THE ROLE OF THE SHAMAN IN INUIT LIFE
In the mythical past of the Inuit, humans and animals lived peaceably together, being able to change shape from animal to human, human to animal. As this harmonious state changed, humans became mortal and at enmity with the animals. To help people survive, the supreme deity sent an eagle to create the first shaman who re-established communication with the animals and spirits.
The shaman played a central role in Inuit life as the communicator with the spiritual world beyond. In the shamanic belief system, every living thing has a “soul” or life-force which exists independently of its physical form. When the body dies, the soul passes into a spiritual realm. There are, however, abnormal circumstances in which the soul becomes angry, stolen or lost, causing illness, starvation and other misfortunes. In such cases, the shaman would perform a spirit journey to remedy the situation and ensure good weather or a plentiful supply of game. Drumming and singing helped the shaman achieve an ecstatic state, allowing his or her soul to leave the body and commune with the spirits.
The shaman was assisted by animal helping spirits or “familiars”. As part of his communication with the spirit world, the shaman could also transform into an animal. This transformation is a magical merging of the shaman and his alter ego animal spirit. The shamanic journey is a mental and emotional adventure that allows first hand knowledge of an otherwise hidden universe. Like the great mystics of religious history, the shaman was able to move from one reality to another at will.
"Shaman" by Jaco Ishulutaq, Pangnirtung, Nunavut