Helpers – Shamans are often marginal figures, but they are rarely solitary. In some cultures, they are aided by apprentice shamans or by other types of ritualists. Where trance is a significant part of what shamans do, they may regularly rely on the support and physical protection of someone who remains grounded in daily reality and awareness. Neo-shamans are often aided by a drummer or a recording of rhythmic drumming. While healing, journeying, and other shamanic practices may require skills gained by initiation and/or training, it is common for these to be contained within communal rituals and other more public performances. In addition to human helpers, many shamans rely on other-than-human helpers. Some cultures privilege powerful, shamanic animals (e.g., jaguars) or plants (e.g., ayahuasca) as the primary helpers of shamans. Terms like spirit are often used to refer to otherworld helpers. In all these cases, the fact that such potential allies or helpers have their own interests and ambitions makes them ambiguous and, at times, dangerous allies.

Mircea Eliade’s insistence that shamanism is the control or “mastery of spirits” rather than possession is certainly overstated, but it does point to the frequency with which shamans struggle to maintain control for the benefit of themselves, their clients, and their communities. Eliade’s claim also undervalues the understanding that shamans are elected by their eventual helpers, who may continue to make significant demands on them. However, his influence on neo-shamans has blended with that of Jungian therapeutic approaches and individualization to enable people like Sandra Ingerman to invite would-be (neo-)shamans to “visualize an animal that you love and respect and let it carry out the . . . actions” of a “guardian animal.”


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007