Most people I ask are not really sure what shamanism entails. Some believe it is an elusive and inaccessible earth-based practice from ancient civilization. Others think that it is mysterious sorcery and magic. Some just don’t know. After years of exploration and practice of this most ancient system, I will offer here what I have experienced about shamanism, and what I believe it is about.
The word shaman is a Siberian word for “spiritual healer”, and refers to a person who communicates with the world of spirit for the purposes of helping others. A shaman engages in certain practices and rituals that enable him or her deep attunement to the human soul, and to nature and the Earth. The shaman traditionally played many roles in a civilization: healer, teacher, priest, storyteller, and therapist, to name a few. This role was the result of a special “election”, and involved intense training, usually from a long lineage of cultural shamanic knowledge.
Early civilizations did not have technology like we do today. People had to figure out another way to receive information, so they could live with nature and each other in harmony. The shaman’s job was to become intimate with the unseen worlds of spirit and matter. They were known as a messenger of the community. To the shaman, invisible worlds or realms existed beyond the physical. Through a process called a shamanic journey, the shaman’s spirit would travel to these worlds to receive wisdom, healing and guidance to bring back to the physical realm for those in need.
Shamanism is based on the practices of the shaman, and is considered a form of spirituality. It is not a religion with a rigid set of dogmas. To engage in shamanism is to engage in something called animism: the view that all created things – human, animal, plants, nature and the elements – are alive and have an intelligence and a spirit. Thus, we can communicate and interact with all of creation, for the purposes of receiving valuable information, guidance and healing.
Shamanism is ancient, yet I am seeing a plethora of people drawn to these methods today, more and more. Engaging in a shamanistic view of life seems to hit on a truth we have long forgotten: we are not separate from all of life.
We Are Not Alone
Innate in shamanism, is this view that we live in a deeply wise universe. The stars and planets, the animals, the plants, landscapes, and elements of nature all carry wisdom and a life force, just like humans do. These wise energies are there for us to connect with, learn from, receive power from, and live in harmony with. We live in a “web of life” essentially. At the core of it all, is the fact that all energy comes from the same source. Therefore, most shamanic practitioners carry the view that we are all One in the universe.
In practice, shamanism can help provide this experience of “interconnectedness”. Shamanism can lead to a sense of wholeness. How this occurs is through simple methods and an open mind. I will outline some basic practices and concepts that are inherent in shamanic work. To sum up shamanism, I believe it encompasses three things: connection, empowerment and harmony.
The main method of connection in modern and ancient shamanism is through the process of shamanic journeying. Through the steady beat of a drum, the “journeyer” enters a state of altered consciousness, whereby he or she can “journey” or travel through the different realms and worlds, of which there are three, classically. It is in these realms that a person can communicate with the spiritual (or energetic) worlds, and receive guidance, power and healing.
Journeying is simple yet powerful. Anyone can learn how to journey, and do it alone at home. Who and what we connect to while journeying is an individual experience. Our intention is what sets our experience. Traditionally, the first experiences in journeying are to get to know the spirits and energies that are there to help and guide us. We are to develop an intimate relationship with what are known as our helping spirits, as these are the beings that offer us healing and power.
Shamans never worked alone. They had power animals, guardians, teachers and guides to assist them in their sacred work. Known as helping spirits, these beings are those met on the shamanic journey, as they reside in the other realms and worlds. They range the gamut from animals, like bears, tigers and mice, to human gods and goddesses, to those that lived on the earth like our ancestors, the Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi. The helping spirits are unique for each individual and carry a distinct power.
The concept of power is very important in shamanism. In the shamanistic view, a sense of personal power is fundamental to overall wellbeing and health. If you are not full of your own power, you are more susceptible to outside influences and dis-ease. By connecting with and developing a relationship to the helping spirits you have, they essentially become part of your force field. They offer a mirror for you to see your unique gifts, talents and energy you innately have: in shamanism, you attract what you most need, and what you are. Building your personal power through connecting to your helping spirits fortifies your energy, and brings you into balance, harmony and wholeness. This is the goal in shamanic practice.
The ultimate goal of all created things is to achieve harmony. Nature is always in this dance of balance, cycling through death and rebirth, growth and decay. Important to a sense of harmony is feeling at one with the internal and external world. In the shamanic view, disharmony results from a loss of the feeling of belonging. This is all about love. If there is loss of self love, disharmony results. If alienation occurs, dissonance creeps in. A lack of harmony means that somewhere, the person has lost part of their essence: and this essence is love.
One thing that shamanism and its practices can provide is that experience of harmony and love. In shamanic healing, when one presents with an illness, an important objective is to find a lost power animal or guardian. The relationship to a power animal is vital in shamanism. Relationships are all about love and encourage a sense of belonging. Through simple journeying, one can create personal harmony and connection. From personal experience, this is very special and essential work.
To me, shamanism is all about the journey: this is both literal and symbolic. Literal, as it involves the spirit traveling the cosmos, to somewhere much different than the starting point. Symbolically, as engaging in shamanic practices is a process that can open the mind to unlimited possibilities that exist in the universe. This is where healing, wholeness and love reside. The beauty of shamanism is that we all have access to this. We just have to be willing and open to take the journey.
© Jodie Cara Lindley