Where does the word shaman come from?
Until about 1980, when the first edition of Dr. Michael Harner's book, The Way of the Shaman, came out, only anthropologists used the word shaman. It was a technical term, part of their professional jargon.
The word shaman comes from just one Siberian tribe, where it applied only to male shamans.
That tiny tribe is one of several that branched off from a single original tribe a few thousand years ago. Each of the tribes has a different word for a male shaman, because they had to find a term to call male shamans later, after their languages had diverged.
But all the words for the female shaman are basically the same. They all derive from the same root word.
The linguistics experts who studied the situation say that means that the female shamans came first, and were the only shamans for thousands of years. There were no male shamans till after the tribes grew larger, split up, and continued to develop separately for centuries.
In the original tribe only women were what we now call shamans. Though spelled and pronounced slightly differently in the different tribes, the term for a female shaman comes from the same root word that means bear in their language.
When male shamans started to appear, each tribe had to come up with its own name for them. And that was probably only after metal come into use, because metal smiths were men, and metalworking was considered to be a form of magic.
Archeologists believe that the smiths made ornaments for the females shamans' ceremonial regalia for awhile and then thought, "Hey, I could do that, too."
The smiths then started making their own impressive shamanic regalia with fancy metal ornaments. And apparently some of them could shamanize, and so they did. Each tribe then had to come up with a name for that new invention, the male shaman.
Historian Geoffrey Ashe tells that story and many more in his wonderful book, Dawn Behind the Dawn, which traces many myths and magical/spiritual motifs in European, Middle Eastern and South Asian beliefs and culture to Siberian shamanism.
For a link to the book on Amazon, see the Resources list in the lower right-hand column of this page.
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For more information on classic shamanic practices, visit www.shamanista.com. Also, see the list of links to shamanism-related web sites near the lower right corner of this page.
White Cranes has been studying and teaching shamanic practices for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/whitecranes and http://www.twitter.com/whitecranes.com
To learn shamanic practices in Houston, you are invited to join the Houston Shamanism Meetup group, http://www.meetup.com/houstonshamanism..