The author focuses on the term 'shaman' as an analytical category. In academic usage its meaning has come to denote similar tribal beliefs all over the world, while in postmodern discourse the plural 'shamanisms' refers to a range of specific spiritual practices. The diverse movement of neo-shamanism appeared as a product of the interaction of etic and emic categories in anthropological literature, in particular as a result of the shift from the etic to an emic perspective that took place in the last forty or fifty years. The author argues that characterisations of shamans are people's representations rather than objective reality. These representations cannot serve as an explanation of a phenomenon, but themselves need explanation. Research in cognitive psychology could inform understanding of neo-shamanism: it would mean investigation of this social phenomenon as an outcome of the interaction of cognitive processes on the one hand and social inputs on the other.