North America

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North America – Shamanism has been identified among a wide range of indigenous nations in North America, from the Yaqui living around the Mexican border to the Inuit of the Arctic. Objections have been raised to the use of the word shaman with reference to religious and cultural leaders in North America on the grounds that the term is specific to Siberian ritualists and that there are local names for the different kinds of leaders recognized by particular indigenous nations. It is often true that “holy people,” “medicine people,” “doctor,” or “ritualist” are better translations of many of these terms. Similarly, distinct roles are performed by those labeled in particular ways within a single community, for example, the Tcisaki, nanandawi, wabeno, and meda among the Ojibwe. The issues are similar with reference to words like religion that are drawn from other cultural contexts and require considerable care if they are not to convey misinformation about specific local contexts and cultures. Nonetheless, there are considerable similarities between Native American ritualists, healers, and spiritual leaders and those labeled “shamans” elsewhere. North America is also the origin of much neo-shamanic activity, from Sun Bear, who argued that “Native American spirituality” should be shared among a wider community of non-Natives, and Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan mythos, to Michael Harner’s proposal of a “core shamanism” free of cultural specificity. Other Native Americans—for example, those affiliated with the American Indian Movement—have criticized Sun Bear and non-Native “teachers” such as Castaneda and Harner for appropriating Native American knowledge, traditions, and practices, often suggesting that EuroAmerican neo-shamans should reclaim their European shamanistic traditions, as practiced among the Celts and other Northern Europeans.


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


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