What is a shaman?
According to famed American psychologist and consciousness pioneer, Stanley Krippner, shamans are “community-assigned magico-religious professionals who deliberately alter their consciousness in order to obtain information from the ‘spirit world.’ They use this knowledge and power to help and to heal members of their community, as well as the community as a whole.”
Krippner describes shamans as the first physicians, diagnosticians, psychotherapists, religious functionaries, magicians, performing artists, and storytellers.
In shamanistic cultures, all adults are responsible for their relationships with spiritual energies, including those of their home environment (geography, animals, and plant life,) their ancestors, their own personal helping spirits, and Spirit, the creator force.
However, the shaman is unique in that he or she not only has increased facility for traveling in non-ordinary realms, but also uses their spirit relationships to create changes that will manifest in the physical world, for the healing of individuals or the community. This definition differentiates shamans from other types of practitioners. For example, mediums use altered states of consciousness, but they do not take action in those altered states. And sorcerers take action in altered states, but not necessarily to heal.
Abilities of shamans
According to Christina Pratt in The Encyclopedia of Shamanism, a shaman is a practitioner who has gained mastery of:
- Altered states of consciousness, possessing the ability to enter alternated states at will, and controlling themselves while moving in and out of those states.
- Mediating between the needs of the spirit world and those of the physical world in a way that can be understood and used by the community.
- Serving the needs of the community that cannot be met by practitioners of other disciplines, such as physicians, psychiatrists, priests, and leaders.
A shaman is therefore a specific type of healer who uses an alternate state of consciousness to enter the invisible world, which is made up of all unseen aspects of the world that affect us, including the spiritual, emotional, mental, mythical, archetypal, and dream worlds.
Categories of healers
There are three categories of contemporary shamans, including those who:
- Come from an unbroken shamanic tradition and continue to practice in that tradition, usually in their native culture.
- Come from a shamanic tradition, but serve to bridge between that tradition and the modern Western world, often by adding ceremonies and rituals that were not necessary in their indigenous culture.
- Are called by Spirit to serve the needs of their community as shamans, though they may be long separated culturally from their original shamanic roots.