Shamanism, in a wide sense, all spirit worship connected with magic arts, but commonly only that of the north Asiatic races. The name is a corruption of the Sanskrit ēramana, a Buddhist ascetic or mendicant. Shamanism is one of the earliest phases of religious life, and is met in various forms among all the savage races of the world. It is akin to or a mixture of fetichism, or the adoration of magic stones and trees, and other material objects considered as abodes of spirits, and sabaism, or the worship of the stars. Shamanic priests affect to know the secret of controlling the coming and departing of evil spirits. Their offices are generally called into requisition in cases of sickness or death, which most rude peoples ascribe to the presence or ill will of demons. In Siberia the priest usually sucks the part of the body of the patient which aches the most, and finally takes out of his mouth either a thorn, a bug, a stone, or some other object, which he exhibits as the cause of the complaint. The process is sometimes accompanied with beating of drums and blowing of horns, while the priest works himself into a state of trance and epilepsy.

Similar practices are recorded in the Vedic literature of the Hindoos, and the historical extension of shamanism among the tribes of northern Asia runs parallel with the spread of Buddhism. It appears also that some of the ancient religious schisms among the Iranians were due to the prevalence of shamanism. Until the reign of Genghis Khan the Mongols were almost wholly given to similar magic and sorcery; but subsequently many of them passed over to lamaism, which is in a measure also a kind of shamanism, but infused with Buddhistic doctrines.