What is Shamanism?
practiced for more than 60,000 years
Shamanism is the ancient practice of entering into an altered state of consciousness through what is traditionally known as the shamanic journey in order to bring back important information or healing for members of the community. Shamanism has survived over 60,000 years, which speaks to the potency of the work. Although there are many translations depending on the language, the word "shaman" is said to be rooted from the language of the Siberian Tungus people and very roughly translates as: "one who sees in the dark."
Archeological evidence of shamanic cultures has been found on every continent and culture throughout the world, proving that shamanism is the most ancient method of healing and divination. Shamanic ancestral roots exist from the Sami to the Celts (who led nomadic lives in Western Europe from Ireland to the Mediterranean region), to the Indigenous Australians, to tribes in Africa and the Middle East, to the First People in North and South America. Each culture varies in its shamanic practice, but commonalities exist with extremely similar rituals and ceremony. There is something to be said about why shamanic healing has stood the test of time.
Shamanism differs from other healing modalities in that in order to receive messages from Spirit, a practitioner must journey into hidden realms with Helping Spirits. Traditionally, the use of sound is the tool used pierce the veils between the worlds in order to travel to these realms. Instruments, such as the hoop drum, were used in many societies stretching to many parts of the world. The monotonous beat of the drum has been discovered by modern science to support the theta brainwave trance state in which the shaman must obtain in order to access the Shamanic Worlds. The Ancients intuitively knew that the sacred drumbeat replicated the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Other instruments used have been rattles, bells, rhythm sticks, as well as the Australian didgeridoos, which support accessing this state of consciousness. The shaman is the conduit between Ordinary Reality (our 3D world) and Non-Ordinary Reality (Dimensions of the Spirit World). It is the combination of the shaman and his/her Helping Spirits that induce the power to heal.
In indigenous cultures, it is the community that recognizes the shaman. Historically, the neophyte would have had to survive an intense initiation. The shaman-to-be may have been born with a disability or would have experienced intense trauma. In some cultures, the shaman is born from its bloodline of healers and taught time-honored and sacred traditions. Once initiated, the shaman is considered “reborn” by his or her Spirit Helpers and then is tasked with then helping others in the community.
To the ancients, the survival of the community rested upon the success rate of the shaman to work on the behalf of the community to find safety from invading peoples, to seek cures for illness, to find reliable food sources or shelter during inclement weather. Indeed the community depended on the shaman to survive. If the person working with Spirit could not clearly divine information or successful healing, he or she was not recognized as a "shaman."
Shamanism recognizes that everything is alive, and that we are a part of that Being-ness and co-creation. Shamanism is not limited to the religious practices of one group of peoples. In fact, shamanism is not a region at all, but a way of living and interacting with Mother Earth - a perspective in which we all could adopt at this critical time. For further reading, my colleague and teaching partner, John Moore, has posted his well-written article here.
In modern times, there has been a great disconnect from these reliable techniques due to the advance of capitalist culture, which disconnects us from the Earth and her sentient beings. In turn, we have disconnected from the healing potential available to us. However, the practice of shamanism survives. It holds the capacity to find answers and access the healing power of our Helping Spirits to explore what science has not yet discovered. The ancients knew this. It is time to return to our roots.