This article is from the Shamanism FAQ, by Dean Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
Some have wondered if the experience of shamanic ecstasy or flight
makes a person a shaman. Generally speaking, most would say no.
A shaman is more than someone with an experience. First, he or she
is a trained initiate. Usually years of enculturalization and
training under a mentor precede becoming a functioning shaman.
Second, a shaman is not just an initiate who has received inner and
outer training, but is a master of shamanic journeying and techniques
(shamanic ecstasy). This is not a casual acquaintance with such
abilities, there is some degree of mastery of them. Finally, a
shaman is a link or bridge between this world and the next. This
is a sacred trust and a service to the community. Sometimes a
community that a shaman serves in is rather small. In other
instances it may be an entire nation. A lot of that depends on
social and cultural factors.
One becomes a shaman by one of three methods:
a) Hereditary transmission;
b) Spontaneous selection or "call" or "election";
c) personal choice and quest. (This latter method is less frequent
and traditionally such a shaman is considered less powerful than one
selected by one of the two preceding methods.) The shaman is not
recognized as legitimate without having undergone two types of
a) Ecstatic (dreams, trances, etc.)
b) Traditional ("shamanic techniques, names and functions of
spirits, mythology and genealogy of the clan, secret language, etc.) The
two-fold course of instruction, given by the spirits and the old master
shamans is equivalent to an initiation." (Mircea Eliade, The Encyclopedia
of Religion, v. 13 , p. 202; Mcmillian, N.Y., 1987.) It is also possible
for the entire process to take place in the dream state or in ecstatic
Thus, there is more to becoming a shaman than a single experience.
It requires training, perseverance and service.