In Suzerain, shamanism has existed through the ages. A shaman is a person who can focus on the spirit world, shifting his perceptions from our world to theirs. From there he can interact with spirits and ask for their help. Because of the limited domains of most spirits, conversations with them take the form of complex rituals. A hunger spirit, who can only view the world through eyes of want and touch at it with grasping hands, speaks... well, he speaks an entirely different language from most people, who are just as far from fully comprehending the dreams of distant stars. Rituals greased by offerings of Pulse make these conversations tolerable.
Rituals are not learned in the manner of most languages, but imprinted directly on the shaman's soul. Therefore, each scrap of spiritual knowledge molds the shaman ever so slightly, bringing him closer to the world of the silvering sun. A shaman who carries many rituals with him always seems to be operating on a different level to everyone around him.
To the uninitiated, rituals often take strange and confusing forms. How lengthy dances, strange body movements, and large amounts of unknown narcotics allow the shaman to communicate with the spirits isn't rightly understood. Most importantly though, the spirits do recognize the permutations of the ritual languages, and respond in turn.
Basic powers of a shaman
Every shaman has the ability to do three things. Each individual may be better at one and worse at another, but fundamentally these are the talents that define a shaman:
* Shift focus. The ability to shift focus is the reason why shamans are called 'sighted' in many places. The shaman can move his senses from the solid world to the spirit world. When this happens, the shaman's physical eyes glaze over and he gains full sensory input into the other world. The corporeal body and soul are still linked and move together during this time. Note that a shaman does not need to shift focus to communicate with a spirit he has summoned or bound. Such spirits share a closer bond that allows telepathy at any distance, even between the two worlds.
* Perform ritual. The shaman uses his knowledge of the spirit world to craft a ritual circle for the purpose of bargaining with a specific spirit. Most rituals allow the shaman to transfer the spirit's influence to multiple people, as long as they are inside the circle while the ritual is being performed. Performing rituals requires charm; even though the shaman is dealing with inhuman spirits most of the time, he's hoping to impress and appease them. As a result, most shamans who hope to convince spirits to carry out magic on their behalf are very charming individuals. Star Shamans are one group who specialize in performing rituals, in their case hoping to convince the Great Spirit of a constellation to grant them a supernatural boon.
* Bind spirits. Many tales exist of people who sought to constrain spirits inside physical receptacles to harness their power. Most of the tales end poorly - but a trained shaman has little to fear if he stays within his limits. The truth is that binding spirits to earthly vessels is the cornerstone of some types of shamanism like Juju Shamanism, though all shamans possess the ability to some extent.
Binding a spirit begins at sunrise with the shaman permanently sacrificing a small piece of his essence into a specially prepared vessel. For the rest of the day he dances, chants, and negotiates the terms of the spirit's contract. If he fails, the spirit is dissatisfied with the terms and refuses to deal with him.
There is one set of spirits low down the evolutionary chain, little more than the dumb animals of the spirit world, which are particularly useful to bind. Calling on the spirit requires the shaman to give it some of his Pulse, less if the shaman is also its master, more if the spirit is bound to someone else. He can bind a spirit for a rich client, for instance, but the spirit becomes harder to control and requires a larger bribe to use its powers on demand. These spirits work to a very strict set of rules but never get moody and never question an order, just glad to get a regular meal.
Spirits eat Pulse, some preferring the flavor of Pulse of a certain element, others eating any Pulse they can find). If a shaman offers a minor spirit some of his Pulse each day, it is likely to be willing to accept the binding. Keeping spirits bound takes its toll on the shaman though. As a result, the stronger his constitution, the more spirits he can control. They'll stay this way, happy for the heightened exposure to the solid world as long as the shaman keeps them fed as promised... and when it comes to bound spirits, feeding occurs promptly at midnight every night or the contract is broken and the spirits leave. Midnight is a symbolic time for spirits - symbolism plays a big part in shamanism.
Each spirit is bound into an item and told to use its power (whatever that may be) whenever a symbolically appropriate action is carried out - there's that symbolism again. In the Untamed Empires realm, for example, Captain Baynard was famous in the Setward Isles for his supernaturally sharp naval broadsword. He'd had a shaman bind a minor spirit of metal into the scabbard; whenever he drew the sword, the spirit honed the edge of the blade. It did this unthinkingly every time, because this class of spirit isn't the smartest type out there - more like a pet than a sentient being.