A Shaman is a person anchored securely in both the physical world and the spiritual realm, a mediator if you will. Therefore, Shamanism is a way of life revolving around interaction of the spiritual and physical worlds. The Shaman does not solely exist as other humans do; they lead a totally different life in conjunction with their earthly duties within their tribe. The two are not separate by any means; one has direct impact on the other, or so it is believed by those who study this form of healing. For, of course, the Shaman is also a magician and a medicine man; he is believed to cure, like all doctors, and to perform miracles of the fakir type, like all magicians, whether primitive or modern. But beyond this, he may also be a priest, mystic, and poet.
Illness, according to shamans, begins on the spiritual plane. If left unchecked, then the spiritual disturbance manifests itself as a physical malady. A large part of the healing process is to remove barriers within the body to allow the impurities to leave the body, and to incourage the body to heal itself. The energy is channeled through the healer from a higher source like a conductor into the patient and in turn the malevolent entity, disturbance, is pulled into the healer to get rid of. To remove the disturbance, different Shamans have different techniques. However, the purpose is identical and the end result usually come out about the same frequency of success to failures. There are countless documentations of a Shaman sucking an evil spirit from the body of the affected person. Depending on the Shaman’s particular style, the spirit may be spat out in the form of saliva or a small mass, sometimes with blood on it. Along those same lines, bitter medicines are administered to the patient in order to make the body an unpleasant living environment for the evil being and so it will leave. Sometimes, the ill-stricken person is not possessed by an evil spirit, but rather, has a disturbance on the spiritual plane. This usually is the result of an emotional imbalance within the body and can be mended fairly easily. Rattles, drums, and singing are thought to help restabilize the imbalance by first disrupting the harmony of the imbalance, removing it, and refilling the empty space with compatible vibrations. The energy used to refill the area cleaned of the imbalance acts as a ’spiritual scar tissue’ and mends the fragmented ends together. In order to do what they do, a Shaman must not confine themselves to the physical world. Sometimes, mostly, the soul leaves the body to ascend into the sky to visit the heavens or down into the earth to the underworld. This is called a Shamanistic Flight, one when the shaman travels beyond the limitations of the physical body. In addition to traveling to other worlds, Shamans also enlist the help of different fetishes. These fetishes are believed in some circles to provide the Shaman with his/ her healing power. The fetishes are representations of the animal spirit medicine men. Combining the two, there is an act called a parashamanistic technique. There are actually four of them; all involve direct intercourse with the supernatural world. However, only one is characterized by the spirit-possession trance. In this trance, the healing spirit takes over the Shaman’s body. There are innumerable ways to be chosen to be a Shaman. The common thread throughout is that once they has been chosen, they must be trained. There are special taboos that must be learned in order to become a Shaman, but not all of these teachings hold constant through the different tribes. For instance, there are several taboos concerning eating; forbidden to eat outside and cannot eat head, heart, intestines, or liver of an animal. Some tribes have their young Shaman refrain from sexual relations, although other cultures allow marriages. It is even accepted in other tribes that the Shaman be a transvestite, marry a man that has a wife, do wife jobs as well as be a Shaman, and have homosexual relations. There is also a secret vocabulary of the shaman that must be learned and special techniques concerning their function within society. Once they have been trained in all the ways of the Shaman, then it is then time for the novice Shaman to receive the paraphinalia of the trade. There is precious little the Shaman actually needs to perform his task. From his parents, he receives a headdress and a belt. From the instructor, the young Shaman receives his first protection item, which may be a stone, a totem animal, or a tunraq (an Eskimo custom). A tunraq is a protective spirit to watch over the shaman and to help him with his needs. Additional protections can be given by other Shaman for some service done for another, or by following the spirit’s on volition. A Shaman concentrates mainly on curing the ill and rainmaking rather than getting involved in the government of the tribe. They are, however, looked to for advice for the leadership of the community. This is because one of the roles of a Shaman is to be a guardian of the well-being of the tribe, ensuring continuing fertility and health. Then again, Shaman do not rely totally on the spiritual realm for healing. They learn considerable knowledge in first aid and herbal cures for ‘natural diseases’. This means that they do not lack empirical knowledge (knowledge gathered from trial and error) and experimental technique. Shaman use both learned knowledge and spiritual knowledge to cure those that they come in contact with.