Because of their intimate knowledge of the gods and demons, shamans understand how to interpret the future. They learn about the will of the gods through random cracks in rocks, the rustling of leaves in the wind, by observing the flight pattern of birds, and through the sounds of the forest creeks. In trance they see places where hunters would find their game, and they are able to heal the sick and jinx the healthy.
Divination and healing, the mastery of magic, are of central importance in shamanism. To exercise these skills, the shaman must acquire a special knowledge about life’s energy, an invisible force. In Melanesia, an island-rich region in the Pacific Ocean, this spiritual force influencing animals and humans, is called Mana. The Oglala, a tribe of the Sioux Indians, refer to it as Wakan, a spiritual force that is everywhere but has no specific place. This force is not detectable by means of sensory experience, but still existent in the world of phenomena. Every human possesses this life energy. The lack of it leads to disease, the complete loss to death. It is the work of a shaman to balance life’s energy.
The South-African Kung of the Kalahari Desert, calling upon these supernatural powers for the purpose of healing, clairvoyance, x-ray vision, and prophecy, calls this life force N’um. Through a specific healing trance dance the shaman’s body produces an excessive amount of heat, rising from his stomach up into his head. In this state, the shaman is able to see anything that causes grief and pain for the sufferer. Through his healing dances he is able to activate the life’s energy, knocking out diseases. The activation of life’s energy can be considered a dangerous act and could, under extreme circumstances, cause death to the patient. Therefore, the Kung calls it the agent of death. It is in the hand of the masters to use N’um for good or for evil purposes.
The academic anthropological research has considered the magical powers of shamans mostly from the perspective of strange superstitious acts, but rarely looked at as explorers of consciousness and master of paranormal forces. The shaman’s robe was described with precise details, its colors, ornaments and attributes. It was noted what kind of equipment he used, what sounds he made and what actions he performed. Whether his ritual was of success did not really matter. Just in recent years researchers came to the conclusion that shaman magic wasn’t just make-believe acts. Apparently, the strange rituals including trance performances are ancient knowledge of techniques achieving magical effects.
There is some isolated scientific evidence that the shaman can alter his state of consciousness affecting his own body’s immune system, and through a resonant phenomenal act contributes to the patient’s immune system. During this trance endorphins, which are natural pain killers, are released. In connection with the release of endorphins, shamans are also seen holding and eating glowing coal. The fact that a shaman’s body doesn’t encounter any injuries or burn marks during such performances still remains enigmatic. It is as if the body obeyed a different law during shamanic acts. Maybe drums, dance and trance represent a technique for programming awareness skills, an ancient technique, which has gone largely lost in today’s civilized societies.