Ask any passer-by on any street to spell it out shamanism as well as the result might be blank stares. Most people are surprised to find out that shamanism isn’t a religion though the oldest spiritual and problem-solving technology on this planet. Much more surprising will be the discovery that it’s the precursor to the majority major world religions, such as Judaeo-Christian and Buddhist traditions, which has been practised on every inhabited continent on earth for at least 40,000 a number of possibly quite definitely longer. Historically, shamanism was obviously a significant survival tool of prehistoric humans. Our hunter-gatherer forbears decorated the stone walls of caves and cliffs all over the world with carved and painted images drawn completely from shamanic experience. We no longer are in caves or perhaps in tiny communities whose members are common recognized to us. Most of us live far longer, healthier lives than our ancient ancestors, but our minds, that part of us able to fearing the dark and getting the aid of things unseen, hasn’t changed in almost a quarter of the million years. What made the uncertain lives of prehistoric people easier still works today because, although the world may have changed, fundamentally we haven’t.
Ask what a shaman is and also the question may evoke a number of words about Native American ‘medicine men’ or word ‘witchdoctor’. Actually, exactly what a shaman is and does is actually explained. In the Siberian Tungus language which produced the word, ‘shaman’ means ‘the one who sees’ and is the term for someone creating a ‘journey’ to alternate realities during an altered condition of consciousness to get to know and work with spirit helpers. Just what the shaman ‘sees’, what she realises, during this experience with meeting spirits is the fact that there is absolutely no separation between anything that is: no separation between me writing and you also reading these words, from your cat and dog, between life and death, between this apparently material reality and also the non-material realities from the spirit worlds. This concept of ‘oneness’ is usual currency in contemporary culture and increasingly given credence by certain quantum physicists utilizing sub atomic theory, regarded course this is a predominantly physical, rather than a spiritual, oneness that such scientists are attempting to describe. However, where many of us can only think about the understanding of ‘oneness’, shaman’s actually live it through the example of the shamanic ‘journey’ and direct, personal interaction with spirit.
Described as a ‘breakthrough in plane’, in physiological terms right onto your pathway begins because the shaman redirects the primary cognitive process through the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain to the right, with the corpus collosum – that is certainly, from the structuring, organising hemisphere, towards the visualising, sensing one. From the overwhelming most traditions worldwide this ‘breakthrough’ is going to be assisted by the use of percussive sound, for example drumming, rattling or clapping. Although hallucinogens, including ayahuasca, are widely advertised in the western world as a technique to aid alter consciousness, actually only about 10% of traditional shamans use plants in this way. Metaphysically, your way begins in the event the shaman’s consciousness shifts from your here and now and enters worlds visible only to her. These worlds, which vary with every culture and tradition worldwide, are identified as ‘alternate reality’, ‘the realm of the spirits’, or ‘non-ordinary reality’. Some traditions call shamans ‘the walker involving the worlds’ because they are the bridge between ‘here’ and ‘there’.
Although often considered primitive or viewed as a ‘religion’ of less developed peoples and cultures, San Pedro shamanism is both subtle and paradoxical. The ‘worlds’ of shamanic journeys are utterly real – they exist and is felt, smelt and experienced as clearly simply because this ‘ordinary’ reality. Simultaneously they are qualitative spaces, states to become that reflect and secure the reason behind the shaman’s journey – to request help, healing or information from the spirits. Contemporary research in the cognitive sciences points too a persons mental faculties are hardwired to determine the ‘unseen’ and also the mystical; even the Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds from the shaman – translated into Hell, Earth and Heaven in later tripartite cosmologies – are seemingly an important part of human perception.
Obviously, one of the questions normally asked by students being shown shamanism is, “What are spirits?”. Perhaps because Western society has mostly avoided considering spirituality for several generations we lack a clear, objective knowledge of such things as spirits. Today it’s actually a one-size-fits-all word encompassing entities, energies, ghosts, angels, ancestors, the undead, elves, fairies; the list is seemingly endless. Personally, We have two understandings from the concept of spirit reality both the coincide, they’re not the identical but they benefit me. The Core Shamanic, or Western, tradition which underpins my own, personal practice and teaching, describes spirits in all of that exists. I’m a spirit currently inhabiting a physical body as a way to use a human experience. The spirits I meet on my small ‘journeys’ are dis-embodied and for that reason have an existential overview unavailable to me, but we’re critically the same: particles of infinite universal energy, fragments in the Great Spirit. Most of us come from this energy, exist there and go back to it. It is actually living this angle that enables a shaman to try out the possible lack of separation between things that ordinary-reality considers very separate indeed, for example life and death or health insurance and disease.
My second understanding of spirit is more psychological and archetypal and it was plain and simply explained by CG Jung in the autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’. Describing his personal experience of spirit helpers Jung wrote, “Philemon… brought home to me the key insight there are things in the psyche which I tend not to produce, but which produce themselves and still have their own life. Philemon represented a force which has been not myself.” It is a beautifully lucid explanation of how it might feel to get with spirit throughout a shamanic journey. More prosaically, I describe the whole process of journeying to my students as having one’s imagination harnessed and directed by something external.
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