Shamanism, where does it come from? What does it mean, and is it effective? All questions roused by the appearance this ancient form of healing is making in western culture. Archaeological evidence estimates shamanism to be about 30,000 years old or more.
The word shaman comes from the Tungusis speaking peoples of Siberia and north China, meaning “He or She Who Knows.” Knows what? Well, these men and women know of, and communicate with, the spirits of plants, animals, rocks, or anything in Ordinary Reality (our three-dimensional world) and Non-Ordinary Reality. Shamanic practitioners read signs and omens in nature, perform divinations, do healings of body, mind, and spirit, retrievals of power animals, Soul and Guardian Loss retrievals, and removal of intrusive spirits. Historically, one became a shaman when he or she was taught by elders as an apprentice, received the commission by inheritance, was chosen by a spiritual event or calling, or the knowing was innately in him or her, as a musician or artist having a gift. The Non-Ordinary Reality exists in the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds and is of spiritual nature, while the Middle has both non-spiritual and spiritual realities.
The Non-Ordinary Reality is a parallel dimension without limits of space and time containing the spiritual essence of all things. The shaman or practitioner crosses into the Non-Ordinary Reality with a specific purpose in mind utilizing a shamanic state of consciousness. The most common method to reach this shamanic state of consciousness is journeying. A journey begins with an individual sitting or lying down and relaxing while listening to the steady rhythm of a drumbeat or rattles; they are able to leave the awareness of their bodies (i.e., out-of-body) and connect with their spiritual helpers. These helpers or compassionate spirits are in various forms including ancestral spirits, animal and/or plant spirits, mountains, rivers, etc. Other methods to reach the Non-Ordinary Reality are with the third eye or mind’s eye, and some indigenous societies will use consciousness-changing substances.
The shamanic practitioner has established relationships with spiritual helpers prior to the journey, knows which of their spiritual helpers are most successful in diagnosis through experience, and calls upon them for guidance. To use an analogy, if we wish to meet someone whom we do not know and who moves in a completely different circle from our own, we can achieve that meeting by finding someone who knows him and is willing to introduce us to him. That is what the practitioner does for us concerning the spiritual helpers.
These spiritual helpers want to help us in the Ordinary Reality of the Middle world and the practitioners are allies to assist them; the helpers are limited in our Ordinary Reality. No one is a certified shamanic healerfor the reason that spiritual helpers are what makes shamanic healing work and they can depart at anytime. The practitioner’s purposes for these journeys are to seek advice, get information or knowledge and bring it back to this reality. With the assistance of the spiritual helpers, the practitioner can diagnose and heal the spiritual side of illness and injury. In other words, heal through the restoration of a state of spiritual balance verses allopathic medicine’s focus on the removal of the symptoms or pain with treatments or drugs.
Our modern day western culture has taken us far away from the awareness of the support available through spiritual helpers and guides. However, individuals are learning and practicing shamanic healing techniques more and more and as a result, physicians, psychotherapists, and even HMOs are increasingly recognizing the effective outcomes of these healings as a credible holistic approach to health.
Should you be interested in additional information on this subject, I suggest checking out the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (www.shamanism.org). The founder, Michael Harmer, has studied indigenous cultures internationally and historically to bring together a cross- section of fundamental techniques he named “core shamanism.” Let us say it is guidance for today’s “He or She Who Knows.” Mr. Harmer has also written a book titled The Way of the Shaman, which is an excellent read explaining in detail what shamanism is. There are numerous training options available through the foundation as well.