Shamanism refers to a system of religious and medical beliefs and practices that centers on the shaman, a specific type of magico-religious practitioner. Shamanism rests on the belief that many events on earth are caused by supernatural forces and therefore human contact with and control of the supernatural is necessary to control life on earth. The shaman is the individual who specializes in contacting and controlling the supernatural. Classic shamanism is associated with the indigenous cultures of Siberia and Central Asia and is characterized by the shaman’s being a charismatic male, a master of the supernatural spirits, concerned mainly though not exclusively with curing disease, and serving a client base composed of particular families or communities.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries classic shamanism was severely repressed by the Russian, Soviet, and Chinese governments and in some cultures disappeared, in others survived only in limited form, and in others went underground. Since the mid-twentieth century there has been a revival of shamanism and a broadening of the meaning of the concept to include related magico-religious practices elsewhere in the world. In the former Soviet Union, the end of Soviet rule has led to a revival of shamanism in some Siberian cultures as part of a broader pattern of cultural revitalization.
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