What is Shamanism?
The word Shaman comes from the language of a tribe in Siberia according to Mircea Eliade, a scholar of religion. A shaman is a man or woman who “journeys” in an altered state of consciousness. Thus shamanism is the application of what the shaman does.
In his book The Spirit of Shamanism, Roger N Walsh (MD, PhD), defines Shamanism as follows: “Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditionswhose 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 the above definition. The first being “TRADITIONS”. Traditions, according to the dictionary, are beliefs that are handed down through generations 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 or bodies of the individual as well. The shamanic traditions are not surprisingly different from culture to culture. This leads to the speculation that these traditions have an original source.
The shamanic journey is the most common practice of the traditions. The journey is usually induced by rhythmic drumming or other percussion sound, like a rattle for example. Shamans might use their journeys to diagnose or treat an illness, or return a loss of power through the interaction with spirits. In altered states of consciousness, spirits may present as power animals, spiritual teachers, ancestors, or angels. It is vital that the shaman maintain a relationship with their spiritual helpers to receive instruction and information to help the client.
The next key word in the definition is “VOLUNTARILY”. The shaman must have mastered the experience of contacting spiritual entities to receive information that will be helpful to their client and to themselves, whatever the situation may be. A major skill that is acquired in the training process is spirit vision. This skill develops the capability to organize, understand, and communicate the visionary data one is presented while in an altered state of consciousness.
Some teachers instruct on the ability to be in two worlds simultaneously. The worlds are revealed to the shaman when journeying into the altered state of consciousness. Carlos Castaneda termed these states “nonordinary reality”. In his book The Way of the Shaman, Michael Harner writes, “…altered state of consciousness and learned perspective that characterize shamanic work… involves not only a ‘trance’ or a transcendent state of awareness, but a learned awareness of shamanic methods and assumptions while in an altered state”.
The experience in the shaman’s universe is the existence of three worlds – upper, middle, and lower – which are joined in relationship by spiritual energy more than by physical properties. Dr Walsh describes, “…central axis takes three main forms, all of them common to diverse cultures and myths… the first is the common. The ‘cosmic mountain’ at the center of the earth. The second is the ‘world pillar’ that many hold up the sky. The third is the highly symbolic ‘world tree’ symbol of life, fertility, and sacred regeneration…”. For the shaman, the multilayered worlds traveled through the altered state of consciousness are a direct experience.
The last key word pertaining to this definition is “SERVE”. Connie Newton (Paul’s teacher of the Integrated Awareness Technique) is constantly reminding us that, as healers, we must serve. To learn the knowledge is not enough. We must use our healing capabilities for the good of others and ourselves. Shamans are committed to the art of healing to the people of the community.
Shamanism is an ongoing expanding body of energy medicine rooted in tradition. The shaman voluntarily applies the energy medicine protocols for the healing of the people he or she serves.