What is a Shaman?

  • Mircea Eliade, renowned University Chicago scholar wrote that shamanism is “a technique of ecstasy.” A shaman is a master of such techniques. (Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy; page 4)


  • Serge Kahili King is a Hawaiian shaman and my own personal teacher. He writes that “[a shaman is] a healer of relationships: between mind and body, between people, between people and circumstances, between humans and Nature, and between matter and spirit.” (Urban Shaman; page 14)


  • Layne Redmond, a drummer and mythologist wrote about shamanic skills, “In most historical forms of shamanism, the sound of the frame drum generates the trance state in which the shaman travels back and forth among the three realms – the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. The interconnectedness of these realms is universally represented by the Tree of Life . . .” (When The Drummers Were Women; page 39)


  • Rabbi Gershon Winkler writes about the journey of the Jewish shaman. He describes the journey that the “Jewish shaman takes in order to pass through the par’gawd, the Veil of Illusion, and learn the dance of spirit and matter.” (Magic of the Ordinary; xxii). It is a shamanic adventure to practice and experience such a dance.


My definition of shamanism is all of the above and more. I believe that Creation, all of creation, humans, rocks, stones, stars, the entire web of creation has an essential energy that underlies it, dances and moves through all, animates all. In order to take a breath, to have consciousness, to exist, to be, we are an essential part of this creative energy. Shamans are masters and teachers at remembering this knowledge, at experiencing it themselves, and at guiding others to these experiences. Shamans help us to always be aware of the bigger picture of spirit in the following manners;


  • to walk on the earth as humans in the present moment with our human bodies while being intimately in touch with ourselves as divine spirits
  • to consciously access and use the essential energy that underlies life and creation here on earth
  • to see and behold, the par’gawd, the Veil of Illusions
  • to recognize relationships and be an active agent of the dance of “spirit and matter”

Other words that are sometimes used to describe shamans, of both the ancient world and today, are magician, sorcerer, medicine (wo)man, healer, psychopomp. A shaman is ultimately a technician of mystery.