to allow for a tendency to organize the system and people who are part of the belief system often creating an involved and complex social system.  When this happens things like social dynamics tend to dominate the workings of the belief system.

One can see that the ‘passive belief system’ is passive because it is “set in stone”, so to speak.  There is little or no ‘active’ as-happening element in it.  Everything is defined and delineated.

I should point out that there is no sharp demarcation between active and passive belief systems.  Each often have traits of the other type.  The difference lies primarily in the dominance of which system is being portrayed.

I tend to feel that the ‘passive belief system’ is an almost natural reaction of a large society.  The ‘passive’ quality makes it more easily “controllable” in the larger populations and creates a greater cohesion.  This means that ‘active belief system’ is more prevalent in small populations of people.  In fact, it appears to be a requirement.  It appears that the smaller the society the more the ‘active’ quality of shamanism takes hold.  When it gets larger its ‘active’ quality fadesNot only that, once the shamans disappear, as in large societies, the ‘active belief system’ tends to disappear with them, and the society demonstrates a strong ‘passive belief system’ quality.   


Because the active belief of shamanism is primarily a result of a small group of people in the society (the shamans) it tends to center around them.  The rest of the population tends to respond to them.  This tends to cause gradations of how the population reacts.  In other words, it would not be correct to say that the general population in a society is ‘all shamanistic’.  Its more proper to say that they are ‘reacting to shamanism’ more than anything else.  The natural tendency for the rest of the population (who are not shamans) is to display the ‘passive belief system’.  But, with the shamans, the ‘active belief system’ is as if “infused” into the ‘passive belief system’ of the people creating a blend.  This shows that in any “shamanistic society” there is actually a mixture of active and passive belief systems.  With this we can see that a ‘shamanistic society’ relies on the shamans to make it.  Once they are gone, the ‘active belief system’ of the shamans disappears (as we’ll see below).  Because of the mixture of active and passive belief systems there is a spectrum of beliefs in a shamanistic society:

  • The beliefs of the shamans themselves.  This is a “pure” ‘active belief system’ as it is practiced by the shamans.  In many societies, shamans have their own belief systems that no one else knows in the society.  In some cases, the individual shaman has his own beliefs that only he knows.  In other societies shamans, as a group, have their own belief systems that they keep to themselves and which no one else is aware of.  Because it reflects what an individual shaman does it can be described as an ‘active personal belief system’ as it is the beliefs they practice themselves.
  • The beliefs of shamans as they teach it to others.  This is the teaching as taught by shamans to the general population (non-shamans).  In general, it tends to describe a reliance on the shamans by the general population due to the shamans ‘active belief system’.  In other words, it tends to require that the ‘active’ elements of the shamans are to be utilized by the ‘passive’ general population.  This, in itself, creates a very ‘active’ social participation and belief system where the ‘passive’ general population benefit from the ‘active’ shamans by participation.  One could call it an ‘active social belief system’.  Through participation with the ‘active’ shamans the general population become part of the ‘active belief system’ to some extent.
  • The beliefs of the greater population.  These tend to be a ‘passive belief system’.  These beliefs don’t necessarily have to be based on shamanistic belief systems or the belief of shamans.  If they are based in beliefs as taught by shamans they often turn the shamans ‘active belief system’ into a ‘passive belief system’.  That is, the beliefs of the shamans tend to develop that ‘set in stone’ quality of the ‘passive belief system’. This is the ‘passive shamanistic belief’.   In comparison to the above, it can be described as a ‘passive personal belief system’, individually, or a ‘passive social belief system’, socially.  In this way, the ‘active belief system’ of the shamans are as if transferred to the beliefs of the general population.  As a result, the general population believe what the shamans belief but not in an active participation way.  This creates, in effect, two shamanistic belief systems in a society:  The ‘active shaman belief’, of the shamans, and the ‘passive shamanistic belief’, of the general population. 

What we see is a great gradation of how the ‘active belief system’ affects a population of people that tend to display a ‘passive belief system’.


I have always felt that shamanism is a naturally appearing phenomena based on ones way of life.  In other words, shamanism is way of life dependent.  When that way of life disappears, shamanism tends to disappear.  This way of life tends to develop or accentuate a particular character trait in some people (particularly males) who are brought up in it.  Its this character trait that predisposes them to shamanistic tendencies.  Some qualities of the way of life that tends to create the development of this character trait include:

  • A sense that the world is larger than humanity.  One must see one self and people as small in comparison to the nature.  In fact, I tend to feel that the nature-in-your-face sense is critical for the development of shamanism.  Nature must be felt as bearing down upon you as a reality . . . and that there is no where to hide from nature. The more a society is ‘settled’ (farming society), or protected from nature (as with ‘advancement’), or set apart from nature (as in modern society with all its knowledge) the less shamanism can grow.
  • A tendency of ‘looking out into the world’.  What I mean by this is a tendency, and need, to peer out into the world to find what you need, such as with hunting for food.  Shamanism seems to require that one does not just live in nature but one must look into nature for substinance.  Because of this, shamanism is very prevalent in hunting societies.  Farming societies and large civilizations tend to not have this quality and, therefore, shamanism is not prevalent in them.
  • A looking into a mystery.  There is a sense of life being a mystery and having mysterious qualities.  In fact, much of the power of shamanism is rooted in the sense of mystery, at least in my opinion.  The more beliefs become ‘set in stone’, the less mystery there is.  When ‘logic’ appears it seems to disappear completely.
  • A way of life in which one is ‘vulnerable’ and ‘exposed’ to nature.  What I mean by this is that there is little sense of protection.  One is “in” nature . . . nature is right there in front of you.  There’s no city to hide in.  There’s no mob to hide in.  There’s no technology to protect you.  To be frank, I tend to feel that shamanism is strongest in societies that feel vulnerable and exposed to nature.  When they cease to feel these feelings shamanism tends to grow weaker.
  • A condition where all you have is your beliefs.  It appears that the more there are other points of view, other explanations, and answers (such as technology) the weaker shamanism is.
  • A hierarchial society.  It seems that the society must have some sort of a hierarchy as much of shamanistic belief replicates the hierarchy.  In fact, shamanistic mythology often replicates the hiearchy of society.  As a result, a shamanistic society generally has a definate image of authority and gradations of roles and people.  The more “democratic” or “equal” people are the less shamanism tends to appear.
  • Small groups of people.  Shamanism seems to develop the most strong when societies are small.  This makes the people ‘in need’.

