"Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions."
- Awakening in trance, she undertakes wondrous journeys between the realms, flying in ecstasy to retrieve vital information for the healing of the ill, the healing of the land, the healing of the people.
- He has the ability to travel long distances without leaving his home.
- She has been able to withstand perilous tests and terrifying ordeals in order come into her full power and to hone her skills.
Though the local people may have their own name for these travelers between the realms, a universal term has come into use that describe each of them: Shaman.
Shamans have been the keepers of the world's most ancient secrets for millennia. The creatures of the air, sea and land, and indeed the earth herself, along with all the stellar constellations are part and parcel of the shaman's domain. Uniquely in tune with all living elements, these men and women use their powers for the physical and spiritual healing of their communities.
The word shaman originated with the Evenki- the Tungusic language of Siberia, where Saman is used as both a noun and a verb.; this in turn is derived from the Sanskrit 'sramana, a term used for Buddhist monks meaning to heat oneself or practice austerities. The Sanskrit term illustrates the inner spiritual nature of the shaman's calling and alludes to the physical ordeals that are usually a part of the shaman's initiation, as well as his or her ability to accomplish mystical feats which are impossible for the average person.
In recent times, the term has come into prominence among anthropologists, mythologists, historians and lay people who use it to describe a wide variety of cultural practices. These scholars have noted that the rituals and ceremonies of shamans worldwide have an amazing underlying similarity that transcends continents and cultures.
"When I shamanize, the spirit of my deceased brother Ilya comes and speaks through my mouth. My shaman forefathers, too have forced me to walk the path of shamanism." Siberian Scythian-Chukchi man
The far-reaching Shaman's domain encompasses the magical hunting rituals of Paleolithic man, the prophetic visions of Native American Medicine Man and the Dreaming of Australian Aboriginals. It includes the prowess of the South American Jaguar woman, the ritual ceremonies of the African Nganga, the stunning feats of the Taoist Master and the skills of the 21st century New York City Shamanic Counselor. Even the ancient Egyptian story of Isis and Osiris with its themes of dismemberment and re-membering, contains some of the most basic shamanic principals.
Occult traditions indicate that these two beings came to earth bringing with them the knowledge of all the sciences, spawning a race of divine beings to ensure the continuity of their stellar wisdom.
Among Indigenous populations, shamans or medicine people are often unassuming and even shy. They may by diffident when asked about their power. A typical response of an indigenous shaman to a direct question might be," People say I am," or "Could be."
Many will indicate that it is not personal power that creates the healing, but hard work on the part of the healee And of course, the cooperation of the spirit or energy which agrees to do the healing is imperative. Those wishing to be healed must often go through arduous periods of preparation and the time and place must be exactly right before the healing can occur.
American anthropologist Joan Halifax points out, "Only the shaman is able to behave as both a god and a human. The shaman then is an interspecies being, as well as a channel for the gods. He or she effects the interpenetration of diverse realms."
"When people sing, I dance, I enter the earth. I go in at a place like a place where people drink water. I travel a long way, very far... When I emerge I am already climbing, I'm climbing the threads, the threads that lie over there in the south, " Kung Bushman.
Mircea Eliade's 1964 work , Shamanism was a groundbreaking study that brought the subject to the attention of many. In addition, there are many modern adherents to shamanism who revere the ancient roots of their practices, sometimes taking them into new directions.
The writings of Carlos Castaneda,, who brought the world of the shaman don Juan to the general public, have been an enormous influence on modern day culture. Despite a controversy over the authenticity of Castaneda's characters and stories, the teachings of don Juan are respected by knowledgeable scholars and continue to intrigue, instruct. Anthropologist Michael Harner's network of workshops has popularized Shamanic work among an avid group of followers throughout the west. Harner, an early supporter of Castaneda,, presents Shamanism as a viable adjunct to Western medicine. In his book, The Way of the Shaman, A Guide to Power and Healing- Harner sets forth the terms OSC and SSC for "Ordinary State of Consciousness" and:"Shamanic State of Consciousness" as keys to understanding of Casteneda's terms "ordinary reality" and "non-ordinary reality".
