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The term "shamanism" was first applied by Western anthropologists as outside observers of the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols, as well as those of the neighbouring Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking peoples.

Upon observing more religious traditions across the world, some Western anthropologists began to also use the term in a very broad sense, to describe unrelated magico-religious practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia, Africa, Australasia and even completely unrelated parts of the Americas, as they believed these practices to be similar to one another.

The English historian Ronald Hutton noted that by the dawn of the 21st century, there were four separate definitions of the term which appeared to be in use.

The first of these uses the term to refer to "anybody who contacts a spirit world while in an altered state of consciousness." The second definition limits the term to refer to those who contact a spirit world while in an altered state of consciousness at the behest of others.

According to ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen, "the word is attested in all of the Tungusic idioms" such as Negidal, Lamut, Udehe/Orochi, Nanai, Ilcha, Orok, Manchu and Ulcha, and "nothing seems to contradict the assumption that the meaning 'shaman' also derives from Proto-Tungusic" and may have roots that extend back in time at least two millennia.

The term was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552.

This happens for two reasons: Shamans claim to gain knowledge and the power to heal by entering into the spiritual world or dimension.

The shaman communicates with both living and dead to alleviate unrest, unsettled issues, and to deliver gifts to the spirits.

Among the Selkups, the sea duck is a spirit animal. Thus ducks are believed to belong to both the upper world and the world below.

The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.

Beliefs and practices that have been categorised this way as "shamanic" have attracted the interest of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, including anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, religious studies scholars, philosophers and psychologists.

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