Shamanism is not Native American religion. Its not spiritualism that a tribe shares. Shamanism, in fact, is not even Native American in origin. The word ‘shaman’ comes from the Siberian tribes , often referring to the healer that utilized trance and herbalism to help heal the sick. Most North American native tribes remain too diverse to clump them together under one umbrella term of ‘religious beliefs’, let alone a shared practice of shamanism.
By definition, a Shaman uses trance to enter the Spirit realm, and speak to the dead and/or the spirits they encounter. They can be male or female, and the tradition is taught from one shaman to another. This learning often requires face to face, one on one contact, and can incorporate language as well as traditions of the culture. Shamans are in service to their tribe, meaning you cannot be a solitary shaman. Its just not possible.
In North American tribes, the term Shaman is not the same as ‘medicine man, although many Westerners believe this to be so. Tribal beliefs vary from tribe to tribe. Some follow an animistic view of totems and spirits in all things, while others follow a pantheon of god/desses. Many modern tribes are also Christian, and this needs to be taken into consideration before picking and choosing what you think ‘feels right’. Native Americans take offense to this.
Here are a few facts to consider:
- Heritage can be very important. For instance, only a full blood Cherokee (who call themselves the Tsalagi) who speaks the native language can be a medicine wo/man. There’s also the path where you are adopted into a tribe, but this differs from tribe to tribe. Just because your grandmother/grandfather/mother/father/uncle/whatever was a shaman doesn’t make you one.
- You cannot be a self proclaimed Shaman. For starters, most tribes use the terms Medicine wo/man, not shaman. It takes years to learn, from a shaman or medicine wo/man.
- Medicine men and women do not charge for their teaching. In many tribes, they don’t charge money for their service though they may accept a bartering type system. This means if you are being charged for taking a course, then likely its all hype.
- Most shaman and medicine wo/men are often ‘touched’ by the gods/Divine, setting them apart from the usual. They can be trans-gendered or having a gift of talking to the dead or to spirits.
- You’re special and unique even if you’re not a shaman. I find too many people wanting desperately to be special or different they want a title that somehow validates this. You’ll have better luck in dispersing your ego than trying to inflate it.