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Learn | 04.27.2024

What Are Shamans And What Do They Do?

Shamanism: service at its core.

Despite the passage of time and the advance of modern medicine, the role of shamans remains vital in many societies.

Central to indigenous cultures, shamans are seen as the intermediators between the physical and spiritual world.

But what exactly do they do, and how do they serve the communities around them?

The Role Of A Shaman

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Shamans forge deep connections with ancestors, spirit guides, and the natural world, all for the community’s well-being.

Their access to the spirit world is achieved through altered states of consciousness or trance states, during which shamans can communicate directly with spirits, engage in dialogues, and undertake “soul flights” to visit spiritual domains.

Within their communities, shamans fulfill various essential roles:

Facilitating Connection

At their core, shamans act as intermediaries, skillfully interpreting and conveying messages from the spiritual realm. Their insights provide wisdom and guidance, directly impacting the well-being of individuals and community.

Healing and Protecting

Shamans are recognized as both spiritual therapists and healers. They use their connection to the spirit world to diagnose and heal physical and mental illnesses, aiming to restore balance and harmony.

Leading Rituals

Rituals and ceremonies designed to engage with the spirit world are essential to shamanic practice. Whether healing ceremonies, rites of passage, or community rituals, each is purposefully crafted to draw spiritual support and wisdom. Among these sacred practices, shamans often facilitate retreats and ceremonies involving plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, which are used for deep healing and spiritual exploration.

Relay Direct Messages

Through trance states, shamans communicate with the spirit world, bringing back valuable insights, warnings, or guidance to help individuals or the entire community navigate life’s challenges or questions.

Master of Spirits

More than just messengers, shamans exert influence over spiritual entities, using this ability to protect their community, facilitate healing, and balance the physical and spiritual realms.

To fulfill these roles, there are various tools shamans can choose to use.

Shamanic Tools

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Tools are extensions of the shaman’s intentions and can aid in healing and help unlock the spiritual world.

Each tool they use holds specific significance and is used with intention and respect.

Tools include:

Altar Or Mesa

An altar is a focal point for spiritual energy and intention. It is an extension of the shaman and is created to honor spirits, ancestors, and the natural world. Personal and spiritually significant objects like stones or artifacts tied to their healing practice and spiritual lineage are arranged on the altar. This altar is then used for meditation, prayer, and ritual work.

Drums and Rattles

Central to shamanic practice, the rhythmic beating of a drum or the shaking of a rattle can help shamans or participants enter into trance states or the spiritual world.

Crystals and Stones

Shamans often use earth’s gifts, such as double-terminated quartz crystals and Boji stones for healing rituals. These elements are believed to have the power to absorb, store, and redirect energy. This makes them helpful in channeling or removing energies to help restore balance.


In more intense healing work, shamans may use knives as a symbolic tool to help sever energetic cords or remove energetically solidified negativities from an individual’s aura.

Herbs and Incense

Burning sacred herbs like sage or palo santo can help cleanse spaces of negative energies, create a sacred atmosphere, and aid in concentration during rituals or ceremonies.

Plant Medicines

Shamans utilize sacred plant medicines such as ayahuasca as a means of healing and communicating with the spiritual realm. Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew, and those who consume it enter altered states of consciousness, which can lead to profound spiritual insights and healing experiences.


Symbolizing flight and freedom, shamans use feathers to conduct energy clearing and perform healing tasks. Feathers can carry prayers and intentions to the spirits.

Spirit Guides

Although not a physical tool, shamans work closely with spirit guides to help them gain wisdom, protection, and mediation between the spiritual and physical worlds. The relationship between a shaman and their spirit guides is foundational, as it helps guide their healing work and decision-making.

Considering their responsibility, becoming a shaman is usually an elaborate and profound experience.

How To Become A Shaman

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Becoming a shaman usually begins with a calling to serve the community rather than a choice for personal gain. This calling usually isn’t actively sought out.

The calling shamans receive can manifest through various experiences, such as near-death situations, vivid dreams or visions, or a clear lineage of spiritual practitioners in their family.

Individuals can receive a signal during these experiences, often receiving a message from spirits or ancestors that they are chosen for this path.

Sometimes, the calling isn’t direct. Often, a genuine, experienced, or “clean” shaman can help confirm if this calling is genuine and in alignment with spiritual or divine intent.

Becoming a shaman often involves seeking an experienced shaman willing to mentor an apprentice.

This relationship with another shaman is essential—they provide technical knowledge of rituals, tools, and ceremonies and the wisdom to navigate spiritual challenges that arise.

Finding a reputable and willing teacher can help set the foundation for shamanic education and spiritual development. It provides a solid foundation for their development and acts as a crucial confirmation of their readiness and suitability for the shamanic path.

Becoming a shaman requires years of rigorous training and initiation. Training includes the development of specific abilities, such as:

  • Learning to communicate with the spirit world

  • Understanding the use of sacred tools

  • Mastering the art of ritual and ceremony

  • Entering altered states of consciousness

  • Conducting healing work

These training experiences are designed to test the aspiring shaman’s resolve, purify their spirit, and prepare them for their responsibilities.

At its heart, shamanism is about service. The ultimate goal of a shaman is to use their spiritual gifts to benefit their community.

This can involve healing work, divination, facilitating connections between the physical and spiritual realms, and guiding others on their spiritual journeys.

The true measure of a shaman’s success lies in their ability to positively impact the lives of others, embodying the role of healer, guide, and protector.

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