What it all seems to suggest is that shamanism is strongest in a small independent self-reliant society that is face-to-face with nature.  This condition makes shamanism more necessary and ‘real’ and, accordingly, more powerful.  This is because the effects of this condition makes the benefit of shamanism more a ‘fact’.  As this condition fades, or is less influential, shamanism, in turn, changes and begins to become ‘weak’.  In this way, we could say that there is a range of conditions that greatly influence shamanism based on the peoples association with the nature . . . that is, their lifestyle:

  • The ‘real’ lifestyle.  In this lifestyle, the small group of people are living face-to-face with nature.  As a result, the benefits of shamanism is very apparent and real.
  • The ‘relevant’ lifestyle.  In this lifestyle, the group of people are not as vulnerable to nature as in the preceding group and, as a result, shamanism become something that ‘helps’ life, not a necessity.
  • The ‘casual’ lifestyle.  In this lifestyle, the people are not living in nature that significantly and, accordingly, shamanism becomes very weak.  This condition is seen in many Indian tribes and former shamanistic societies today.  Often, shamanism becomes nothing but ceremony and show at this stage.
  • The ‘memory’ lifestyle.  In this lifestyle, shamanism is really only a memory, something people reminence about or are told about by their elders.  The conditions that cause shamanism are usually all but gone by this time.

An important point is that this shows that the more ‘real’ people live in nature the more ‘real’ shamanism is.  In addition to this, the more ‘real’ people live in nature the more ‘power’ the shamans have.  Many of the shamans, nowadays, are ‘losing their power’ because the ‘real’ condition is disappearing.  With growing societies, foreign influence, etc. these conditions fade and, accordingly, so does the ‘edge’ and ‘power’ of the shaman.


I feel that shamanism is a naturally appearing phenomena that appears as a result of the conditions of shamanism described above.  In other words, shamanism is a reaction to conditions.  Because of this, shamanism is not “just” naturally appearing.  That is to say, it doesn’t just appear one day.  This is why the appearance of shamanism is:

  • Seen only in certain conditions.
  • Is not easily created (that is to say, you can’t just ‘learn’ it like learning the piano).

It is my belief that shamanism requires a certain amount of ‘pressure’ or ‘stress’ to be created.  Examples of this stress include having nature in-your-face and being vulnerable to nature.  To put it another way, natures ‘fact’ is bearing down on you and this causes a particular type of stress that I call ‘primitive stress’.  This is a stress seen only in primitive-like lifestyles.   The ‘stress’ of living in the primitive way (that is, in the midst of nature) is very powerful and, interestingly, seldom mentioned.  This is, no doubt, because it is ‘absorbed’ in the beliefs and religion of the people which, then, ‘takes the burden’ of it all making it so there is nothing to talk about.  But, the stress of living in the midst of nature is nothing to look at lightly . . . it is a real power.

One of the effects of the ‘primitive stress’ is that it tends to create a condition which causes a certain reaction in specific people which ends up creating shamanism.  Because of this, I speak of this as the ‘shamanistic stress’.

This stress tends to as if be felt by certain individuals in the community more strongly than others.  As a result of this, it shows that shamans tend to be ‘socially conscious’ people, though it may not seem so.   In fact, they probably feel it moreso than most people, which is why they are predisposed to it.  This no doubt is why shamans tend to be the ‘healers’ of the community.  In other words, because of the ‘shamanistic stress’ of the community, the people who become shamans tend to feel it more strongly.  As a result, they suffer from its effects, causing them much turmoil and pain which, evidently, turns them into the shamans, the healers of society.  To put it another way, by feeling the ‘pain’ of the community they become the healers of that ‘pain’. 

When the ‘shamanistic stress’ fades (such as in more relaxed cultures, such as agrarian societies) the shamans accordingly fade (as described below).  When the ‘shamanistic stress’ is high the influence and power of the shaman is high.  When it is low, the influence and power of the shaman is low.  As a result of this, ‘shamanistic stress’ is what gives the shaman his ‘edge’.


I have always felt that the ‘shamanistic stress’ creates a tendency for certain people to ‘look into’, as I always say, nature.  That is to say, from the standpoint of human reality they must ‘look into’ the mystery of nature (which is not “human”) and make some “human sense” of it.  In some respects, it is a desperate situation, as life depends on it.  Because of this, it takes great demands on these people.  As a result, the stress causes a particular tendency to use aspects of the mind that isn’t normally used.  In other words, the ‘primitive stress’, of living in nature, creates an interior ‘stress’, in order to give it meaning, that forces greater use of the self and mind than would normally be used.

I should point out that this stress isn’t necessarily painful, though it can be felt that way.  I think its usually more of a pressure, of an ‘immediate need’ . . . something ‘needs to be done’.

The effects of ‘looking into’ nature causes a dilemma of looking at an inhuman thing:  the mystery of nature.  In other words, shamanism is rooted in a ‘desperate’ condition of looking into something one can’t understand or relate to.  Regardless of beliefs and religion, all shamans experience this sense, particularly at the beginning.  In a way, it defines shamanistic initiation.   As a result of this, the shaman is someone who has to ‘find a way’ to make sense out of a dilemma in which the normal human mind has no means to understand.  I sometimes speak of this dilemma of not being able to understand as the ‘shamanistic unknowing dilemma’.  This dilemma is characterized by the fact that they are dealing with a condition in which their mind can’t understand.  The normal mind as if ‘draws a blank’.  Because of this, the dilemma forces the self as if to ‘dig deeper’ into ones mind and self.  This ability is found only in a small group of people typically.  In fact, it is found in people who often have problems with the mind and self (such as nervousness, a tendency to be neurotic, etc.).  Because of this, shamanism is often found in people with mind/self conflicts.  I speak of this is the ‘shamanistic mind/self conflict tendency’.   These mind/self conflicts predispose these people to have the trait to ‘dig deeper’ into their minds and self’s to find an understanding.  In other words, a ‘human weakness’ becomes these peoples strength.

With the mind/self conflict these people have ‘access’, so to speak, to deeper aspects of themselves.  Much of shamanism is nothing but accessing these deeper aspects.  It goes so deep that they will lose sense of themselves, detach from themselves, see things, experience things, and such, that would not normally happen.  In that way, one could very well call shamanism a ‘self-induced madness’.  But, and this must be emphasized, it tends to be a ‘controlled madness’ and by a person that isn’t mad.  This makes shamanism very unique in human experience.  This is particularly so as it tends to help society and people overall.  Its for this reason I speak of shamanism as the ‘wonderful madness’.

So we can see that a person who is predisposed to shamanism often tends to have qualities such as:

  • They feel the ‘primitive stress’.
  • They are a person who feels the ‘pain’ of society.
  • They have mind/self problems.
  • They have the courage, and ability, to dig deep within themselves.
  • They are people who can control themselves.
  • They are a stable person.

This is a particular type of person.  Not everyone fits this pattern.


I have always felt that shamanistic journeying is a phenomena that originates from:

  • The failure of the normal mind to understand things.
  • The digging deeper into themselves.
  • A crossing into other aspects of ones self and mind to achieve a “non-normal” understanding.

It seems, to me, that shamanistic journeying is actually a ‘returning’ to older states of mind because ones current state of mind has failed.  As a result, it is a ‘crossing over’ to older self’s.  I speak of this as the ‘cross-self experience’.  This is why themes of the old self dying is so prevalent in shamanism.  In effect, we must ‘kill’ our current self in order to ‘recover’ our older self.  This older self is actually the self when we were younger.  In that way, shamanistic journeying is a regression.  It seeks this older self because the current self has failed.  What does the older self contain that’s so important and which is lacking in our current self:  intuition.  Our current self tends to be based in concrete things, of this and that, of an almost mechanical thought process, even for primitive people.  Because of this, the current self ‘explains’, so to speak.  This is good to a point. But it fails in the face of the mystery of nature.  Because of this, there is a natural tendency to seek this older intuitive sense.

