Is Shamanism A Religion?
Just the word Shamanism brings confusion to most people. Hard to define, the origin of Shamanism takes its roots back to the Paleolithic Period over 2.6 million years ago. The word “Shamanism” itself is quiet modern, dating to the 1600’s when the Tungusic term was given to the Siberian natives by the Russian travelers, meaning either “ones who know” or “traveling monk” depending on which version you want to believe. Again, casting shadows on Shamanism. But for sure, the practice itself predates even the oldest of the known religions, Zoroastrianism, originating from the teachings of Zoroaster in about the 9th or 10th century B.C.
According to the dictionary, “Religion” is defined as: “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.” If we use this definition of religion, then Shamanism is not a religion due to the necessity of “organized system.” Shamans are not known for being “organized.” Methodical yes. Organized? Not so much. According to the CIA World Factbook, Shamanism is recognized in the system of religions but only a few countries actually list them as a part of their “religious practices.” Listed more often are “indigenous beliefs” or “Animism” (the belief that non-human entities contain souls or spirits) which is certainly a part of Shamanism.
If Christianity is based on the teachings of Jesus; Buddhism, inspired by the 5th century B.C. teachings of Siddhartha Gautama; Islam, originating with the teachings of Muhammad in the 7th century then Shamanism takes it’s philosophy from all living things on the planet. There is no one person or animal or thing you can point to as a “center point.” There is no Shamanic Holy Book. There are no churches only Sacred Sites. To understand Shamanism is to understand the Universe. Perhaps that’s why Shamanism is so hard to describe. Our human nature wants to point to something and say – aha! This is what it is.
Shamanism is a little more slippery than that. Confusion is often a part of the process to find order, asking the seeker to think for themselves rather than be subjected to a defined set of rules. Within the chaos is order and to find that order you must be in alignment with the Universe because the Universe is both chaos and order. In most religions there is good vs evil. Order vs chaos. Faith is a part of most religions. A Shaman may back away from the word faith but more embrace the concept of “belief.” With Shamanism there is a knowing and trusting. Like Taoism and in many ways like Buddhism, Shamanism is a belief system without the need to have a single point of Spiritual reference. In Shamanism all things under the Sun and beyond the Sun are Spiritual in nature. As a belief system, the origin of Shamanism perhaps came about when a cave dweller gazed into the ever changing colorful sky or over a rich green meadow with trees both big and small or out into the mysterious ocean teaming with sustenance and determined the Universe was their place of worship.