Shamanism is not a religion, but a basic set of beliefs found in different cultures all over the world. First i'll describe shamanism in the antropological sense.
The term shaman was first used by russian antropologists, who used it for siberian 'medicinemen' who used techniques of ecstasy to communicate with teh spirit world. During this century, especially by the book of Mircea Eliade, the term is broughtly used for any individual who works within a 'primitive' community using techniques of extasy to communicate with the spirits of the under and upper worlds. These techniques can differ from monotonious drumming, to extatic dancing and smoking hallucinetic plants like tabacco, cannabis or the use of the indian ceremonial drug peyote. Other techniques are enduring hardships (no food and water, or different postures. So it's a antropological term for a phenomenon, not for a special group. When there is no ecstatic part of a ritual involved, the word shaman doesn't apply. For more information on the antropological ideas of shamanism, read Eliade's book called: Shamanism, archaic techniques of ecstasy. (isbn 0-691-01779-4)
The New Age movement however has started to give shamanism a broader meaning, which is not always correct and some call every sort of medicinemen shamans. Michael Harner is one of the first antropologists, who actually joined training with shamans, so he could write not only abouty the rituals but also about the experience. in his book 'The way of the shaman', he describes a set of characteristics, which are based on the basic elements of shamanism, which include trance. He believes that western people can use shamanic techniques and perhaps even become shamans. From this point, shamanic workshops have risen around the world, some are given by original shamans, and some by western people who studied with shamans. Shamanism has in my view broadened it's field of work and now also includes working with the medicine-wheel (an mandela-like wheel which represents the different stages in any life-cycle), working with oracles, different sorts of energy-work etc. A shamanism FAQ can be found here.
Why would one start to use shamanic techniques? I think it often a feeling that draws one to shamanism. I encountered it a few years ago and when it crossed my path i knew i had to do something with it. It's like walking into the love of your life. For a lot of people, it gives them a sense that they are coming home. Which actually is true, because one of the things that happens in this spiritual awakening is that one's soul starts to reconnect with nature, a connection which is lost nowadays by most people. This does not mean that we need to go out the cities into the bushes again, but we do have to start to become aware that the way we are dealing with our planet is the wrong way and start to look for ways we can integrate good stewardship and our western civilization.
Another important thing is that one can use shamanic techniques to clear up problems from the past or even past lives. In this light, shamanic techniques are very therapeutic. R. Walsh even suggested in his book 'The Spirit of the Shaman' that shaman's are the worlds first psychotherapists and in a sense they are.
The most important technique used is the 'shaman's journey. This means one gets into a trance, which is an altered state of consiousness (ASC). This trance can be started by using monotone music, ecstatic singing or dancing or even hallugenious drugs. I don't recomend the drugs though, because they will make it harder to keep your focus on what you want. Drugs make you loose control, and control is the most important thing here. There are some good pages on the web that describe journeys and stuff, so i'm not gonna go into that. If you go into trance, you travel to a non-physical reality, where you can ask questions about problems you have. It's important to have a focus on a question you want to ask, because journeying is not disney-land and it can be very dangerous.
Well if you are interested in shamanism, best thing you can do is to find a workshop where you can learn the basics, including doing trance-journeys. If this is not available near you, buy the book 'The way of the Shaman," by Michael Harner, and find a friend who's also interested. This book gives some good advice on how to start for yourself. Working alone is not something i recommend untill you have gained some experience.
At the moment, we are busy setting up a circle for people who want to explore shamanism with a group of like-minded people. This will be in the netherlands. The idea is that we will come together once a month, to explore the borders of shamanism, using trance-positions, sound, trance-journeys with drums, but also healing and the medicine-wheel. It's not a training in shamanism, we look for people who have done basic-training and want the circle to try out new ideas, or deepen the experiences they had in their training. This means an active attitude is expected and everyone will be in charge of leading an evening, so that experience in this will be gained too.
If you are interested in our circle, email me and i'll get to you on how, where and when.
Titel Author ISBN Northern Mysteries and Magic
A good book for shamanism and divination within the northern tradition.
Shamanism, a spiritual practice for daily life
A practicul and down-to earth guide to shamanism
Compass of the heart
Book on the medicine wheel based on different earth religion
The Way of the Shaman
A must for every one who's taking up shamanism
Shamanism, archaic techniques of ecstasy
The classic!!Antropological view on traditional shamanism
Nice written boek on self-transformation and shamanism
Titel Auteur ISBN Mijn mening
Luisteren naar dieren
Prachtig boek met informatie over wat dieren symboliseren
Sjamanisme in de praktijk
Een kort maar helder boekje over sjamanisme, met invloeden uit het dru´sme.
Sjamanisme, een spirituele praktijk voor het dagelijks leven
Erg praktisch en down-to-earth geschreven
Rijk ge´llustreerde boek over traditioneel sjamanisme
Daan van Kampenhout
Een must voor elke sjamanisme beoefenaar
Daan van Kampenhout
Praktisch boekje over het inrichten van rituelen
In de leer bij de Sjamanen
Etno-botanicus op zoek naar de geheimen van sjamanen in Zuid-Amerika
Dier en mens
Handig boekje over de betekenis, die dieren innemen in onze wereld