Shamanism is a set of tools and techniques used to interact with the spirit world and the world around us. It has no specific pantheon of gods and is attached to no particular culture. It is a way of looking at the world and at yourself. There are no hard set rules, no hierarchy to try and work through. Shamanism is the oldest known form of spiritual practice. It is a time-tested practice, what works is kept, what doesn’t is left behind. When our ancient ancestors prayed that the spirit of the Deer would come to them allowing them a good hunt, they were using shamanic techniques although I am sure that was not the word they used to describe it.
Shamanism is a personal quest for knowledge and inner power, but it is a quest that has traditionally taken place within the confines of a tribe or family group. The same holds true for those who follow a shamanic path today, but our groups might be different. We could work to guide and aid our family or a group of friends or a pagan circle. These groups are just as valid and appropriate a place for a modern person walking a shamanic path as a tribe was to an ancient one. A shaman's place is within a community, not apart from it.
Shamans have held an important place in many different cultures throughout the world since our beginnings. They have been mediators, ceremonialists, healers, diviners, many different kinds of artists and much more. They learn and work with power for both themselves and the good of those around them. They understand the connection and need for balance amongst all things, that all aspects of the world that we share with the rest of creation is alive, humans, animals, plants, rocks, and even the wind.
Traditionally people generally came to a shamanic path by being chosen and trained by an experienced shaman, or by inheriting the role from a parent. Often people choose or are led to follow a shamanic path after a near death experience, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go out and try to kill yourself if you want to learn shamanism. In today's world many people come to the shamanic path becasue they feel drawn to it or curious about it. Anyone can incorporate shamanic practices into their lives. You only need to believe that you can.
However, interest in shamanism does not make you a Shaman. If you are just starting this path it is much more appropriate to say you are following a shamanic path or a student of shamanism. Shaman is one among many titles that can be used for a person who has followed and studied this path for many years. Another common title is Medicine Woman or Man.
Another common misconception is that shamanism is synonymous with Native American spirituality. Native Americans were one of many groups that used shamanic practices in their spirituality. Many other cultures did and still do, from South America all the way to Siberia in fact. Some of the better known shamanic paths include Native American shamanism, Celtic shamanism, and Siberian shamanism. The following pages are purposefully very general, except for a few that were written by someone with a Native American background as an example of that path. Almost all forms of shamanism hold to the main ideas and concepts that follow, although the particulars and dieties will vary from group to group and even from tribe to tribe.