Various kinds of shamanism in Denmark

© John Russell-Møller 2006

I like to say, that shamans love to disagree as much as possible about as many things as possible - also with themselves. One thing that seems to be to constant debate is the question concerning what to call the, more or less, different forms of shamanism. Sometimes they are called different traditions.

My first teacher calls what he does for adventure shamanism and refers to himself as an urban shaman. My second teacher calls what he does for core shamanism. Some people call what they do warrior shamanism. I like warrior shamanism. Then there is Aztec and Toltec shamanism, that many have become interested in; and in Scandinavia we have the old Nordic Asa-Faith shamanism.
In addition, there are the expressions the academic community has created for its own particular use, such as neo-shamanism and traditional shamanism.

The word "shaman" and the concept "shamanism" are also something, that has been introduced into the English language by primarily atheist and neo-Christian scientists around the latter half of the nineteenth century.
"Shaman" is not an original shamanic word or expression (except for one tribe in Siberia). The concept "shaman-ism" is definitely not an original shamanic concept. Until recently, no indigenous peoples called what they do for shamanism – or the person who does it for a shaman (apart from the Evenki people in Siberia).

However, I am a great believer in “shamanism” as a spiritual movement in the western world. More and more people are reconnecting with the spiritual roots of their ancestors, and are sharing their experiences, and are mutually inspiring each other.

That the word “shaman” has been adopted into English, where is has become a common denominator for every kind of sorcerer (angaqokk, sangoma, noid, shaman, aandemaner etc.) is, of course, completely legitimate. I use the word this way myself, in everyday language. We need new words and concepts all the time. In my country, Denmark, the indigenous prehistoric (non-historic 1º) sorcerer is called an aandemaner, and what he does is called aandemaner art.

Different meanings are often ascribed to the word “shaman” depending on, weather it is used scientifically, shamanically or in every day language. Discussions about what a shaman is, therefore, often result in a debate about semantics.

At present the most common uses of the word "shaman" seem to be:

Shaman 1 Original meaning: An Evinki sorcerer in Siberia.
Shaman 2 Academic use: Any sorcerer anywhere on earth.
Shaman 3 Ordinary everyday use: A person who has attended one or more seminar courses in shamanism plus 2.


There are also different opinions about what it is to practice shamanism. For some people it means that you practice the shamanic techniques you have learned on a seminar course in shamanism. For others, shamanic practice means that you have a clinic, where you do shamanic healing and counselling. For some, shamanism has absolutely nothing to do with religion. I call them atheist shamans. They have a purely scientific approach to their shamanism. Personally, I prefer to have both a religious and a scientific approach to my shamanism. Nature is my religion.

In core shamanism you have something called a shamanic practitioner, who is a person that has extensive training in core shamanism, but is not considered to be a real shaman. It can be a psychotherapist who uses core shamanic techniques in her work. The founder of core shamanism has also developed a special technique called "shamanic counselling". There exist a number of other methods to do shamanic spirit counseling and guidance.

It is really very shamanic, that there is so much confusion about everything. In a sense one can say, that anarchy is one of the fundamental ingredients in shamanism. Personally I believe it is one of shamanism's strengths. Of course, there are those who believe it to be a weakness! All of this goes to show, how inadequate words are, when you try to describe shamanism.

Most shamans are rooted in some particular form of shamanism or other. Witch shamanic tradition one considers oneself to belong to, usually depends on the kind of training you have received. If you have received most of your training from shamans in or from Latin America, you may see yourself as belonging to the Toltec tradition - even if you also have had some training in core shamanism. I call myself a nature shaman because I have received most of my training from nature. My most important teachers have been the Ravens, Eagles, Reindeer, Lynxes, Lemmings, Mosquitoes, Birch trees, Junipers, the Sun, Stars, Winds, Northern lights, deceased Humans and Animals - and many others. All the shamans who have received most of their training from nature, I call nature shamans. Obviously, there are those, who call us something else.
By the way, all shamans learn much from nature. Shamanism is closely connected to Mother Earth.

