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Shamanismby Marco Dalmonte English translation by Gary Davies
Worshipped in: backward cultures in all the world (Ethengar, Atruaghin, Jen, Norwold, Thanegioth, Yazak)
Shamanism indicates a form of mysticism spread among many backward cultures of Mystara characterised by a profound bond of an individual with the Spirit World and with the elemental spirits of nature. Despite the term shaman being inappropriately used in many cultures in order to designate an individual given of divine powers (especially shamans of Atruaghin, shamans of Rafiel, goblinoid shamans), the true shaman is the only one who by himself, after a vision and a test, is able to forge a special bond with the natural world and that of the spirits and to understand autonomously what is his spirit guide, bound to him in a perennial way. The spiritual shaman takes his own powers from the special bond that he has with the existing natural spirits around himself and in particular with the Spirit World thanks to his spirit guide. That which differentiates a simple cleric from a shaman is the way in which the two obtain their divine powers: a priest needs instruction, discipline and to follow a canonised path devoted to an Immortal or to an ethos (Law or Chaos), while for the shaman his power is a natural self-induced discovery, never an ability that is learnt, and derives from the bond with the Spirit World and with its entities. Also because of his symbiosis with the natural world a shaman doesnít have any interest in technological advancement or seek to possess particularly advanced items, since he aims to remain in a peaceful relationship with the natural world and that of the spirits.
The principle task of a spiritual shaman is that of acting as a mediator between the spirits and the mortals, and of protecting nature and those that live within it respecting its laws. Itís up to the shaman to avoid that animals are needlessly and brutally killed and that the natural spirits are always protected and satisfied. The spiritual shamans are not against hunting, but seek to regulate it in order to avoid the extinction of the animal species in a fixed territory, and intervene in order to assure a quick death to the injured animals, or for avenging the spirits hurt by the foolish actions of the mortals. The intimate knowledge of the shaman regarding the Spirit World and to the character of the spirits moreover gives him the ability of establishing where the best places to camp or build a village without offending the spirits present and celebrate the right rituals in order to obtain their protection. Finally, the shamans can help the common people to identify their own animal totem, that is the spirit most closely attuned to their own soul and personality, and thanks to the magic of the shaman can be set in contact with this particular in order to obtain its aid and guide. However, they do not acquire the powers of the shaman, but simply reinforces a bond with a particular exponent of the Spirit World (their own animal totem) which has in common with the subject diverse physical and personality characteristics.
The spiritual shaman usually dresses in clothing appropriate to his culture such that one can see at once what his role and his social position area; he therefore wears showy clothing made from the skin of his animal totem, or wears items made from parts of his animal totem (like a horsehair headdress, or a tiger-teeth necklace, or a robe of peacock feathers, etc.); therefore making it easy enough to tell what the shamanís spirit guide is, just by the way he dresses. Furthermore, every self-respecting shaman always has with himself a musical instrument (usually percussion like drums, but it isnít rare to also find wind instruments), without which he cannot cast any spell, which also serves to attract the attention of the spirits and the mortals, and for imposing his voice on any discussion.
Finally, in order to emphasise their relationship with the spirits and inspire great reverence and fear in other individuals, now and then the spiritual shamans paint their face with brightly pigmented paints, giving the impression of having particularly inclined and deep-set eyes, hollowed checks, square but proud features, and even go as far as to portray fake yellow ochre coloured fangs, which run from the corners of the mouth to the chin.
The Spirit Guide
Each spiritual shaman is characterised by the fact of having a spirit guide (also called a totem, or totemic animal) associated to him, that is a creature of the Spirit World that resembles a common animal in the real world (in practice a humanoid with animal features), which is determined at the moment of the discovery of his powers (or at the creation of the character). Indeed many spirits exist scattered over on Mystara, some of these are animal spirits (and are usually found among the herds) and others instead are natural spirits associated to a specific plant or place (in the rivers, woods, fields, prairies, etc.). The presence of this spirits isnít common knowledge, and even the sages and the other more learned spellcasters are often ignorant of the existence of the spirits of nature and of the Spirit World (a dimension that itself entered into contact with the Mystaran Multiverse millennia ago, following the Great Rain of Fire of 3000 BC), and confuses these spirits with the creatures belonging to the faerie races.
When the spirit guide (it is always an animal spirit) appears for the first time, the shaman contracts a kind of malady that renders him feverish and weakens him to such a point that it makes him enter into a comatose state, during which his soul establishes an unbreakable bond with his spirit guide and learns of his new powers. However, on his awakening, the shaman is struck by a disability (a secondary effect of the malady that took him into the trance), which, forever, marks his physical and mental state.
The spirit guide acts as the conscience of the spiritual shaman, showing disappointment if the character doesnít behave in an adequate manner and neglects or ignores his duties towards the spirits and nature. The spirit guide can manifest its disappointment interrupting the contact that it has with the shaman, thus depriving him of its magical powers and also of the special abilities that insures the spiritual bond with his totem. The powers, as happens in the case of common priests, can be recovered usually only after having completed an action or a dangerous mission that placates the anger of the spirit guide (the task is really set by the DM).
The spirit guide always remains with the shaman, travelling invisibly at his side: no one can see it (apart from the spiritual shaman), not even those with more powerful spells, short of using a detection of the spirits (the general skill Knowledge of the Spirits only allows one to determine if a spirit is present within 20 metres, not effectively see them, and only functions when a shaman is concentrated expressly for this reason). The spirit remains anchored to the soul of the spiritual shaman, without anybody having the force to move it away in any way (not even a destruction of evil dispels it, even if an anti-magic field temporally returns it to its own dimension and reappears when the shaman leaves the anti-magic), and accompanies into the Spirit World the soul each time that the shaman enters into a trance or dies. The spirit is always immaterial while remaining in the Mystaran multiverse, and becomes corporeal and visible only when the shaman enters into the Spirit World, in which case it appears immediately next to the shaman in the form of an intelligent, speaking animal, which guides him to the best of its ability through this dimension.