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What is shamanism?

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Shamanism is a counterfeit, anti-Christian worldview in which the intermediary between the natural and the supernatural is called a shaman. Shamanism is related to animism, the belief that spirits inhabit the physical world as well as the spiritual realm. Animism is one of the oldest existing belief systems and is found in many tribal communities, ancient and modern, around the world. It is seeing a comeback today in neo-shamanistic groups.

Shamanism is often syncretized with other belief systems, Islam and Christianity included, then becoming categorized as a folk religion. Shamanism/animism is not usually a stand-alone religion but is typically blended into pagan, polytheistic, and New Age faith systems.

The term shaman comes from the Siberian Tungus language and translates to “one who knows.” Related terms would be medium, medicine man, witchdoctor, sorcerer, exorcist, soothsayer, necromancer, and spirit walker.

In an animistic belief system, the shaman acts as an intermediary between the natural and spiritual worlds. Shamans are called upon in times of sickness, injury, natural disaster, enemy attack, or any time there is a perceived imbalance between the natural and spiritual realms. Shamanism teaches that all things have a spiritual root and that the spiritual world controls the natural world, so the key to affect any situation is thought to lie in the spiritual realm. The shamanistic worldview is one of works and a knowledge of the occult. To bring about the desired results in the natural world, a shaman relies on his expertise and the power of the objects he possesses.

In an animistic/shamanistic faith system, the world is a frightening place full of spirits that must be appeased. If placated, the spirits may bless you, or, if angered, they can become vindictive and hurt you or make you sick. Shamans are hired to enter the supernatural realm, discern the reason for the calamity, and find a means to restore healing and harmony. Shamans are feared and hold great influence within their tribes, as they purport to hold the power of healing as well as the power to kill or injure. Thus, it is not only the spirits that must be placated; the shamans must be kept happy, too.

Shamans often use hallucinogenic drugs, physical wounding, or extreme fasting to achieve an altered state of consciousness. Amulets, bells, drums, songs, dancing, or chanting might be part of the ceremonies that allow them to journey into the supernatural realm. Shamans also call on animating spirits and commonly use totemic items such as rocks or bones believed to hold special powers. Souls of the dead, animal spirits, or spirits of rocks or trees might also be summoned to act as guides. Shamanism maintains that certain places hold particular power or provide access to the spiritual world.

Even among those who follow this belief system, the role of shaman is recognized as a high-risk occupation. Navigating the spiritual realm is a dangerous undertaking. Depression, mental illness, and death from the use of entheogenic drugs are all possible.

Shamanism was the underlying belief system in the early biblical lands. God commanded His people against intermarriage and the worship of the territorial gods permeating the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 18:9–13 and other passages carry strong directives against involvement with spiritists, mediums, necromancers, and those who practice sorcery and witchcraft (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2, 4; 2 Kings 17:31; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6, Isaiah 57:5; Ezekiel 16:21).

The Bible teaches that we live in enemy territory. First Peter 5:8 refers to this spiritual battle and the reality of the unseen world around us. As Christians, we do not put stock in shamans, the rituals they perform, or the talismans they wield. Rather, our trust is in the power of the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4), and the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022