Shamans. They speak to the dead, see into the future, heal the sick, drive out evil spirits and lead the dead to the next world all because them and nature are like this. No no not like that, wrap your fingers tighter together. YES LIKE THAT You may know them from a number of different fictional representations such as World of Warcraft where the shaman class can cast lightning, trigger earthquakes, erupt pools of lava or to call upon the healing properties of water. Or perhaps you know them as an alternative class from Dungeons and Dragons in which they were created as an answer to the euro-centric Priest class; they essentially had the same powers and played the same role but the Shaman class had a markedly different flavor to them. Still others may know Shaman’s from X-Men’s Nate Grey (X-Man) who spent some time as a Shaman to a Mutant Tribe… er maybe it was his clone or another dimensional self… Damn that family tree is confusing. Anyways back on topic… Still others may recognize shamanism from Atrocitus the Red Lantern who used his rage to fuel his shaman-like powers. Of course there are countless other shamans that have appeared over the years in various mediums and this is just scratching the surface.
Have you ever wondered though how accurate these portrayals are? Maybe you’ve wondered where the influence for the Shaman character design comes from? Perhaps you just think of the word “Shaman” and your mind just went “that sounds cool and I want to learn about it.” On this week’s Let’s Learn About It! I’ll be giving you the basic rundown of Shamanism.
At its very core Shamanism is a religion in which Shamans act as a link between the spirits and the physical world and in turn this strengthens their bond with nature. While Shamanism varies amongst different cultures, Shamanism as a term and practiced religion originated in Northern Asia, more specifically among the Siberian Natives. It was believed that Shamans would gain various abilities or powers by speaking with the spirits while in a trance-like state. While Shamanism from an etymological standpoint only exists within Northern Asia, generalizations of the term have been expanded to every part of the world. Including but not limited to: The Americas, Korea, Australia, The Philippines, the Arctic Circle, certain African tribes such as the San, and in ancient times Scandinavia also showed evidence of Shamanistic practices. As Shamanism spread to these different socio-cultural spheres they were often generalized by anthropologists for a number of years as being synonymous with medicine men and women, healers, religious leaders, and counselors of indigenous peoples from all over the globe.
So we have different Shamans sprouting up all over the world each a little bit different than their neighbors. Much like the anthropologists of yesteryear I’m going to group them all together. This is not to say that I don’t recognize or appreciate their culturally-driven differences but for the purposes of this article I wish to give you just a general overview of Shamanism.
One of the main, core components of Shamanism is a connection with the Transcended World also known as the Otherworld, the World Beyond, the Upper World or the next track on the cosmological album (okay I made up that last one). Basically Shamans talk to spirits and more or less ask them for–
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We now return to Let’s Learn About It
Shamans attempt to communicate with these spirits through rather theatrical ceremonies complete with singing, dancing, dramatics, hallucinogenic mushrooms, drum pounding and fire to produce a trance like state. With this they call upon the spirits and speak to them often singing about the journey to find the spirit in their ritualistic impromptu songs. It’s not clear that spirits like to visit these guys because they want to see what all the ruckus is about, they love to party or they’re just concerned.
Regardless, the spirits will show up and give the Shamans the “what do you want” look (most likely with their hands on their hips, foot tapping anxiously. They probably also look at their watches but they’re always… dead… haahaha… ohohoho heee… *sigh*) The Shamans, through their power to talk with their spirits, thanks to their inherently strong connection with nature, they can ask the spirit to heal the sick, speak with the dead, see into the future, help a recently deceased person into the afterlife (because honestly getting there can be kind of tough if you don’t have directions and the GPS always gets it wrong) or give someone marital or financial advice.
So becoming a Shaman seems like a pretty sweet deal right? I mean you get to dance about, sing, play the drum, act and enter psychosomatic altered states of mind to talk with spirits. There are basically two ways to become a Shaman. The first way is rather simple; all you have to do is have a Shaman father, or mother.
Go ahead and ask your parents if they’re Shamans, make sure you look at them in the best
“I’m disappointed that you aren’t Shamans” look that you can possibly come up with if they say no. It may help to practice in front of a mirror a few times.
If they said yes, Congratulations You’re a SHAMAN! Celebrate. Crack open a bottle of wine. Throw a Party. Invite your friends over but demand they wear Shaman appropriate regalia; antlers, feathers, bear paws, human bones or maybe just construction paper I’m sure it gives the same effect
As for the rest of you, unfortunately you’ll have to become a Shaman the hard way. First you must be “chosen” by the spirits. Spirits often give the Shaman job to those with some type of physical irregularity so if you have an extra toe, walk with a limp or something like that you’re in luck. Wait… What was that? You don’t want to be a Shaman? You say that going into a psychotic state to talk with spirits is a bit frightening to you? Rest easy friend, the spirits will simply torture you into madness until you agree to become a Shaman.
Now that you agreed (or were forced) to become a Shaman you will lie dead in a trance-like state (kind of like a coma.) Then it’s just the simple matter of allowing spirits to cut you up into sections to see how many bones you have. Not enough bones? Better go back to the unemployment office because Shamanism is not for you. I’m not quite certain why aspirations are concerned with the number of bones you have but I’m not about to question the spirits. Maybe you should’ve thought about getting some more bones before you let spirits cut you open. Honestly, making sure you had a few extra should have been the number one thing on your priority list
So you’ve been chosen, (or tortured into madness), have some kind of physical irregularity, and have a few extra bones. By now you should’ve been brought out of your trancelike death state. Time for refreshments and snacks, right? After all you’ve had a long day. Nope. Sorry. Time for you to perform a symbolic initiation ritual like climbing an incredibly large tree.
Or maybe, just maybe you’ve been a Shaman for awhile and you’re looking to up your Shamanism game for the big Shaman Championships. You’ve summoned a few spirits and maybe you cured a few people of a cold or something but you’re not satisfied. Despite working out at the Shaman gym every day and drinking your special dietary Shaman Shakes you can’t seem to bring your game to the next level. Don’t worry I’m sure if you work hard and ea—
Oh wait, never mind. Apparently it all depends on which part of the World Tree your soul was created in. Oh I didn’t mention the tree? The World Tree (though it goes by many different names) is a gigantic cosmic tree in which the souls of future Shamans are born and nurtured. The further up in the tree your soul was born the greater your Shamanistic Powers; with those at the top more or less having maxed out stats and those at the bottom of the tree might be able to hear a spirit scream cuss words at them or something like that. So I guess you can’t improve your Shaman status, sorry about that.
Besides its not enough to just talk with spirits, you gotta sell it or else people aren’t going to want to come see you anymore. And honestly performing to an empty crowd is just a real bummer. You’ve got to be able to sing songs made up on the spot, dance, play the drum, and give dramatic enactments all while in a trance like state thanks to spirit posession (or under the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms). They were the original one man band (and then some)
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about Shamanism, feel free to spread the knowledge around. Also if you feel so inclined tell me about your favorite fictional Shaman in the comment section below. Furthermore, if you’d like to share ideas that could possibly improve the Shaman class for future games or writers wishing to capture the Shaman in a more accurate sense than just “can cast lightning bolt” feel free to say so in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading and I hope you learned something
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