What is shamanism? Wow! That’s a huge question… but it’s one I’m asked frequently and try to answer as openly as I can. Those of you familiar with this ancient spiritual path will know just how tricky it can be to answer what seems to be a simple query, and I hope I’ll be able to cover some of the basic elements in this blog. I’m aiming for shamanism in a nutshell!
Okay, the first thing to point out is that shamanism is NOT a religion; shamanism is, in fact, a spiritual path thought to pre-date any religion. The truth is that nobody really knows exactly how old shamanic practice is, although various sources claim it can be traced back at least 50,000 years.
Essentially, shamanism is an ancient way of gaining knowledge and is thought to be the oldest healing tradition in the world. The word ‘shaman’ actually comes from Siberia’s Tungist tribe and translates as ‘one who sees in the dark’. Historically, the shaman served as the communicator between the physical and spiritual worlds, bringing forth guidance and teachings and integrating parts of our life force that we have been separated from, helping us to regain our natural power. In short, shamans bring about healing by ‘mending’ the soul.
At the heart of shamanism lies animism – the belief that everything has a spirit. So, animals have spirits, rocks, trees and plants have spirits and, yes, even this computer I’m typing on has a spirit.
Shamanic practitioners spend years getting to know their spirit allies and building relationships with them. Many of you will have heard of ‘power animals’ – shamanic practitioners usually work very closely with their power animals, which are spirit allies with whom they build strong relationships. One of my teachers claimed you could often tell what form a person’s power animal took by observing their physical mannerisms; often, he said, their body language – and even physical features – mirrored their power animal’s. So close is the bond with your power animal that some cultures believe you were that animal in a former life. Of course, a shamanic practitioner may work with many other spirit allies and teachers, which are usually contacted by ‘journeying’ into their reality.
Journeying to other realities
Shamanic practitioners use various methods to gather information from the spirit realms, or non-ordinary realities, but the most common is the ‘shamanic journey’ or ‘flight of the soul’.
First, let me address a common misconception: we don’t need to use hallucinogens of any kind, either man-made or natural – there’s absolutely no requirement to head off to an ayahuasca retreat or search out a supplier of peyote. Yes, they were used by some indigenous cultures (and still are) and yes, you can pay to go off and experience their powers… would I recommend it? No. Hallucinogenic substances are absolutely not needed in shamanic practice today and my personal belief is that we should leave them to the peoples who grew up in those cultures and spent lifetimes learning to respect and work with the properties of the plants. I could talk about this for hours, but that’s another blog!
So, how do we access non-ordinary realms? Most commonly, we ‘journey’ to a special drum beat that helps bring about the shift of conscious needed for shamanic journeying. This deep, meditative (or trance) state allows us to transcend space, time and consensus reality. Core shamanic practice involves journeys to three different worlds: The Lower World, a wonderful place, full of nature, where we can meet power animal allies and receive guidance and help; The Upper world, where we meet our spirit guides, teachers and wise elders, usually in human form; and The Middle World – non-ordinary parallel to the earth we inhabit in consensus reality.
Of course, there are other journeying methods, including rattles, rain sticks, didgeridoos and even breath, or the heart beat; at first, though, it’s important to work with an agreed ‘call back’ to bring us back into our bodies and to our everyday lives. Many shamanic drumming soundtracks have a special rhythm built in to return us to consensus reality, and I’d definitely recommend one of these if you’re planning to journey at home.
What’s the point of all this?
The benefits from practising, and studying, shamanism are countless. Not only can shamanism help you to access life and soul guidance, but it is a rich and fulfilling way of life. Imagine being able to experience, first hand, the worlds of helping spirits, being able to experience shape-shifting during your journeys, seeing ‘life’ as a tree, deeply rooted for hundreds of years, or flying as an eagle and gaining perspective from its place, high in the clouds… Shamanism has the power to change lives in a fundamental way, allowing us to see life through new eyes, awaken our spirits and reclaim our lost energy and power. Whether you choose to use it purely to enrich your own way of being, or train to become a healer, shamanism will change your life.
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Until next time, walk in beauty,