The ‘shamanistic stress’ creates a condition that forces people prone to shamanism to make the ‘cross-self experience’, and try to find their old intuitive self.  This often appears as a ‘sickness’ or a ‘madness’ in many of these people.  The stress keeps opening up the ‘cross-self experience’ to them.  They begin to see things, have weird dreams, feel removed from themselves, etc.  In other words, we see that the stress naturally induces the ‘cross-self experience’ in these people.

Once the ‘cross-self experience’ begins to take place people in primitive-like societies tend to have something to help them out:  culture.  That is to say, their culture allows them to make sense out of the ‘cross-self experience’.  If it weren’t for that, many of these people would probably become neurotic or even psychotic.  This shows an interesting pattern:

  1. People live with culture which explains the world.
  2. Stress causes dilemma.
  3. Culture fails to explain dilemma.
  4. Dilemma induces ‘cross-self experience’.
  5. Culture gives meaning to ‘cross-self experience.
  6. A new intuitive understanding emerges.

So we see that the culture that fails to explains ends up explaining in the end but in a different way.  Every shaman, that I have heard, had dreams, explanations, and beliefs that were culture dependent showing that the explaining of the ‘cross-self experience’ is culture based.  This shows that in order for the ‘cross-self experience’ to be fulfilled (that is, shamanistic journeying to happen) there must be cultural beliefs to explain it that way.  This means that there are no doubt many people, in many other societies, who have had the same ‘cross-self experienced’, that was induced by some stress in life, but that it came to nothing because they do not live in a culture that explains it in the shamanistic way.  More than likely they turned into people like neurotics, eccentrics, and such but may of even become artists, poets, and such as well.   In other words, the ‘cross-self experience’ is, apparently, a common reaction to stress that happens all over the world.  The result of it depends on the culture which gives it a meaning and use.  Because of the variety of cultures, there are many different directions it can go such as:

  • A shaman.
  • A mental problem (neurotic, psychotic, etc.).
  • A person with ability (artist, poet, painter, etc.).
  • A ‘thinker’ (intellectual, philosopher, etc.).

In a shamanistic society, once a person has had the first signs of the ‘cross-self experience’ they are often instructed by a shaman in how to deal with it and use it.  Sometimes, cultural belief becomes the instructor.


With the ‘cross-self experience’ three things tend to determine if it will go into shamanistic journeying:

  1. Stress – a conflict
  2. Social – cultural explanation 
  3. Personal – a persons character

As I said above, the ‘cross-self experience’ tends to entail a form of stress.  This stress often results from some sort of a crisis or conflict that a person  has.  This stress or conflict as if ‘forces’ a person to cross self’s.  Its not uncommon that this appears as a single event but it can appear as many events over a long period of time.  This stress as if ‘opens the door’.  It often appears as a ‘mystical-like experience’.  One may see things, hear things, and dream deeply.  These often border on madness or insanity when they take place.  One of the great genius’ of the shamans of the past, I think, is that they were able to take these near insane events and turn it to productive means In other words, they turned an apparent conflict into a good thing.  I often feel that this ‘taking control of the madness’, when it appears, is one of the secrets of shamanism.  But, in order for this to happen, a person needs the culture and guidance to turn it into a good thing (see below).  In many ways, once the door is open a person must take advantage of it as, over time, it will close.

Typically, for shamanistic journeying to take place a person must live in a society whose culture accepts it.  It creates something like a ‘base’ for its development.  Without this ‘base’ it tends to go off in other directions, as I explained above.  Because of this, one can see that shamanism is very culturally bound.  Very often, the culture will actually accentuate and develop shamanism by its beliefs.  In this way, culture actually ends up ‘creating’ shamanism and makes it what it is.  Very seldom does a person just ‘create’ shamanistic believes.  A person may demonstrate aspects of it but it needs a culture to flourish and grow.  In fact, shamanism usually needs more than a culture . . . it needs someone to guide you in that culture, to give it form and direction.  With this, one can see that there is a lot more needed than the shamanistic tendency for it to develop.

In addition, for any shamanistic journeying to take place a person must have the character, and predisposition, to head in that path.  Shamanistic journeying is quite a unique phenemena.  It requires qualities such as:

  • An ability to follow ones intuition.  This ability must be to such an extent that one can go into other aspects of ones self.
  • A stronge sense of spatial relations.  It is my belief that shamanistic journeying is rooted in a sense of space and it is from this that it begins and develops.  My own personal experience is that almost all shamanistic phenomena are preceded by some sense of space.  I often speak of things like the ‘presence’ or ‘primal fluid’ to describe them.
  • An ability to sense other selfs.  Shamanistic journeying is very much rooted in the ability to ‘contact’ or ‘revive’ other aspects of ones self.  This is why events, and beings, in shamanistic journeying often appear as ‘not a part of us’ or as ‘someone else’.
  • A tendency to projection.  Shamanistic journeying is really a projection of self into the world.  Because of this it requires an ability to project ones self extensively.  This projection must be so strong that it must seem to be real.
  • The ‘sexual’ element (see entry below).  I have always felt that there is a strong association between shamanistic journeying and the sexual act.  That is to say, it uses the same ‘mental technique’, so to speak, as the sexual act.  Because of the nature of shamanistic journeying one can see that I speak of the male position in the sexual act.

Traits, such as these, allow for shamanistic journeying.

It is my belief, based on experience, that shamanistic journeying does not consist of these things:

  • It is not a ‘dreaming’.
  • It is not ‘seeking an image’.
  • It is not a trance.

It seems, to me, that modern people are always thinking that its all based in one of these things.  Aspects of it do entail images and dreaming and trance, though, but that’s not what it is.  It uses them at times.  One could describe images and ‘dreaming’ and a trance as a ‘passive journeying’ of sorts.  This has qualities such as:

  • One has no control . . . the “dream happens to you”.
  • It entails a definate loss of ones overt consciousness.
  • It often entails a lack of realness (that is, one knows ‘its just a dream’).
  • There is usually no sense of ‘other-worldliness’.

To me, shamanistic journeying entails whole other conditions:

  • One often has a degree of control.  My experience is that the degree of control one has can range from “it happens to me” (that is to say, I just ‘follow along’) to “complete control” (that is to say, I can make decisions and do things).
  • Ones consciousness can range from unconscious to ‘semi-conscious’.  My experience is that one is usually somewhat conscious, at least to some extent, and can open ones eyes, look around, and then continue on.
  • It is experienced as a very ‘real’ and ‘happening’ event.  Often, after a shamanistic journey, I feel as if I have come back from a journey.  Its not uncommon for me to describe opening my eyes as an ‘opening a door’ from a dream-like world to the real world.  Its not uncommon that I will react to some events as if they were real, treating them as actual happenings.
  • There is a strong sense of ‘other-worldliness’.  It appears that one is in a specific existing place.  In other words, its not ‘in our minds’ (imagination) but perceived as a real place that tends to be not of this world.  It generally seems like a world co-existing with this one.

