The Rise of Neo-Shamanism

Shamanism has been an integral part of various cultures for thousands of years. It is the practice of connecting with spirits and using their guidance for healing and other endeavors. Traditional shamanism has evolved over time and has survived modernization, but it has also given rise to neo-shamanism, which has taken a different turn. Neo-shamanism is a modern interpretation of shamanic practices that often incorporates non-traditional elements and spirituality. Its popularity has grown tremendously in recent years, but it has also raised significant controversies. This article explores the rise of neo-shamanism, its impact on the perception and practice of shamanism, and the challenges it poses to authenticity and cultural appropriation.

Traditional Shamanism

Traditional Shamanism
Traditional Shamanism is a practice that has been around for centuries in various cultures around the world. The Shamans played a very crucial role in the communities as they were responsible for helping people connect with the spirit world and heal spiritually, physically, and mentally. The Shamans believed in the existence of both good and evil spirits and that the spirits were responsible for everything that happened in the physical world. They used various practices and rituals such as chanting, using herbs, and dance to communicate with the spirits. The cultural significance of Traditional Shamanism cannot be overstated as it was not just a religious practice, but also served as a source of guidance and source of collective identity for the community. While it is still practiced in some communities today, it has undergone considerable changes due to the impact of neo-shamanism.

Belief systems and practices

Traditional shamanism is a belief system that encompasses many different practices and rituals. Here are some of the common beliefs and practices of traditional shamanism:

Beliefs Practices
Belief in spirits that inhabit the natural world Use of trance states to communicate with spirits
Belief that spirits can be benevolent or malevolent Use of divination to uncover the causes of illness or misfortune
Belief that shaman has a special connection to the spirit world Use of herbs and other natural remedies to heal physical and spiritual ailments
Belief in the power of ritual and ceremony Performance of ceremonies to honor spirits and gain their favor

These beliefs and practices vary from culture to culture, and even from shaman to shaman. However, they all share a common thread of accessing the spirit world and working with spirits to address issues in the physical world.

If you are interested in learning more about traditional shamanism, you may find it helpful to check out Understanding Shamanism Today.

Cultural significance

Traditional shamanism has played a significant role in the cultures of various indigenous groups around the world for centuries. Shamans, as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual realms, were highly regarded and respected members of their communities. They played a crucial role in healing the sick, communicating with spirits and ancestors, and guiding their people through important life transitions such as birth, coming of age, and death.

The cultural significance of traditional shamanism can be seen in the rituals, songs, and stories that have been passed down through generations. These practices have helped to preserve the cultural heritage of indigenous communities and continue to be an important part of their identity today.

However, the rise of neo-shamanism has led to some concerns about cultural appropriation and the dilution of traditional practices. Some argue that the adoption of shamanic practices by non-indigenous people is a form of cultural theft that ignores the historical and cultural context in which these practices originated.

For example, a recent debate has emerged regarding the ethics of neo-shamanism and cultural appreciation. Some experts emphasize that neo-shamanism must incorporate ethical considerations and promote cultural understanding. It is important to appreciate and respect traditional shamanic practices without appropriating them or undermining their cultural significance.

Traditional shamanism has had a profound impact on many cultures around the world, shaping beliefs, practices, and worldviews. The challenge lies in finding a balance between honoring these traditions and respecting cultural boundaries, while also taking steps towards revitalizing and preserving traditional shamanic practices.


has emerged as a modern approach to shamanism, combining beliefs and practices from various cultures and traditions to create a new form of spirituality. It is believed to have originated from the countercultural movement of the 1960s and gained popularity in the 1980s through New Age movements. This contemporary version of traditional shamanism, however, has been met with controversy and criticism. Some argue that it appropriates indigenous cultures and lacks authenticity, while others argue that it helps to keep shamanic practices relevant and adaptable to modern times. In any case, neo-shamanism offers a unique perspective and approach to spiritualism that warrants further exploration and discussion.

