Bibliography: Reading sources for a comparative look at shamanism in North and East Asia

The Shamanic paradigm (Shamanic Drumming Blog,  the Internet’s only blog devoted to news, events and commentary related to shamanic drumming, music and arts) gives a concise explanation of the cosmology and symbolism surrounding the shamanic drum culture.

Asian shamanism (emphasizing Laos and Hmong shamanism) is an excellent starting point and has an excellent succinct definition for understanding shamanism. Extracted below:

A shaman is a ritual or religious specialist who is believed to be capable of communicating with spirit powers. Man or woman, a shaman is said to be chosen by the spirits. A shaman’s power comes directly from a spirit which takes possession of the shaman during a trance. Derived from a Tungus word, the meaning of shaman is ‘he who knows.’ The first identified shamans and shamanistic religion were among the peoples of Siberia. Not only in parts of Asia and in Oceania does shamanistic practices exist, but also in the American Indian culture as well. In order to ensure the communities well-being, the shaman regulates relations between the community and the spirits. They become involved in matters such as controlling the weather, expelling harmful spirits, detecting broken taboos that bring misfortune, locating game or fish and most of all cure the sick and guiding the souls of the decieced to the spirit world. Because of their unique powers, shamans gain a great amount of political influence in their surrounding communities. During a shamanistic practice, a shaman is known to receive a mystical light that enables her or him to discover the places where souls are taken. While in this state of mind the shaman possesses powers of knowing and healing; which will greatly benefit the patient. The major method of shamanic curing is the recovery of lost or stolen souls that have resulted in misfortune.” 

Shamanic Drumming: Calling the SpiritsThe Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming; and  I Ching: The Tao of Drumming by Michael Drake

Siberian and Central Asian shamanism

The Archaeology of Shamanism by Neil Price, the third chapter by Ekaterina Devlet “Rock art and the material culture of Siberian and Central Asian Shamanism” notes outstanding characteristics of Siberian Shamanism including the tripartite cosmological symbolism=tripartite division of the universe seen on Shaman outfits (pendant-breastplate-iconic attachments, and the important “bird-feathers” that represented bird-flight or “fringe”=snakes=underworld; Shaman’s shield, drum, drum-stick, bird-totem poles and other important implements)

Shamanism of Siberia and Central Asia ( See also An Overview of the Model of Mongolian Shamanism

Behind shamanism: changing voices of Siberian Khanty cosmology Soc Sci Med. 1987;24(12):1085-93. Balzer MM

Khanty shamanism today”, Ugric People

Khanty – religion and expressive cultures

Khanty Shamanism today: Reindeer sacrifice and its mythological background“, Shamanism and Northern ecology by Juha Pentikäinen

Background for the study of Shamanhood

Buryat Shamanism

The Republic of Buryatia. General Information”  Extracted below from the Baikal Center’s website is a summary of the forms and elements of Buryat shamanism.


Shamanism is a traditional religion of the Buryats and the Evenks, the name of which is derived from the word – “shaman” – the mediator between the world of people and the world of spirits. The most important and also the characteristic thing about this religion is that it is the deinfiction of nature and the passed away ancestors. The followers of the religion strongly believe that: in the world there are a lot of Gods and Sprits, and with the help of Shamans we can influence them to get happiness, well-being, health, and also we can avert misfortune.

Unlike the Shamanism professed by many people in Central Asia and Siberia, the Buryat Shamanism is dis­tinguished by highly-developed polytheism and also more complex ritual system.

The Zabaikalsk Shamanists defined God and Spirit in different ways: Burkhan, Tengeri, Khan (Khat), noyon, ezhin, zayan, ongon. “The Eternal Blue Heaven” -Khukhe Munkhe Tengeri is considered to be the Hiegh-est deity. The heaven gives us life and all the good. Tengeri is not only the creator of people, but also the founder of the deits – tengeris. There are western Teng-eris – they are kind and eastern – hostile. There are more the kind ones. The Shamanists (the followers of the Shamans) do not have special temples, they hold their ser­vices in the open air, at the foot of the mountain, on the bank of the river, at the hitching post, unusual rock or tree.

The family rite can be held outside or inside the house, in yurta (national house of the Buryats and Evenks), and in the backyard. Among the Shamanist rites, the most important ones are the collective rites, they are called “tailgan”. Their major purpose is to ask the Gods to have a good year, a good harvest, grass, to get more cattle, happiness in the family, to avoid misfor­tunes.

