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, 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.
The shamanic journey is the most common practice of the traditions.The journey is usually induced by rhythmic drumming or other percussion sound, a rattle for example. The uses of the shamanic journey are many: such as diagnosing or treating illness, for acquisition of power through the interaction with spirits, i.e., power animals, spiritual teachers and angels. It is vital that the shaman maintain a relationship with their spiritual helpers as to receive instruction and information to help the patient.
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 patient and themselves, whatever the situation may be. A major skill that is acquired in the training process is spirit vision. This skill involves the development of a capability to organize, understand and communicate with the visionary data one is presented with 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, my 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. The practice of these healing traditions isoften referred to as energy medicine. The goal of energy medicine is to provide a healing to the recipient. The format of a healing is the ceremony where the shaman applies his or her healing protocols which have passed down from the practitioner’s teacher, from generation to generation therefore establishing the traditions. The knowledge is ancient but it is always growing or evolving. Thus, the shamans of today practice energy medicine traditions that have evolved in their effectiveness and practicality.
Shamanism is an ongoing expanding body of energy medicine rooted in tradition. The shaman applies the energy medicine protocols for the healing of the people he or she serves.