Origins and beliefs

Origins and beliefs of Neo-Shamanism

Neo-Shamanism emerged in the West in the 1960s and 1970s as a response to people’s spiritual needs and the desire to reconnect with nature and indigenous wisdom. This movement is a modern reinterpretation of traditional Shamanism.

Unlike traditional Shamanism, Neo-Shamanism is not bound to any specific culture and is more open to eclectic influences. It incorporates different spiritual practices and beliefs, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Sufism. However, this has also led to debates among practitioners about the authenticity and cultural appropriation of the practice.

Neo-Shamanism borrows several core beliefs from traditional Shamanism, including the existence of a spirit world and the ability to communicate with spirits. Practitioners of Neo-Shamanism also believe that everything in nature is interconnected and that we should live in harmony with nature.

Neo-Shamanism teaches that the shamanic journey is an essential means of contacting spirit guides and gaining insight into oneself. This journey involves the use of drumming, dancing, chanting, and other techniques to enter an altered state of consciousness.

Neo-Shamanism also emphasizes personal responsibility and self-exploration as essential components of spiritual growth. It encourages individuals to take responsibility for their spiritual journey and to seek guidance from within.

Some critiques argue that Neo-Shamanism lacks the cultural and historical context of traditional Shamanism and that it is too focused on individualistic and consumeristic values rather than community and cultural preservation.

Neo-Shamanism is a modern reinterpretation of traditional Shamanism that emerged in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. It borrows core beliefs from traditional Shamanism, including the existence of a spirit world and the ability to communicate with spirits, but is more eclectic in nature. However, there are debates regarding cultural appropriation and authenticity.

Types of neo-shamanism

Neo-shamanism is not a uniform movement with a standardized set of beliefs and practices. There are many different types of neo-shamanism, each with its own variations and nuances. One type of neo-shamanism is the core shamanism, which was created by Michael Harner in the 1970s. Core shamanism uses specific techniques such as drumming and visualization to access the spiritual realms and communicate with the spirits.

Another type is neo-pagan shamanism, which blends shamanism with ancient European pagan beliefs. Neo-pagan shamans often work with deities, spirits, and the natural world in their ceremonies. Urban shamanism is yet another type, which reflects the complex and diverse nature of contemporary urban life. It often involves the use of technology, dance, and music to induce altered states of consciousness rather than traditional rites and ceremonies.

One recent development in neo-shamanism is eco-shamanism, which emphasizes the relationship between humans and the natural world. This type of shamanism involves healing the earth and living in harmony with nature. There is also techno-shamanism, which uses technology as a tool to enhance spiritual practices and connect with the spirit world.

It is important to note that these are just a few examples of the different types of neo-shamanism, and the movement is constantly evolving and adapting. While some practitioners may incorporate elements of traditional shamanism into their practices, others may draw inspiration from a variety of sources and cultural traditions. It is important to remember that neo-shamanism is a diverse and complex movement, and should be approached with an open mind and willingness to learn.

If you are interested in reading about the differences between traditional and neo-shamanism, you can find more information in our article “Traditional Shamanism vs. New Age Shamanism: A Comparison“.

Practices and ceremonies

Practices and Ceremonies

Neo-Shamanism generally involves spiritual practices and ceremonies that are designed to help individuals achieve personal growth, healing, and transformation. These practices are often a blend of traditional shamanic techniques and modern therapeutic approaches.

Shamanic Journeying is one of the key practices in Neo-Shamanism. It involves inducing an altered state of consciousness in which the shaman travels to other worlds or non-ordinary reality to seek guidance, knowledge or healing for their clients. This journey often takes place with the help of a shamanic drum or rattle. During a journey, a shaman may encounter spirits or animal guides that act as helpers or may receive visions and messages.

Healing Ceremonies are another important aspect of Neo-Shamanic practices. The ceremonies may involve the use of various tools like crystals, essential oils, feathers, and plants to help clear blockages and promote physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Shamanic healers may also perform energy work, such as chakra balancing and aura cleansing, to help restore balance in the body.

Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are also commonly practiced in Neo-Shamanism, particularly by Native American shamans. This ceremony involves sitting inside a sweat lodge, a small enclosed space where hot rocks are placed. Water is then poured over the rocks, and the resulting steam helps to purify the body and promote spiritual growth.

Vision Quests are another common Neo-Shamanic practice. This involves going alone into nature for a few days or longer to fast and pray for a vision to help guide one’s life. The vision quest often involves deep soul searching and meditation to connect with the divine and gain insight into one’s path in life.

It is worth noting that some Neo-Shamanic practices have faced criticism from traditional shamans and non-shamanic communities. These criticisms often revolve around concerns of cultural appropriation and inauthenticity. As with any practice, it is important to approach Neo-Shamanism with respect and an awareness of ethical considerations.

Link: Cultural Appreciation and Shamanism Ethics

Controversies and criticisms

As with any spiritual practice, neo-shamanism has faced its fair share of controversies and criticisms. Some of the main concerns raised by critics include:

Issue Description
Appropriation of cultures Some people argue that neo-shamanism involves the appropriation of indigenous cultures and spiritual practices, which can be disrespectful and unethical.
Commercialization Others have criticized the commercialization of neo-shamanic practices, with some practitioners charging high fees for workshops and ceremonies.
Lack of training and expertise Critics argue that many neo-shamans lack the training and expertise of traditional shamans and may not have the same level of spiritual insight or connection.
Questionable safety There are concerns that certain neo-shamanic practices, such as the use of entheogens, can be dangerous and trigger mental health issues.

It’s important to note that not all practitioners of neo-shamanism engage in these controversial behaviors, and some actively work to address these issues. Organizations such as the Society for Shamanic Practice have developed ethics guidelines for neo-shamans to follow, emphasizing the importance of cultural respect, safety, and responsible use of entheogens.

While the controversies surrounding neo-shamanism are valid concerns, it’s also important to acknowledge the potential benefits of this practice. As we’ll explore in the next section, neo-shamanism has had a significant impact on the perception and practice of shamanism, creating new opportunities for healing, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.

Impact on Shamanism

The impact of neo-shamanism on traditional shamanism has been significant. While some traditional practitioners have embraced the incorporation of new ideas, practices, and technologies into their work, others fear for the authenticity of their cultural heritage. The rise of neo-shamanism has led to both positive change and challenge for the traditional community. Some argue that the new movement risks cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of indigenous beliefs, while others suggest it offers an opportunity to expand and preserve the cultural significance of shamanism. However, it is clear that neo-shamanism has brought changes to the perception and practice of shamanism, and the ethical considerations of this evolution are crucial to the future of the practice.

Changes in perception and practice

With the rise of neo-shamanism, there have been significant changes in the perception and practice of shamanism. Here are some of the most notable changes:

Changes in perception Changes in practice
Shift from traditional to personal: While traditional shamanism was community-based, neo-shamanism is more focused on the individual’s spiritual journey and self-discovery. Diversity of techniques: Neo-shamanism has widened the range of techniques used in shamanic practices, incorporating not only traditional techniques but also novel ones such as breathwork, dance, and art therapy.
Globalization of shamanism: Traditional shamanism was rooted in specific cultural contexts, but neo-shamanism has become a global phenomenon accessible to anyone interested in exploring shamanic practices. Integration with modern tools: Neo-shamanism has incorporated modern tools such as music, technology, and psychology to enhance the shamanic experience.
Emphasis on self-healing: While traditional shamanism was geared towards healing the community, neo-shamanism focuses on self-healing, self-awareness, and personal transformation. Rituals and ceremonies: Neo-shamanism employs a variety of rituals and ceremonies to facilitate spiritual growth, renewal, and healing.

These changes in perception and practice have brought both benefits and criticisms. While neo-shamanism provides a broader and more accessible platform for the practice of shamanism, there are concerns about the authenticity, cultural appropriation, and ethics of incorporating traditional practices from different cultures. To address these issues, it is important for neo-shamans to be respectful of the cultures they are drawing from and to engage in ongoing discussions about the benefits and risks of neo-shamanism.

