The shaman is one who senses the unseen, inner, spiritual and energetic in order to stimulate changes in the visible realm… the physical and sometimes ailing body, the culture, the environment, and the course of events. Shamanic understandings and techniques can aid not only the dedicated shaman, but also the everyday woman or man seeking a more wholly sensed, engaged, committed and satisfied life.
In the pitch dark beneath a blanket of stars, an orange glow sloshes up the sides of straight-sided volcanic cliffs, casting a circle of light around those clustered by the talkative fire. These same cliffs soften, deepen and then return to the ears the sound of a primitive frame drum, in a steady, inexorable rhythm that derails the rational process and frees both heart and mind– the eternal, unhurried heartbeat of a truly living planet.
Regardless of their recognition or stature in their society, they cast large shadows. They are the select, individuals who find life so beautiful that it’s almost excruciating, and pain so significant that they have to act to heal and mend the rips. Their intent, and their intensity, can either make them stand out in crowd or help them remain invisible. No matter what their “day jobs,“ their real work is ecstatic, going again and again to the edge where magic happens, and acting as in intermediary between the different ways and ”worlds,” between the spirits and the people. They are agents in one way or another of awakeness, reintegration, healing and transformation.
The assembled are modern day students on a weekend intensive. Those who have answered the calling, undergo personal transformation and receive the necessary training will be considered shamans, a Tungus word meaning simply “to know.” In other times and places they might be thought of as Medicine Men or Women, Witchdoctors or Visionaries and Diviners. The Celtic name was Geilt, a word denoting that the shaman was not only wild and crazy but also a poet. Likewise, the Ojibwa of Native America had what they called the “jugglers of the hidden truth,” the Jes’ sakid, and in Sumatra the term used was Sibaso, “the one with the word.” It was Lupa, “the mad one,” to the Malayans. Dibia, to the Igbo of West Africa. Angakok, to the Inuit eskimos. The Dreamer or Oko-jumu, in the Andaman Islands. The aboriginies of Australia have their Dreamwalkers, the Karadji, also know as the “clever men,” while women get their due among the Araucanians of South America with the shamanic Machi. In Korea, females are Mudang, and males Paksu.
What most of these shamans from around the world share in common is a world view on which all practices are based, and upon which all results depend. These include the “knowing” that all things are in some fundamentally alive and inspirited, with a collective if not always individual awareness. That all things are both interconnected and interrelated. That the unseen and the immeasurable can effect physical and visual reality, and that those unseen energies and patterns can in turn be influenced by the efforts of the practitioner. It is these rudimentary understandings that motivates the shaman’s dedication, their contribution to the harmony and balance of the body, mind, spirit, community and land. They may do this through trance healings or plant spirit medicine. The calling forth of ancestral, repressed childhood, cellular and Gaian memories and knowings. Personal counsel and direction. Public speaking, teaching and performance. The interpretation of omens and signs. Divination and forewarnings. The initiation of group rituals. Soul work for the living, and soul escort for those at the end of their lives.
A shaman is skilled at guiding the dying person back to the matrix, the earth, the energetic soup from which all arise and to which all return… because of her or his familiarity with dissolution and annihilation, with being devoured by circumstance and then remade even stronger. Essential to the traditional indigenous practitioner was and is a near death experience, either unintended or ritually undertaken. For the Yakut shaman, this means a “death” that includes dreams or daytime visions of dismemberment, and then of being put back together. Where the connections between the person’s essential parts are weak, symbolic “iron” is used to join them tightly. Finally a huge bird, the force of nature itself, carries the initiate to a branch of the World Tree, binding him to the one its boughs with pine resin and thereby securing him to his roots and source… and to his branching… outreaching purpose. Other examples of ritual dismemberment and resurrection include the Manchu, Tungus, Ostyak and Buryat. The indignous tribes of South and North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Ammasalik Eskimos are eaten by the animals that they usually hunt and kill, but new flesh inevitably grows back on their tooth-scarred bones. It is through this necessary falling apart, this surrendering, that their great self knowledge and power arise. This could mean a life threatening flu, a dangerous fall, a snake bite or even a disastrous car wreck through which they somehow survived. Or sometimes, nothing more than a recurring power dream in which they underwent a great or terrible trial.
What dies in that moment of transition is not the body yet, of course, but harmful habits and illusions. In the heat of the crucible, what perishes is the unreal and irrelevant, and what sustains is what is most real, the very truth of one’s being. Thus unencumbered, the shaman can arise from the coals stronger, more intuitive and directed than ever.
This process is no less powerful for the neoshaman, or for every person interested in self improvement or self actualization– whenever it happens. Instead of a serious illness or near death experience, the condition for rapid change, cleansing, empowerment and growth may come with the aid of an emotional breakdown or the collapse of the normal support systems. It can be in the form of a long-treasured husband or wife suddenly, passing away, or simply having an affair and applying for a divorce. Or leaving a career with security and a high income in order to do something you love that pays little and provides no retirement. Characteristically it is whatever is required to derail us from the one-way track, to suspend our certainty and incite reappraisal and redirection, causing us to regain trust in our abilities and potentials, to follow our callings and heed our hearts at any price.