There are some things shamans agree on. Shamans experience, that there exists a world of spirits, and that it is possible to contact the spirits and collaborate with them. Shamanism is, to live in communion with the spirits.
By bringing his mind in a kind of trance, the shaman experiences a world witch is different form the one we usually experience. Some call this world for the spirit world; I call it the dream world; and some call it unordinary reality. It is, of course, debatable weather or not the three worlds are completely the same or not. All shamans collaborate with the spirits in different ways and for different purposes. Some of the most common spirits, shamans collaborate with, are deceased fore-mothers and fore-fathers, and totem animals (medicine animals, spirit animals, power animals). By collaborating with the spirits, the shaman gains access to spirit power, healing and wisdom.


Basically, you can divide the modern shaman education into two types.
In the first type, the training primarily takes place in groups indoors on civilizations' terms. The participants do training exercises on each other, but do not participate in the treatment of real patients/clients, who suffer from some serious spiritual illness or condition.
In the second type, the training primarily takes place individually, outdoors on natures terms. Apprentices are trained in a shaman practice, where they participate in the treatment of the patients and clients, who seek help from the shaman, they are apprenticed to.
One might say that the first is a kind of spiritual engineering education, and the second is a kind of spiritual craftsmanship training.

How shamans work, and what kind of work they do, can sometimes be quite different. Some shamans emphasize giving people things, witch can benefit them. They give people power animals, soul parts, guidance from the spirits etc. People like to get things.
Other shamans emphasize removing things, witch are spiritually harmful to the soul. They help people be rid of evil spirits, possessions, egoism etc. People don't like letting go of things.
It is extremely uncomfortable to be ridded of a nicotine demon. You suffer physical, psychological, and spiritual withdrawal symptoms. In comparison, getting a power animal or soul part is like being given a teddy bear or a doll.

Some shamans are very symptom orientated. They want to make people symptom-free, and focus a lot on people's physical and psychological illnesses. Personally, I only treat people's spiritual illnesses and injuries. I do not treat real physical and psychological illness; only illness-like conditions, that are caused by underlying spiritual illness; i.e. spirisomatic and spiripsychological illnesses.
To make your patient symptom-free, to make your patient well, and to make your patient healthy, are three different things. How longsighted shamans work varies considerably.
There are also many shamans who work with other kinds of treatment. It can be anything from body massage to homeopathy. Most shamans also teach shamanism.


Then there is the question of personal style. As a shaman you don't have to administer your professionalism the same way say a psychologist has to. You don't have to be cool and wear a mask all the time.
When I am on a shamanic wilderness hike in Lapland with clients, I am both an ordinary man, and at the same time, I am the one who is responsible for the trip, the teaching program, and the shamanic magic and mysteries. We all sleep in the same lávvu (tent), and you soon see who everyone really is. This is supposed to be so. Spiritual intimacy is an important part of the foundation for these trips. The rough climate also influences my shamanic style, when I am in Lapland. Otherwise I am basically an exuberant and patient type of person; passionate about what I do; and with a tendency to be just a little bit reckless once in a while. Some people think, what I do and stand for is awful. Then there are some who think the things I do are just the right things for them. I also happen to be one of those kinds of shamans who believe, that you are not a real shaman if you don't have enemies.

Other shamans are very nice and popular. They don't do anything witch can upset anyone. People quickly get to feel safe with them, and it is good that there are some shamans like that. Others preferably do things they can make money on. There is certainly nothing wrong about that. They often reach a lot of people and pave the way for their many students - and other shamans as well.
Then there are those who are bitches, and others who are grumpy. There are some who are academic; and last but not least, there are the ones who are crazy. Everyone loves them. In shamanism it is considered exotic to be a little crazy. I am one of the few shamans who can boast of having had a "knock" on the head. I once fractured my scull. I am very proud of that!

Everyone is, of course, a mixture of this and that, as are other people. If you are considering seeking shamanic treatment or education, it is wise to shop around and find whatever best fits your personal temperament, and meets your particular needs. As a rule, shamans are keen to tell you about the tradition they belong to, and while they are talking you can study their personal style.
It is my personal opinion, that anyone offering any kind of treatment, should be a member of an organization or society to witch the patients/clients can turn, if they are dissatisfied with the treatment they have received.


1º As a Danish aandemaner, I do not recognize modern science's definition of when historic time began. It is their own history they are reckoning with - not mine. My people's history has no beginning and no end. As a member of modern society, I use the word "prehistoric" the same way everyone else does in everyday language, of course.