A Note on the Word 'Shaman'


The word 'shaman' has come to us through many cultures over the past 400 or so years, from Sanskrit to the Tungus language in North Asia to Germany and Russia. 

In the Western lexicon, it has come to be an umbrella term for a person who performs certain functions in a position of service to their community - namely, a person who can communicate with the spirit worlds and effect change there, who enters trance states and who performs healing and divination. Synonyms in English could be 'medicine man or woman', 'witch-doctor', 'healer'. What's important is that the word in this context has become descriptor word, where it was originally a title. 

Many traditional cultures have specific titles for such persons like, Seidhkona (Mythic Norse), P’aqo (Andean), Kahuna (Hawiian), Awenydd (Welsh Celtic) to name a few, though not all of these positions will perform exactly the same duties. A 'medicine' worker is as unique as the culture that sprung them. What ties them all together is an animistic world-view.

It's interesting to note that a lot of these cultures have a separate term for 'witch'. So although it is tempting to compare a witch to a shaman they are in fact singular paths with some very important differences in practice and in philosophy. 

The word shaman tends to misapplied to Native American healers which has angered many communities. This topic is closely related to issues of cultural appropriation. 

For the sake of simplicity we selectively use this word at Gifts for Mystics, however we recognize that its proper use is currently under debate in the wider social arena.