Conversation Starter: What Is a Shaman?

Updated: May 15, 2019
A shaman works as a tribe's doctor and priest, and works to heal the sick and help the tribe stay healthy.
Shaman Doctor and Priest

If we get sick, we might go see our doctor. But in some traditional cultures, such as the Native American Indian tribes, the sick were treated by the tribe’s medicine man or woman, a healer known as a shaman. The first Americans, like many other first peoples, have a strong sense of spirituality and a deep connection to nature. The shaman’s job was to speak to animal, nature, and ancestral (family) spirits to find out how to heal the sick or ask for rain to make crops grow. In actual fact, though they worked as the tribe’s doctor, they were also the tribe’s priest.

Shamans are often born into the job and may have something a little unusual about their appearance, such as an extra toe or an interestingly-shaped birthmark, seen to be the sign of a shaman. The shaman was very well respected within the tribe and the other tribespeople would bring them food and gifts for their work.

Shaman Medicine

How Do Shamans Heal?

To start working on a problem, the shaman meditates, plays a musical beat, or eats a special plant to help them fall into a deep trance. Once they are ready, they talk to the spirits to find out how best to help a person or the tribe. Shamans make their medicines from ingredients found in nature, believing that different plants can cure different illnesses and that by changing a person’s energy flow, a person may get better.

Natural Medicines Today

Many of the ancient natural remedies used by shamans across the world can be found in pharmacies and health food shops today! The herb mint has long been used by Native Americans to help aid food digestion and keep tummies healthy and nowadays, people everywhere might buy and enjoy a refreshing cup of mint tea! And for when we’re feeling a little snuffly? Thanks to Australia’s Aboriginal shamans, a eucalyptus rub applied at night time can help soothe our winter coughs and colds!

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