The tailgans were usually held from May to October. The Buryat and the Evenk Shamans perform not only religious functions. The more traditional occupation for them is healing.”

Buryat CosmologyThe Form and Function of the Three SoulsCosmology and ShamanismWindhorse and Buyanhishig

Shamanism in Mongolia and Tibet See also Living Treasure Pau Nyima Dyondup

Shamanism  | Shamanism Among the Peoples of Western and Eastern Siberia. Karina Solovyova Russian Museum of Ethnography. [This museum website examines the important role, training and consecration rituals of the shaman in the lives of the tribal members and were protectors and intermediaries between humans and spirits.  It also looks at the special ritual and symbolic objects of their calling such as the baton that was one of the major shamanic ritual artifacts for the Evenks, Sel’kups, Nenets, and Kets, and it had many symbolic functions. It was used as a striking instrument, and it also represented a special spirit helper of the shaman for the Evenks and Kets. It was also pogonyalka ghis , literally means “talking” or the “object for telling the future,” and this emphasized another function. The Evenks used the baton to forecast the future regarding the offspring of the reindeer herd or the loss and the fate of people. Like the Biblical Mose’s rod, the shaman threw the baton towards the interested person, and the future was determined by how it would fall. Some batons of Sel’kup shamans had a cavity with stones inside and were used as rattles instead of as drumsticks. The Sel’kups also used the baton to cure the sick. By touching the place of pain with the baton, the shaman extracted the cause of the disease (the evil spirit), or he or she placed the sought-after soul of the sick person on the end of the handle and then back into the person.

In pursuit of the Siberian Shaman, a Youtube  video clip

East Asian, Southwest, Southeast Asian shamanism

Magick, Shamanism and Taoism by Richard Herne, 2001-03-01 [The book explains the cultural tools of Eastern magical traditions, provides basic rituals, and discusses the gods, ritual instruments, and magical workings involved.]

An Explanation of the Shamanic Origins of Taoism in China

Shamanism in China: bibliography by Barend ter Haar

Shamanism in Ancient China (Fortune City)

Page of the Eldest Son touches upon shamanist cosmology of the Ainu, as well as on Taoism

Chinese Shamanism”, Shamanism: an encyclopedia on world beliefs, practices and culture, Vol 2

Wu: female shamans in ancient China (Download pdf full article) Read also Max Dashu’s “Xi Wangmu: shamanic great goddess of China

Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism by Vajranatha

Larry Peters’ Tibetan Shaman website and writings:  Man Chinni Exorcism Rite of Tamang Shamans by Larry G. Peters;  The Ghe-Wa (Tibetan Death Rite) for Pau Karma Wang Chuk Namgyal, by Larry Peters (for Shaman’s Drum.)

First Look: The Qiang People of Sichuan” by Emma Zevik, on Qiangic people and culture including that of the Qiangic shaman or priest

Shamanism among the Hmong people, a Youtube clip

The Spirits, Soul, and Ceremonies” by Jandee Sonhsath [This website looks at Shamanism in Laos, with a particular focus on the Lue’s perspective point of view

The Shaman Dance

Folk Religion, Shamanism and Ancestor Worship in China

Korean Shamanism

Korean Shamanism by Haines Brown Extract below:

“Northeast Asia seems to have been a major center of later diffusions of the religion into the Americas (Native American shamanism) and later throughout Eurasia (as in early Southeast Asia and Germanic Europe). Because the deepest roots of Korean civilization lay in the Altaic region of Northeast Asia, it is not surprising that shamanism had an important role in Korean culture, as it also does in the Tibetan. When a new Tungusic people called the Yamacek entered the Korean Peninsula in the beginning of the first millennium B.C., they introduced a profoundly shamanistic culture.

Among the bronze artifacts of this Yemacek-Tungusic society were many objects that it seems were used in shamanistic rituals. One of them, for example, was an octagon with eight arms, with the tip of each arm forming a hollow finial containing a pellet. This was evidently a rattle for shamanistic ceremonies. The decoration on these bronze artifacts recalls the motifs of Siberian bronzes. The main centers of bronze production, which are presumed to be the main centers of early Korean civilization, are in the Pyongyang area of the northwest, the Taegu-Kyongju area in the southeast, and several other areas in the southwest, such as Namsongni, in which a particularly rich array of shamanistic implements were discovered in the 1960s.

