Shamans are found in cultures all around the world. Some come from traditions spanning back thousands of years and some are emerging in modern culture. Their methods are different, but they do share certain qualities that define them:
- Has compassion. Compassion for their community/tribe and compassion for all life as a whole.
- Perceives other layers of existence, outside of the awareness of the body’s physical senses. This is commonly known as journeying.
- Communication with entities that co-exist with us but are not usually perceived with the physical senses. These are often referred to as power animals, spirit guides, etc. The shaman builds lifetime relationships with some of these, just like we network with other people in the middle world.
- Becomes a bridge between the spirits and the shaman’s community/tribe by connecting others with the healing and knowledge provided by those spirits.
These four qualities will be found in shamans across traditions and cultures. But the most significant of these qualities is the last one. People can be compassionate without being a shaman. People can journey and develop relationships with spirits but not be a shaman. The final quality of bringing the healing and guidance from spirits to the people/places/lives that need it is what defines someone as a shaman.
The methods of a shaman are defined by their tradition. These are the tools they employ, the rituals they use, the processes they follow. Shamanism is in itself a lifestyle. The particular way a shaman lives that spiritual practice are their methods. Tribal shamans will be taught their methods by a mentor, usually another shaman in their tribe. Shamans from modern society may be taught a tribal tradition by a shaman from that culture, adopt methods they learn about through study or develop their own methods based on what works for them.
Roles are the duties of a shaman. For example, a shaman may: lead spiritual ceremonies, perform marriages for members of their community, take people to sacred places, bestow blessings on people or crops, be a mediator for disputes, advise the community on when best to plant, and be a general healer.
Traditions will often influence the roles a shaman fulfills, but ultimately those roles will be dictated by the needs of the community/tribe.