What is Shamanism?
WHAT IS SHAMANISM?
Shamanism is the world’s oldest spiritual path coupled with practical strategies for survival. It is a nature-based path of direct revelation meaning that each person has access to Spirit and spirits without the need of any hierarchical structure.
Ancient history is murky on when the actual practice of shamanism dates back to. Medicine men, natural healers, and those that were considered connected to spirits and power have historical documentation back from at least the last 20-30,000 years. The word ‘shamanism’ is thought to be derived from the Manchu-Tungus word šaman, meaning “one who knows”. The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by Russians interacting with the indigenous peoples in Siberia. The word was brought to Western Europe in the mid 17th century via travellers through Russia.
Shamanism is a worldwide, cross-cultural spiritual path
Shamanism is a cross-cultural spiritual path practiced in every continent of the world. It is remarkably similar everywhere even though, throughout history, there has been little contact between shamans in widely divergent parts of the world.
All attempts to wipe out shamanism by the Nazis and by various organized religions have failed. Although some people consider shamanism a religion it has no dogma, pope, a sacred book or any universal set of rules or commandments. In fact, many indigenous shamans around the world are Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and practicing members of many different religions.
Shamanism is Healing
Ultimately shamanism is the study and practice of accumulating, storing, and utilizing power to suspend everyday laws of nature and to influence and manipulate reality for the purposes of healing, prophesying, divining, and engaging in supernatural feats.
What Is a Shaman?
Shaman is an Evenki word from Siberia meaning one who “sees” or “penetrates to the source.” Shamans are local leaders who perceive the fundamental nature of the universe and see the big picture. Around the world, shamans are called by many local names, among them sorcerer, healer or curandero/a walker between the worlds, medicine man/woman, priest, transformer, psychopomp and so on.
Shamans may inherit the role from their ancestors, come into it by surviving an accident or disease, display talent for it as a child, or merely seek training on their own. Both males and females function as shamans for their communities although women often raise their children first. Generally, to become a shaman requires many years of rigorous apprenticeship with many tests and initiations along the way. Not everyone who begins their training succeeds at becoming a shaman. Some even may die in the process.
Shamans are typically high functioning people-highly respected by their communities as advisors and consultants, dedicated to healing, manipulating reality, divining, forecasting, or prophesying future outcomes. They can choose to enter altered states at will to perform a variety of functions including as ceremonialists, engaging in the creation of art, trance dancing, chanting, and healing. Shamans know where to access power and information from nature. They study and communicate with plants, animals, elements, and the spirit world. They are excellent problem solvers, diagnosticians, psychologists, storytellers, teachers, and hypnotists.
Historically, in many parts of the world, kings, queens, and emperors were always trained shamans and if not personally trained, they always employed shamans to advise them on many matters.
Quite probably the human race would not have survived without the presence of shamans because they were the first doctors, knew what plants could be used for medicines, and could see where to direct the hunters to find game. They could predict the weather and had many skills that were critical for the survival of their tribes and communities.
What Is a Shamanic Practitioner?
Not all people who practice shamanism are trained shamans who have apprenticed for many years under a master shaman teacher. All members of communities and tribes who follow the shamanic way of life are familiar with the shamanic world-view and practice fundamental aspects of shamanism. They may communicate with nature spirits, pray in a shamanic manner, honor the plants and animal spirits and perhaps do some healing work.
Since most shamans live in remote areas of the world and not in urban centers it is not so easy for most people to apprentice with a traditional master shaman. However, increasingly, shamans of different areas of the world are traveling extensively to bring their knowledge to people living in urban areas on different continents. Although they have not necessarily grown up in a tribal community and have not apprenticed for long years with a shaman in the traditional ways, many people with great talent are adopting the shamanic nature-based world view and some have learned a vast amount about healing and other aspects of shamanic practice. These people are called shamanic practitioners. They have not necessarily gone through an old school shamanic apprenticeship but are skilled healers, ceremonialists, and teachers in their own right. Some few actually have apprenticed with master shamans for years but sensitive to appropriation issues they may choose not to call themselves shamans but rather shamanic practitioners.
It is acceptable to ask the shamanic practitioner what their training and experience has been. A person who has taken a weekend workshop in shamanism or read a couple of books should by no means call themselves a shamanic practitioner. Since these days some do it is best to be discerning.
What Is a Shamanic Healing?
Shamanic healing starts with an interview to find out what the symptoms are, how long the person has been having them, as well as severity and type of pain and other pertinent information such as whether the person has been seen by a medical doctor and what types of medication the person is taking. The practitioner then prepares themselves, usually by silently observing the patient in a meditative state, by asking their allies or helping spirits and the patient’s allies to help them see what is needed in the healing.
Depending on the information they receive they may take various approaches to the healing using the proper shamanic tools for the job. Since most problems come from dammed up flows of energy the most common approach is restoring circulation and movement of energy in the body.
The practitioner may use sound healing with a drum or rattle, feathers, tobacco, crystals or other tools to clear resistance in the form of fear or anger patterns, get circulation moving again, restore lost parts of self, or energetically extract foreign energy or obstacles. Occasionally they may use simple massage techniques. Commonly the practitioner will sing, whistle, or hum traditional healing songs.
Shamanic healings are generally short, between fifteen minutes to half an hour but in some cases, they can last up to an hour.
While it is common for the practitioner to charge a modest fee for such work, they should never manipulate the client by suggesting that only they can save them nor should they charge exorbitant fees or make any inappropriate sexual innuendos or touch the patient in an unacceptable way.
Feeling unsupported? Feeling like you’re going at it alone? Feeling anxious and afraid? When all else fails, you need your allies! Allies are one of the big sources of support, protection and power on the shamanic path. When used well, they make the difference in feeling like you’ve got a team at your back ready to help.
The Medicine Wheel, Medicine Circle or Mandala has been used for thousands of years around the world as a fundamental shamanic map and cross-cultural tool to navigate the flow of life. Understanding how to work well with the energies of the different directions can mean the difference between feeling peaceful, supported, clear and effortless versus feeling unsupported, chaotic and struggling.
With Jose & Lena Stevens and Anna Stevens Harrington
A self-directed series of online coaching sessions recorded from our popular webinar of the same name with Jose & Lena Stevens and Anna Stevens Harrington.
In this course we will cover the distinctions between walking the shamanic path and becoming an initiated shaman. We will review some of the main shamanic maps, discuss the value of allies and how to acquire them, and cover altars, ceremonies, pilgrimage places, and locations of power. We will also review the power of sound and vibration, sacred singing, and the shamanic understanding of illness and healing. Included will be the use of shamanic tools and the application of shamanism to modern day life. We will touch on superstition and sorcery, mixing shamanic traditions with other modalities, and using shamanic methods for planetary healing.