What Is A Shaman And Should You See One?

What is a Shaman

Reader Question: “When I was a little girl, I had abilities that were a bit too out of the ordinary for me to accept them, but my journey through life is bringing me back to those abilities. I was told to find a shaman as all my recent visions are related to Mother Earth, who speaks directly to me. I am wondering if my message finds an echo in someone willing to guide me in my quest to fulfill my life purpose.”

Thank you so much for your honest and heartfelt question. 

As a practitioner of Shamanism, and having trained as an apprentice under a master shaman in Peru, I have encountered countless people who have had similar experiences to that which you describe.

As children, many of my patients saw visions, talked with Mother Earth, had invisible spirit guides, only to lose these experiences as they age. 

I, too, had a loving connection with the trees and the stars and spoke with unseen voices when I was young.

In my teenage years, I drifted away from this magic. But I’m so happy that I have reconnected with that part of my life now. And I know that you can, too! 

Before we discuss the specifics of how individuals like you can get in touch once again with their spiritual selves, let’s talk about Shamanism more generally.

It’s important to remember that when discussing Shamanism, nearly every follower of this spiritual practice approaches shamans a little bit differently.

Shamanism is not an organized religion and has no official texts to consult.

For me, this is part of what makes Shamanism so beautiful. It’s evolving and organic.

So, I’ll do my best to provide my views on Shamanism while also giving some context for opinions that others hold as well. But do know that you can view Shamanism differently, and that is completely fine.

What Is A Shaman?

Today it is very common to hear individuals identifying as a shaman. But what exactly is a shaman?

Contrary to what many think, there are specific qualities and milestones that individuals must complete before they can take on this sacred role. 

While many people may have special abilities in their life, such as clairvoyance, hearing voices, empathy, divination, etc. a shaman is unique. 

He or she has overcome the central traumatic event of their life – known as the shamanic initiation event – and has used the skills which they received during this process to heal others struggling in similar circumstances

Each of these components is very important when understanding what a shaman is. Especially when seeking out a shaman to assist you.

Walking through each of these steps constitutes the Shamanic Path.

What Does The Shamanic Path Look Like?

First, to become a shaman, an individual has to overcome their shamanic initiation event. But what does that mean exactly?

Simply put, a shamanic initiation event is anything in life that knocks you off the course of blissful paradise.

You’d be surprised, but these events are widespread in our modern world. A vast amount of the global population could likely be shamans if they took the time to train.

Let me give an example.

Imagine you are a child with a family that takes care of you and provides everything that you need.

One day, however, you contract a disease that paralyzes you from the waist down, making this perfect life impossible to live anymore.

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This is your shamanic initiation event. Suddenly, you are put onto a new, scary path for your life – one that you never planned on living. Daily activities become difficult, and you must learn new techniques to survive. 

This is only one example of a shamanic initiation event, though.

Other common examples include the loss of a loved one, a physical accident, moving away from home, or an act of abuse. Basically, any other such traumatic event.

Second, the shamanic path brings hardships with it.

Almost always, the shamanic initiation event causes a series of symptoms such as depression, anxiety, psychic distress, physical disease, etc. And it is up to the individual to figure out how to heal.

You might think, “well, all these sound pretty common, doesn’t everyone have a little depression?”

And you’d be right! So many people are living with the effects of a shamanic initiation event and don’t even know it.

Even more tragic, these people may never heal from that event before they pass away from this life. 

The choice to seek out healing from a shaman is the third stage of the shamanic path.

There are hundreds of ways that a shaman can heal a person. Techniques include:

  • soul retrievals
  • plant medicine ceremonies
  • drumming circles
  • ecstatic dancing
  • crystal healing
  • Tarot card reading
  • sacrifices and offerings
  • incense burning
  • firewalks
  • steam baths
  • sweat lodges
  • fasting
  • vision quests
  • and many more.

Each person requires something different. But in every case, a shaman will enter into the spirit world and see the nature of the patient’s spiritual illness before prescribing a method for healing.

Finally, after receiving healing from the shaman, an individual has two broad choices.

They can choose to return to normal healthy living. This is very important as our world needs more healed mothers, fathers, teachers, warriors, etc. to participate in building a healthy society.

Or, the individual can choose to use the skills they gained to help heal others. The individuals who decide to give up a normal life for the sake of using their skills to help others have completed the Shamanic Path and are called Shamans.

Can a shaman heal

What Does The Word ‘Shaman’ Mean?

So far, we have talked a lot about shamans, but what does the word shaman mean?