Integration of new ideas and technologies

As neo-shamanism emerges in the modern world, it inevitably encounters new ideas and technologies that can either enhance or challenge its practices. Some argue that integrating new ideas and technologies is essential for the evolution and growth of neo-shamanism, while others believe that it risks diluting the authenticity and integrity of traditional shamanic practices.

One of the ways that new ideas and technologies are being integrated into neo-shamanism is through the use of modern instruments such as music and sound therapy. Some practitioners incorporate binaural beats, drumming, and chanting into their shamanic practices for inducing altered states of consciousness, deep relaxation, and healing. The use of technology such as brainwave entrainment devices and virtual reality also has the potential to enhance shamanic experiences by providing immersive and interactive environments.

However, this integration of technology has also faced criticism from some traditionalists who argue that it violates the essence of shamanism, which emphasizes the connection between nature and humans as well as the use of natural plant remedies. The use of technology also raises concerns about dependence on machines rather than personal spiritual development.

In addition to technology, new ideas and philosophies are also being incorporated into neo-shamanism. For example, some practitioners advocate for the integration of eco-consciousness and mindfulness into shamanic practices to promote greater environmental awareness and social responsibility. Others embrace contemporary spirituality and incorporate elements of modern psychology into their practices for a more holistic approach to healing.

The integration of new ideas and technologies into neo-shamanism is a complex issue with both benefits and risks. As the movement continues to evolve, it is important for practitioners to consider the ethical implications and actively engage in discussions about how to balance innovation with authenticity.

Challenges to authenticity and cultural appropriation

As Neo-Shamanism grows in popularity, it also faces challenges related to authenticity and cultural appropriation. Some people argue that Neo-Shamanism fails to uphold the traditional teachings and practices of indigenous cultures, and instead, appropriates their beliefs and practices for personal gain without proper respect or understanding.

One of the main issues with Neo-Shamanism is that it can be seen as a watered-down version of traditional Shamanism. Many adherents to traditional Shamanism view Neo-Shamanism as lacking true spiritual depth and cultural significance. This can lead to tensions and conflicts between Neo-Shamans and traditional Shamans who feel their beliefs and cultural practices are being disrespected and diluted.

Another issue is cultural appropriation, where non-indigenous peoples appropriate and use traditional Shamanic practices without proper knowledge, consent, or recognition of indigenous peoples. This raises ethical concerns about respecting indigenous cultural heritage and intellectual property rights. Some indigenous communities condemn the use of their Shamanic practices by non-indigenous people as a form of spiritual tourism or commodification.

Despite these challenges, some Neo-Shamanic practitioners argue that Neo-Shamanism can be a way of honoring and preserving indigenous traditions by adapting and integrating them into modern practices. They argue that Neo-Shamanism can be a means of creating cross-cultural understanding and learning from indigenous wisdom.

The challenges of authenticity and cultural appropriation need to be taken seriously in Neo-Shamanism. We need to be mindful of the cultural origins of Shamanic practices and respect the communities and individuals that have passed these traditions down for generations. It is essential to address these challenges with respect and sensitivity and to seek out guidance from traditional Shamans and indigenous peoples. Only in this way can we ensure that Neo-Shamanism can evolve into a respectful and authentic spiritual practice that honors its roots while adapting to our changing times. For further reading about ethics and Neo-Shamanism, please follow this link.


The rise of neo-shamanism has undoubtedly had an impact on the perception and practice of shamanism. While some argue that it has helped to keep shamanic traditions alive and relevant in modern times, others criticize it for cultural appropriation and lack of authenticity. Despite these controversies, it is clear that neo-shamanism has introduced new ideas and technologies to the practice of shamanism, helping it to evolve and adapt in a changing world. As we look to the future, there is much to consider in terms of how shamanism and neo-shamanism can continue to coexist and benefit from each other. Perhaps there is even common ground to be found between traditional and neo-shamanism, as they both seek to connect with the spiritual world and promote healing.

