- Among the most significant duties performed by shamans are concerned with healing clients from illnesses. Sometimes illnesses are understood to be otherworld persons aggressively assaulting humans, either because they are by nature malevolent or as revenge against human insults. Alternatively, illnesses may result from the assault of sorcerers or witches, perhaps by shooting darts into people’s bodies to make them ill. Shamanic initiation may involve journeys to the homeland of illness-beings, either to gain their help in healing or to defeat them on behalf of the shaman’s kin group. Often initiation involves dismemberment and reassembly after powerful helpers or objects are inserted into the new shaman’s body. Healing techniques vary considerably, but often take place in elaborate communal ritual performances. A refusal to recognize indigenous doctoring abilities has often led to a denial that they can really heal or to a reluctant admission that shamanizing may have psychological results. Neo-shamanism is often solely therapeutic, especially focusing on individual psychological concerns, converting otherworld journeying into “inner journeys” and offering “soul retrieval” as a mode of Jungian psychotherapy.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.