Ancestral Wisdom: The Shaman Woman in Animated Films

· September 29, 2018

Wisdom and shamanism are deeply related. Shamans are connected to nature and to the spirit of all things. Shamans have cultivated their wisdom through many generations. They have a very prestigious position in aboriginal communities. A shaman works with the spirit and knows how the spirit acts and moves. Thus, a shaman is a person who can cure diseases that affect the soul.

Historically, shamans are connected to nature and its movements. They also learn about herbal medicine and natural medicine and are willing to share their knowledge.

At first glance, shamans can appear to be very mysterious people. This is mostly due to the fact that they’re very connected to everything in their environment. They achieve this connection through constant meditation and also through love for all beings that grow and develop.

However, shamans acquire their knowledge through generations. What does this mean? This means that they acquire wisdom through contact with the wise people who came before them. Therefore, for many generations, humans have shared their knowledge with their children and grandchildren.

The knowledge that a shaman has today is much greater than that of a shaman who lived a century ago. Human knowledge builds up and is refined each time someone shares it. A shaman is a person who treasures and accumulates ancestral knowledge and is willing to use that knowledge to improve the world. 

A girl and a boy on a cliff.

Shamans in movies

Although rarely called by their name, movies are full of characters that play the role of a shaman. Usually, elderly people full of wisdom portray shamans. They generally represent a rather eccentric character. On the other hand, young people don’t always take the shaman’s advice as seriously as they should. Because of this, they often have to face complicated situations they could have avoided if they had listened to the shaman in the first place.

In reality, shamanism is often an exclusive practice for men. However, this differentiation isn’t very common on the silver screen. This means that, in movies, women frequently play the shaman. Here are some examples of women shamans in animated films.

Gramma Tala, the shaman of the ocean

The 2016 animated film Moana was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The film tells the story of young Moana, the Motunui Island chief’s daughter. When the island is threatened, Moana must undertake a long trip across the ocean. It’s Moana’s duty to look for Maui, a legendary demigod, and return the heart of Te Fiti.


Moana has always been attracted to the ocean without knowing why. Only old Tala, her eccentric grandmother, is able to answer this question. Tala is the only woman in the village who remembers the origins of her people.

Tala is the only one who knows how to solve the big problem that’s affecting the island. Since she knows ancient legends, she’s able to guide Moana and push her towards her destiny. 

Tanana, spring in the winter

Brother Bear is a 2003 film written by Tab Murphy and directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker. Brother Bear tells the story of young Kenai, a boy who desperately wants to become a man.

According to his village’s customs, Kenai must get a totem at his coming of age ceremony. During this ceremony, the ancestral spirits reveal this totem to the village shaman, Tanana.

After unjustly killing a bear, the ancestral spirits turn Kenai into a bear as punishment. In his new state of being, Kenai feels very confused and unsure about what to do and how to solve his problem. However, the wise Tanana soon comes to his aid.

Tanana tells him that he must go to a sacred mountain in order to reverse the spell. Tanana also explains to Kenai that Sitka, his recently deceased brother, gave Kenai his bear form. If Kenai never received these instructions from Tanana, he would never have been able to reach his destination and reverse the spell.

Shaman mama Odie.

Mama Odie, a queen in the swamp

The Princess and the Frog is a 2009 movie. Like Moana, Ron Clements and John Musker directed this film. The Princess and the Frog tells the story of Tiana, a young black woman who dreams of opening her own restaurant. 

While she’s at a very important party, Tiana kisses a frog who turns out to be an enchanted prince. Due to the spell, Tiana also becomes a frog. She must try to break the spell together with Prince Naveen, the enchanted frog.

On their trip, Naveen and Tiana meet alligator Louis, an amateur trumpeter. Louis tells them that the only person capable of breaking their spell is Mama Odie.

“Not bad for a 197 year old blind lady!”

-Mama Odie, The Princess and the Frog-

Mama Odie is a benevolent voodoo priestess who lives in the Bayou, the swamp near the city of New Orleans. According to those who live in New Orleans and its surroundings, Mama Odie is very powerful.

Although she’s a bit crazy and eccentric, Mama Odie is full of wisdom. Mama Odie tries to get Tiana and Naveen to find a solution to their problem using their own means. She prefers not to solve everything with magic. Tiana and Naveen get to know each other well and eventually fall in love.

The knowledge that comes with age

As we can see from these three examples, woman shamans are willing to share their knowledge. They want to see those around them be happy and achieve their goals. These women shamans actively intervene in the lives of the heroes or heroines in their respective plots.

These wise old women nourish their intelligence using the vast amount of experiences they have lived. Much of their knowledge comes from their understanding of their culture and its magical elements. However, they also acquire wisdom as they grow older.

Our life experiences shape us.

You don’t have to be part of an aboriginal community in order to find shamanic wisdom. Look carefully. There are many experienced and wise people willing to provide advice along your life’s path. You just need to listen!