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Created On 17 September 1997
Last Updated On 17 September 1997
Copyright (c) Simon E. Phipp 1997

A Shaman is the intermediary between the Mundane and Spirit Worlds. He exists on both Planes simultaneously. Found mainly amongst primitive, nomadic or barbarian cultures, Shamans take the place of organised priests in many societies.

As Shamans exist on both Spirit and Mundane Planes, they have certain properties. First, and most important, is the possession of a fetch. This is a portion of his soul which has been awakened to the Spirit World. The fetch exists on the Spirit Plane and provides the Shaman with the link between the two Planes. A fetch is not a separate Spirit, but is as much a part of the Shaman as his arm or leg. This allows a Shaman to perceive, or sense, disembodied spirits nearby, the more powerful the Shaman, the easier it is to sensed spirits and the greater the range such a sense works over.

The standard route to become a Shaman is to be apprenticed to an existing Shaman. This normally happens to favourites of the Shaman, or to people set apart from normal life. Sometimes, a person will receive serious injury while young and will be seen as having been marked in some way. Others may be set apart through birth or ways - people with certain features may be accepted as Shamans, for instance people with disabilities or special powers. Still others may be born to the position, the children or close relatives of Shamans may well become Shamans themselves.

Once a person has been accepted as an Apprentice Shaman, they will be trained in the ways of the spirits. This training may include skills useful to the community - a Shaman is good at treating diseases and poisons, knows much of Healing Plants and of minerals, knows the ways of animals and the world, and knows how people act. The training also includes magical work, learning spells and magical skills. Once a Shaman is confident that an apprentice is ready to become a Shaman, he will take the apprentice on a Spirit Quest to gain his fetch. There need not be a vacancy for a Shaman, once a person has proven himself ready to become a Shaman, it is his destiny to awaken his fetch and walk the Path of Spirits.

Shamans act as medicine man, holy man, wise woman and witch. They often protect their clan, tribe or family from the ravages of the Spirits, sitting on tribal councils or, in some cases, leading the tribe or clan. In such societies, the Shaman is well respected and acts as intermediary between the world of magic and men. He keeps ritual and spirit magics, and often is a priest of some minor local deity. A Shaman is generally better thought of than an equivalent priest in a more civilised society.

The Horned Man and The Bad Man

Every culture that has Shamans also has two spirits or deities associated with Shamanism. These are the Horned Man and the Bad Man. These titles were invented by the God Learners and are merely descriptive - they do not describe two entities which cross cultures.

The Horned Man is the First Shaman in the culture. It is he who first went on a Spirit Quest and first awakened his fetch. It is also he who first contacted the Father or Mother of Spirits, great deities who gave the Horned Man his powers. Amongst trolls, it is Jakaboom, amongst Praxians Waha, in Balazar Votank. The Horned Man is responsible for all the Shaman in the culture, he sometimes visits children in their beds, if they laugh then they will become Shamans. He also helps the Shaman on his Spirit Quest and guides him in his Shamanic Life.

When the Horned Man went on his first Spirit Quest, he encountered a Spirit which opposed him in his Quest. This spirit was defeated and swore revenge. This Spirit is identified as the Bad Man, although no culture or Shaman calls him this. Amongst trolls it is the Burner, amongst elves the White Lady, amongst Mallia Niorra the Healer and amongst Bagogi Bagog's Last Husband. The Bad Man opposes all Shamans on their Spirit Quest and throughout their lives.

The Bad Man of one culture would not be the Bad Man of another culture. This is because the concept of Bad Man is a Godlearner one, trying to rationalise all the different forms of Shamanism into one great whole. Similarly, the Horned Man differs between cultures - he rarely has horns.

The Spirit Quest

A prospective Shaman must undergo a series of rituals and quests, making up a Spirit Quest. This culminates in the awakening of his fetch and the creation of a Shaman. The details of the Quest differ between cultures, but all mirror the Quest performed by the Horned Man. When the shaman returns from the Quest, he is changed. He may have changed sex or sexual orientation, he may be blind or have special powers, he may be tattooed or disfigured in some way. Traditionally, a Shaman must have died and returned from the dead himself on his Spirit Quest - terrestrial Shamans are usually thought of as living their second life.

Powers and Abilities

Shamans have many powers, they can see into the Spirit Plane, they can cast magic easily, they can contact powerful spirits and have many spirits at their beck and call. Powerful Shamans may control demons or minor demigods and be able to send curses on even the most powerful of people. Some can rise from the dead without being resurrected.

A Shaman may bind spirits to his fetch, keeping them for later use, or continually using their powers. A Shaman may also ally spirits, gaining spirit friends which he can summon in times of need.

