The practice of Shamanism cannot be easily defined, simply because there is no set standard or uniform expression to it. Michael Harner, Director of The Foundation of Shamanic Studies, has been one of the leading voices to have integrated various shamanic traditions into a modality called ‘Core Shamanism’. This resurgence of interest in Shamanism is giving us an opportunity to revert to our spiritual relationship with the Earth and all of creation. A more simplistic understanding of Shamanism would be that it is the most ancient form of healing and spirit communication practised by humankind.
The word ‘shaman’ originates from Siberia, and it refers to ‘one who walks many worlds’… a soul chosen by spirit to simultaneously navigate the visible and invisible realms of consciousness and universal intelligence. During a shamanic journey, a shaman enters an altered state of consciousness, to access other spirit beings. This is what helps him or her achieve the purpose or intent set for the journey. Often the shaman communicates with an individual’s ancestors or benevolent spirits to find a solution to the problem at hand. Shamanism has been seen to exist in almost all cultures in some form or the other. The Mayans of Mexico, the Incans of South America, the Aztecs of Central America, the Saamis of Norway, the Jhankris of Nepal, the ojhas, sadhus and tantrics of India are a few examples. Most of these tribes have lost their ancient knowledge as religion, modern medicine and modern education impact their younger generations.
However, over the last 20 years or so, many researchers, healers and mystics have tried to restore this ancient treasure trove that still survives among a few tribes in remote parts of the planet. It has also been interesting to see that in recent times, many tribal elders and shamans have stepped forward to share their message with the modern world, apparently because they are guided by their spirit world contacts to do so.
Drumming, smudging and other shamanic practices
The shaman often uses the drum to induce an altered state of consciousness. While in this altered state, the shaman makes a journey into other realities. The shaman has the ability to establish relationships with these spirits, who help him or her access sacred information, or bring back healing for the patient, family or community. The shaman’s drum attunes an individual’s harmonic resonance field to that of the Universe and Mother Earth, hence bringing balance and harmony into his or her life.
Other than drumming, the most common practices are smudging [a cleansing ritual using medicinal herbs like sage and cedar], shamanic journeying, soul retrieval, energy extractions and infusions, talking circles, accessing one’s power animals, dreaming and storytelling.
Outside the contemporary practice of shamanism, certain other shamanic practices are uniquely sacred to their cultures. For example, in Mexican and North American tribes, the temazcal or sweat lodge ceremony is a powerful and detoxifying experience.
In Peru and other parts of South America, the shamans work with plant spirits in ceremonies in the Amazon rain forests and Andean mountains. However, what is common across all shamanic practices is the altered state and the healing engagement with the spirit world.
How shamanism can be used in healing
Shamans believe that everything in nature has a spirit. And hence, we have access to the consciousness of all living things to strengthen our connection to the natural spirit world. We can receive living energies and spirit medicine through this inter-connectedness.
Scientists working in the area of quantum science, regenerative medicine and healing are increasingly finding evidence of the benefits of shamanism to treat diseases.
Also, shamanic experiences induce a deep sense of relaxation, empowerment and self-realisation, helping a person move beyond their mental limitations and ego-identification.
Working deeply with shamanic healing brings about a radical transformation in a person and helps them free themselves from their older selves and embody their spirit fully. It can trigger an evolutionary leap in their personal growth and spiritual development.
Shamanism opens up the doors of non-ordinary realities to individuals who seek this inner and outer transformation in their life.
Shamans are often viewed as wisdom-keepers and bridges between different worlds and spiritual dimensions. They help people realise a new awareness—of a unity with all of life. Whether practised with an individual or in ceremonial groups, shamanism always brings about an uplifting change by shedding one’s inner shadows, traumas and wounds, making space for healthier and higher energies to integrate with one’s life.
This quote by John Cantwell Shamanic therapist, teacher and facilitator, sums it up: “Shamanism is not a faith, but a wisdom tradition. It is not a religion and it is dogma-free; indeed it supports any existing spiritual practice one already has. Many of us deeply desire a connection to our own ‘soulfulness’ and that of all other living beings in a free and natural way. This is the essence of Shamanism.”
This was first published in the July 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
In his book The Spirit of Shamanism, Roger N. Walsh, M.D., PhD. defines Shamanism as follows: “Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditions whose Practitioners focus on voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirit[s], traveling to other realms at will, and interacting with other entities in order to serve their community.” There are many important phrases or key terms included in this definition. The first of which is “traditions.” Traditions according to the dictionary are beliefs that are handed down [to the next generation] because of their effectiveness.In the shamanic context, these beliefs are being applied to spiritual healing, which may have an impact on the emotional/mental and physical aspects [bodies] of the individual as well. The shamanic traditions are not surprisingly different from culture to culture setting. This leads to the speculation that these traditions have an original source.