Let’s play a little game.
Imagine three men walking into a room: One man is wearing a traditional Dashiki, another is wearing a traditional Native American headdress and holding a drum.
Finally, the last man is wearing plain street clothes like a t-shirt and jeans.
Now guess which one of them is a shaman?
If you haven’t already realised, this is a trick question — any one of them could be a shaman!
There’s certainly a fair bit of stereotyping going around when it comes to shamanic clothing. This is both true among the general public and from within the shamanic community.
A shaman is often expected to adhere to an unwritten dress code (think flowy long skirts and impossibly long hair). But despite a tradition of shamanic healer clothing that goes back centuries, a modern practitioner can choose to look and dress any way they want — a simple t-shirt is fine!
What would you call shamanic clothing?
So, What is Shamanism?
So, if a flowy skirt doesn’t a shaman make, what exactly is shamanism?
Shamanism is an ancient, indigenous belief system that appears to predate any modern religion, going back to at least the Paleolithic period.
As a borderless spiritual practice, shamanic traditions can be found in all sorts of cultures around the world. In the modern-day, shamans engage in solitary practice, seeking harmony with the spirit of all things and helping others to do the same.
What Religion is Shamanism Associated With?
As a spiritual practice with no dogma or set universal principles, shamanism can coexist with many different cultures and formalized religions, without necessarily having to be associated with them.
Each shamanic culture possesses its own rituals, ceremonies, healing practices, customs, and archetypes.
On a side note, what type of shamanic archetype are you? Take this quiz to find out!
Generally speaking, however, shamanism is usually associated with First Nations and Native American belief systems, as well as early ethnic groups in Russia, Central Asia, and Northern China (Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang province). Learn more about shamanic origins in this post.
What are Shamans Known For?
At their core, modern shamans engage with the spiritual world through a range of practices, rituals, and tools designed to harness a force for change and healing, either for themselves or for a client.
The ancestral role of the shaman has traditionally been one of a healer and a medic. In modern times, however, you’re likely to come across shamans who act as guides and life coaches, to meet the needs of the communities they find themselves operating in.
The Shaman as a Kind of Everyman
When talking about modern shamanism, the most important thing to keep in mind is that there isn’t one religion, one community, or one set of beliefs that all shamans adhere to — that’s a big part of the beauty of the practice and of what makes it so universal.
By the same token, there is no such thing as one collection of shamanic clothing or a universal uniform that tells the world “I am a shaman!”
Acting as a treasured medium between the spirit world and ours, and helping us become the best version of ourselves, is what makes a shaman a shaman.
Wild Spirit, Animal Dress
That said, we have to recognize that some clothing has been used as traditional shamanic clothing in the past like symbolic headdresses and footwear made of animal hides and furs.
The animals and materials used to create these intricate accessories change depending on the specific culture and tribe the shaman hails from. However, bear, bird, and deer regalia tend to be the most common across most traditions.
Some traditions, such as the Tofalar, Soyet, and Darhat have also been known to incorporate representations of human bones into their shamanic clothing. The shamans of the Goldi-Ude tribe, on the other hand, perform ceremonies in shirts and aprons decorated with reptile motifs.
Traditional Shamanic Cloths
In addition to animal regalia, certain shamanic practices will use a particular piece of clothing, most commonly a shawl or a cloth, as an integral part of their rituals and ceremonies.
For example, the Shaman’s Shawl (Phaa Phii Mon) and healing cloth (Phaa Sabai) of the Tai Daeng tribe are essential parts of healing rituals, using a combination of colors and designs to connect to ancestral spirits.
In terms of design, the silken shawl is typically hand-spun and decorated with mirror-image designs of mythical creatures. The healing cloth, in contrast, presents colorful thread patterns, handpicked to create a specific design.
They really are a sight to behold!
But Shaman Is What You Are, Not How You Dress
While traditional shamanic clothing does exist and does have its importance as an integral part of specific shamanic practices, dressing in a specific way is not a requirement for being a shaman.
What sets the modern shaman apart is their ability to affect change, promote growth, and heal the world through their spiritual practice — You can do this just as well in both traditional regalia and streetwear!
Knowing this is essential to making sure you feel empowered in your practice no matter what you wear so that you can continue to focus on what really matters: becoming the best shamanic guide you can be.