Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mythic Vales - Shamanism for Tabletop RPG''s

Article by Ty Hulse

Tabletop and RPG's in general have failed to understand the complexity and depth of what shamanism is. Yet the shamanism from lore is a lot more interesting, and would be a lot more fun to play than is usually depicted. So I'm writing a series of articles about it.

Shamanism in lore was never a skill that a person had or learned. Instead it was a calling, a job they were given by the spirits. Almost no one ever chose to become a shaman, this job was forced upon them. In fact in lore from Japan to Ireland, and the America's as well most people who were forced to become shamans for the spirits tried to resist at first. But the spirits would torment and torture them until they gave in and agreed to work with the spirits.

This meant that whether a shaman was good or evil depended not on the shaman themselves, but on the spirits they were forced to work for. A greedy person might be called by good spirits, and a kind person by evil spirits. How long they could resist the spirits call, and how it affected them emotionally depended on their strength an their character.

Within context of a Game this means 
that Shamans are given quests 
by their spirits.

Shamanism within an RPG is another source for quests, and additional companions. Not a source of individual power per say. Because the spirits are free to act on their own, they are more likely NPC's than they are to tools for the shaman.

Typical tasks which the spirits assigned the shaman.

Fight for the Poor
Many Robin Hood figures in Ancient Europe were shamans. People called by the spirits to fight for the poor and over throw greedy tyrants. In fact Robin Hood was likely a shamanistic figure working for the Virgin Mary (The Queen of the Fairies).

Many people were called to protect civilization, or certain aspects of it, such as artists.
For example, in Ancient Greece an Russia many nymphs or nymph like beings were the mothers of different cities, so they would assign heroes to protect these cities.

In Mongolian Lore the deities felt sorry for humanity and so sent an Eagle to teach humanity to become shamans.

In Japan certain humans were given the task of bringing order to the chaos of the world by the Heavenly Kami.

Spirits often needed mediators with the human world. They would for example, steal someone's soul so that they could hold it hostage until they were paid in sacrifices, and they needed someone to help negotiate this.

Other spirits might also need people to protect their sacred spaces, etc.

Get Food
Many spirits saw humans as food, and needed shamans to help get this for them. In South America there were many shaman's who worked for spirits that lived in palaces made of bone, with beds made of dried blood. These spirits would demand that the person working for them capture targets and bring them before the spirits to eat.

Spirits can be lonely, and so would sometimes turn humans into their companions.

Devil's Bargain
Many spirits needed human workers to help them watch their children, herd their cattle, clean their palaces, etc.

Sometimes these spirits would make a deal with someone to work for them for a certain number of years, and in return, that person's soul would than belong to the spirit world.

Heal the Sick
Many spirits would use shamans to act as their mediator in order to heal the sick.

How Shaman's Worked

Shaman's didn't have to have magical power of their own. Indeed, rather than wizards shamans historically tended to be weavers, blacksmiths, housewives, soldiers, etc.

This means that anyone can become a shaman regardless of class lever or ability. Spirits would choose shamans they felt they could work with, or because they thought it would be funny... Depending on the nature of the spirits. 


The spirits tended to work through shaman's by possessing them, then using them as mouth pieces for divination, or working their healing magic through them.

The the Berserkers would be possessed by animal spirits in order to gain supernatural strength, etc.

Spirit Journey's

The second means by which the shaman worked was by sending their soul out into the spirit world.

While in the spirit world the shaman's soul would act just as their physical body would, and every injury done to the soul would affect the body.

A few spirit journey quests.

In fairy tales there were many heroes who never left their fireside. They were dreamers who weren't part of the real world. These characters are an indication that the fairy tale is about a shaman.

Shaman's didn't have to leave their home to go on quests and save their village, they could do it while lying beside the fire. For their soul would enter the spirit world to face evil spirits, search for ghosts, and more.

End the drought.
When rivers stopped flowing, or it stopped raining it was often because the spirit of the water had come under attack and needed help.

Rescue a soul
When people grew sick in lore it was typically because their soul had been stolen by a creature from the underworld. Shamans would go steal or buy back this soul in order to cure illness.

Protect a village from evil spirits
In Italian, Baltic, an English lore witches would enter the spirit world to do battle with witches from other villages or evil spirits which sought to steal a lands fertility, or the health from people or animals.

Steal inspiration.
In the spirit world inspiration, the fertility of the fields, intelligence, etc. are all represented by solid objects.

Thus the story "Jack and the Beanstalk" may actually have been about a boy which steals fertility from a giant so that the fields in his village may prosper again.

Others could steal the skill needed for their village to become skilled artists, blacksmiths, etc.