When I first started reading books stating they were about "shamanism" and/or "shamanic practices" I had no idea of the origins of the word at all. In the past the word "shaman" was used by a select group of people from one area of our planet, but in recent times it has been adopted to cover a vast range of similar or "almost the same" concepts that originally were never called shamanic. If you put the word "shaman" into a search engine I guarantee that at least two thirds of the websites you find will be dealing with "neo-shamanism" rather than the original thing.
Answers.com describes it as:
Shamanism is the oldest form of human healing. It is a type of religious medicine that originated over 25,000 years ago in the Paleolithic hunting cultures of Siberia and Central Asia. The English word shaman is derived from the Siberian Tungus word "saman", which is defined as a technique of ecstasy. The shaman is considered a great master of trance and ecstasy. He or she is the dominating figure in certain indigenous populations.Over time people have used the word to label various primitive cultural healers who followed "shamanic" ideas or practices. Cultures where the priests/healers connected in trance and/or meditation to both the spiritual realms and the earthly world of nature. Thus the African witchdoctor and the Native American Medicine man can be called "shamans" even though in their own world this word was never known to them.
My first contact with the word "shamanism" came through two Native American friends. The one had a brother who was a medicine man and the other was studying healing himself. Neither of them ever used the word "shaman", but the links they gave me to read did eventually lead me to that word. They had no problems with the word themselves, but I have found that some Native American people find the fact that their varied beliefs have been swept into one basket labelled "shamanism" offensive. The peoples of the Americas have as many different spiritual and religious systems as any other continent. Labelling them all with one generic heading is unfair, but generic labels do make human communication far easier. In this case it might be better to say that what you find out on the net nowadays is most likely "neo-shamanism". A modern invention of "New Age" (another dreadful label) ideology.
A shaman was/is a healer "called" or chosen by his/her ancestors or God to heal and act as a bridge between the worlds of the living and the dead. You don't decide to be a shaman - it picks you. Neo-shamanism is a lot more complicated. Neo-Shamanism is gaining popularity, I suspect, because a lot of our modern religions have been losing touch with their mystical side.
Taking Christianity as an example - more and more churches are trying to be logical, Politically Correct and scientific. Being progressive is fine, but in gaining a more "modern" attitude they have lost a lot of their original mystery. Where in this modern world is there room for the visionaries and mystics? If St Francis was to walk into the wilderness today he'd most likely be taken away to a nice little mental home. As for those who see visions.. would anyone today build a new Lourdes based on a vision? If someone today wrote inspired by God would we add his/her writings to our Holy Books as was done in the ancient past?
Modern (Neo-) shamanism has spread to cover a vast range of ideas from the very good to the rather tacky, but all have one root - people wanting to deepen their connection to the mystical spiritual side of themselves. At its best this modern "patchwork quilt" can be amazingly beautiful and inspiring. Personally I have no problems with patchwork.. when it is done with love and respect for the cultures each patch piece is taken from. Some of the world's best Art and creativity have come from the sharing and patching together of the best of different cultures. ..
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