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Usually shamans are called to their profession in two ways: by heredity or by spontaneous and involuntary election by the Supernaturals. There are some who seek out the training, but these individuals are not considered as powerful. An exception to the latter is found the Native North Americans because many undertake vision quests to ask for healing power or the help of a guardian spirit. The shaman is distinguished from others by the greater number of his guardian spirits, by the intensity of his vision, and by his greater power.
Although differences of practices are found among the cultures similarities are found too. The shaman lives in two worlds: the ordinary and the nonordinary reality, also called the "shamanic state of consciousness." To enter the shamanic state the shaman must experience an ecstatic trance, or he will not be able to perform all the required functions or duties. This qualification is what sets the shaman apart from all other priests and adepts.When entering the nonordinary reality, which is an unique altered state of consciousness (see Altered States of Consciousness), the shaman has access to the three zones of most cosmologies: earth, sky, and the underworld, which are connected by a central axis represented by a World Pillar, World Tree, or World Mountain. He is lucid throughout his altered state, controls it, and recalls afterward what transpired during it. While in the shamanic state the shaman sees other nonworldly realities, perhaps multiple realities simultaneously. It is in this state that the shaman accesses information that is unavailable to him in the ordinary reality.
It is essential for the shaman to be able to enter the shamanic state at will. He practices techniques that allow him to do so such as drumming, rattling, chanting, dancing, sexual abstinence, sweat baths, staring at a flame, concentrating on imagery, and isolating himself in darkness. Although some societies use psychedelic drugs for this purpose, others claim drugs are not essential
In the shamanic state the shaman has various powers that he does possess in ordinary reality. He can see spirits and souls, and communicate with them; make magical flights to the heavens where he serves as intermediary between the gods and his people; and descend to the underworld, the land of the dead. These flights are accomplished by shape-shifting (see Metamorphosis), he rides mythical horses or the spirits of sacrificed horses, travels in spirits boats, and the like.
Most believe that they must have a close connection with nature because their guardian spirit usually is that of a plant or animal. Many say the guardian spirit takes the shaman to the other realities through holes between worlds where he is given his needed knowledge and power to help his people and village. This latter purpose makes it essential that the shaman remains lucid throughout his shamanic journeys, so he can bring back vital information that will help his people. A.G.H.
315-316; 29, 540-544.