The experience of shamanistic journeying appears like a journey of sorts.  It a unique form of journey as it does not feel like ones normal self.  What I mean is that it is not like someone going ‘from here to there’.  It is like another self, another personality, another side of ones self.  And this ‘other self’ is in another reality, an ‘other world’, which is different from this world.  Because of this its like living in two worlds.  One can see why it borders on madness.


This ‘other self’ seems to ‘tap’ inner awareness and knowledge within ones self that normally is not accessible.  That is to say, it as if ‘reawakens’ certain aspects of the self.  I seem to feel it does this by accessing certain aspects of the self such as:

  • The old self.  This is our self as a child.  In that sense it is primarily a memory of our child self.
  • The deeper self.  To me, this is a reference to the old self still working within us.  In other words, its the ‘child self’ that is ‘tucked away’ within us and is still active.

One can see that I tend to view the ‘other self’ as primarily involving what can be described as our ‘initial self’.  In fact, I tend to view the ‘other self’ as the ‘initial self’, which is that part of us that is before our grown up and mature ‘worldly self ‘ has developed.  Once our ‘worldly self’ has developed it completely supplants and overtakes our ‘initial self’.  In this way, our ‘worldly self’ as if ‘hides’ the ‘initial self’, keeping from us, and making it hard to discover.  This is because the ‘worldly self’ is very powerful.  In some sense, it is so powerful that it literally pushes our ‘initial self’ out of the way.

Because of the power of the ‘worldly self’ it requires special ‘means’ to ‘override’ it, so to speak, so that its dominance does not suppress the ‘initial self’.  This is what shamanistic journeying does.  Shamanistic journeying is a way to ‘suppress’ our ‘worldly self’ and thereby ‘reawaken’ the ‘initial self’ within us.  It does this by doing things like:

  • Putting the ‘worldly self’ to “sleep” or “diverting its attention”.  The classic way of doing this is using something like a drum to as if put it to sleep or as if letting it become preoccupied with the repetition of the beats.  A common technique for this is some form of repetition:  drum, movement, spinning, etc.
  • By accentuating the ‘initial self’.  This usually means using an already existing awareness of the ‘initial self’.  This often appears in the crisis many shamans experience.  Many people can ‘put their worldly self to sleep’ which often appears like a trance or altered state.  But few can accentuate the ‘initial self’.  This is the quality that only certain people attain.

Both of these are required, in some form, for shamanistic journeying.  When the ‘worldly self’ is asleep or diverted, and the ‘initial self’ appears then shamanistic journeying takes place.

As one can see, I tend to view that there is a strong association between shamanism and reawakening the ‘initial self’ within us.  And since the ‘initial self’ is our ‘child’ within, this means that shamanistic journeying is really contacting our ‘child’ within.

But why is this so important?

It seems that it is for many reasons:

  • It allows for a deeper insight that one would not otherwise have because of the power of the ‘worldly self’.  Deep within all of us is insight we don’t know we have . . . but its completely hidden by the ‘worldly self’.  Contacting the ‘child’ within tends to open those insights up.
  • By the reviving of a ‘pure’ way of awareness.  As we grow and mature our awareness becomes ‘cluttered’, ‘confused’, full of bad feelings, and such.  This ‘dirtied awareness’ characterizes the ‘worldly self’.  This ‘dirt’ tends to interfere with the awareness of life and often creates a poor unhealthy form of awareness.  The reviving of the ‘child’ within tends to create a more healthy viewpoint of life.
  • Because of it revives the parent/child association, it revives the sense of safety and well-being that this association creates.  In effect, the ‘initial self’ is becoming a child again with the parent watching over them.  Why do you think there are gods and other ‘parent substitutes’ when one grows up?  Its to revive this association.

Many people may think that the power of shamanism is reviving deeper insight.  I don’t believe this is all together true.  Though it can bring insight it is not as prevalent as it may seem.  Much of shamanism has nothing whatsoever to gaining insight.  The power of the ‘initial self’ (the ‘child’ within), it seems to me, is in its reviving the safety and well-being of the parent/child association.  If one looks at much of what shamanism does, as well as religion in general, it is to as if revive this condition.  What we are seeing, then, is the power not necessarily of the ‘child’ within, but the ‘parent/child association’ within.  This association brings feelings of things like:

  • Safety and security.
  • Love.
  • Belonging.
  • A livingness and sense of life.
  • A healthiness.
  • An absence of dark bad things.

Shamanism, and religion in general, bring these in showing that this association is powerful and nothing to look at lightly.  This association, this fact, tends to be all but forgotten nowadays.  But the historical record shows that much of life revolves around this fact. In fact, it is so powerful that the revival of the ‘parent/child association’ heals and creates a better life!

If one looks at what shamans did one finds that they did not just heal illnesses but many aspects of life, physically and mentally.  In many ways, the shamans were only reviving this sense in other people.  In other words, we see two forms:

  • The shamans personal experience with the ‘parent/child association’.  This creates a strong sense of this association within the shaman that ‘heals’ himself and affects others.
  • The shamans instilling the sense of the ‘parent/child association’ within the people.  Much of what shamans do is just this.

In many ways, the shaman is someone who not only revives this association but revives it as a reality.  That is to say, as a fact, not as something ‘considered’ or ‘thought about’.  The shaman, by their as-happening belief, makes the ‘parent/child association’ real.  That’s their power.  That’s their healing.


To me, there are several traits that have great influence on shamanistic journeying and, in a way, makes it unique.  It makes it more than just some ‘trance’ and ‘altered state of mind’.  These are:

  • Space relations and the Self
  • The sexual element:  the ‘Driving’
  • The ‘death theme’

Space Relations and the Self

There is a strong association between shamanistic journeying and space.  In fact, shamanistic journeying is based in a strong sense of space . . . that’s what makes it a journeying.  All the events, happenings, etc. of shamanistic journeying take place in this sense of space.  Without this sense of space it becomes a form of dreaming, visual images, and such (which many people think is shamanistic journeying).  In that way, a requirement for shamanistic journeying as entailing a sense of space.  But it is a unique sense of space.  It is a sense of space coming from the ‘initial self’, not from our current self.  This shows that there is a strong association between space and self:  the space/self association.  We could call it the ‘initial self space sense’.  It is a remnant of the sense of space from our earliest self that is ‘recovered’, so to speak, in shamanistic journeying.  As a result, it gives qualities such as:

  • A sense of ‘another world’ that is ‘coexisting with this world.
  • A sense of ‘leaving ones body’. 
  • A sense of travelling.
  • A sense of being a ‘different person’.
  • A different understanding of things.
  • A different association with things.

Because it originates from an older part of our self it is felt as ‘removed’ or ‘separate’ from our current self.  In that way, this ‘dual sense’ shows that we can actually, at one time, have a sense of two selves within us.  I speak of this as the ‘dual self phenomena’.  In actuality, it is an aspect of the ‘cross-self experience’ which refers to crossing to different self’s within us.