Regardless of their trauma or shift, the shaman’s first charge is always to heal (make whole) the fractured selves, and only then can they credibly heal (make whole) other people and the larger community. This does not mean simply the alleviation of natural ailments, but a healing of the soul that can turn any persistent diseases or difficulties it can’t eliminate into spiritual boons and practical learning experiences.
Shamanic healing is a spiritual and medical practice based upon the belief that all healing includes a spiritual or magical dimension. Shamans enter altered states of consciousness to communicate with other realms of reality. The shaman’s journey is to help the patient or community to rediscover their connection to the personal self-healing body, restorative nature and Anima, the animating spirit.
Besides journeying, they may employ the use of smudge (smoke) or scent, medicinal herbs, visualization, hands-on or hands-over energy work, and what is popularly called soul retrieval. More accurately, we might call this important process soul reintegration, since what it actually involves is the recognition and tending of ignored, repressed or denied parts of the essential self, bringing them back into prominence and hence shifting the whole back into healthy balance. Or soul reinhabitation, since it involves regaining a comprehensive awareness of our entire inspirited beings, a coming home to awakened and responsive being, to illuminating place, to glad mission and awesome magic.
The shaman does not need to do battle with any evil entities or extraterrestrial beings to rescue the missing soulful parts, though they may sometime think it useful to frame it that way. The actual conflict is with the patient or subject’s attachment to the illusions and unhealthful patterns of the inner self, and the willful separative mind that can make us doubt our purpose and power, sabotage our ecstasy and delight. And in the end, it is a struggle that each person must do the work of, with only the inspiration and guidance of the shaman or healer.
This gathering of the parts of the self/soul is often described as a flight, in many instances astride a drum, which serves as a visual metaphor for the enlargement and thus transportation of consciousness: the ability to access, integrate and actualize all the parts of the whole self, while accessing the full height, depth and breadth – the innumerable manifestations and realms – of the whole of creation. This oobe is not an out-of-the-body experience so much as a journey beyond the limitations of the immediate physical body, and out into the greater planetary and spiritual self of which are each an inextricable element and agent, far reaching explorations the larger body of Gaia and the interconnective cosmos. And it is in fact not so much a matter of traveling as broadening and infusing, extending one’s consciousness out into the larger world that we are are both a corporal and spiritual/energetic part of: ecstatic transport, simultaneously rooting and stretching, grounding and soaring. The word ecstasy means “outside of,” but not exclusive of our our substantial beings, bodies, needs and callings… outside of our narrow definitions of self, inclusive of that which society calls “beyond,” “exotic,” “foreign,” “landscape,” “intangible” or simply “other.” Real shamanic ecstasy is becoming conscious of our being and seeing so much more, without inhabiting our physical and emotional bodies any less.
Needless to say, after the reintegration of one’s lost parts, or after any successful healing, the shaman can still help the person or situation return to a state of balance. Nor is the subject’s own involvement over. We still need to commit to a partnership with power, acting on what we see, manifesting our visions, correct our misalignments and imbalances, employ our expanded awareness for the good, using our fears as fuel for positive movement and change, and living our dreams.
While not everyone is meant to be a full-on shaman, shamanic practice can vitalize and deepen anybody willing to authentically do the work. Even for those with other callings, it can serve as an energetic vehicle, assisting passage through the portal of the feeling heart, taking us into deeper connection with the miraculous, inspiring us to take response-ability as conscious co-creators of multi-dimensional reality and our wonderful shared world.
Earth-Path shamanism is a heart-stirring journey into Anima, the world soul, and into the reintegrative experience of Gaian consciousness or Planetary Mind. It is the actual moment to moment utilization of any messages and tools revealed during that exploration… and the maximization of our physical and more-than-physical senses, including instinct, intuition, empathy, energetic discernment, clairvoyance and precognition. It is identifying and then being true to our unique, individual, most meaningful purpose… as well as the giving of the whole self in the most powerful, beautiful and effective ways possible, for the benefit of the greater whole.
The hopeful result of shamanic study and practice is: An understanding of the fundamentals of pan-cultural Gaian cosmology and earth-informed spiritual and magical practice. Conscious interaction with the spirit realm. Heightened skills to effect the world. Furthered ability to heal and bring to balance both individuals and the society of which we are a part. New means for improving relationships with coworkers, allies, friends and spouses. More intuitive presence in personal business, that can lead to better decision-making and a deeper measure of mission success.
Earth-Path shamanism offers a means for re-creating primal/primary ritual, ceremony, practice, tradition and tribe true to our usually mixed blood ancestry and these contemporary times. Enlisted to reconnect rather than disembark or transcend, such shamanism may be even more important now than in our tribal and prehistoric past. At its most vital best, it can lead to the recognition and affirmation of our latent, pre-existing shamanic abilities, propensities and potentials. And to the development of personal criteria for its honorable application… in these times of personal and global transformation, unequaled struggle and unparalleled reward.
We awaken to the shaman now, under virtually the same stars as the ancestors, penetrating the same darkness with the same insistent light.