In fact, “shaman” is a Tungus word from Siberia, Russia, which simply means “priest of the Ural Altaic people.”

So, why do we use that word to describe people all around the world? 

It’s because the shamans of Siberia were one of the first people to be researched by anthropologists who later saw surprising similarities between them and other healers in cultures worldwide.

Some individuals feel it is culturally insensitive to use the word shaman as it should be restricted to Siberian healers.

Still, for the most part, it is the most widely accepted term for any member of a community who enters into the spiritual world to bring about change in their patients. 

Other terms which mean approximately the same thing as shaman are curandero, healer, and medicine man.

Witches, sorcerers, brujas, and wizards are sometimes considered shamans depending on the specific culture. But they do possess some key differences which we can discuss in another article.

What Does A Modern Day Shaman Do?

While it may seem unbelievable that shamans can still exist today, in reality, they are all over the world, still healing people using the ancient techniques of their ancestors.

Shamans are simply individuals who have overcome their shamanic initiation event and have chosen to heal their community. 

Shamans serve as spiritual doctors to those going through psychic attacks or difficulties.

They can make medicines from plants, minerals, and animals to bring healing to their patients.

They can speak with invisible spirits, find spirit guides, and reunite individuals with lost parts of their souls. And they can find answers to difficult questions in non-ordinary reality. 

Shamans also guide apprentices wanting to become shamans. Often by leading them through strenuous tests such as fasts, spirit quests, isolation diets, or spiritual battles.

Can Shamans Really Heal?

The short answer to this question is YES. Shamans are healing people around the world right now as we speak!

However, I understand that some individuals may be skeptical about this. So let me describe how shamans perform their healing in a little more detail.

On a very physical level, many shamans perform their healing just like a regular doctor would.

They see that their patient is troubled – perhaps a rash on their skin, a cough, a weird mannerism. And they know which medicine, massage, or physical technique to use to get their body back in line.

This is a very common part of Shamanism that not everyone always thinks about.

Shamans were Earth’s very first doctors. So they had to learn how to heal things such as snake bites, diarrhea, food poisoning, etc. It’s often a dirty, gritty job trying to get a patient over their sickness.

On a more spiritual level, however, shamans are also able to enter into spiritual dimensions (also known as non-ordinary reality, dream states, or altered states of consciousness) to see what is ailing their patients deep down to their soul. 

In these other dimensions, energies appear to the shaman as colors, lights, or animals and show the shaman their patient’s true problem.

Personally, having worked with plant medicines myself to enter these dimensions, I can assure you this is very real, not make-believe. I have seen energies swirling around people, talking to me, tempting me, things you could not imagine. 

This work is not for the faint of heart. The visions and characters that you encounter can be absolutely terrifying.

For truly strong shamans, though, they see these energies and neutralize them right then and there.

They can do this through singing, rituals, crystals, chants, incense, dance, and many other forms to get the intrusive energy to dissipate and leave the individual.

Once these energies disappear, the shaman works to put the soul back together in proper alignment. After all this is done, the patient feels clearer and can go on with their lives.

What is a Shaman

How Do You Know If You’re A Shaman?

As stated above, the process for becoming a shaman happens in stages along the shamanic path.

So while you may be born as a highly sensitive person or even an empath, becoming a shaman does require work. Think of it like Harry going to Hogwarts, or Luke training with Yoda.

It is true, however, that many people have experienced the first stage of the shamanic path: the shamanic initiation event.

If you have undergone a traumatic event in your life, specifically one that you seem incapable of escaping, it is likely that the universe wants you to move off of the normal path of your life and teach you something to help others.

If you see spirits, hear voices, have clairvoyance, or consider yourself a natural empath, you likely have the opportunity to become a shaman if you choose to proceed along the shamanic path and master the energies which currently seem overwhelming. 

Can Shamans See The Future?

Many people want to know what their future holds and may ask a shaman to tell them. So can shamans really see what’s going to happen to you?

The answer again, like with healing, is ‘Yes.’ Shamans can see the future. But this question certainly does require more explanation to make sense.

In the past, humans were much, much simpler people than they are today with very few distractions in their life.

A man got up to hunt and came home at night to his tribe. A woman made clothes for her children and then made food in the evening.

Life was much more direct and flowed with the rhythms of nature.

Funny enough, because of this, individuals with shamanic abilities were, in fact, less common than they are today since they didn’t have the dangers of civilization instigating shamanic initiation events on them. 

