The word shamanism was chosen by Mircea Eliade for the title of his groundbreaking book, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, published in French in 1951, and in English in 1964. He chose it not because the word (from the Siberian) was commonly accepted, but because it was nearly unknown to his audience in the western world, and lacked the negative western connotations of medicine man/woman, witch, plant doctor, etc.
It was chosen again by Michael Harner for his own groundbreaking book, The Way of the Shaman, in 1980.
Most spiritual traditions pass through a period of intense consolidation and integration, which makes it relatively easy to talk about things like Buddhist, Christian, Islam, Jewish ‘beliefs.’ Shamanic practice is a path of direct revelation with modest reliance on ‘received truth’ to guide our paths. There are no texts that are universally accepted.
Shamanism, (still a vital part of indigenous life-ways in many parts of the world, and drawn directly from Spirit and the Ancestors where that connection has been lost) is a collection of techniques and attitudes/approaches to Spirit bolstered by some shared agreements.
One central agreement is that personal Spirit Guides and Power Animals are available to to guide us. Another agreement is that everything is alive, conscious, and can be communicated with. We speak to the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds, the winged ones, the rock tribe and the plant people. We send our prayers and words up to the cloud people, to Father Sun and Mother Moon; we send them down to Mother Earth and the tribes that crawl in and under the earth. And we listen for their responses, their words of wisdom, their advice. We two-leggeds do not see ourselves as above or below the others, but as an integral part of this enchanted world in which we live.
(for additional thoughts on shamanism, you may wish to read Nancy’s post here.)