The phrase plastic shaman is a pejorative colloquialism used for individuals who try to pass themselves off as shamans, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who actually have no genuine connection to the traditions they claim to represent. Rather, plastic shamans use the mystique of these cultural traditions, and the legitimate curiosity of sincere seekers, for personal gain. This exploitation of students and traditional culture can involve the selling of fake spiritual ceremonies, fake artifacts, fictional accounts in books, illegitimate tours of sacred sites, and often the chance to buy spiritual titles.
Though the term plastic shaman originated among Native American and First Nations activists, and is most often applied to people posing as Native American medicine men and women, the term has also been applied to those posing as other types of traditional and alternative healers. People who have been referred to as plastic shamans include fraudulent spiritual advisors, seers, psychics, or other practitioners of non-traditional modalities of spirituality and healing who are operating on a fraudulent basis.
Critics of those who have been called plastic shamans believe one danger is that students who come to learn from plastic shamans may be exposing themselves to physical, as well as psychological and emotional risk. This is because the methods used by a fraudulent teacher may have been invented, adapted or stolen from other cultures and taught without reference to a real tradition, or to the precautions such a tradition would normally have in place in regard to sacred ceremonies and guidelines for ethical behavior.
Those using the term plastic shaman to describe these sorts of fraudulent teachers and exploiters of traditional cultures believe plastic shamans are also dangerous because they harm the reputations of the cultures and communities they claim to represent. There is evidence that fraudulent and sometimes criminal acts have been committed by a number of these imposters. They commit financial fraud and thus victomize participants. It is also claimed by traditional peoples that in some cases these plastic shamans may be using corrupt, negative and sometimes harmful aspects of authentic practices.