The Native American Shaman
Instructor C. Barba
Altered states of consciousness, different worlds, spirits, rituals, dances, amongst other aspects, with healing being one of the most important ones. This is some of what makes a shaman, or as it is mostly known in America, a medicine man. Shamanism goes back to the far away Asian lands, very far from America. But in some way it is also present in this country, and it has been present among Native American tribes, with some focusing on some of these aspects more than others, and some even refrain from calling it shamanism. But any way it is called, it is still present.
The Medicine Man
More than a healer, a leader. Spiritual leader, religious leader and in some cases even the chief or tribe leader. The medicine man is one of the, if not the, most influential person in a tribe. Anybody who is seeking help in any form will always end up going to the medicine man for help. This is because they have extensive knowledge in any subject. It is largely believed that a medicine man acquires all of this knowledge from his/her ancestors, it is either passed down to them and more generations by their guide, or they find this wisdom in one of their journeys.
A medicine man will go through self-sacrifice in times of great distress amongst the tribe in order to heal. These sacrifices included but are not limited to, fasting, extreme physical activity amongst other techniques. These were done in order to reach a higher state of conscience and sometimes it would even send them into a trance state that would allow them to travel the spirit world and talk to spirits, sometimes these were the spirits of their own ancestors. They would acquire knowledge that would be crucial to helping the tribe move forward.
Another aspect strongly pertaining to the medicine man and shamanism is dancing. It is a well-known fact that Native American tribes had dances for many things, for example, the rain dance is something that has been made much known to the mainstream audience, but this is not the only dance a tribe will have as there are many different ones and it usually depends on what tribe you're looking at. Most of these dances originated from a shamanic experience, some by dreams, like the Ghost Dance, or some by a medicine man's guidance. All of these have a purpose and the tribes hold very dear to them even up to this day.
Medicine men have their own special way of dressing too. They will wear ceremonial clothing and accessories, these accessories and objects have special powers that help them in their calling of spirits and in using and amplifying the spirits’ powers. Musical instruments are very big among them, the main ones are drums and rattles, but some have used bells as an instrument too. Other items were sometimes pertaining to a certain animal. All of these practices were believed to hold spiritual properties that would aid them in their rituals and visits to the spirit world.
The Trance State: The Shamanic Journey
The trance state, also called the shamanic journey by it’s practitioners, is a very important aspect of the Native American shaman or medicine man. A trance state refers to an altered state of the mind or consciousness, and it usually has a lot to do with the subconscious mind. These type of altered states give the subject a strange feeling, it is usually an out of body feeling in which the practitioner is going to feel as if they exited their own body and crossed over to another state of being, which is mostly the spiritual world.
There are many ways the trance state of mind can be achieved. Many shamananic healers have methods that they learned from ancestors, this comes back to the idea of traditional knowledge and the passing down of it for generations. Some of these methods include the use of natural herbs, which are a very important factor of Native American rituals and ceremonies. Most...
Bibliography: Sheridan, Thomas E., and Nancy J. Parezo. Paths of Life. Tucson: The University of Arizona, 1996.
Alchin, L.K. Native Indian Tribes, "warpaths2peacepipes." Last modified March 2012. Accessed March 16, 2014. http://warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-culture/
"Shamana." Last modified 2004. Accessed March 16, 2014. http://www.shamana.co.uk/native_american_shamanism/index.html.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document