Becoming a shaman is often just as much of a curse as it is a blessing. A shaman is born with an extra soul that makes it possible to do the dangerous work that they do. Shamans are chosen by the spirits at birth, but it is not until later in life (usually in their 20’s) that the shaman is struck down. The striking down of a shaman is to dismember them as a person and to have them reborn into something else. There are two ways of being struck. The first is the shaman’s sickness and the second is lightning.
The near-death experience of the shaman’s sickness is very traumatic. The would-be shaman suffers both mentally and physically. This is how the spirits get the attention of not only the afflicted, but of the local shaman. When the elder shaman is called to help, they would recognize the shaman’s sickness and take the afflicted as a student.
This does not mean that everyone who has a near-death experience is a shaman. It means that some people who have one have the potential to become a shaman. Those with the potential are called butur. Butur means “cocoon” in Mongolian. To grow into a shaman, they must accept the calling and be recognized and trained by an elder shaman.
The second way to be struck down is to be hit by lightning. Once again, this does not mean that everyone that is hit by lightning becomes a shaman. It is just an indicator. Again, it takes an elder shaman to watch for signs from the person who was hit. If they believe they are chosen, they would take them as a student.
A shaman’s training takes a lifetime of work. It takes a great deal of practice and discipline. There are 9 degrees (levels) of traditional shamanism. They represent the nine branches of the world tree. For each level there is an initiation called a shanar. It takes years of study and training to reach each level. Because each level expects so much more from a person, the 9th level is rarely reached. Family and other obligations often keep people from taking their next shanar (initiation).
If anyone claims they can make you a shaman in one weekend for a fee, you should think twice. If you were to walk into a martial arts equipment store and buy a black belt, this would not make you a black belt. There are no quick fixes. Beware of spiritual consumerism.
One should also note that shamanism cannot be separated from the culture that it serves. It is interwoven into every aspect of the life and world view of the people. To take it out of its cultural context robs it of its power and meaning.
To preserve the ancient traditions, official shaman’s associations were founded in Mongolia, Buryatia, and Tuva. The governments of these countries are involved with the registries in order to help preserve the ancient traditions and integrity of Siberia’s aboriginal people.
This is for a good reason. The aboriginal peoples of the Americas have had a great deal of problems with their spiritual beliefs. Their ways have been misrepresented and even blasphemed. Fake “Indian medicine-men” have charged an unknowing public for pseudo Indian teachings and ceremonies. Nobody knows who is the real deal and who is just out to make a buck.
Wanting to avoid such an exploitative situation, the shaman associations make sure that the traditions remain true and keeps dishonourable or fake shamans from practicing.