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(shä`mən, shā`–, shă`–), religious practitioner in various, generally small-scale societies who is believed to be able to diagnose, cure, and sometimes cause illness because of a special relationship with, or control over, spirits. Different forms of shamanism are found around the world; they are also known as medicine menmedicine man,
among Native Americans and other traditional peoples as far back as Paleolithic times, a person believed to possess supernatural healing powers. Like the shaman the medicine man was a specialist in spiritual healing.
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 and witch doctors. Shamanism is based on the belief that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. Shamans are not, however, organized within full-time ritual or spiritual associations, as are priests. Shamans enter into trances through such methods as autohypnosis, the ingestion of hallucinogens, fasting, and self-mortification, during which time they are said to be in contact with the spirit world. Shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities, which are often thought to be obtained through heredity or supernatural calling. Among the Siberian Chukchi, one may behave in ways that Western clinicians would characterize as psychotic, but which they interpret as possession by a spirit demanding that one assume the shamanic vocation. Among the South American Tapirapé, shamans are called in their dreams. In yet other societies, shamans choose their career: Native Americans of the Plains would seek a communion with spirits through a "vision quest," while South American Shuar, seeking the power to defend their family against enemies, apprentice themselves to accomplished shamans. Shamans often observe special fasts and taboos particular to their vocation. Oftentimes the shaman has, or acquires, one or more familiars, usually spirits in animal form, or (sometimes) of departed shamans. Shamans can manipulate these spirits to diagnose and cure victims of witchcraftwitchcraft,
a form of sorcery, or the magical manipulation of nature for self-aggrandizement, or for the benefit or harm of a client. This manipulation often involves the use of spirit-helpers, or familiars.
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. Some societies distinguish shamans who cure from sorcerers who harm; others believe that all shamans have both curative and deadly powers. The shaman is usually paid for his services, and generally enjoys great power and prestige in the community, but he may also be suspected of harming others, and may thus be feared. Most shamans are men, but there are societies in which women may also be shamans. In some societies, a male shaman may assume the dress and attributes of a woman; such shamanistic tranvestism has been found among the Chukchi and some North American tribes. See DyakDyak
or Dayak
, name applied to one of the groups of indigenous peoples of the island of Borneo, numbering about 2 million. The Dyaks have maintained their customs and mode of life largely uninfluenced by modern civilization.
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, AraucaniansAraucanians
, South American people, occupying most of S central Chile at the time of the Spanish conquest (1540). The Araucanians were an agricultural people living in small settlements.
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, ArapahoArapaho
, Native North Americans of the Plains whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages).
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, CheyenneCheyenne
, indigenous people of North America whose language belongs to the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). The Cheyenne abandoned their settlements in Minnesota in the 17th cent.
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, and UteUte
, Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Shoshonean group of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). In the early 19th cent. the Ute occupied W Colorado and E Utah.
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See M. Eliade, Shamanism (tr. 1964); M. J. Harner, ed., Hallucinogens and Shamanism (1973) and The Way of the Shaman (1980); M. Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man (1987).

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a provider of religio-ethnomedical services in simple societies. Usually a part-time rather than a full-time practitioner, the shaman typically emerges as different from his clients by an ability to enter trance-like states or other abnormal states of consciousness. This is interpreted as involving a special capacity to make contact with and mobilize supernatural powers. The position of the shaman is based on these personal powers; this contrasts with the priest in more differentiated forms of religion, who is recruited to the organization. See also MAGIC, WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a priest in the cult of shamanism. The shaman has the ability to enter into kamlanie, a state of ritual ecstasy, during which, his followers believe, he communicates with spirits. With the spirits’ aid, he can, for example, heal the sick or predict the future.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a priest of shamanism
2. a medicine man of a similar religion, esp among certain tribes of North American Indians
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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