Early totemistic clans apparently followed communal shamanistic practices at first that included the yonggo ceremony to invoke a supernatural force. The shamanistic ch’on’gun(“Heaven Prince”) associated with these clans may have carried out broad priestly and military leadership functions

However, the two roles eventually bifurcated in a manner comparable to the emergence of the kshitrya (warrior) and a brahmana (priestly) élites in Hindustan early in the second millennium B.C. It has been suggested this separation is marked by the exclusion of the exercise of criminal justice within the clan settlements (sodo) as they became religious centers increasingly under the domination of the ch’on’gun shaman priest. Perhaps because shamanism was absorbed into an aspect of the male leadership of the nascent state institutions embodying a social contradiction, shamanism as a popular religion at the village level became associated with women priests called mudang. In the sodo the mudang would have erected a (phallic?) poll on which were hung bells and a drum (yonggo – “spirit-invoking drums”) for the shamanistic ceremonies. Also part of them was the much’on (“Dance to Heaven.”)

Because the shamanistic élite had access to supernatural forces, and was therefore less constrained by circumstance, it was able to look beyond the clan to establish alliances. In fact, at the beginning of the first millennium A.D., the tribal kingdom of Saro emerged as a clan confederation headed by shaman kings (interestingly associated with metal working, as in African tradition). The title of these kings were kosogan, then ch’ach’aung, and finally isagum, with ch’ach’aung meaning “shaman.” These shaman tribal kings served to reduce conflict between rival clans in support of tribal state formation.

The tribal alliances eventually consolidated into The Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea: Koguryo (from the 2nd century A.D.), Paechke and Silla (from the 4th c.). In the Koguryo Dynasty, the king performed rites at the shrine of his Urfather, beginning an ancestor cult that fortified political leadership. These kingdoms were deeply influenced by Chinese political institutions and ideology that consolidated the landed élite of clan patriarchs and tribal leaders into a military aristocratic ruling class. They also contributed to the transition to state-level society in Japan.”

Spirit of the Mountains’’ by David A. Mason’s. See also Mason’s San-shin Website:

Folk-religion: the customs in Korea by Chun-sik Chʻoe  [This book examines the folk-religious practices of Korea in their present forms today, examining Mugyo(Korean Shamanism), household religions and village ceremonie

Korean Shamanism: Muism by Tae-kon Kim, 1998-05-25

The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of  Tales and the Telling of Tales by Laurel Kendall

Walraven, Boudewijn C.A. “Pollution Beliefs in Traditional Korean Thought.”Korea Journal 28:9 (September 1988): 16-23

Shamanism: The Spirit World of Korea by Richard W. I. Guisso, Chai-Shin Yu

Folk Art and Magic: Shamanism in Korea” by Alan Carter Covell [The top twelve deities in Korea’s Shamanist pantheon are explained in this book the Mountain Spirit, the Dragon King, the Seven Stars who control human fertility, as well as the three magic monk-spirits who walk on water to prove their blood-tie to their father. The book also describes the Shamanist rituals that summon the deities, the “Ten Thousand Spirits” including the famous generals of history, who will drive away disease, one general so fierce he walks on sharpened knives, the female ruler of the earth spirits, a patroness of diviners, who also comes and sometimes hungry ghosts direct from the underworld. Also looked at is the life the mudang (spirit houses) shamans who invite possession by the gods, so that they may cure disease.]

Chang, Chu-kun. “A Correlation of the Ancient Religions of Japan and Korea.” In Yu Chai-shin and R. Guisso, eds. Shamanism: The Spirit World of Korea. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1988

Kendall, Laurel and Griffin Dix, eds. Religion and Ritual in Korean Society. Berkeley: Center for Korean Studies, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1987.

Kim, Chol-choon. “Native Beliefs in Ancient Korea.” Korea Journal 3:5 (May 1963): 4-8, 36

Lee, Jung Young. “The Seasonal Rituals of Korean Shamanism.” History of Religions 12:3 (February 1973): 271-287

Walraven, Boudewijn. “Village Deities of Cheju Island.” In Robert E. Buswell Jr., ed. Religions of Korea in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Korean Shamanism (Wikipedia): “Korean shamanism is distinguished by seeking to resolve human problems through a meeting of humanity and the spirits. This can be seen clearly in the various types of gut (굿) that are still widely practiced. Korean shamans are similar in many ways to those found in Siberia, Mongolia, and Manchuria. They also resemble the yuta found on the Ryukyu Islands, in Japan. Jeju Island is also a center of Korean Shamanism.”

Shamanism in Japan

The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan, 2nd, London: Allen and Unwin, 1986.

