Since early civilization, shamans have been integral in the healing process. The term shaman is derived from “saman,” a Russian term which refers to one that uses ecstasy techniques. Shamankas, which are female shamans, and shamans use ecstasy techniques to act as a channel between the spiritual and physical worlds. During a connection with the spirit world, the shaman investigates why a patient suffers from physical, spiritual, or emotional discomforts, meanwhile deciphering a way to heal that patient.
Since shamankas and shamans were the only source of healing and connection to the spirit world, they were widely respected and revered within their community. Adding to their status was the common belief that only a select few possessed the gift of healing and the key to the spirit world. For instance, a child who recovered from an illness on her own strength proved that she was destined to be a shamanka.
Although shaman powers are bestowed on a select few, the gift is not gender biased. Gender, unlike other cultural healing practices, does not alter the healing power of a shamanka or shaman. Nonetheless, shamankas are often sought after more because of certain female characteristics such as a nurturing spirit, warmth, concern, firmness, and assertiveness. However, these characteristics reflect a patient’s preference but not the effectiveness of healing.
Patients will seek a shaman’s healing for ailments ranging from common colds, broken bones, depression, or evil spirits. Regardless of their sickness, the shaman will take an account of the patient’s daily activities, diet, and any unusual occurrences. After gathering this information, the shaman will begin to search for a cure, by using bones, teeth, animal claws, shellfish, snail shells, dried roots, herbs, pieces of wood, stones, and glass as ingredients for remedies.
Generally, a shaman will communicate with the spirit world to bring about healing. Shamans communicate with spirits through trances, which are sometimes induced by alcohol or narcotics. While entranced, the shaman will begin to dance, sing, groan, their spirit will fly to distant lands, ascend into the heavens, and descend into the underworld. The shaman’s entrancement and behavior initiates the conversation with the spirits, thus allowing the shaman to find the cause of illness, cures, and fight off evil spirits. Upon returning to the physical world, the shamanka will construct a remedy based on the information that she gathered while entranced.
Although shamans are not licensed medical doctors, they continue to have a significant role in healing, especially in rural communities around the world. As long as sickness and evil plague the world, shamankas and shamans will maintain their role in society as a source of healing and connection with the spirit world.
See Also: Charismatic healers, Healers
- Kalweit, H. (1987). Shamans, healers, and medicine men. Boston: Shambhala.