The Shaman – Term Paper


A shaman is a spiritual or a religious leader who receives his magical powers from the spirit world. The spiritual powers enable him to protect his tribe, predict the future events, and cure various illnesses and also to offer realistic advice. The paper seeks to discuss both characteristics and practices of shamans. It goes further to highlights the differences between them and the priests. 

Characteristics of Shamans

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Prevalently, for shamans to function effectively, they have to enter into a trance with the aim of controlling the spirit world. Before going into the trance state, they have to apply specific method. This means, there is an outlined procedure to be following before entering the mentioned state. Interestingly, the shamans may alternatively alter the state of consciousness which is pivotal in contacting the spirits (Ellwood & McGraw, 2014). The common method that they use in attaining the said state is ritual dance which is accompanied by drum music. At times, they ingest hallucinogenic drugs to enter into a trance state.     

Another characteristic of shamans is that the power that they aver to use has come or given by the spirits. Some people have described this power has a spiritual manipulation of the energy (Ellwood & McGraw, 2014). This features, therefore, means that shaman gained an incredible supernatural power that enables them to cure various diseases, protect them from evil forces.

Another interesting feature of shamans is that they undergo through an extended or a temporary period of mental ailment which can be compared to that one of schizophrenia or psychosis. During the period mentioned above, they may also face a heightened physical suffering (Steadman, 2016). Interesting to note is that the experience of physical pain or torture is a necessity in the recruitment and selection of shamans.

Also, shamans agree that their magical powers emanate from spirit possession. In essence, this means they cannot operate without the spiritual forces. The spirit powers, therefore, forms the entire functionality of shamans. Anthropologists espouse this fact by affirming that for one to be a shaman that he has to permanently incarnate or personified the spirits into his body (Steadman, 2016).

Practices of Shaman

The ceremony of the shaman contains both the religious and performances which are artistic in nature. The primary objective for the dramatic display during their ceremony is to lead or guide the tribe in a serious ritualistic process. The performance mentioned above is generally accompanied by dance, poetry, music, and mimetic actions. The usage of these elements permits them to evince their mystical unity with the nature together with the spirits and the tribe (Ellwood & McGraw, 2014). Notably, this ritual enables the rest of the tribe to partake the religious experience. Also, during the ceremony, they continuously alternate their voices mimetically with an objective of representing different god, persons, and animals. Conversely, the change of music and dance displays their progress in the world of spirit and different in the interaction of spirit.

The attire of the shaman is not constant but varies all through the region. The accessories of the chief of the shaman include cap, coat, and tambourine. The coat is invariably decorated with bird’s feathers to symbolize animal. During the ritual, he transforms himself into an animal which is a crucial feature of the journey into the world of the spirit (Ellwood & McGraw, 2014). On the other hand, tambourine represents a way of communicating with spirit.

Comparison between Shaman and Priest or other Religious Leaders

A point to note is that shamans work with or for the people who are mostly tribes. On the other hand, priests or Imams work for hierarchy which are mostly organizations. Another distinct between the two is that shamans obtain their powers directly from the spirits while priests earn their experiences through specialized training (Steadman, 2016). Additionally, Shaman works with many spirits that are mostly of creation, nature, and plants while priests work with only one spirit.


From the above discussion, it is worth concluding that Shamans receive their magical powers from the spirit world which protect and enable them to cure disease. Their ceremony is both religious and with a performance which is artistic in nature. Finally, there are clear differences between shaman and priests.


Ellwood, R. S., & McGraw, B. A. (2014). Many peoples, many faiths: Women and men in the world religions (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. 

Steadman, S. R. (2016). The archaeology of religion: Cultures and their beliefs in worldwide context. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.