What is Shamanism
What is Shamanism
The word shamanism itself is a generic term that encompasses the oldest form of healing and psycho-spiritual and energetic practices and sophisticated technology of consciousness known to humankind. Archaeological and anthropological evidence suggests that the practice of shamanism dates back 40,000 years and more. A shamanic understanding of life and existence offers an interconnected ecological, cosmological, and evolutionary perspective of our sense of Self, our embodied present moment sensory and sensual awareness of being. The primary foundation of a shamanic perspective rests upon the experience that humanity is inextricably related to and an expression of the broader natural environment and cosmos. In shamanism the sacred and the profane meet and are integrated as one alive pulsating reality of being.
Until recently shamanic practices from a Western worldview have been shrouded in superstition and mystique. However, as Bacon once remarked – “there is superstition in avoiding superstition”. The limiting superstitious view of shamanism has now been shown to be incorrect thanks to the people of cultures that have spiritually and psychically held true to their ancient knowledge, and more recent anthropological, psychological and neuro-ecological findings. Of recent there has been a resurgence of interest in shamanism as a transpersonal model of therapy. Shamanic therapy is increasingly being valued as a sacred technology of consciousness and an interest in how this ancient healing practice can co-exist with modern medicine to effect wellbeing and healing. In fact current scientific research is demonstrating that shamanism is reflective of the immense creative capacity of our human nature, our nervous system, brain, hearts, and the expansive healing nature of consciousness.
Contemporary shamanic practice is down to earth, is very much a heart centred practice and deeply confirming of our humanity. Research indicates that shamanism as a earth-bonded psychological, spiritual, physical, neurological, relational, energetic practice offers a sophisticated and practical insight as to our true nature and our rightful place as a species within our world and cosmos.
Shamanism is a highly practical healing therapy that is concerned with the empowerment and strengthening of individuals, families, communities and our world regardless of ethnicity, race, colour, creed, or origin. Shamanic practices have been shown to exist throughout history in many places in the world, Australia, Europe, North & South America, Africa, Asia, Polynesia and Micronesia. It is regarded as the earliest experience of spiritually. In this regard shamanism is not regarded the exclusive domain of any particular race, or culture. Rather it is a natural cross-cultural human mind-body ecological technology of consciousness, involving processes of perception and expansive awareness that can be easily remembered and re-learned with support and guidance. Contemporary shamanism draws attention to the fact that shamanic understandings are the ancient healing heritages of all our ancestors. Somewhere deep within us we each hold an ancient memory of our ancestors appreciation for shamanic understanding, healing, creation, and living.
There has also been some misunderstanding as to where shamanism sits in relation to certain religious faiths. The actuality is that contemporary shamanism is not a religion, or dogma, and as a technology of embodied consciousness and neuro-psycho-spiritual practice it seeks to be respectful of religious faiths. Shamanism is based within the invisible vast terrain of our human consciousness and our access and connection to the broader fields of consciousness that exist within and simultaneously beyond our physical bodies.
It is also the case that the knowledges, wisdoms, and practices in shamanism do not remain static. Quite the contrary. As further research is undertaken in the expansive nature of embodied consciousness, the psycho-physiology of awareness, and deep ecology, contemporary shamanic practitioners are active in creatively mapping out further pathways to healing and empowerment. This is increasingly the case as science of consciousness, psychology, spirituality, and healing and ancient wisdom ways merge. In many ways our contemporary sciences are now starting to re-unite within the integrity of ancient shamanic understandings. In fact more recent scientific research in the area of consciousness has shown that consciousness is non-local, which means it is not dependent on our physical body, and that it can travel great distances beyond boundaries of time and space. This is the art and science that shamanism is concerned with to effect healing.
Heraclitus stated “those who love wisdom must investigate many things”; and so it is that we see an emerging wisdom arising from the more open explorations in the science and technologies of consciousness and shamanic practice.
In essence shamanism is concerned with the well-being of the soul’s embodied life in this world, and specifically our embodied soul’s interconnection with our wider environment of family, community, our precious earth and the wider cosmos. Our unique embodied soul has it’s own gifts, resources, and truth that can be used for self healing, and enhancing healing relationships with others and the world. When we are injured in any way (through experiences of abuse, violence, repeated criticism, diminishment, shaming, abandonment) our soul may be affected in a way that we lose touch with the fullness of our inner uniqueness, the truth, gifts and creativity that we have. We experience what shamanism refers to as soul separation or soul loss. Soul separation/loss may be regarded as forms of dissociation or disconnectedness from our authentic essence ranging from mild to more chronic and severe separation. We may become depressed, anxious, disorientated, with loss of hope or even physically ill. When we become disconnected from vital aspects of our soul we then lose personal power to effect change, health, and happiness. We lose our authentic wholeness and may in effect have difficulty realizing our full potential of Being that exists right deep within us. Shamanism is concerned with soul healing and re-connecting individuals to their unique inner power, presence, compassion and love, and to a sense of community and earth so that they can live an authentic, connected, purposeful and meaningful life.
