Shamanism Glossary


A common concept is that of a dual divinity.

A creator who is responsible for the creation of the world and is
recognized in religious ritual and prayers. A mythical individual, a hero or
trickster who teaches culture, proper behavior and provides sustenance to the

There are also spirits which control the weather, spirits which interact with
humans, and others who inhabit the underworld. Simultaneously, the Creator and
the spirits may be perceived as a single spiritual force, as in the unity called
Wakan Tanks by the Lakuta and Dakota.

In the beginning, the world was populated by many people. Most were subsequently
transformed into animals, thus feeling a close bond with animals. Natives,
because of their shared human ancestry. Dogs are excluded from this
relationship. This bond is shown in the frequent rituals in which animal
behavior is simulated. Each species has its deer who is larger than all the
others. Master, for example. The deer have a master. The master of humans is the

This is a concept found extensively in the Southwest. The universe is believed
to consist of many dark, underground layers through which the humans had to
climb. They emerged into the present world through a small hole in the ground –
the world’s navel.

Native traditions have been preserved as an oral tradition, not in written form.
As a result, traditions are often updated and changed as a result of dreams and

In general, native religions have no precise belief about life after death. Some
believe in reincarnation, with a person being reborn either as a human or animal
after death. Others believe that humans return as ghosts, or that people go to
another would. Others believe that nothing definitely can be known about one’s
fate after this life. Combinations of belief are common.

The universe is understood as being composed of multiple layers, with the
natural world as a middle segment. These layers are thought to be linked by the
World Tree, which has it’s roots in the undergrounds, has a trunk passing
through the natural world, and has it’s top in the sky world.

Spirits may be encouraged to occupy the Shaman’s body during public lodge
ceremonies. Drum beating and chanting aid this process. The spirits are then
asked to depart and perform the needed acts. Other times, Shamans enter into a
trance and traverse the underworld or go great distances in this world to seek
lost possessions or healing.

Young boys before or at puberty, are encouraged to enter into a period of
fasting, meditation and physical challenge. Girls are not usually eligible for a
quest. The boy separates himself from the tribe and goes to a wilderness area.
The goal is to receive a vision that will guide his development for the rest of
his life. They also seek to acquire a guardian spirit who will be close and
supportive for their lifetime.

The Sun Dance amongst the Plains Natives is perceived as a replay of the
original creation. Its name is a mistranslation of the Lakota sun gazing dance.
Other tribes use different names. It fulfilled many religious purposes to give
thanks to the creator, to pray for the renewal of the people and earth, to
promote health, etc. It also gave an opportunity for people to socialize and
renew friendships with other groups. A sweat lodge purifies the participants and
readies them for lengthy fasting and dancing. It was successfully suppressed in
most tribes by the Governments of the US and Canada. However, it survived
elsewhere and is now being increasingly celebrated.

This is a ritual of purification, of spiritual renewal and of healing. It is
sometimes used to educate the youth in Native traditions. A sweat lodge is
typically a small structure made of a frame of saplings, covered with skins,
canvas or blankets. A depression is dug in the center into which hot rocks are
positioned. Water is thrown on the rocks to create steam. A small flap opening
is used to regulate the temperature. As many as a dozen people can be
accommodated in some lodges.

These involve the ritual treatment of a bear or other animal after its killing
during a successful hunt. The goal is to appease its spirit and convince other
animals to be willing to be killed in the future.

The Abramic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) trace their development
through a series of patriarchs and prophets. Native religions do not have
corresponding ancient revered persons in their background. There have been a few
prophets among the Natives, the most famous being Handsome Lade in the Iroquois
confederacy. However, they appeared after the European invasion.

There were many variations across North America conical wigwams or tipis, long
houses, and cliff dwellings. The shape of the structure often represents a model
of the cosmos.