Future of Shamanism and Neo-Shamanism

As society becomes more technologically advanced, it is likely that shamanism and neo-shamanism will both continue to evolve and adapt. The future of shamanism will depend on its ability to both preserve traditional practices and beliefs while also incorporating new ideas and practices.

It is important for practitioners to acknowledge and address concerns of authenticity and cultural appropriation. One potential solution may be collaboration between traditional shamanic practices and the emerging neo-shamanic movement, finding common ground and mutual respect. Additionally, the use of modern technologies may enhance the practices of shamanism, such as the use of VR to simulate traditional ceremonies.

However, there are also risks associated with the rapid growth and commercialization of neo-shamanism. These risks include the potential for diluted and distorted practices, as well as the risk of self-imposed limitations by defining shamanism solely within the confines of neo-shamanic practices. It is important for practitioners to critically evaluate the potential benefits and risks of adopting neo-shamanic practices.

The future of shamanism and neo-shamanism is complex and multifaceted. It is up to practitioners to approach the practices with a sense of respect, humility, and critical thinking, in order to best preserve and adapt these ancient traditions for modern times. For a deeper understanding of the risks and benefits of neo-shamanism, readers may want to refer to our article about the benefits and risks of Neo-Shamanism or if interested in learning more about what role does traditional shamanism play in the cultural preservation, check our article The Role of Traditional Shamanism in the Preservation of Cultures or finding common ground between traditional shamanism and neo-shamanism.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is shamanism?

Shamanism is a spiritual practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness to interact with the spirit world and achieve healing or divination for themselves and others.

What are the belief systems and practices of traditional shamanism?

Belief systems vary among traditional shamanic practices, but generally involve a connection to the natural world, ancestor veneration, and the belief that everything has a spirit. Practices often include ritualistic drumming, chanting, and the use of entheogenic plants.

What is the cultural significance of traditional shamanism?

Traditional shamanism has been an important part of indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years. It has served as a means of healing, divination, and communication with the spirit world, and plays a crucial role in preserving indigenous cultural traditions.

What is neo-shamanism?

Neo-shamanism is a modern spiritual movement that draws inspiration from traditional shamanic practices, but is often adapted and modified to fit the needs and beliefs of contemporary practitioners.

What are the origins and beliefs of neo-shamanism?

Neo-shamanism emerged in the 1960s and 70s as a response to the growing disillusionment with traditional religious institutions. It is often characterized by a belief in personal spiritual experiences, a connection to nature, and a rejection of traditional societal norms.

What are the types of neo-shamanism?

There are many different types of neo-shamanism, ranging from core shamanism, which seeks to extract common practices and beliefs from different traditional cultures, to eclectic or individualistic shamanism, which allows practitioners to create their own unique practices and belief systems.

What are the practices and ceremonies of neo-shamanism?

Neo-shamanic practices may include meditation, journeying, energy work, and the use of sound, such as drumming or rattles. Ceremonies often involve the use of entheogenic plants, such as ayahuasca or peyote, although this is not always the case.

What are the controversies and criticisms surrounding neo-shamanism?

Some traditional practitioners and indigenous peoples have criticized neo-shamanism for its commercialization and appropriation of indigenous cultural practices. Others have raised concerns about the potential dangers of using entheogenic plants without proper guidance or preparation.

What are the changes in perception and practice brought about by neo-shamanism?

Neo-shamanism has popularized shamanism in the Western world and expanded its reach beyond traditional cultural practices. It has also brought about new approaches to healing and spirituality, such as energy work and spiritual counseling.

What are the challenges to authenticity and cultural appropriation in neo-shamanism?

Some practitioners have been criticized for appropriating traditional shamanic practices without proper cultural context or understanding, leading to concerns over cultural exploitation and disrespect. It is important for neo-shamanic practitioners to approach these practices with sensitivity and respect for their origins.


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