The post Shamanism One More Time is a re-blog for those who may have missed it.
The Shamanic practice examined in groups so much shamanism is mistaken for religious practice. Many people do not understand what a shaman does, or believes. This version is a compilation of study, and references that are reliable sources. The current practices have put their own twist on ceremonies, teachings, and healing methods, even though truth be known shamanic practice is has not changed from the way it was when the ancestors danced around fires. Today practitioners range in ability from actors to sincere healers. Journeying to realms of the unknown, lower world, upper world, and middle world with their helper spirits seeking remedies. The difference is, a love, desire, and drive (from spirit) for the shamanic path. One more time, this is Shamanism.
Shamans were around during the hunter/gatherer period. Archaeology shows cave art, and ritualistic tools, of the shaman from long ago. Women, have practiced healing since the dawn of time. The interest though, really, took off during the 60’s when people were beginning to practice alternate forms of healing. The interest here in the West, was with Native American Shamanism, herbalism, midwifery, going ecological, and alternative living. Curiosity, took some to farther reaches, those who could afford to travel. These people studied other forms of shamanism. By writing books, and teaching workshops these folks shared their knowledge.
Looking at shamanism as a practice now, how did I personally come to be a shaman, and what makes me think I am a practitioner. Read on.
Describing Shamanism and its practice is complex. There are thousands of scholarly references. In addition, just as many creditable authentic shamans across the globe. Who, you may ask—Michael Harner, Peirs Viteby, Sandra Ingerman, Alberto Villoldo, Mircea Eliade’ and others. These individuals introduced Shamanism to the mainstream Western healing practices through their own research and drive to understand how shamans heal others through trance work. My goal is to describe shamanism in brief, yet factually.
Beginning with the first Shaman,
One of the earliest comprehensive studies of shamanism was Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy . According to Eliade (1960), the shaman is a specialist in archaic techniques of ecstasy. He notes, for example, that shamans among Siberia and central Asian societies possess certain psychological features and capacities that render them apt for ecstasy — for going outside themselves, i.e., going into a trance state. During the trance the shaman’s soul leaves, her/his body and ascends to the sky or descends to the underworld in order to communicate with a variety of mystical beings (gods, spirits, and ghosts of the dead, demons).
“Native American religious systems lay belief in a primary holy force. However, shamans throughout the continent agreed that a holy force held all things together. North American Indian life largely revolved around this force. a great spirit, supporting the world and the weather and all life on earth, a spirit so mighty that his utterance to mankind is not through common words, but by storm and snow and rain and the fury of the sea; all the forces of nature that men fear.”
BECOMING A SHAMAN
A common belief from most authorities, (Eliade, Harner, and Viteby) becoming a shaman varies in societies. Some say visions, some experience hysteria, or altered states of consciousness, and others who take hallucinogens. The shaman invariably receives a spiritual “call” which indicates that she or he may be a worthy candidate for the role, whereupon the process of becoming a shaman begins. In some societies, one becomes a shaman by passing through stages commonly related by many myths. Some shamans reportedly do not seek the call – it comes to them spontaneously.
When the shamanic role is hereditary, it may descend in either the female or the male line in accordance with cultural tradition. Superior skill or unusual talent, either intellectual or physical, is sometimes seen as a “sign” of shamanic potential.
A person may consciously seek the role by achieving an ecstatic experience. The vision quest was particularly important among many western North American Native American groups. In some societies, public initiatory rites usually precede the final acceptance of a shaman. The ritual death and rebirth which the initiate experiences while in a state of trance –i.e., ecstasy — is remarkable similar in a wide variety of cultures. Although the initiation rite of a shaman may take only a short time, the full acquisition of the shamanic role usually takes many years and is achieved only after many tests or trials, along with instruction from master shamans. Aspects of the initiatory experience are apparently repeated, at least in part, whenever the shaman goes into trance.
Even though the initiation is so important for the validation of the shaman’s status, it does not establish it for all time. The shaman often finds herself or himself in competition with other shamans and the target of envy.
Most societies believe that the shaman’s power can be used for either “good” or “evil”. True, shaman’s can use their power for many purposes. However, most shaman’s have a code of ethics. For more on Ethic’s see that post.
Now, before this post becomes long and drawn out, it is time to explain what “my opinion” of shamanism and the practice means. The shaman and their practice, is an experience that not all individuals just acquire. Shamanism is a rite of passage, or role that only certain individuals experience. As the Eliade, and Harner describe shamanism–the experience is the ecstatic state of consciousness (trance state), and it takes a shift that is caused by a mental stimulant. These mental stimulants begin with some type of trauma, near death experience, or a psychological inducement. As hereditary, a person inherits the genetic mental ability to trance. The majority of genuine shamans’ have at one time experienced one or other traumatic states that led them to shamanism. “A personal opinion and personal experience.”
After discovering that call to be a shaman, either the individual seeks a mentor, or they learn the craft from their linage.
A shaman’s practice can include many forms of vision questing. “Journeys” by this ecstatic trance state reached with drumming, dreaming, alcohol, or hallucinogens. Traveling on the spirit plane with ally’s to discover what the client seeks, returning with the often-found cure, answer, or lesson. Healing can range from soul retrieval, to extraction work.
The other qualification of a genuine shaman, (my opinion again)—is sincerity and passion to serve the client and community. A shaman should be ethical, and practice daily what they talk about. Not just, talk. If the woman/man wears the regalia, then honor spirit of that regalia. Service to the community, means being there. If a person cannot afford the service, there should be no question; an exchange of energy is also acceptable for services rendered.
There are many qualified shaman, finding them and being comfortable with their work is a matter of personal choice. Caution on the side of charges, and long delays in results.
I am a shaman and minister, and not a doctor, I do not claim to be a doctor, nor do have a license to practice medical procedures. If you have medical problems, please seek the help of a professional doctor. “Nobody can police shamanism and establish a ‘new-age fraud squad’, but we can be on our own case. Breezewood (2016)”
1964Shamnam. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
1980The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
2016, On Being Fluffy Sacred Hoop issue 95