The word 'shaman' comes from the Tungus language in Siberia. The term refers to the spiritual leaders of certain societies, usually small-scale societies without centralized political organizations and occupational specialization. The shaman's primary function is to serve as an intermediary between his or her community and the spirit world. He has direct contact with the spirit world through trance states, uses the trance state for healing, bewitching and divining for his people, and uses his connections to spirits to achieve good or evil goals. Because of this perceived power, he is often the most feared person in the society. The techniques used in shamanic religions have been adopted by individuals and groups of non-shamanic societies seeking access to the spirit world. Modern versions of shamanism emphasize healing of self and others, but often lack the community foundation of traditional shamanic religions. In these contexts, shamanism is no longer a religion but rather a spiritual practice borrowed from traditional beliefs.
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Castanedan, Nagual and Toltec Shamanism.
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Contemporary shamanism focuses more on healing and the use of non-traditional sources (reiki and other new-age techniques) to produce similar results to that of a traditional shaman. Trance states, initiations and the use of psychoactive substances are used either to a lesser degree, or not as intensely as traditional shamanic practice. Many neo-shamanists are self-taught, whereas in traditional shamanism, one usually seeks out a teacher.
Shamanic healing techniques involve both a physical and a spiritual level. Various plants and herbs can be used for medicinal purposes on the physical level, in combination with spiritual journeys or healing. Spiritual journeys involve bringing back soul fragments, or parts of someone's subtle body which have been removed due to a trauma. Healing involves the removal of spiritual intrusions or blocks in the meridians (energetic pathways) of a person's subtle body.
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The oldest religious practice in Korea, often closely tied to Buddhism in practice. Its practitioners, who in South Korea today are usually women, are called mudang.