Shamanism is not a religion unto itself, but refers to a category of spiritual practice associated with many pagan cultures. The word Shaman comes from the Turkic-speaking tribes of Siberia. This word refers broadly to a spiritual practitioner who specializes in traveling to other planes of existence, or in interacting with spirit beings from other planes for the purpose of solving problems on the physical plane. Shamanism generally involves the induction of altered states of consciousness. Similar concepts exist among indigenous societies the world over. Shamans were professionals among traditional societies, whose expertise was sought to treat ailments, exorcise harmful spirits, attract game animals, and perform other special tasks. Shamans depend on the spirit world for their abilities.
Shamanism has become extremely popular among modern Pagans and in the New Age movement. Modern shamanism is commonly associated with healing through soul retrieval and the removal of harmful energy. It is also closely associated with nature magic and Native American spirituality. Unfortunately, the concept of altered states has been interpreted by many individuals as a synonym for drug use, and some people abuse drugs with the excuse that they are practicing shamanism. In actuality, there are safer, legal ways to achieve a trance state, in which the individual has more control than they would under the influence of drugs. For example, one can buy audio recordings of shamanic drum beats in order to help induce a trance state.
There are a plethora of books about shamanism, but some are better recommended than others. Some of the more accredited authors include Michael Harner, Alberto Villoldo, and Sandra Ingerman. Avoid authors who proclaim their credentials based on their use of hallucinogenic drugs, or books that equate drug-induced states with shamanic states. Many serious modern shamans also advise seekers against reading the work of Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda was a highly successful and charismatic author, but he is also regarded by many modern shamans as being of shady moral character. The validity of his work is suspect, and some consider him to have been a borderline cult leader.