This sense of ‘initial self space sense’ doesn’t just appear strongly in people, though most of us have an occasional sense of it (most ‘religious senses’ entail it in some way).  For it to appear strongly in someone seems to a result of a number of things:

  • A persons character.  Some people can feel it more strongly than others.
  • Crisis.   Oftentimes, a crisis is required to ‘force it’ to appear.
  • A persons living conditions.  Cultures which require one to ‘look into nature’ tend to develop shamans.  This condition requires a person to look into nature and the world to survive, such as in a hunting society.  It creates in those people a strong sense of ‘being in the space of nature’ which tends to create a strong sense of space.  This sense tends to promote shamanistic tendencies.  It does this because the sense of the ‘space in nature’ creates a very strong sense of an awareness of a ‘worldly space’.  This sense of space, being attached to survival and having such importance, tends to develop a strong ‘initial self space sense’ in some people.  In other words, the strong sense of ‘worldly sense’ as if develops a strong ‘initial self space sense’ as well.  Since this sense is required for shamanistic journeying it tends to promote creating a greater tendency for the shamanistic tendency in people.

The Sexual Element:  The ‘Driving’

There seems to be an association with the sexual act with shamanistic journeying.  It seems to be associated with the act of sex by the male (though that may sound funny at first).  This gives it a quality which I call ‘driving’.  That is to say, the shaman ‘drives’ himself into a shamanistic journey similarly to the act of sex.  I’ve always felt it was a “variation” of the same state of mind as the act of sex.  If one looks at many things shamans do to create the shamanistic journeying, such as drum beating, one can see that it has very strong similarity with the act of sex, at least from a male perspective.  This is one of the reasons why I tend to feel that shamanistic journeying is actually a ‘male invention’ (see ‘male and female shamanism’ below).

The sexual element is even referred to in many cultures which say that a shaman takes a ‘spirit wife’ and that shamanistic journeying is the sexual act with this ‘spirit wife’.  Even I had that representation shown to me.  I said that shamanistic journeying was having sex with my ‘spirit wife’ and that the ‘other land’ was when I had ‘entered her womb’.  This, to me, is no mistake and shows a connection.  Not only that, its not uncommon for shamans to have shamanistic journeys that are very sexual in orientation.

The ‘driving’ tends to have two qualities:

  1. An unconscious part of ones self that ‘moves’ or ‘drives’.  To me, the ‘driving’ has a quality of a ‘continually going’ or a ‘continual penetration’ attitude similarly to an arrow going through air.  Its what forces the journeying to take place.  In addition, it appears, at least to me, that the ‘driving’ is closely associated with the sense of space, as the ‘driving’ is a sense of moving through space.  It seems to come from an unconscious aspect of our self and is not something one has conscious control of.  In this way, it is very interior and deep.
  2. The conscious part of us that seems to ‘ride along’.  This refers to our self that is aware of what’s going on.  Typically, it follows the ‘driving’.  In this way, the ‘driving’ as if ‘takes the conscious self there’.

These two elements act in unison and work together . . . both are needed in shamanistic journeying.  When one is missing there is no journeying.  The problem, though, is that the unconscious part of us (the first one above) tends to be, well, unconscious.  As a result, its not always easy to ‘conjure it up’.  Often, it is out of our control.  Much of shamanistic ritual, technique, and ceremony is in trying to ‘conjure’ this unconscious element up so that it ‘takes over’.  In other words, a shaman must find that ‘special way’ to initiate the unconscious element.  This, in many ways, is one of the difficult aspects of shamanism.  It appears to me, though, that one of the things that ‘eases’ this problem is the theme of stress, such as the ‘primitive stress’ or even personal stress.  

The ability to develop, and maintain, these two aspects of the self is not something everyone can do.  It seems only certain people can develop and maintain it.

I tend to feel that the ‘driving’ is one of the elements, along with the sense of space, that helps cause shamanistic journeying and makes it what it is.  This quality, it seems to me, is critical for shamanistic journeying.  It is this quality that makes shamanistic journeying possible.  If one tries to do a shamanistic journeying without the ‘driving’ then it becomes something like a ‘trance’.  That is to say, your state of mind is altered and that’s it.  In that ‘trance’ you may see images and dream.  In other words, its no shamanistic journeying.

The ‘death theme’

A theme closely associated with shamanism is death.  This theme runs throughout shamanism.  In fact, a person cannot be a shaman without undergoing some form of death.  Its not uncommon that, in some cultures, the ‘death theme’ must be repeated regularly.  The ‘death theme’ tends to manifest itself a number of ways:

  • As a dying or death.  Often, this is seen in the initiation process and, in some cases, a persistent theme in shamanistic ritual.
  • As a killing of something.  In many cases, what one kills is ones self.  In other cases, something else must be killed (such as a spirit).

Because of the importance of the ‘death theme’ a shaman must be someone who is willing to endure and face it.  Though this may sound simple and easy, many people cannot do this.  Its very possible that this inability may be one of the factors that determines who becomes a shaman and who doesn’t.  The ‘death theme’, in particular, seems prevalent with some types of male character (which often tend to be predisposed to shamanism).   But, even then, its not as prevalent as you may think.  With females, it seems a rarity, even in primitive tribes.

We must be careful to remember that the ‘death theme’ has many aspects, such as:

  • Philosophical – facing the unknown of life.  Facing the awesome unknowable quality of life and nature is a “death” in itself.  This is why societies that live face-to-face with it tend to feel this “death” more strongly (and part of the reason why shamans develop in these societies).
  • Psychological – stressing the self.  As part of the ‘primitive stress’ and stress suffered by people with the shamanistic tendency.
  • Lifestyle – a presence in everyday life.   A good example is a hunting society.

So we see that the ‘death theme’ does not necessarily deal with the actual dying of something in actuality but a more general aspect of living.  In reality, the ‘death theme’ is really referring to a particularly strong, and often profound, stress related with the self.  With the ‘cross-self experience’, which puts great stress on the self and is required in shamanistic journeying, it is really no surprise that death is such a common thing in shamanism.  In actuality, the ‘cross-self experience’ makes the ‘death theme’ unavoidable.


The shamanistic tendency appears differently in people.  It does not appear to be something that is “always there” or even “continuously present”.  It appears more like something that fluctuates from person to person, time to time, and place to place.  Because of this, it would be very accurate to say that shamanistic tendency is a varying phenomena.  It seems to appear in people in ways such as:

  • Continuous manifestation.  By this I mean that the shamanistic tendency is continuously present in a person.  This seems to be somewhat rare, if it exists at all.  No doubt, shamanistic tendency fluctuates throughout a persons life.  In addition, it seems to me that two things are influential in a continuous manifestation of shamanistic tendency:  1) the conditions must be conducive to its appearance, and 2) a person must have the character to maintain it.  These two things no doubt promote a more continuous manifestation of shamanistic tendency in a person.
  • Initial manifestations.  By this I mean that a person has an initial manifestation of shamanistic tendency and that it does not reappear. It may end after one even or several events.  It may be strong enough that a person may start the process to shamanistic initiation but, because it does not appear, have to resort to various techniques to keep shamanism going, as shown below.  In some cases, no doubt, people may even go through a phase of shamanistic tendency in their life.   In some people, it may even come and go.
  • Imitation.  I tend to feel that many people may imitate shamans for a number of different reasons (such as that the envy them, want their power and prestige, etc.).  This imitation may even go so far that they “appear” to have shamanistic experiences.  This imitation tendency may be prevalent in a shamanistic society where the shaman has great power inspiring people to imitate him.

