Along with being the communicator between the worlds, the role of the shaman is also that of healer. Many illnesses and crises are associated with sorcery or evil influences within several cultures. The shaman engages in a struggle with the dark forces in order to free the patient and promote healing. The promotion of healing is brought on by the shaman's ability to resolve an unbalanced relationship between the patient and the dark forces, whether resulting from sorcery or other external influences, and establishing an integration of balanced energies within the patient. The same principles apply when the shaman is attempting to address a crisis in the community. The shaman is able to bring a communal understanding to the distress and bring forth a meaningful resolution. In other words, the shaman is able to manipulate the symbols from his or her trance state and provide a coherent solution to a specific problem.
Shamans are sometimes feared due to their powerful abilities and may at times be blamed for the sickness and death by other communities, yet they are not sorcerers. Unlike sorcerers, shamans practice and engage in their spiritual rituals in the public sphere. The shaman is also different from the magician as they use their skills and abilities on behalf of the community and not for personal gain.
Although our world has changed drastically and our way of life is far different than it was during hunting and gathering cultures, there still exist societies, especially in Asia, that engage in the practices and techniques of traditional Shamanism.
Neo-shamanism refers to spiritual practice that reflects traditional Shamanism practice on a very fundamental level yet is contemporary in nature. Neo-shamanism is often referred to as the "rebirth" of Shamanism because it strives to address the human quest for meaning in its attempt to understand our spiritual experiences. Many Neo-shamanic spiritual practices today, as in the past, deal with the communication with spirits and the worlds of animals, plants, minerals, and humans. The practice of Neo-shamanism as a spiritual discipline is diverse and may be found in many parts of the world, from California to Germany to Australia. What most Neo-shamanic groups have in common is the way in which these groups have emerged within our modern society. Unlike traditional Shamanism, which is linked to traditional and cultural ties founded in history, Neoshamanism has emerged out of an era of individual freedom and exploration. At the height of the 1960s, many people were exploring different forms of spirituality, which revolved around altered states of consciousness and techniques that would allow them to reach higher levels of consciousness through deep states of ecstasy. Those who pursued the quest for individual meaning amidst the secular Western world came to be called seekers.
The study of Neo-shamanism and its renewed interest in the 20th century can be attributed to three academic scholars: Mircea Eliade, a historian of world religions, and two anthropologists, Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner. It was these scholars who introduced the general population to the techniques and practices of Neo-shamanism. Eliade has been called the "grandfather" of Neo-shamanism because it was his initial work on traditional Shamanism in Asia, the Americas, and ancient Europe that brought forth the founding definition of Shamanism, a practice in the "techniques of ecstasy." Eliade concluded that Shamanism was a universal practice manifested in virtually all cultures. This definition set the stage for Shamanism and Neo-shamanism to be viewed as universal and undifferentiated in nature.
Carlos Castaneda, an American anthropologist, and his many popular books describing his personal experiences with the Yaqui medicine man Don Juan, inspired a larger portion of the American population in the early 1970s to seek Shamanic experiences. These Neo-shamanic experiences were first explored in the spaces of the imagination as seekers read The Teachings of Don Juan and the books that followed.
Another anthropologist, Michael Harner, introduced his book The Way of the Shaman in 1980 and provided the seekers tangible techniques and skill development in Neo-shamanic practices. Harner began teaching what he has described as "core Shamanism" and founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Core Shamanism perpetuated the universal belief, as initiated by Eliade more than 30 years ago, that Shamanic practices and techniques were common to many cultures past and present. Seekers were able to initiate themselves into Shamanic practices within a weekend workshop taught by Harner.