So, when a simple person during this time, who had lived a normal life, went to a shaman and asked them to read their future, the shaman would use their intuition and see what lay deep down in the person’s heart.

Were they lazy, caring, strong, hard-working, deceitful, etc.? Once the shaman had received this wisdom, they would read them their future based on that divination. 

Ancient shamans were accurate in this way because people living in tribes did not have as many opportunities to stray from their life’s paths.

For example, the strongest man of the tribe would likely become its chief. The most beautiful woman would become the head mother. Deceitful individuals would probably be exiled.

The shaman was there to tell them that based on where they were at that moment. This is what their future had in store for them.

Ancient people weren’t stupid or naive, though.

It’s important to remember that ancient humans used areas of their brains, such as motor skills, relationship building, and sensory sensitivity, much more than we do today. At the same time, we have excelled in areas of reading and critical analysis. 

Simply put, life was more about survival, food, raising children, and finding shelter in the past than it was about being able to discern patterns in how humans lived and thrived.

The shamans were the few people who had this skill.

Tribes weren’t online taking personality quizzes, for example. So when a shaman was able to reveal their true nature to them, this was a huge deal. 

Today, shamans can certainly still tell the future in this way, often surprising us by seeing parts of our personality and our souls that no one else has ever noticed.

If they see that you are compassionate, for example, they may tell you that you will be a great mother. If you have the ability to make jokes, they may show you that you can become a great peacemaker.

This shamanic skill continues to be a precious gift for people who cannot see themselves in their true light when negative energies are blocking their psychic vision. 

With all the distractions in modern life, however, it is not as common that people will end up following their heart and going where their soul takes them.

Factors such as disease, crime, job loss, politics, or even just choosing what school to go to cannot be foreseen by the average shaman. These factors make these kinds of divinations more challenging to come true.

Instead, I suggest to my patients and clients that it usually is more beneficial to ask a shaman, “what is my true nature?” Or, “what do you see inside me?”

Shamans can be very skilled at seeing the “real you” inside you.

With this information, shamans can also suggest which careers you should pursue, what kind of partners you should look for, and which kinds of people will attempt to prey on you.

This kind of future prediction is much more accurate than asking which specific dates or events will come to pass. And is not prone to the interferences in our lives due to civilization’s distractions. I also believe it’s much more helpful.

Should You See A Shaman?

At last, we’ve come back to your original question. I hope that this short journey through the basics of Shamanism has given you a broader understanding of this magical world, which many, including myself, call home.

The decision to seek out a shaman for healing or initiation onto the shamanic path ultimately comes down to you, the individual.

However, if you struggle with psychic difficulties, emotional distress, inner voices, visions, nightmares, or even diseases that doctors cannot explain, it might be very valuable for you to seek out a shaman.

Deciding which shaman to go to during difficult times in your life can be a very challenging task.

Anyone from an Instagram influencer to a ninety-year-old hermit can call themselves a shaman.

So you need to do some research before you decide who to give your valuable resources of time and money:

  • Find out how many people each particular shaman you’re interested in has worked with and what those individuals thought about their experiences.
  • Ask the shaman before working with them what their own shamanic initiation event was like, how their shamanic path has taken shape, and what specific skills and techniques they used to get through it. A shaman may have incredible abilities. But if they can’t resonate with your lived experiences, it’s going to be hard for them to assist you.
  • Also, look for a clear, healthy narrative to their life. If they don’t have a direct story of trauma and resolution, they may still be experiencing their own spiritual problems and not be able to fully heal you. 

Avoid shamans who you feel any kind of sexual energy towards; your healing will not work if you feel sexual attraction towards your shaman or they to you.

And most importantly: use your intuition.

If you don’t feel good about someone, do not work with them.

I believe most shamans have good intentions in the work they are doing. But it also comes down to the pairing between shaman and patient that can determine the quality of the experience. 

You should expect to pay for any healing services you receive since shamans have devoted their lives to this work. But do be wary of shamans who seem to be charging exorbitant prices or are not providing discounts to lower-income individuals.

The most powerful shamans do not live luxurious lifestyles as these things distract from their work and decrease their strength.

Thank you again for your wonderful question. 

All of these topics can be discussed further in the future, so if you liked this topic, be sure to let us know by liking and sharing this article.

Kevin Zimmerman is a shamanic practitioner, herbalist, and writer of matters of the spirit. He has apprenticed with Maestra Estela Pangoza at the Aya Madre Healing Center in Peru. Follow him on Instagram @movingmetaphor and Facebook @kevin.m.zimmerman

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