Shamanism is a complex of rites and beliefs. Shamanism is practiced in both Eurasian and American indigenous cultures, but similar features can also be found in many religious practices in Africa and Oceania. Although shamanism takes different forms in different cultures, the key elements are very similar around the world.

In shamanism, a key role is played by the shaman, a person who mediates between humans and otherworldly forces. The shaman has a special ability or gift valued by the community. Shamans among Siberian peoples can be both male or female, but it appears that among the Saami the role of shaman has been reserved for men.

The shamanistic belief system involves the idea that people’s difficulties – such as their own or animals’ ill health – are caused by spirits from the otherworld. Consequently, the primary task of the shaman is to prevent crises threatening the living.

The shaman communicates with the otherworld through ecstatic trance, an altered state of consciousness. The shaman brings on the ecstatic trance through drumming or intense dancing. In addition, shamans may have consumed psychoactive substances, such as fly agaric mushrooms.

Saami shamanic ceremonial drum. Photo from Die lappische Zaubertrommel, a book by Ernst Manker. The drum is kept in the Nordiska museet museum in Stockhom, Sweden. Finnish Heritage Agency. The drums of the Saami and some Siberian peoples feature a lot of symbols. Shown in the middle is the solar system, with other motifs including humans, deities and shamans, animals (elk, bear, bird), fishing and hunting gear (net, trap) and transport (snow sled, boat). Around 70 ceremonial drums have been preserved in the Nordic countries.