My journey into shamanism tends toward the experience of classic shamanism as opposed to core shamanism. This article by Raven Kaldera provides an excellent summary of the basic differences between the two (hat-tip to e-falki). Importantly, selected distinctions which mark my calling as being of the classical kind include (from the article):
- Is generally entirely involuntary. The individual is chosen by the spirits/God/Goddess, often with no warning, and is not allowed to refuse the "gift", or they will suffer illness, and/or insanity, and/or death. They can never stop being a shaman so long as they live, or it will recur.
- Is nearly always accompanied in the early stages by severe life-threatening experiences, including but not limited to chronic serious illness, psychotic break, and/or near-death experience.
- Is nearly always accompanied by a traumatic death-and-rebirth experience, after which the personality is radically changed. A visionary experience of being dismembered and rebuilt differently by the spirits is evident cross-culturally in the accounts of many tribal shamans, and is almost a hallmark of the experience. (I didn't have a traumatic near-death experience, but I did have an epiphany when I was 6 years old (in 1967), an encounter with the angel of death (in 1994), a mystical experience of being "chosen" (in 1994) and a mystical experience of being absolutely no-thing (in 1996) where being "no-thing" is the ultimate "dismemberment", I think. The radical transformation of my personality was "stepped up" and catalyzed through the encounter with the angel of death.)
- Causes radical, unusual, and permanent changes to the aura and astral body. This process is inflicted onto the shaman by the spirits, and is entirely out of their control.
- Shamanic practice occupies the main focus, time, and energy of the individual's life for the rest of their existence. All mundane careers, projects, etc. are secondary to the shaman's career of spiritual service.
- Primarily taught by divine and/or spirit teachers, although in the beginning stages the novice is usually taught the cultural context and symbolism by another shaman.
- Lives are bounded with dozens of increasing taboos, violation of which generally brings immediate illness, pain, or other physical and spiritual retribution.
- Cannot work entirely alone; must be attached to a tribe. If no tribe is in evidence at the time of their shamanic rebirth, one will be provided for them by the spirits.
- Is almost always seen primarily as a path of service to a particular tribe (although a particular one hasn't been provided for me yet).
- Mental breakdown or temporary psychosis common to the early "death-and-rebirth" stage, after which shamans have been tested and found to be comparatively extremely sane and stable. Mental illness never returns as long as they continue to do their jobs.
- Generally requires one specific central cultural context, although they may borrow from neighboring (and thus not radically different) cultures. The symbolic context seems to be a useful "anchoring-point" for the training of beginning classic shamans, and aids in bonding them with the tribe that they are to serve. (Perhaps the "communities" chosen for me broadly include the entire Jewish, Celtic and Native American people, and that is why I feel bound to and fed by them all. All of these are my people and the people of my ancestors.)
The path of a shaman separates one from the realm of "ordinary experience", particularly during the crisis phase. For one religiously unknowledgeable (as I was) about shamanism, it is likely well into the crisis phase when one discovers he or she has been "chosen".
Take a look at Raven's entire article. It's well done and highly informative.