Itako Spirit Mediums

The Itako–a Spiritual Occupation for Blind Japanese Girls byC. Edwin Vaughan (The Braille Monitor, May 2002))

Itako (Wikipedia)

Shaman’s View: What is an Itako?

Itako – Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage

Ryukyuan religion(Wikipedia) on yuta “tremblers”:  “Over time, Ryukyuan religious practice has been influenced by Chinese religions (Taoism, Confucianism, and folk beliefs), Buddhism, Japanese Shinto, and (to some extent) Christianity. One of its most ancient features is the belief in onarigami (オナリガミ), the spiritual superiority of women, which allowed for the development of a noro (priestess) cult and a significant following for yuta (female mediums)….

95% of yuta are women, according to Matayoshi/Trafton in their book, Ancestors Worship. They use certain rituals, dream analysis, and knowledge of case history in combination with contact with spirits. They often act as counselor, solving intra-family problems that may be generations old by talking with family members both living and dead to find the roots of issues. These issues can range from a child’s poor school performance due to lack of parental attention, to an individual’s alcoholism being the psychological result of the neglect of certain ancestors. Yuta also possess the ability to call and banish spirits, and thus are employed in cases of clinging or angry spirits (“hauntings” or “curses”). Many may possess the power to predict disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, or may display other powers, such as healing or divining the location of wells or lost/stolen objects.

Yuta often notice their abilities early in life, and usually have had some significant suffering in their childhood. The abilities to interact with the dead and solve family problems are discovered or developed through this trauma. Problems may also arise through the rejection of the call to be a yuta; these are called tatari (“punishments”), the period of suffering during which a yuta discovers the spirits which have called her into service. Yuta may emphasize various Buddhist beliefs, such as that of not being able to call forth those spirits who have obtained Buddhahood.

In Religion and Folklore of Okinawa, Kanhan Teruya divides yuta into various categories. There are yuta dealing with spirits from the “Present Age” (v.s.), those dealing with ancestors who died in the “Middle Age”, and those dealing with gods and Ultimate Ancestors. Some yuta are gamu mawari senmon, or those concerned with the use of caves. Some only arbitrate or advise. Also, yuta tend to either perform rituals anytime they are needed, or use only the Chinese zodiac days of the Tiger or Cow. (Teruya 255–256; quoted after Bollinger) …

Yuta and shimuchi may keep a suumun, a special box in which their fortune-telling guides are kept. Somewhat less important are Buddhist and Shinto clergy, who are generally only consulted for weddings, funerals, or on certain holidays associated with those religions (such as solar New Year activities). In the case of weddings, even Christian clergy may be called upon to officiate. Viewing of or participation in rituals may be forbidden to outsiders.”

Shamanism in Japan – JSTOR

The Life of a Shamaness: Scenes from the Shamanism of Northeastern Japan” by Kawamura Kunimitsu

Shamanism in Japan (

Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change by Ichiro Hori

Taki Kudo, Shamanic Medium of Tsugaru, a Youtube  video clip

A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine by John K. Nelson

General shamanism

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (original French edition 1951; English translation, Princeton UP, Princeton, 1964 and many reprints)

Shamanism, Taoism and Castaneda A brief exploration of the connections, similarities between the different belief systems related to shamanism (including Carlos Castaneda‘s)

Weather Shamanism by Nan Moss with David Corbin

Shamanism by Shirley J. Nicholson

Shamanism – Extracted from Richard Shand: “The word shaman comes to English from the Tungus language via Russian. Among the Tungus of Siberia it is both a noun and a verb. While the Tungus have no word for shamanism, it has come into usage by anthropologists, historians of religion and others in contemporary society to designate the experience and the practices of the shaman. Its usage has grown to include similar experiences and practices in cultures outside of the original Ural-Altaic cultures from which the term shaman originated. Thus shamanism is not the name of a religion or group of religions.”

“Shamanism is classified by anthropologists as an archaic magico-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the great master of ecstasy. Shamanism itself, was defined by the late Mircea Eliade as a technique of ecstasy…

Ascetic practices by Japanese shamans are especially prevalent among those who actively seek shamanhood rather than being called by a deity. These practices include fasting and dietary restrictions of various kinds, seclusion in a dark place, walking pilgrimages between sacred places, and rigorous regimes of immersion and bathing in ice-cold water. These disciplines, especially the endurance of cold, eventually fill the shaman with heat and spiritual might.”
– James Davila, “Enoch as a Divine Mediator”

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