These show a range of manifestation of shamanistic tendency and that, because of the varying nature of shamanistic tendency, it is not constant and continuous.  In fact, I tend to feel that it generally is not.  For a practicing shaman this can pose problems as people are depending on them (and their living may depend on it too).  As a result, it appears that many techniques are used to ‘revive’ the shamanistic tendency when it is not “within them” at the time.  I sometimes speak of this as ‘conjuring shamanism’ Many rituals and ceremonies of shamanism seem to entail a form of ‘conjuring shamanism’ in some way.  This means that part of what a shaman does is to try to conjure up the spirit’ he once had showing that it is not constantly and continuously felt.  That is to say, in shamanism there is often great attempt to revive the spirit of shamanism as an inherit part of the process and technique of shamanism.  Some of the techniques of this ‘conjuring shamanism’ include:

  • Capturing the spirit.  By this I mean that some shamans can easily revive the spirit of shamanism by doing a simple thing, such as beating a drum.  In many ways, this is nothing but a ‘getting in the mood’ and often involves little ceremony or ritual.
  • Replication.  This refers to replicating or repeating something that has worked before.  It entails more than ‘getting in the mood’ and, therefore, takes more effort.   As a result, it often entails great involved ceremony and ritual.  This often works to get the shaman ‘in the mood’.
  • “Shortcuts”.  These are easy ways to try to promote shamanistic journeying in people.  One way this is done is by the use of dreams as if it were shamanistic journeying.  Some societies do this.  Another common way is by the use of drugs.   These are usually hallucinogenic drugs creating a lot of visual images.
  • Acting out.  If the shamanistic tendency does not appear there is often a tendency to act out the experience as if it is happening.  In other words, it becomes nothing but an acting out of the shamanistic tendency.  In some cases, the shaman is ‘put on the spot’ and ‘must do something’ in order to perform his job and not be viewed as ineffective.  Because of this, there can be a tendency for them to have to act out the shamanistic tendency.

And so we can see that the varying manifestations of the shamanistic tendency can create problems for a shaman.  He can use techniques to ‘get him in the mood’ but if these don’t work it can easily turn into nothing but an empty show to satisfy everyone.

Even my own experience is that the shamanistic tendency is not something you can ‘turn on’ like a light switch.  There are times when you just can’t do it.  Not only that, there are times when you can do it but not effectively.  I can see that this could be a great problem for a shaman and can easily pose a great dilemma, particularly when people are depending on him.


Does shamanism heal?  The evidence is that it often does, but only in societies that believe it.  In other words, shamanistic healing appears to be more a manifestation of belief than anything else.  There are a number of examples of how shamans began to ‘act out’ shamanistic tendencies (that is, they put on an empty show as described above) and found that it worked!  Because of this they continued to put on the empty show and did became very good healers.

I tend to believe that the power of shamanism is in its ‘active’ or ‘as happening’ quality which makes it ‘real’ for the people.  Because of its ‘realness’ it makes belief more powerful and, therefore, makes it more effective.  Its this that heals in many cases.  Because of this, the ‘as happening’ healing of shamanism is stronger, and more powerful, than the healing of ‘passive religion’.

Shamanistic healing tends to heal in situations such as:

  • A religious dilemma.  This could entail things like making sure someone’s soul reaches the land of the dead after they’ve died, making sure the gods will fulfill a good hunt, etc.
  • A social dilemma.  This could entail things like protecting the village boundary, protecting ones people from harmful spirits, etc.
  • A personal dilemma.  This could entail things like safety during a trip, ensuring a successful venture, etc.  It could also entail mental illness of varying sorts such as a ‘possession’, ‘lost soul’, or even something that mimics a physical illness. 
  • A physical illness.  This, of course, refers to infections, pains, stomach aches, and so on.

Shamanism seems to be effective in the religious, social, and personal dilemmas.  It seems to fail in these areas when there is some sort of change to society, such as an increase in population, foreign influence, change to agrarian lifestyle, etc.  When this happens the belief wavers and, accordingly, the power of the healing.

When it comes to physical illness its a different matter.  I seem to see a number of reactions to physical illness from the accounts I’ve heard:

  • Belief does heal the physical illness. 
  • The body heals itself in the process of the shamanistic rituals, ceremonies, etc., which can sometimes last days. 
  • The use of the healing properties in things like herbs, plants, rest, etc. that are often used by shamans.

But there are some physical illnesses that cannot be healed by belief or shamanism. There seems to be an increase in these types of illnesses particularly with the intrusion of foreign people which brought with them new bacteria and other infections that the people were not immune to.  In some cases, the failure of the shamans to heal these illnesses devastated the belief of shamans, and even their old belief systems.  But, in general, in the original small isolated communities of humanity practically everyone was immune to the dominant form of diseases making serious illnesses somewhat rare in these societies and, in a way, making the shamans job somewhat easy.  If the shaman could not heal it was often ascribed to some powerful spirit, or something similar, which they could not control.

Despite the inability to heal certain physical illnesses, the shamans were ‘great healers’ in society and tended to make a positive impact on society.  They healed in many different ways, too – spiritual, social, personal, and physical – making them a generalized benefit for society as a whole.


Shamanism is, in many ways, a form of madness.  The altered awareness, activities, claims, and such often border on madness.  In this society, they would be considered mad.  This is part of the special qualities that create shamanism though, and make it very powerful.  Many cultures often remark that shamans are often on the edge with madness, particularly during initiation.  I’ve even heard some shamans speak of a fear of going mad.  Even I mentioned this and became so frightened I had little to do with it for about a decade.

The madness, if harnessed correctly, becomes a great and positive thing.  It creates the wonderful phenemena of shamanism.  The madness can become insightful and harness aspects of ourselve normally not accessible and the many things of shamanism.

But if the madness gets out of control it can be make a person mad.  At this time, I’m unaware of a person actually ‘going mad’ from shamanism.  But there seems to be a mild form of madness . . . perhaps one could call it ‘shamanistic eccentricity’.  In this the person becomes eccentric, ‘weird’, odd, out of place, and so on.  From some of the accounts it appears that some shamans did, at least to some extent, “break from reality”, claiming they could actually fly, be invisible, and so on.  They could even have problems associating with people.  I often feel that these types of things were far more common than what it seems.  In other words, there is a ‘shamanistic sickness’ that can happen.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it got to be a seriuos problem for some people.


