My first experience hearing about shamanism was in a class I was taking on alternative healing in 1972 at the University of California in San Diego. Our distinguished guest was Dr. Andrew Weil. Dr. Weil had just returned from the Amazon jungle where he traveled to Huautla de Jimenez , gathering information about medicinal plants and healing. That trip turned out to be more than a plant gathering experience for the young Dr. from Harvard. I was mesmerized as he talked about his experiences with the shamans of the region.
That particular class made a tremendous impact on the way I viewed healing and health, the interactions of the body, mind and spirit, and reality in general. Since that time I have been fascinated by the idea of natural healing, communication with the spirit world, the veil that can be pierced between the visible and invisible world and the experiences that people have encountered when in the presence of a knowledgeable healer.
The word shaman can be traced to the Tungus tribe in Siberia. It is said that the Holy Men of this tribe were skilled in the art of magic, spirit travel, shape shifting, and prophecy. The word is derived from the verb ‘scha-’ meaning “to know” and that is what a shaman is one who knows. Today the term is used to describe a healer from any native tribe worldwide.
We know that the longest running health, healing or even spiritual systems are considered to be the earth based or nature spiritual systems. This category contains all primitive cultures, as they all believe in a fundamental interconnectedness of the earth and the universe. The ancient peoples of India originated the techniques of meditation and energy maintenance that eventually became yoga. Every tribe from deep in the jungles of South American to the interior of Australia have medicine men and women who practice their own unique style of shamanism. These beliefs and practices are uniquely different from our western perspective.
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. Shamans have the ability to diagnose and cure human suffering. The shaman uses mystical powers to journey to other worlds or realities and communicate with spirits in order to bring about a balance between the physical and spiritual worlds. Essentially, a Shaman (the practitioner) has direct experience (a knowing) of the world that is spontaneous and powerful. Shamanism (the art) is basically the practice of contacting the "spirit world" and doing work on a soul level.
In Native American traditions healing is a broad term that includes healing beliefs and practices of hundreds of indigenous tribes of North America. It combines spirituality, herbal medicine, and rituals that are used to treat people with medical and emotional conditions. There are many tribal differences, so it is not surprising that healing rituals and beliefs vary a great deal. The most sacred traditions are still kept secret, passed along from one healer to the next. There is no differentiation of body, mind and soul and there is a sacredness about the healing process that is deeply honored and respected. There is a belief that everything is connected.
According to Lakota [Sioux] lore, a long time ago, during a time of famine, a woman appeared, wearing white buffalo skin, and carrying a sacred pipe. She explained that the wooden stem was for the trees, and everything growing on earth, the red bowl symbolized the flesh and blood of all people, and the smoke was the breath of their prayers going to Wakan Tanka, the Creator. The woman showed the people the pipe ceremony, where offerings were made to the four directions, while drums were played, and sacred songs were sung.
"With this holy pipe," she said, "you will walk like a living prayer. With your feet resting upon the earth and the pipe stem reaching into the sky, your body forms a living bridge between the Sacred Beneath and the Sacred Above. From: Native American Lore White Buffalo Calf Woman
The people learned of the connection between the sky and the earth and the unity of all life. They learned that offering thanks to Wakan Tanka with the pipe would yield many blessings here on earth. Before leaving, the woman said that she would return when the time was ripe. Then she turned into a buffalo, changing colors several times. Finally, she changed into a white buffalo calf, and disappeared into the distance. The people followed her teachings and were hungry no more.
A beautiful illustration of a modern Native American healer is White Eagle Medicine Woman (Suraj Holzwarth). She is the DrumKeeper of the International GrandMother Drum Peace Project, an internationally known medicine woman, singer, songwriter and performance artist of Seneca and European descent.
Suraj received the vision of the GrandMother Drum from indigenous grandmothers as the living beating symbol of the Universal Heart that connects all races and cultures of the human family. With the assistance of the Alaska multicultural community, Suraj built the GrandMother Drum in 2000. The drum took over a year to construct and has 200 crystals inlaid in its seven- foot kettle base. It is covered by a giant buffalo hide. The drum produces an incomparable sound that not only stirs the soul but also is said to have tremendous healing effect on the body.
White Eagle Medicine Woman will be in Wilmington with GrandMother Drum and Inca Spiritual Messenger Willaru Huayta in March. Willaru Huayta works as a bridge bringing knowledge from the ancient Inca civilization to modern western society.
Niyawe Skeno *
The GrandMother Drum 2008 USA Healing Waters Tour is being sponsored by Awakened Heart Spiritual Center and will be at Silverside Church, March 16, 2008 from 3pm to 6pm. The cost is $25 and youth under 18 are free. For more information call 302-239-7646.
* Niyawe Skeno is a Seneca greeting meaning “Thank You for Being”.