Shaman and Shamanic practitioner: know the difference

Over the past few years, people throughout the world have become more and more aware of shamanism. What was once a subject of mystery and misconception is now being looked at more seriously. People are waking up to the fact that the shamanic way of life is actually quite fulfilling. This is especially relevant in today’s world, where many people have lost touch with nature and the natural way of life and have adopted an artificial lifestyle that leads to unsatisfied and unhealthy lives.


There is still a long way to go before people fully understand shamanism. It is said to be one of the oldest spiritual practices, with shamans as the traditional, indigenous and holistic healers of the land. Because of its strong link to the land, shamanism is local and its wisdom is culture-bound and firmly weaved into a ritual system. There are also universal elements that are common across different types of ethnic shamanism.


The term “shaman” originated from the Tungus tribe in Siberia around 30,000 years ago and it literally means “the one who knows”. Nowadays, terms like a shaman and shamanic practitioner are used interchangeably, but are they truly the same? Let’s delve into their meaning.

You can only be a shaman if you are supported by a spirit as any healing done by a shaman is only possible as a result of the way they interact with the spirit world. In fact, it is believed that a shaman cannot actually call himself or herself a shaman as it is up to the spirits or the other people in the community to use that term.

Who is a Shaman?

According to Christina Pratt, the author of “An Encyclopedia of Shamanism”, a shaman is an individual who has mastery in: accessing altered states of consciousness; being the bridge between the spirit world and the physical plane for the highest good of the community; and meeting the needs of his/her community in ways that other figures – doctors, mental health workers, religious leaders, etc. – can’t.


Noone can be a shaman if not supported by a spirit since any healing done by a shaman is only possible as a result of the way they interact with the spirit world. In fact, it is believed that a shaman cannot actually call himself or herself a shaman as it is up to the spirits or the other people in the community to use that term. Shaman is not a word that should be used lightly.


Traditionally, it has been a very respectable position in a tribe that comes with a lot of responsibility. It wasn’t a highly desirable job, given that it could be emotionally draining and isolating, surely not easy. A shaman is the one who takes care of the healing needs of the people. And it might not even be in their hands whether to be a shaman or not. As stated already, it is the spirits that can call upon a person to be a shaman. The position can be passed down through the generations, often without the person having much say in the matter. It is a highly sacred title.

Who is a Shamanic Practitioner?

A shamanic practitioner is a person who is actively engaged in shamanism. This is more applicable to people who are adopting a “shamanic” way of life even though they might not have cultural roots in shamanism. These practitioners also play a crucial role in spreading the message of this way of life. The calling to approach the world, nature and all our relations with sacredness and deep reverence is not something that one specific group of people should claim for themselves. Each of us has genetic ties to tribes and cultures that practice these ancient ways. Nonetheless, out of respect for the rituals, beliefs, and titles of individual cultures to which many modern-day practitioners are not a part, it is important not to claim them for one’s own.


The difference between a shaman and a shamanic practitioner is much like a yogi and a yoga practitioner. Yogis commit themselves to the process and they often shun societal life altogether. Their life mission is to attain liberation from the physical world. For a practitioner, though, yoga is more of a self-healing tool that is practised on top of (or on the side) many other commitments and activities.


The same is true of shamans and shamanic practitioners. The former usually live in rural areas and this allows them to stay true to their shamanic way of life. It also ensures that the chaos and complexities of urban life do not distract them or their practice. In a way, by staying in the rural areas, they live in an environment that is more akin to the way their ancestors lived. They are fully immersed in their purpose as a shaman. On the other hand, a shamanic practitioner often lives in a city or town and adopts shamanic practices to complement or balance the many aspects of their life.

A shaman holds a more respected title, and a shaman practitioner is a person who engages themselves in this way of life. The difference is much like yogis and practitioners of yoga. Yogis commit themselves to the process and they often shun societal life altogether. Their life mission is to attain liberation from the physical world. For a practitioner, though, yoga is more of an activity that is done for health and healing benefits and is a way to enhance their life experience. The same is true of a shaman and a shamanic practitioner.

The difference between a Shaman and a Shamanic Practitioner

A shaman holds a more respected title, and a shaman practitioner is a person who engages themselves in this way of life. The difference is much like yogis and practitioners of yoga. Yogis commit themselves to the process and they often shun societal life altogether. Their life mission is to attain liberation from the physical world. For a practitioner, though, yoga is more of an activity that is done for health and healing benefits and is a way to enhance their life experience. The same is true of a shaman and a shamanic practitioner.


Shamans usually live in rural areas and this allows them to stay true to their shamanic way of life. It also ensures that the chaos and complexities of urban life do not distract them or their practice. In a way, by staying in the rural areas, they live in an environment that is more akin to the way their ancestors lived.
On the other hand, a shamanic practitioner often lives in a city or town.


There is no strict rule whereby a shamanic practitioner can’t call themselves a shaman and it might be appropriate to do so when trying to spread the message of shamanism. However, there needs to be some sense as to the difference between the two out of respect to a shaman.

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