It is reasonably safe to assume, since the beginning of mankind, humans have been on spiritual quests. They have sought these spiritual quests to discover personal meaning in their lives or to achieve transcendence, or to heal.
Within the shamanic movement, there are two fundamental forms: group and individualistic. Modern individualist shaman movements contain three very broad categories:
1. New Age
3. Core Shamanism (Neo-Shamanism)
Those who are practitioners of Core Shamanism object to being included in the New Age Movement. Conservative in its nature, Core Shamanism emphasizes a sentient relationship to the spiritual world, the interconnectivity of the universe, transcendence, and healing. A potential direct contact with the spiritual world quickly becomes a focus of the shamanic experience.
Within the Core Shamanic concept of an alternate reality lies three layers:
1. Lower World
2. Middle World (Occupies the same space as Ordinary Reality)
3. Upper World
These three levels are reached through altered states of consciousness. The shaman attains these altered states through the use of drums, rattles, dance, or fasting. It is true certain South American aboriginals use drugs to induce a trance like state, something many writers in the field do not advocate. The basic reason altering the state of consciousness is to gain knowledge on how to help those who are ill; either physically or emotionally.
Native Americans do not hold to a universal spiritual system per se. They do believe in the interconnectivity of man and nature, of man and the spiritual world. They do have vision quests during which one may arrive at an altered state of consciousness. Even though there are traditional healers, persons responsible for rituals, singers, mystics, and lore-keepers, none are officially referenced as shaman. However, some authorities on shamanism claim certain Native American Tribes in Washington do use the term shaman.