Shamans are specialists in dealing with spirits and the spirit world. They are awakened to the presence of spirits everywhere. Shamans can also establish spirit cults – the shaman contacts the spirit and convinces it to cooperate with the spirit. If successful, the spirit will inhabit the shaman’s body, and lead the cult in worship of the spirit.
Scholars of Gloranthan religion speculate that this was the origin of many now-powerful cults in the Grey and Dawn Ages. These cults succeeded in establishing themselves, and the shaman founders were succeeded by priests and Rune lords.
Because spirits are omnipresent in Glorantha, shamanism can be found in almost every culture, sometimes as a despised or distrusted minority tradition, but sometimes as a revered and hallowed tradition supported by the ruling cults. Many cults have a shamanic element to them, and scholars have speculated on the parallels between shamans and heroes.
Throughout Glorantha. the archetype of the First Shaman is the same – the Horned Man or Woman (sometime depicted as a horned snake or a bird-headed man or woman). The Jrusteli claimed that Horned God is the fetch of Glorantha, severed when she died in the cosmic blast that destroyed the Spike. Thus, the Horned God is the “spirit consciousness” of the world, alive and still in control of itself.
So although we tend to associate shamanism with nomadic or hunter-gatherer cultures, or with the aldryami and trolls, it should be remembered that both the Orlanthi and Pelorians have many shamanic traditions, and some theorise that the Command and Summon Rune spells share some shamanic antecedents.
There is a bewildering diversity of spirit cults out there. Most provide a between one and three Rune spells, but a few provide more. These tend to be long-established spirit cults. Some spirit cults are the result of shamanic contact with more powerful entities with their own established cults elsewhere. Other spirit cults are associated with existing Rune Cults.
Where’s the line between the spirit magic used by rune cults, and the spirit magic used by Shaman? Shamans can simply find spirits on the Spirit Place and gain their magic. Rune cults teach the spirit magic their priests know, who they learn from the priests before them, and so on. It tends to be a stable but limited list of spirit magic spells.
Whenever you have spirit magic there are spirits involved. But the priests don’t go looking for them – they contact the spirits they learned to contact from priests before them and pass that connection on to those they teach.