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Person who uses magic to cure the sick, divine the unknown, or control events. Both men and women can be shamans. Shamanism is classically associated with certain Arctic and Central Asian peoples, but today the term is applied to analogous religious and quasi-religious systems throughout the world. As medicine man and priest, the shaman cures illnesses, directs communal sacrifices, and escorts the souls of the dead to the other world. He operates by using techniques of ecstasy, the power to leave his body at will during a trancelike state. In cultures where shamanism occurs, sickness is usually thought of as soul loss; it is thus the shaman's task to enter the spirit world, capture the soul, and reintegrate it in the body. A person becomes a shaman either by inheritance or by self-election. See alsoanimism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on shaman, visit Britannica.com.