The word shaman has become a blanket word used for anything spiritual or anything that has to do with healing. We need to be re-thinking this. The actual definition of shaman is a bit more narrow than we’ve made it out to be. It’s a word that can be claimed by a small portion of the population, people who talk to spirit in a certain way, in a particular region of the world. The word came to us by way of European folks who observed Siberian people in deep relationships with the spirit world. As it’s designated, a shaman is someone who enters into a deep trance state and travels to the spirit world to visit the spirits there, to bring back information for healing – for people, community and planet. If those things are not occurring, the practice probably falls into a category other than shamanic. (Thank you to my very dedicated teachers, Bekki and Crow, for teaching me this from the start, over two decades ago.)
So that brings me to the original question – who can be a shaman? People who are raised in indigenous cultures where they go into deep trance (so deep that they often need an assistant to help them while they are carrying out their ceremonies) to talk to the spirits can be labeled shaman. A shaman doesn’t necessarily call themselves a shaman but is referred to as that by their community. The last thing you’ll see from someone who has this role is them bragging about it. The shaman’s path is bumpy and arduous and one that your average human wouldn’t seek out. It’s painful and often involves close calls with death. So unless you fall into this category, you should consider if this word is truly one that suits you.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many ways to access information from spirit. Medicine folks and indigenous healers from around the globe (who all have different names for themselves – most of which are not shaman) are connecting with spirit to help their people. Let’s just be clear that not all of them are going into deep trance states to access that information. That’s one of the defining characteristics of someone who’s truly in the role of shaman – they move into deep trance.
Can practices be shamanic in nature? Sure. Can we be involved in spirit practices that move us into altered states so we can do healing work? Absolutely. Are we overusing the word “shaman” altogether? I believe we are. If a practice involves going into trance states (for which there should be a protocol) that results in deep healing of people and communities, then it is shamanic in nature. This is the reason I’m comfortable using the word “shamanic” to explain parts of my practice. My training has taught me to move into altered states to help other people. Have I learned how to move into altered states for healing purposes? Yes, absolutely. Do I help others move into those states? I do. But I don’t and never will call myself a shaman. I haven’t earned and have no interest in claiming that title. I don’t go deep enough into those states ceremonially, nor do I exist within a direct lineage of indigenous shamans. What I’m interested in is helping people to heal on deep levels so they can live in harmony with their own energy and power. That I can do, based on my commitment to the path, my dedication to the spirits of healing and my willingness to continue learning from my teachers.
So the answer to my original question is simple. No, you can’t call yourself a shaman if you’re actually not. Yes, you can use the word shamanic to describe what you practice, but be sure to take a close look at it’s meaning before you use it so loosely.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about what a shaman is and where the term comes from. If you’re interested in finding out more of what I offer, join us in my free community group, Awaken Your Medicine.
If you are deeply called to learn more about this practice, consider joining my Path to Power Community. It’s the online place where I teach shamanic practice (including journeywork) and offer live coaching on a regular basis. (This is a monthly paid offering and it’s where the bulk of my online teaching is delivered.)
I deeply value people who are ready for this type of work.
Have a beautiful day!