- Shamans are rarely the only social and ritual leaders in their communities. Caroline Humphrey, Urgunge Onon, and Marjorie Balzer clarify the role of shamans by discussing the differences between them and elders. There are ceremonies that shamans perform, and others that elders perform. Sometimes shamans are specifically barred from participating in ceremonies run by elders; at other times, they can be present but must not shamanize. The bear ceremonial complex demonstrates that the distinction between shamans and elders is not necessarily that shamans engage with the other world, spirits, or other-than-human persons and elders do not. Rather, shamans and elders may do similar things in different ways, or elders sometimes do what shamans do more expertly and powerfully, or in more fraught or dangerous situations. Shamans are sometimes defined as those who have already experienced death during the initiation rites, which remake them as distinct kinds of people from elders, who are those approaching death. Similarly, the intense and intimate relationships evolving from initiation and shamanic performance may entail obligations to their otherworld or other-than-human kin and companions that prevent shamans from doing certain things. For example, shamans may be barred from hunting because animals will know of their approach (although, as with bear ceremonialism, they may indicate auspicious times and places).
Historical dictionary of shamanism. Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis. 2007.