- In many indigenous cultures, shamans are healers. As the local equivalent of Western doctors, they seek the causes and cures of illnesses. However, since their medical practice exists in an animist context, it is frequently either spiritualized or demonized in Western discourse. For example, the use of the term medicine people with reference to Native American religious leaders can be interpreted in a way that privileges allegedly metaphysical “powers” rather than recognizing the importance of the people’s skill as healers. On the other hand, the term witch doctor in many African contexts is often taken to place these people among suspect workers of magic rather than recognizing their role as combatants against witches and the illnesses they cause. In both cases, local medical knowledge is highlighted by indigenous terms and denigrated or misinterpreted in many Western contexts. Many indigenous people, for instance, the Karuk, prefer the term doctor to the term shaman.
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.