The Shamanic Association of Tromso is now a new Norwegian religious denomination.  It is the first time shamanism has been officially recognized in Norway. Norway is encompassed by the traditional Sami people's homeland, who are classically known as reindeer herders and carry on a prolific shamanic tradition.

This development evokes both victories and ironies.

It is ironic because shamanism is something that's difficult to define, and not typically understood as a religion. Many practitioners and shamanic cultures consider what they do unique unto themselves. Incidentally, some indigenous groups vehemently oppose shamanism as a label to their practices, while others welcome the cross-cultural, more inclusive definition.

The word shamanism itself comes from an ancient Siberian culture that's been applied by Western academics to define similar practices worldwide. Some argue that shamanism doesn't really exist as an -ism at all.

It is also ironic that it takes the dominant culture's definitions to officially recognize something that has existed for hundreds, even thousands of years before it did. These are the same traditions that the Norwegian predecessors not only deemed illegal, but actively sought to suppress and eradicate, even in the 20th century.

Yet the recognition allows practitioners of shamanism more social and political clout. It gives them certain rights and allowances they didn't previously have.  Even though they may not consider themselves part of a religion, the new status awarded to shamans in Norway can be used to help support and advance their cause. Where shamanism was once illegal and forced underground, it is now able to be freely expressed and traditionally practiced without recourse.  This can be seen as a movement forward in a long, long struggle.

Image by sashapo, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.