Modern Shamanism


Modern Shamanism or Neo-shamanism refers to “new” forms of shamanism, or methods of seeking visions or healing. It comprises an eclectic range of beliefs and practices that involve attempts to attain altered states and communicate with a spirit world.  Neo-shamanic systems may not resemble traditional forms of shamanism.  Some have been invented by individual practitioners, though many borrow or gain inspiration from a variety of different Indigenous cultures. I n particular, indigenous cultures of the Americas have been influential.

The word “shaman” originates from the Evenki word šamán.”  The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by Russians interacting with the indigenous peoples in Siberia, and then applied very broadly by western anthropologists to many, diverse spiritual systems that share some kind of practice of calling upon, and mediating with, spirit beings.

Modern Shamanism is not a single, cohesive belief system, but a collective term for many philosophies and activities.  However, certain generalities may be drawn between adherents.  Most believe in spirits and pursue contact with the “spirit-world” in altered states of consciousness which they achieve through drumming, dance, or the use of entheogens.  Most systems might be described as existing somewhere on the animism/pantheism spectrum.  Some neo-shamans were not trained by any traditional shaman or member of any American indigenous culture, but rather learn independently from books and experimentation.  Many attend New Age workshops and retreats, where they study a wide variety of ideas and techniques, both new and old.

Some members of traditional, indigenous cultures and religions are critical of modern shamanism, asserting that it represents an illegitimate form of cultural appropriation or that it is nothing more than a ruse by fraudulent spiritual leaders to disguise or lend legitimacy fabricated, ignorant and/or unsafe elements in their ceremonies.  According to York (2001) one difference between neo-shamanism and traditional shamanism is the role of fear.  Neo-shamanism and its New Age relations tend to dismiss the existence of evil, fear, and failure.  “In traditional shamanism, the shaman’s initiation is an ordeal involving pain, hardship and terror.  New Age, by contrast is a religious perspective that denies the ultimately reality of the negative, and this would devalue the role of fear as well.”

Adapted from Wikipedia