With the rising resurgence of shamanism, often as a curiosity or a way to make money, there seem to be an equally growing number of books flooding the market, making it more and more difficult to find reliable scholarly studies of the topic.  When I go to the bookstore or browse, I inevitably have to sift through more and more books on self-improvement, or soul retrieval guides to help me discover my “power animals,” and many others that I feel take an often “New Agey” look at the entire topic of shamanism.

I’m not saying that those kinds of books on shamanism aren’t important; they just aren’t the kinds of books regarding shamanism that I’m personally interested in. I have more of an anthropological interest in the historical and cultural aspects of shamanism as it relates to its development as a belief system, especially when the use of plant medicines and trance states were a central feature of any particular culture’s shamanism practices.  So this list simply reflects my personal interest in the true role shamanism played in our mutual human evolution and history.

Introduction to Shamanism

DuBois, Thomas A. 2009. An Introduction to Shamanism. Cambridge University Press.

Harvey, Graham. 2002. Shamanism: A Reader. Routledge.

The first book is the most thorough and concise overview of shamanism that I have found so far.  The second offers just as scholarly a view along with a collection of insights and excerpts that I feel are indispensable. 

Culturally-Specific Shamanism

The term shamanism was assigned to a still-debated set of rituals and beliefs that have numerous commonalities across many cultures.  Some of the most enlightening information I have found on shamanism is from the anthropological and ethnographical studies of specific cultures and the role of the shaman within them.  Different ethnic groups who share similar practices have completely different names for the shaman:  To some First Nations tribes they’re “angakuk”, to the Mongols they’re “kami”, to Haitians they’re “houngan”, to the Zulu they’re “sangoma”, to Hawaiians they’re “kahuna”, to the Korean’s they’re “mudang”, to the Thai’s they’re “ma khi”, to numerous tribes of the Peruvian Amazon they’re “curanderos”, and so on.  But they all share so many similarities that it’s far beyond a remarkable coincidence.  These books describe the shamanic practices of many different peoples the world over.

Gage, Tomas. 1958. Travels in the New World. University of Oklahoma Press.

Beyer, Stephan. 2010. Singing to the Plants. The University of New Mexico Press.

David Freidel, Linda Schele and Joy Parker. 1995. Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shamanʼs Path. HarperCollins Books.

Grim, John A. 1988. The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians. University of Oklahoma Press.

Humphrey, Urgunge. 1996. Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge, and Power among the Daur Mongols. Oxford University Press.

Lommel, Andreas. 1967. Shamanism the Beginnings of Art. McGraw-Hill.

Reid, Anna. 2003. The Shamanʼs Coat: A Native History of Siberia. Walker and Company Books.

Reichel-Dolmatoff, Geraldo. 1971. Amazonian Cosmos: The Sexual and Religious System of the Tukano Indians. University of Chicago Press.

Vitebsky,Piers. 2006. The Reindeer People. Hardlines.

Shamanism and Ancient Humans

It’s my firm belief that shamanism dates far further back than even the Paleolithic cave paintings of 20,000 – 30,000 years ago.  As a natural order of trying to explain the world in which the first self-aware humans found themselves and simple observation of the movement of the sun, rains, the wind, as well as powerful creatures that could easily kill a human, gods arose.  From early beliefs such as animism to fertility cults, shamanism seems like a natural, orderly and ritualized construct of these beliefs.

Clottes, Sophie. 1998. The Shamans of Pre-History: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves. Abrams, Harry N., Inc.

Lewis-Williams, David. 2004. The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. Thames & Hudson.

Pearson, James L. 2002. Shamanism and the Ancient Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Archaeology. Rowman Altamira.

Whitley, David S. 2009. Cave Paintings and the Human Spirit: The Origin of Creativity and Belief. Prometheus Books.

On Shamanism

These books discuss shamanism and some of the research surrounding it.  This is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s simply a list of some of the books I’ve found most informative, useful or curious in my own studies on shamanism.

Campbell, Joseph. 1959. Primitive Mythology: Masks of God. Penguin Books.

Eliade, Mircea. 1964. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton University Press.

Jan Irvin, Andrew Rutajit and Nicholas Zervos. 2009. Astrotheology & Shamanism: Christianityʼs Pagan Roots. The Book Tree.

Lewis, I. M. 2003. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession. Penguin Books.

McClenon, James. 2001. Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion. Northern Illinois University Press.

McKenna, Dennis and McKenna Terence. 1975. The Invisible Landscape. HarperOne.

Ripinsky-Naxon, Michael. 1993. The Nature of Shamanism: Substance and Function of a Religious Metaphor. SUNY Press.

Winkelman, Michael. 2010. Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing. Thames & Hudson Ltd.