Shamans and their belief systems
There are many healing traditions which are very old and honored by indigenous people of the earth. People who feel called to do the work of healing in their tribe or village are sometimes called shamans. Sometimes these people are led to the calling by a sign, sometimes they face a health crisis of their own and have a vision through that of helping others, some are taught from childhood to follow a family tradition of healing, and a few are just gifted people who take on the role of healer because so many people come to them for help because they are just natural born healers.
Many of the traditions of this path involve occult practices. In this context, I use the word "occult" in the literal sense. It involves seeing "that which is hidden" using intuition, inspiration, and other methods than the usual five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It can involve empathy, psychic vision, and energy healing as well as things like massage, herbal healing, and rituals.
Animism Shamans often have belief systems that there is a spirit to everything in nature. Scientists call this animism. So in this occult system, animals have a spirit, the places of the earth have a spirit, water has a spirit, and human beings have a spirit and all things in the cosmos are connected in spirit.
Because of this, shamans will use some method to journey into the spirit realm to do their work. Sometimes they gain altered states of awareness by drumming or chanting. Many shamans practice the same kind of techniques that mystics use in meditation. In fact, many of our spiritual and religious traditions can be traced back to their beginnings in ancient shamanistic work.
The Bön are what remain of these kinds of healers from Tibet. One of their practices is making the drala (dgra bla) a protective warrior spirit or an entity that brings peace and a sense of belonging in a place. Something you can do if you are planning to do spiritual work, or even if you are starting a creative project or just want to have guests in your house, is make the drala.
You do this by burning some incense and other little rituals to make the space inviting and make it a happy place to be. It is the same thing many people do to create a sacred space for a ceremony. You can see this done in churches, when people have a baby, dedicate a building, or even when they launch a boat. Some ceremonies of beginnings go way back to this kind of practice.
The Maya people of Central America often do ceremonies for anything they start, like a home, a farm field, a school, or even a road. They do their offerings to put spirit into things that they create so that they can be connected to the flow of life energy.
In native traditions it is often taught that there are layers or insides to everyone and everything. The hidden form of things can be seen within, and work is done to make the subtle body of the patient who needs healing strong and solid, so that this vibration will correct the physical problem that makes them ill or in pain.
A very effective technique like this is lomilomi. If you have ever had the pleasure of going to a traditional Polynesian massage therapist, you may have experienced this type of healing. It involves many levels of work and it is hard to resist feeling better when it is done. It is much more than massage. It involves prayer and intention. The healer will help the patient with diet and exercise. Herbs are given for therapy. A kind of hypnotic suggestion and forms of inducing trance and relaxation are combined with therapeutic touch and long, slow strokes of massage. Warm stones may be placed on points that need special attention. Some healers of this tradition will specialize in diagnosis, and some specialize in the different forms of treatment. This practice was outlawed and went underground. It is difficult to find masters of it except in those who have continued their family practice.
This leads me to the last little thing about being a shaman. Many people venture into altered states and the occult and call themselves a shaman. It is one thing to use these practices to explore our hidden worlds and the wonderful landscape created in the spiritual world by the shamans. To be a true shaman you would have to have that village or tribe that comes to you for healing. You would have to have a relationship to a place that is sacred to those people, and you would have to make the sacrifice of giving up the ordinary mundane life to become something greater than yourself for the good of a community. My uncle was asked by an old man in his family to learn the healing arts. In the Cajun culture we call these healers "traiteurs" which is a French word for "treater". He refused because he didn't want all the sick people in town coming to his house. It involves lots of training and an oath to help people. This is something like what doctors do in modern society.
Just as you would not get an amateur to cut you open with a knife and remove disease from you, a wise person would not get and unskilled and untrained shaman to open their spirit and remove the things that bother our emotions and our minds. I hope people would have enough common sense to know this, but it must be said. Many people go out and begin their spiritual practice and gather followers before they have done all the work to heal themselves. It is just one of the things that have given shamanism a bad reputation. I know tribal people that do not practice their old folk healing ways at all. It is much easier for them to go to a doctor and get treatment, and there are stricter rules about the competency of doctors than there are for medicine men and shamans.
A good thing to do if you think this path is for you is to find a shaman that works in your area. If he will take you as an apprentice or initiate you into his tradition, you will be on your way. If you can't find this teacher, or your teacher does not find you, maybe you are not shaman material at all. It is helpful to have some skills at seeing things that other people do not see to begin with.