Can someone explain shamanism, animal guides, totems, and related believes to me?

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I’ve researched the topic on and off for several years now, and I still cannot grasp good information. There are so many variations of these beliefs that it’s hard to do so.
Can someone explain this further to me? I know the general aspects of it. Anyone know any good links where I can learn more?

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xtheurgata

You’ve discovered one of the difficult things about this kind of information: lack of consistency.
There is a reason for so many variations… Beliefs in these things tend to come from specific cultures, and different cultures had different beliefs about how these things worked and what practices or taboos should be observed when dealing with these spirits.
Some New Age folks try to mesh all the cultural beliefs together, but what happens, as you’ve found, is that you can get a mish-mash of different ideas that aren’t always very consistent. They also often lose the religious context that the belief in shamans and/or totems was part of.
I would recommend reading some scholarly anthropological books about Shamanism, for example, this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Shamanism-Archaic-Techniques-Ecstasy-Bollingen/dp/0691119422
I would also recommend looking into the larger context of shamanism by picking one or two specific cultures and learning about how shamanism fit into and was practiced in those particular cultures.
If you want to get involved with New Age style shamanic practices, there are lots of groups around which do that sort of thing. However, I would caution you to gain an understanding of true shamanism in its various cultural contexts before getting involved in a New Age shamanic group.
What some of the New Age groups do is use techniques that induce light trance states to facilitate imaginative “journeys.” These can be helpful because it provides a way to communicate with your subconscious mind. But it’s also pretty different in a lot of ways from traditional shamanism in their original cultural contexts.

Frau Hunter the Heathen

Do a search on Amazon.com and read the reviews and pick which book might address what you’re looking for. Michael Hoenir (sp?) The Way of the Shaman is a staple in the shaman community. If you’ve researched the topics then you probably know as much as I do and how to look for answers.

Dr. R PhD in Revolution

shamans are believed to enter a trance and go to the spirit world to retrieve souls as illness are seen as the soul leaving the body. they also interpret dreams.
http://www.geocities.com/tammlynn/animals.htm
http://www.geocities.com/tammlynn/stones.htm
http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/4076/index1.html
http://www.answers.com/topic/shaman
http://www.answers.com/topic/shamanism?cat=health
http://www.answers.com/topic/totem
i’ve been studying it on and off also. i plan on becoming a shaman.

Witchy

I’ve always liked this essay:
http://www.cauldronfarm.com/writing/shaman_compare.html
This one about Siberian Shamanism is pretty good too:
http://www.angelfire.com/journal/cathbodua/Shamanism.html
Hope this helps.

Lupa

You do realize you’re asking about HUGE areas of study, right?
Shamanism is a practice that is found in hunter-gatherer societies worldwide. While the details vary from culture to culture, the general conception is that the shaman is an individual who A) travels out of hir body to visit other realms of reality as a way of intervening between this world and the spirit realms or B) acts as a medium for spirits (less common; Korean shamanism is an example). The shaman’s tasks may include retrieving souls of people stolen by spirits (which often causes illness); attacking and defending against the shamans of rival tribes; acting as a psychopomp to guide the souls of the deceased to the afterlife; divination; enforcing social mores; acting on behalf of the tribe to encourage the appearance of game animals.
The modern concept of shamanism in the New Age and neopaganism is a rather limited version based largely on Michael Harner’s core shamanism (http://www.shamanism.org). It tends to depend very heavily on healing and soul retrieval, and while it claims to be free of cultural influences, it is very much a Western phenomenon. Most of the books you’ll find purporting to teach you shamanism aren’t anything traditional, though they can be useful from a practical standpoint.
Plastic shamans are people who have absolutely no real connection to any indigenous culture, yet claim to teach the shamanic path or religion of that culture. Their misrepresentations can be quite harmful to the cultures they steal from. This is different from someone who borrows from a culture, but is honest about what they have and the difference in context. Cultural appropriation is a very touch subject, particularly among some Native Americans, as well as neopagans. Google “plastic shaman” for more info.
Traditionally, animal totems were/are representative of an entire group, such as a family, clan or tribe; they were rarely associated with an individual. Totems were related to exogamy, the system of determining who may marry whom without fear of incest. They also may have had roles in maintaining social structure and mores. Totems are not limited to Native American cultures; indigenous cultures, especially those that still work within a hunter-gatherer dynamic, also have totemic systems.
Totemism and animal magic from a neopagan perspective have been at the center of my spirituality for over a decade. I don’t see what I’m doing as the same thing Native Americans or any other indigenous cultures are doing; I have my own way of relating to animal totems as archetypal beings that exist independently but also within me. I am also a practicing (neo)shaman; you can find out more at http://therioshamanism.com
Just be aware that what you find in books isn’t traditional; it’s either New Age or neopagan. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful; it’s just, well, *new*.
If you want to read more about totems, go check out http://www.wildspeak.com which has a good introduction to animal totems. If you’re interested in books, I’ve reviewed the majority of what’s currently on the market: http://lupabitch.wordpress.com/category/animal-magic/ And I’ve written one of my own: http://www.thegreenwolf.com/ffbb.html For recommended books on shamanism, go to http://lupabitch.wordpress.com/category/shamanism/ And my site, http://therioshamanism.com which I mentioned earlier has some good links on the left sidebar for shamanism.

Hendon Harris

I believe that Shamanism predates all organized religions of today and at one time circled the globe. Over millinea it has been merged
into other religions like Daoism and Shintoism and many other cultural
faiths but its beliefs and religious symbols and activities remains in
aboriginal cultures all around the world. Some groups like the Native
Americans deny their connection to worldwide Shamanism but even
to this day they use materials and activities that prove their ties to
this belief system. These connections include their use of the Shamanistic drum in worship, totems, face painting, tattos, feathers,
magic sticks, chanting, dancing, smoking, worship of nature and many others.
In addition to the totems found in every Pacific Rim country and the
islands of the Paciific the huge geoglyphs now being discovered in
North America, China and elsewhere are also being considered as
“totems” by a growing number of us who are locating these geoglyphs by means of Satellite Imagery. The modern world led
by Eurocentric thought has largely ignored these recent findings
but you can read and see them for yourself by googling “Hendon’s
Geoglyphs” or at chinesediscoveramerica.com

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