At the core of near universal shamanic beliefs and practices are 6 guiding principles:
- Everything that exists is alive and has a spirit or vital essence, human, animal, plants, mineral, and importantly the earth herself. Our own vital essence is part of a much larger responsive and participatory continuum of life energy and Spirit.
- Shamanic practitioners are connected to and work within the realm of Spirit. This also means that they work with the spirits of ancestors, spiritual guides, totemic and power animals, the spirit of plants for healing, and spirit of the elements. Contact with the spirit realm is made to gain information and guidance for deeper healing.
- Consciousness is non-local and not solely dependent upon our physical existence. Consciousness crosses boundaries of time and space, language, culture, race, and species. Our individual consciousness and awareness has a capacity to connect, tap into a wider field of consciousness via shamanic journeys and other technologies of consciousness. The wider field of consciousness can then communicate via images, symbols, intuition, inner knowing, direct revelation, and bodily felt sensations.
- Everything in the universe and therefore our selves, and the earth is part of interconnected and reciprocal web of life. Hence the belief that we as humans are separate from other life forms and the earth is an illusion. We are in-fact One with all of Creation. Shamanism advocates that what we do unto the earth or any part of the web of life we in-effect do unto ourselves. As in the words of Chief Seattle:
This we Know: The Earth does not belong to man,
Man belongs to the Earth.
All things are connected like the
Blood that unites one family.
Man did not weave the web of life,
He is merely a strand in it
Whatever he does to the web,
He does unto himself.
– Chief Seattle, 1852
- As a natural consequence of the interconnected web of all life, psycho-spiritual, neuro-social ecological, and energetic realms of our creative consciousness can be accessed in order to acquire resources or information that may assist in the healing of an individual, community and our world.
- Shamanic practitioners learn to master the art and science of intention and correct action of compassionate will. They understand that intentions are the seeds of creation, and they innately know how to tap into the wider field of universal intentional energy for healing and creation in life.
The foundations of shamanism rests on the belief that existence is a multi-faceted network of inter-related exchange of energies. A person adequately trained as contemporary Consciousness & Shamanic Practitioner is someone who understands and works with the inter-related subtle elements of existence and has usually undertaken rigorous training in the art and science of the right use of technologies of consciousness, power, compassion, love and intention to effect healing within the broader integrity of the Spirit of Life. Healing is always grounded within the context of our present moment embodied life within this world our precious earth.
Working as a shamanic practitioner is not something that is undertaken as a work that is separate from one’s everyday living reality, nor is it about undertaking weekend workshops. Rather shamanic practice is a way of life, a deep heart-centred perception where the sacred and the profane are integrated, felt and loved for the interconnected truth of life made manifest.
In supporting restoration of health and well-being a shamanic practitioner may draw upon:
- Technologies of consciousness, non ordinary states of being/shamanic states of consciousness, visionary practice and the skilled art of shamanic journeying into perceptual worlds of body, conscious and unconscious mind, emotion, soul, spirit and social-cultural landscapes, and nature for specific information and healing resources. Traditionally shamanic practitioners journey within the Lower, Middle, and Upper worlds for individual and community resources. A shamanic practitioner negotiates the balance between the seen and unseen forces of the life-giving energies, carries messages of the spirits that sole purpose is to provide us with direction and healing.
- Connection with compassionate spiritual resources & helpers, totemic medicine, and ancestors to assist in the shamanic journey, personal and community direction and healing.
- Breath Work, Instrumentation, Song, Meditation, Movement Trance-In-Formation, Prayer, Fasting, Vision Questing, & Dream Induction, Hypnotic techniques as a vehicle for movement within shamanic state of being/consciousness and the processing of spiritual-psycho-physiological energy.
- Processes to Re-Mind and Re-Member an individual’s intimate multi-sensory body connection with the natural world.
- Ritual and Ceremony to induce altered states of consciousness/being in sacred space, and to assist in grounding and deepening specific healings.
Please Note: In traditional shamanic healing practices the shaman is the inter-mediating channel that facilitates healing on behalf of the client. However the principle commitment of a Transpersoanl Shamanic Psychotherapeutic approach is to empower the client to re-claim their embodied healing wisdom by assisting the client to re-connect with and access their own organic self-organising, self-healing and resourcing capacity within a broader field of consciousness.
Hence sessions typically look very different to traditional shamanic approaches.