It always seemed, to me, that there are phases in the development of shamanism that reflect the changing way of life and conditions people live in.  The shaman just didn’t appear and disappear one day.  There were gradations and phases of change.  These changes eventually led to the slow disappearance of shamans in society through time.  Historically, I see it this way:

  1. The ‘active’ society – Hunting society.  It seems, to me, that shamanism is a result of a an ‘active’ society such as a hunting society, or some society where they must ‘look out into nature’ (such as fishing).  The reason is that when a person hunts they go out into the world and ‘looks into the world’ to find their prey and their substinance.  It creates a way of life where one must look closer at the world and what’s in it.  Shamanism is, in actuality, another version of this, but a more interior mental version.  As a result, the ‘active’ lifestyle tends to create an attitude of ‘looking into the world’ as a character trait and a way of life.  For some boys, the prevalance of this attitude becomes manifested in shamanistic traits and shamanistic journeying.  This shows that shamanistic journeying is really a manifestation of an ‘active’ society that ‘looks into’ nature.  In fact, one could say shamanistic journeying is an internalizing of the character trait this lifestyle creates.  In this way, the shaman is reflecting the attitude of the society he lives in:  the outward ‘looking into’ of nature by this society becomes an inward ‘looking into’ for the shaman.
  2. The ‘settled’ society – The agrarian society.  When society becomes more ‘settled’, such as in an agrarian society, the ‘active’ and hunting-like attitudes subsides.  As a result, the male shamans tend to become less frequent and may even disappear.  This is further proof that there is a strong relation between hunting-like societies and shamanism.  One of the things we begin to see is the rise of female shamans as if to fill the void of the previous male shamans.  They tend to create a different form of shamanism, though, that is actually unlike male shamanism, such as they don’t have ‘journey dreams’ (see below).
  3. The ‘authority-as-god’ society – Monarchial society.  It seems that when the society develops an authority, such as a king, who is perceived as a god or god-like, the male shamans seem to completely disappear.  The ‘authority-as-god’ as if completely supplants the shamans role.  The female shaman may remain but often tend to become like a witch or someone who casts spells or predicts crops or something similar.
  4. The ‘system’ society – Modern society.  Typically, the shamans, male or female, have disappeared by this time.

Another way at looking at this is to look at the conditions that are created as society grows.  These conditions cause changes in the association between the shaman and general population that create a rise and fall of shamanism in society:

  • A segregated belief condition.  In this the shamans are there but they tend to be only used when needed.  Much of the belief of the general population tends to have little to do with shamanistic belief.  In this condition, the shaman is unique in the society and set apart.
  • A shaman needing condition.  In this condition, the people need the shaman and will cater to them and their beliefs extensively.  In many ways, this is the condition where shamanism is at its height.
  • A shamanistic deceiving condition.  In this condition, the shamans will actually begin to develop ways and techniques to deceive the people to believe in their ‘powers’. Their ceremonies can become nothing but a ‘play’ they put on to deceive people.  This can get quite extensive and involved.  This deception, though, can be both good and bad, depending on the situation.  This was seen in many places in North America.  In this phase, shamanism tends to become increasingly corrupt and tend to show that the ‘shamanistic stress’ is fading.
  • A shaman adopting condition.  In this condition, the common people start to adopt shamanistic techniques and do small shamanistic ceremonies, and such, even to the point of trying to achieve ecstasy or journeying.  As a result, we there are often many ‘shaman imitators’.  Generally, it seems to mean that the shamans are disappearing.
  • A passive shamanistic belief condition.  Typically, the shamans have disappeared but the people maintain shamanistic-like belief as a passive belief system.  In addition, no one tries to adopt shamanistic ceremonies or techniques.
  • A non shamanistic belief system condition.  This is often created by the coming of  different points of view, the long-term absence of shamans, and the tendency to passive belief in the general population.  By this time the shaman, and their beliefs, have all but disappeared.

The order of the conditions, as described above, are really reflective of the stages in the deterioration and fall of the shaman in society. 


Very often, shamanism becomes a deceptive system.  In some societies this becomes very prevalent to the point that shamans can be described as tricksters.  This is not surprising.  Because of the power shamanism creates in many societies its only natural that the corruptive tendency of power corrupts shamanism.  It becomes a means to deceive and manipulate people.  This side of shamanism is often overlooked.  From the evidence we have the extent of this deception has, at some places and times, become quite prevalent.  Because most of these societies do not have written records what we know is almost purely from word of mouth.  Some examples of this corruption and deception include:

  • In some cultures, shamanism became a means for wealth or social prestige for the shaman.  This naturally made many shamans ‘find ways’ to guarantee their wealth and social prestige.
  • In some societies shamans had to compete with others to prove that they are more competent.  This inspired various means of tricking people in order to guarantee a clientele (this seems prevalent in the northwest coast of the U.S., for example).
  • Because many shamans made their livelihood from it they naturally had to ‘twist’ or ‘stretch’ things to guarantee their livelihood, often inventing ‘communications with the gods’, magical ability, and such.
  • There can actually be ‘competing theologies’ of shamanism in a society.  That is to say, there will be different ‘schools of thought’ of what shamanism is that were created by different people.  These can cause a competition in a society which causes some shamans to twist things in their favor.
  • Because of the power of shamans there can develop a fear of ‘evil’ shamans in a people.  In some cases, this fear could be manipulated by some shamans for their benefit.
  • Because of the power and prestige of shamans there often develops ‘pseudo-shamans’ who imitate and appear to be shamans.  This may be done for wealth, social prestige, and various personal reasons.

Some of the deception, though, was not all deliberate or socially based.  In many cases, it seems to me, that many shamans deceived themselves into thinking they are actually shamans in order to carry out the cultural image of it.  For example, it appears that some shamans only had minor ‘shamanistic experience’ which they made out as a great calling.  It fact, some initiations of shamans really amount to forcing the creation of a shaman as a result of some minor experience.  In other words, once the idea of a shaman is established in a society there is a tendency to try to force it and to force it to the ‘accepted model’.   As a result, many shamanistic initiations are often forms of trying to re-create a successful and acceptable situation that ‘worked’ in the past.  This seems to become prevalent as societies progress and move away from the conditions of shamanism.  Basically, the power of the shamanistic call begins to fade but they try to keep it going by trying to force things that worked in the past.  As a result of this, shamanism can become almost ‘mechanical’ in nature, of nothing but doing a ‘formula’ without the spirit.


It seems that there is a marked difference between male and female shamanism.  This is, no doubt, because of the difference in character between the sexes.

It appears, to me, that shamanism reflects male traits and is primarily a male creation.  Some of the male traits that cause these include:

    • The tendency to ‘look-into-the-world’ (sort of like a hunter who has to look into nature to find his prey).  As I said above, I tend to feel that this attitude is very influential in the creation and development of shamanistic journeying.
    • The tendency to ‘look-into-mystery’.  This is a reference to a tendency to see mystery and see it for what it is.
    • A tendency to create mythology, philosophize, and extensive imagination.
    • The tendency to be active and do active things.  This tendency creates the very active and involved shamanistic journeying.
    • A strong sense of hierarchy.
    • A tendency to endure great ordeals and fears.  Many accounts show shamans going through great ordeals and confronting great fears, often entailing going out and living in nature for days on end in harsh conditions.  This behavor is very common with males.  Very seldom do you hear of a female doing this.
    • Males have a strong sense of spatial relations (its importance is described above).
    • Shamanistic journeying is closely associated with the male ‘mental technique’ in the sexual act (as described above).
    • The more dominant ‘death theme’ in the male character (as described above).
    • The historic record shows that male shamans are more prevalent in the older societies.  This, in itself, suggests its a “male invention”.

