Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind. Many anthropologists believe that the practice dates back over 100,000 years. The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia and it means spiritual healer or one who sees in the dark. Shamanism has been practiced in Siberia, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland, and native North and South America.
A shaman is a man or woman who uses the ability to see “with the strong eye” or “with the heart” to travel into hidden realms. The shaman interacts directly with helping spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness and perform soul retrievals, retrieve lost power, as well as remove spiritual blockages. The shaman also divines information for the community. Shamans have and still act as healers, doctors, priests and priestesses, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.
Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit. Shamans speak of a web of life that connects all of life and the spirit that lives in all things. Everything on earth is interconnected and any belief that we are separate from other life forms including the earth, stars, wind, etc is purely an illusion. And it is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humankind and the forces of nature.
There are a variety of ceremonies that shamans perform. They lead ceremonies to welcome children into the world, perform marriages, and help people transition to a good place at the time of death. They lead ceremonies to mourn the death of loved ones. There are important initiation ceremonies performed to mark certain transitions in a person’s life such as from moving from childhood into being an adult.
One of the major ceremonies a shaman performs is called a shamanic journey. A shaman is a man or woman who goes into an altered state of consciousness and travels outside of time into the hidden realms that many term non-ordinary. I see non-ordinary reality as a parallel universe to ours. The Australian aborigines call non-ordinary the Dreamtime. In these hidden realities there are helping spirits, compassionate spirits who offer their guidance and also their healing help in behalf of all life on earth.
Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to go into an altered state that allows the free soul of the shaman to journey into the invisible worlds. In Australia you also see shamans use the didgeridoo and/or click sticks. Some traditions use sticks or bells. Scientific study has found that when we are in an ordinary state of consciousness our brain waves are in a beta state. But when the shaman or shamanic practitioner listens to a rhythmic or monotonous drum beat, the brain waves slow down, first to an alpha state, which is a light, meditative state of consciousness, and then into a deeper state called a theta state. And that’s the state that allows the shaman’s free soul to journey into the invisible worlds having access to helping spirits.
When one looks at shamanic traditions around the world there are three common levels that are spoken about and also depicted through different paintings and other forms of artwork. The hidden worlds that the shaman travels to are known as the Under World or Lower World, the Middle World, and the Upper World. There are numerous levels in both the Lower World and also in the Upper World and they are outside of time.
Shamanism is a system of direct revelation. All shamans might describe experiences differently. And how the different experiences are interpreted and seen by others is how beautiful they all are. In the invisible realms of non-ordinary reality there are a variety of helping spirits that can help the shaman with healing individuals, the community, and the planet.
The two most common types of spirits who work in partnership with the shaman are power animals also called guardian spirits as well as there are teachers in human form. Shamanic cultures believe that when we are born the spirit of at least one power animal volunteers to remain with us to keep us healthy emotionally and physically and also protect us from harm. The other form of helping spirit that shamans work with is a teacher in human form. These typically were the gods and goddesses of the culture, religious figures, and ancestors who wished to help. These helping spirits work with the shaman to bring healing to individuals, the community, and the environment. The helping spirits are also consulted with when information is needed.
lIlness from A Shamanic Perspective
Shamans look at the spiritual aspect of illness. An illness might manifest on an emotional or physical level but the shaman is looking for spiritual imbalance or disharmony.From a shamanic perspective there are three classic causes of illness. There are unlimited healing ceremonies that can be performed to create a cure. The helping spirits of the shaman diagnose the cause and then help to perform the required treatment for healing. The shaman acts as a “hollow bone” where he or she merges with a helping spirit and the power of the universe to be a channel for healing energies.
The three causes of illness are power loss, soul loss, and having a spiritual intrusion or possessing spirit. Typically there are a combination of causes happening. Rarely do you see a person just having soul loss or just having a spiritual intrusion. The helping spirits who look down on the human world have a perspective that often cannot be seen by a practitioner. Therefore shamans work in partnership with the helping spirits in performing healing work.
*Copyright © 2012 Sandra Ingerman