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Prehistoric paintings on walls in caves in Europe show that shamanism rvas practiced at least 20,000 years ago. The word comes from Siberia, from the language of the Evenk peoples who hunted and herded reindeer for a living. However, shamanism has been found in most tribal cultures in every continent, from Alaska to Borneo. Witch doctors or sangomas (Africa), medicine men (North America), yogis or holy men (India), and witches and wizards (Europe) are all shamans who follow more or less the same practices everywhere.

The essence of shamanism the ability of the shaman to enter a trance or dream state of altered consciousness (and sometimes to help the sufferer into the same state). Shamans claim this takes them into the spirit world where they can use their ability to control the spirits to make changes that affect the physical world. In a trance state, they are able to separate their souls from their bodies and fly to any part of the cosmos to seek the cure, or the reasohs for the illness, and so cure the patient. They also use herbal medicine and cleansing rituals. Traditionally shamans were not only highly skilled at healing the sick but had the ability to foretell the future, interpret dreams, and ward off evil spirits. In traditional hunting societies, they were able,to seek out the souls of prey animals and lead the tribe tp the best hunting grounds.

Shamans in the traditional hunting societies were usually men and were held in the highest regard, often having a status equal to that of a chief or leader. Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol hordes, was a shaman. In the more agrarian societies of Africa, India, and Asia, many shamans were women, and in Korea, all shamans are female.

Shamanism Techniques

The techniques used by a shaman to bring about a state of altered conscious­ness include drumming, rattling, chanting, dancing, and the taking of natural hallucinogenic drugs. Drums are a feature of the northern shamanic traditions, whereas rattles are significant in South America, as are hallucinogenic plants. In Peru, shamans are known as vegetalistas because of their skilled use of dangerous plants. Through these means, the shaman claims to be able to move between the real and the spirit worlds at will. He may go into a deep trance state or more dramatically allow himself to be temporarily taken over by the spirits that he has summoned. However, a shaman always controls and summons the spirits; he is not possessed by them.

During their rituals many shamans call on the help of the essential spirit of animals or sacred objects to which they feel a special connection. By harnessing the energy of their guardian spirits, the shaman divines I what the problem is - whether physical, spiritual, or emotional - and what remedy is needed to treat it.

Contemporary or neo-shamanism uses many traditional techniques but emphasizes a direct connection to a spirit guide rather than using a shaman as an intermediary. New forms of so-called shamanism, which are popular in many New Agy groups" such as "Trance Dance," have little connection to real shamanism.

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