These qualities are all very dominant in shamanism and, in a way, define it.  These are similar qualities that are seen in other male-related created things, such as theology, philosophy, science, exploration, and so on, which tend to be absent in the female life.

Once the way of life that foster shamanism begin to disappear the male shamans tend to disappear.  When this happens it seems that the shamanistic-like energies of the male tends to go in other directions as a result of the lifestyle change.  I tend to feel that the male shaman tends to turn into things like:

  • A priest/monk
  • A scholar/intellectual
  • A poet/artist
  • A healer/doctor

In other words, the male tendency to shamanism tends to be redirected in many other directions once the conditions that create shamanism fade.  Typically, the journeying and ‘as-happening’ quality all but disappears and is never seen again.  When one looks at it, it appears that the shamanistic energies are directed in directions such as:

  • The development of passive religion.  Often, these turn into the development of formal and organized religions.
  • The development of ‘abstract’ activities.   These include things such as philosophy, science, theology, study of planets, etc.
  • Various forms of expression.  These include things like art, poetry, music, etc.

In general, this seems to happen somewhat quickly and dramatically.  In other words, when the male ceases to be a shaman he ceases to be shaman completely and he literally vanishes from society and turns into something else.  Here one year . . . gone the next . . . and someone new appears.  This is probably why some societies describe many shamanistic beliefs in their culture, which would require the existence of shamans, but have no apparent shamans in the society even into recent history.  A good example are the Norse (the Vikings) who’s mythology seems to show shamanistic things but, yet, no shamans are seen in their accounts.  More than likely, the shamans disappeared right before they began to record their accounts showing that the tendency to record probably reflected a change in their society that may of actually destroyed the shaman.

Female shamanism appears differently than the male. Some of these qualities include:

  • There is often little or no journeying.
  • They also tend to not associate with spirits as much and go through complicated involved dreams like the male.
  • Their ‘initiatory illness’ does not seem to be as extensive or as involved as the male.
  • They don’t seem to go through the ordeals and difficulties the male does (at least, from what I’ve heard so far).
  • They tend to less hunting for souls and such.
  • They often get their insights as if out of air (that is, it ‘comes to them’ in a form of ecstasy or trance).
  • There is often a preponderance and dominance of ritual or ceremony.
  • There is often more use of herbs, medicine, etc.

What we see is that female shamanism tends to lack the more ‘active’ qualities of the male.  In that way we could probably describe female shamanism as a ‘passive shamanism’.

Another interesting point is that female shamanism tends to appear under different conditions than does the male.  As I said above, they are generally absent in ‘active’ hunting-like societies but begin to appear when a society becomes more ‘settled’ . . . . that is, when the male shamans begin to disappear and the lifestyle becomes more passive.  As a result, I’ve often felt that female shamans tend to appear to fill the void that is left when the male shamans disappear.  In other words, the changing way of life tends to make the male shaman disappear, and often quickly (as described above).  But, by this time, the presence of the shaman is ingrained in the shamanistic society.  This leaves a great vacuum and absence in the society.  The female almost seems to come in to fill that absence and, in a way, carry on the ‘shamanistic tradition’.  Because of this, female shamans tend to be more prevalent in societies that have become ‘settled’, particularly after being an ‘active’ hunting-like society.  Since this condition is now very prevalent in much of the world (that is, being ‘settled’ in response to the modern world) it appears that we are seeing less and less male shamans in many traditional shamanistic societies and seeing more female shamans.

Regardless of the situation, or condition, its not uncommon that many females will tend to adopt a form of passive magical-like role alongside the shamans.  This can be described as a ‘witchcraft’ of sorts.  By ‘witchcraft’ I don’t mean an old lady with a wart and a black pointed hat.  I also do not mean evil malicious witches either, as portrayed in fairy tales.  What I mean is doing things like:

  • They tend to be predisposed to using things like herbs, concoctions, and things that they make.
  • They often do rituals, ceremonies, spells, and such.
  • They can also ‘divine’ things by reading cards, reading the stars, and such.
  • They may follow dreams which is usually about the only ‘active’ thing they do.
  • There is usually a complete absence of anything resembling a shamanistic journeying.

‘Witchcraft’ is generally done for good reasons and for the benefit of people.  Sometimes, though, it can be used for bad intentions but I don’t believe that is its original intention.   In other words, ‘witchcraft’ seems to be the naturally appearing female-as-healer-and-helper way.  Many females, in modern society, will adopt similar ‘witchcraft’-like attitudes and perspectives, though usually without the religious references, particularly as they get older.

In reality, female ‘passive shamanism’ seems a mixture of male shamanism (reflecting male traits) and ‘witchcraft’ (reflecting female traits).  As I said above, ‘witchcraft’ usually exists in some form in older societies.  When shamanism is powerful they usually sit side-by-side with it and are often independent of it.  When females adopt shamanism they tend to mix the two.  When shamanism begins to fade they tend to slowly turn back to ‘witchcraft’.  This is how it appears to me:

  1. Naturally appearing ‘witchcaft’, which often sit side by side with shamans.  From what I have seen, its usually non-existent or mild in power.
  2. Imitation of male shamans.  Here, the shamans are at their height.  ‘Witchcraft’ may, or may not, continue or be practiced.
  3. ‘Passive shamanism’.  This seems to appear when shamanism tends to fade.  The females tend to mix male shamanism with their ‘witchcraft’.
  4. The return of ‘witchcraft’.  By this time, shamanism, as well as the ecstasy and journeying element of shamanism, is all but gone.

What we tend to see is that, when shamanism disappears, the female shaman tends to slowly turn into someone who does something very specific (that is, doing ‘witchcraft’).  The male, on the other hand, tends to turn his shamanistic tendencies in many different directions (as described above).  In other words, the female tends to ‘narrow down’ and the male tends to ‘expand out’, reflective of the naturally appearing differences in the character between the sexes.

In general, we see that female shamanism reacts to the way of life much like the maleNot only that, changing conditions make them change, as well, but going in different directions than the male.  This is further proof that shamanism is very reactive to lifestyle.


What we see here is that shamanism a complex condition and situation with many variations and spectrums.  Shamanism is primarily a manifestation of a small group of people (the shaman) but can have great impact on the general population affecting their beliefs.  It is very much an active belief system, unlike modern religions and belief systems.  We also see that shamanism is very sensitive to conditions and way of life.  This is true of both male and female shamanism, which are different and develop differently.


Copyright by Mike Michelsen


This entry was posted in Contemplation, monastacism, shamanism, spirituality, prayer, and such, Historical stuff, Religion and religious stuff, Shamanistic 'journey' dreams and dreaming and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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