The Shaman Podcast – The Shamans Staff

Speaker –      Mark A. Ashford

                       Usui Tibetan Reiki Master and Teacher and


What this is – Hello and welcome to the “The Shaman Podcast”

In this Podcast we talk about – 

  1. Shamanism
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  3. And everything else that is related

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Today, we are talking about – The Shaman’s Staff

Over millennia, a shaman’s regalia has often included a magical staff or cane. Chronologically, a staff, not a drum, which is popular today, is frequently shown in prehistoric art up to the Bronze Age. This observation is important since this attribute can be found in scenes which, due to their other features, evoke associations with shamanistic symbolism. 

Objects as status symbols have been present in human societies throughout history, with a shaman’s staff or a hunter’s spear representing their place and power in society.

In the Eastern Mojave Desert of the United states, the staff is known as a Shaman’s crook or Poro as evidenced in Rock and cave paintings in the region. Interestingly, in these cave paintings, the shamans staff has a distinct “Shepherds Crook” shape to the top.

Shaman of Chemehuevi tribe in the Eastern Mojave do not have headdress, special clothing, sacred bundles, or other markers to denote their rank and status within the tribe as do shaman in Mongolia and Tibet. The Poro was the sole indicator of their status, their badge of office and could be used to perform magical and ceremonial duties. In all cases, the Poro, or shamans’ staff is not used by the shaman to help walk or something to lean on as an elderly or inform person might.  There is a separate cane for that purpose.

The length of the Shaman’s crook is also an indicator of the power attributed to the crook and the shaman who holds it. The staff allows the shaman to connect with their ancestral and other spirits to ask for help and guidance while performing shamanic healings. These staffs may be made of carved wood, whalebone or marine ivory, and are carried by the shaman during ceremonies. The staff ranges from about 40cm to over a metre, they are used to heal, combat the spirits of disease, and to detect the presence of ‘witchcraft’ or negative magic.[1]

The staff often is from a specific type of tree that has special significance either for the shaman or the tribe. It may be decorated with carvings of animals or spirits and may include a handle carved in the form of an animal. The animal is either a spirit guide, or an animal guide.

As is the case with all true power objects, the staff is imbued with spiritual purpose and becomes a living presence. It becomes a catalyst for change and transformation – even capable

of working on its own on behalf of the shaman.[2]

When the shaman’s helping spirits work through objects such as the shaman’s staff the spiritual power is amplified and becomes available to the shaman. He or she can then use the power in their work. As the shaman continues to use their staff in this manner, the object itself becomes inspirited. Since the objects are then considered to be alive, they function as assistants, partners and guides to the shaman in their work and, as such, must be cared for as living beings.[3]

Because of their role in magical combat, some of these objects are carved to resemble weapons such as clubs and long knives. Others are simple, long and graceful arcs of bone or ivory completely covered in the carved images of the shaman’s helping spirits and clan affiliation symbols. [4]

Among the Selkups, Enets and Nenets of Siberia, the shaman’s staff is made of metal, iron to be precise. Since the shamans in this region sing and dance their journeys, the staff also functions as a rhythm stick. To enhance this role, the staff is forged of iron and covered in iron rings which clang together and against the staff. Thus, it takes the place of the shaman’s drum for the journey. These staffs are one-and- a-half meters tall, and some have the form of a reindeer hoof at their base. [5]

The staff is deeply personal to the shaman carrying it. A contemporary western shaman may simply use a walking stick made from a wood that has some special association with the shaman, or, it may be that the shaman has empowered the walking stick in some special way to be personal to them.

The style of the staff may indicate a particular focus for the shaman. Black shaman of the Buriad and Khamnigan people have staffs with horse head carvings or a mask. White shaman of the same peoples a simpler staff of wood. Shamans of the Darkhad and Uriankhai people have a staff with the remains of three original tree branches on it. 

The shaman’s staff has a symbolic role in rituals as a specific tool for speaking, communicating and transmitting information both in initiation ceremonies and ecstatic journeys to the other spiritual realms. A staff is at the level of cosmogony and cosmology since in many myths a staff could act as a creation tool and embody the cosmic axis, the Universe’s vertical model and in ancient times a staff was a universal mediator between the world of humans and the otherworld; it was a means of communication which could be conducted via a word, sound, magical acts and ecstatic journeys between the worlds.

For many peoples, the shaman’s staff is a representation of the connection between the realms of Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds, functioning thus as a model of the World Tree.[6]

The Tree of Life represents a connection between these different realms, and as such it is also a path, or conduit for the shaman to use to visit these realms. He/she climbs the tree to the upper world and uses it to descend to the lower and underworlds. The shaman’s staff represents this connection and some shaman will climb or descend their staff in the same way the other use the Tree.

So, there we have it. A brief introduction to the shaman’s staff an important tool used during ceremonies.

What next?

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[1] Evelyn C. Rysdyk, “Walking with the World Tree.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.