What is a Shaman? by Jan Engels-Smith

What is a Shaman?

I get asked these questions daily that hold a standard that has directed my life and beliefs and made me into what I am today. Images of masks, grass skirts, painted faces, and witch doctor cures are conjured up with the word Shaman for many people. Some of these images are historically accurate; however there is now the 21st century version of a shaman.

The Siberian definition of the word shaman is someone who “sees in the dark with his or her heart.”

This “sight” caused me to found the LightSong School – 21st Century Shamanism and Energy Medicine™ and establish a healing practice that brings me joy, success and fulfillment. The Siberian definition of shaman that describes a person who has a heart that yearns to be of service is full of implications for me. The shaman believes in quality of life, happiness, love, and that everyone deserves the best, deserves to be healthy and is a radiant being of light. Seeing into the dark also means that often shamanic journeys will take us into unseen realms where there isn’t enough “light” to sustain life. Yet the heart guides us with such luminous radiance that it casts its own brilliance through the strong sense of love that emanates and helps manage these “dark” places.

The darkness plays a big part in things, and the heart plays a big part in things. When we are journeying, we try to make a really dark environment. If there is light in the room, we have eye covers. When you take away your “ordinary reality” senses and create a really dark environment, you go really deep inside of yourself, and you will be able to access information from “non-ordinary reality,” using the senses that you carry on the inside. The shaman sees in the dark with their heart; this is a loving expression of service.

Another definition of a shaman is someone who is dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world.

Both of those indicate a service-oriented approach to healing. Some of you may have read books about shaman experiences, such as the Carlos Castaneda series of books. These books also describe shamans, but they are not necessarily shamans in the way that we look at shamanism. These books were more about big power than being a healer. You can have different definitions by looking across history and reading different accounts. Most are going to have a healing quality; some are going to be more interested in power.

Shamanism is an ancient tradition that dates back at least 40,000 years and was used by most indigenous cultures in the world. It is a healing method based on the understanding that all experiences affect one’s soul, and thus all healing comes through the soul. Once the soul is healed, other healings can manifest in the physical, emotional, and mental bodies. I believe that this definition is more accurate than most people realize.

We are a soul/spirit having a human experience. When we realize this, and address the soul in healing, we will be healthier in our mind, body, and emotions.

Shamanism, as it is taught and practiced in 21st Century Shamanism, is not a doctrine, it is not a tradition; is core shamanism. This means that if you went to any indigenous place, anywhere in the world, and studied how their people connected with spirit, you would find certain things in common. North America, South America, Africa, Australia, Europeans, Siberians, Aboriginals, Eskimos all have particular attributes and ways of connecting with the spirits that are similar. Some of those common things are the use of the drum, the rattle, song, and journeying or communicating with the different worlds and the spirit allies that live there.