Shamans can make magical items unique to Shamans which affect control over the Spirit Plane. These can make the Shaman more effective in Spirit Combat, can act as foci for Spirit Contact, may protect the Shaman from Evil Spirits, or may be able to hold a spell or a spirit. All such items are highly valued among Shamanic peoples.

Shamans can also contact powerful Spirits for worship. A Shaman must be able to contact the Spirit, either using a spell or ritual. Then he must make a journey to reach the Spirit and must persuade the Spirit to allow the Shaman to worship. Then the Shaman could sacrifice for spells or learn skills or spells from the Spirit in return for promising certain things. In this way, a Shaman may become a very powerful magician with a very varied number of spells available to him. According to Shamans, all deities are spirits and all may be contacted Shamanically, a brave or powerful Shaman need fear no deity.

Shamans may also exorcise spirits who are possessing other people. They can channel Spirits, enabling them to possess the Shaman and speak through him. They can incarnate friendly Spirits, using the powers of the Spirit rather than the Shaman, so in times of war, a Shaman may incarnate the tribe's wargod to scare off his enemies.

Some Shamans have far greater powers - one wounded Humakt when the Seven Mothers were preparing for their rituals. Sheng Seleris, the most powerful Shaman on Glorantha, captured deities and nearly destroyed the Lunar Empire.

Shamanic Journeys

All Shamans have a Journeying power. This is the ability to discorporate and to travel the Spirit Plane in spiritual form, while the body remains behind. When a Shaman does this, it is his FETCH which leaves his body and travels, not his normal soul. The fetch is the Shaman's Spirit Self, and the idea that the fetch remains behind guarding the body is preposterous. While the fetch is wandering, the Shaman will be performing rituals designed to keep the travelling going, he may be dancing, singing, playing instruments or chanting. Often, he will provide a running commentary for the witnesses to the ceremony.

A Shamanic Journey is like a small HeroQuest or adventure in its own right. The Shaman must travel through the Spirit Plane, encountering friendly, neutral or hostile spirits to eventually arrive at his goal. Once there he must perform the deed for which he came and return to his body.

Sometimes, a Shaman will perform a Journey which takes place on the Material Plane, as a scout. In this way, he can travel through the world spiritually, but can perceive the world as a Shaman. This makes him a potent scout, for he can quickly and safely travel long distances, reporting on the presence or absence of food, game or enemies in the surrounding areas.

The Fetch

A fetch is the Shaman's Spirit Self. It is as much a part of him as an arm or a leg. As a Shaman becomes more powerful, so his fetch becomes more powerful, and can even be more powerful than worshipped spirits or demons. Usually, the fetch is tied to a Totem relating to the Shaman, so a Shaman of Aranea would have a spider fetch, whereas a Morokanth Shaman would have a Herd Man fetch. Some Shamans are not tied to a Totem, and their fetch would represent an animal or thing important to them.

When the Shaman's fetch is discorporate, it may appear in several ways, depending on the ritual used or the circumstances. Usually, it appears as an animal associated with the Shaman, sometimes as a person with the head or skin of the animal, sometimes as the animal with the Shaman's head. In any case, the fetch will appear powerful and exotic. It may have controlled spirits associated with it, perhaps as spirits tied to the fetch, or spirit gourds, or living tattoos, or shrunken heads. In any case, it will be obvious to those who can perceive the fetch that it has controlled spirits.

Examples of Shamans

Unfortunately, there are few really good examples of Shamans in Glorantha published so far. Blueface is a powerful Shaman in Balazar, the Shamans in the Sazdorf Clan show some medium power Shamans, whereas Pikat Yaraboom is a very powerful Shaman who is only partly described. Some Chaos Shamans are described in Dorastor and Lords of Terror, but these are only sketch descriptions. For some reason, Shamans have been seriously overlooked in RuneQuest/Glorantha.

The best descriptions of Shamans come from outside the Gloranthan World. Bonescrolls in the "Radix" novel is a typical Shaman, eccentric and powerful. The films "Pathfinder" and "Emerald Forest" have excellent descriptions of Shamans, but by far the best that I have seen is the Mog-ur in Jean Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear", in fact there are several Shamans described in her "Earth's Children" series.

Other descriptions of Shamans may be found in books on the subject, especially those which detail Shamanic cultures through the eyes of their Shamans.

Joseph Campbell's "Primitive Mythology" in the "Masks of God" series is well worth reading, as is Roger N. Walsh's "The Spirit of Shamanism" and Frazer's "The Golden Bough".