The word “shaman” is derived from the Tungus tradition in Central Asia and has come to be the most well-known singular term for the highly diverse healing traditions of tribal, pre-industrial communities around the world.
Historian Mircea Eliades in his 1964 cross-cultural study of shamanic practices, said that the shaman is “at once magician and medicine man, healer and miracle-worker, priest, mystic and poet.” Shamanism is both practical and mystical, and is often a non-hierarchical path of direct experience.
Shamans learn their craft through years of dedicated practice, study and experimentation, and students often apprenticed to their teachers for long years of training. Today shamanism can also be studied through classes and workshops around the world. While one does not “become” a shaman in a weekend course, we can share and learn basic ways of working in the spirit realm or “non-ordinary reality.”
Coming into communion with the land, and exploring what C.G. Jung called the Collective Unconscious in the spirit realms, allows all humans to access deeper parts of themselves which are often alienated and hidden from view in contemporary cultures. There is a lively debate in the shamanic community about what authorizes a person to call themselves “a shaman.” In our view, this connection to the deeper “us” is what humans ultimately long for … and what we need for complete healing.
Need for Shamanism Today, as Western medicine continues to split the human being into smaller sub-categories for diagnosis and treatment purposes, more of the world’s people are looking for ways to mend the fragmentation of our health care systems. And, as religious dogmas fail to satisfy our spiritual need, people of all backgrounds are delighting in the shaman’s direct experience of the divine “all that is.”
Political History of Shamanism Meanwhile, the conquest and colonization of First Nation peoples by European and then American superpowers spread a cultural imperialism that denigrated and disempowered indigenous medicine men and women. Missionization specifically and purposefully made the practice of earth-based medicine a punishable crime. Many tribal traditions are still in the process of recovery, while some have been lost and are being reclaimed, and these sacred ways are often guarded from outside, non-Native participation.
One Human Race Yet, earth-based, direct experience tradition is in all of our ancestral roots – and the ways in which our forbearers addressed their pain, their fear and their lifes’ journey is a response to collective, universal human themes.
Our pre-industrial ancestors addressed the challenges of daily life in community, in ceremony and by working with the spirits of their lands. The possibility for this kind of integrated healing exists today. Urban, suburban and wild places are all alive … from the ants living below the concrete, to coyotes roaming backyards and grizzlies fighting for survival in the wilderness. Honoring and coming into contact with this True Nature, we can all reclaim authentic connection and ceremony as part of everyday life. Our one human race continues to long for this connectedness to the soul of the universe and to our own ancient souls.
Authentic Practice In her book, The Spirit of Place, Loren Cruden talks about developing an authentic practice that “abide(s) in the integrity of what flows from personal relationship with the Mystery.” (p.2) She says that to participate fully in life, we must be part of the dance that will end our illusion of our separation from the great web. For Cruden, one of the great doorways for participation in life is the natural world, the seasons and wild nature – where our journey of consciousness is directed by the patterns and processes that provoke insight and support transformation.
Dedication and Integrity Long term and abiding dedication to these practices of ceremony and vision is required to consider oneself a healer for others, and for our communities. This work requires an ongoing dialogue with the spirit world, with True Nature, as well as continued deep personal work conducted with integrity.
Universal Attributes of Shamanism All shamans work in non-ordinary reality. We are multi-sensorial trackers of baseline information through felt sense, smell, taste, texture, color. Shamans work in the imaginal realm, the consciousness space where Einstein discovered the Theory of Relativity! Shamans access non-ordinary reality by singing, dancing, sweating, fasting, drumming, plant medicine.
Three Worlds Most shamans travel in non-ordinary reality to three distinct realms. Like the belly, the heart and the third eye, the universal body has three modes of consciousness that hold different qualities of energy and information. Shamanic journey is how we navigate the waters of our soul. The soul is the self, not the mind… the soul exists outside of time and space. We journey because often things are not what they seem and we need a different view.
In an altered state of consciousness, in non-ordinary reality, shamans bring back help, healing, wisdom and knowledge for ourselves and our communities. Here we work in mutuality with compassionate helping spirits, ancestors, and guides with whom we maintain reciprocal relationships over time. The shamanic healer searches the internal landscape – knowing that the inside and outside are perfect reflections of each other.
The capacity for direct experience is universal and teachable
Sacred Dialog Another universal basis of shamanism is the concept of anima (spirit, life force, chi) that is manifested in trees, germs, people, wind and all that is. For us there are no “inanimate objects;“ Cedars and Maples are tree people, grandmother tree and archetypal beings with whom we dialogue without the need for an intermediary. This is why we say that the shaman can connect directly to collective knowledge without being limited by belief or faith. This capacity for direct experience is universal and teachable.
Rising Fire Shamans, Elle Rosenthal and Rosemary Beam are powerful healers, teachers and workshop facilitators working in the Peruvian tradition. Rising Fire blends energy medicine with psychological process and skills training. Learn more about our unique feeling methodology and find out how Rising Fire Shamanism can help you find balance in your life.