Mythologist Joseph Campbell also helped to shed light on the often hidden world of the Shaman with extensive research that produced a number of prestigious publications and television programs. Campbell suggested "It has always been the business of the great Seers known in India as rishis, in biblical terms as prophets, to primitive folk as shamans; in our own day as poets and artists to perform the work of the first and second function of a mythology by recognizing the veil of nature as viewed in the science of their times."
Even more recently, Arnold Mindell, physicist and developer of Dreambody work, (now known as Process Oriented Psychology) has written persuasively on Shamanism, outlining the ways in which shamanic principles can assist us in our daily lives. In his book,, Quantum Healing, he develops the concepts of Consensus and Non Consensus Reality- ( CR and NCR). Along with many other cutting edge concepts, Amy and Arnold suggest that modern humans recognize and enter into constantly unfolding dreaming states for fuller and healthier lives.
More and more writers are willing to share the principles of what were once totally hermetic traditions. Among others, Alberto Villoldo has brought a 21st century view of South American practices, while Luisah Teish has written with dedication of Yoruba sacred traditions rooted in Africa. The powerful teachings and written works of Sobonfu Somé and Malidoma Somé have brought the world of the Dagara people of Burkina Faso to large audiences in the United States.
Shamans enter into many different levels of altered states of consciousness. Typically a shaman may journey between three worlds: the middle world, the upper world and the lower world. During these inner journeys the practitioner may inhabit or be in the company of animal or bird familiars as she covers vast expanses of time and space. .For example, the eagle is the prototype of the shaman for the Buryats of Siberia, and many traditions honor eagles as shaman-birds. Bear, fox and turtle, turkey vulture and raven are other powerful totems found in a number of cultures throughout the world. Forms of divination include scrying in water, clear glass and crystals, reading the flights and markings of birds, examining the trajectories and positions of stones, sticks and other forms of nature, consulting pendulums and cards, and reading markings or entrails of certain animals.
W.B. Yeats spoke of this when he wrote, "Once every people in the world believed that trees were divine, and could take a human or grotesque shape and dance among the shadows, and that deer and ravens and foxes and wolves and bears, and clouds and pools, almost all thing under the sun and moon and the sun and moon were not less divine and changeable. "
Communities often depend on the shamans among them to protect and to mediate in assuring their well being . This means monitoring the fertility of the land, the growth of the crops, the abundance of game and various aspects of the weather, especially the rain fall. For example, in many Central and South African nations, kings and queens have been shamans who were expected to perform such magical feats as rain making and transformation into totem animals. Imposters were put to the test, and severely punished if they were unable to perform.
As negotiators between the worlds or realms, shamans are often able to function at high levels of physical prowess. For example, both the Australian Aborigine and the Tibetan Lama engage in "fast traveling", a technique for power running which enables each to travel long distances at an extremely rapid rate, impossible in normal states of consciousness. Each has also shown the ability to survive extreme conditions of temperature.
Father Martin Gusinde wrote two monographs from 1919-1923 while living with communities of the South American people who were named Yahgans after the center of their territory - Yahgashaga or Yahga strait - by Reverend Thomas Bridges, Superintendent of the South American Missionary Society in Tierra del Fuego from 1870 to 1887.
For a 1990 film by Anne Chapman which has as subject the surviving members of these peoples, visit: www.der.org/films/homage-to-yahgans.html.
Father Guisand compiled a comprehensive list of experiences and attributes that are common to shamans throughout the world. I have paraphrased selections from his list:
- The summons received in solitude from spirits of the wilderness
- An association of song with the call
- The compulsive nature of the summons, illness and death ensuing if it be disregarded
- The special association of a spiritual familiar with this call
- ,Healing received during the process of an intensive spiritual training
- The sense an inward physical transubstantiation and the gaining of supernatural powers .including the ability to see and move through barriers and across distances
- The ability to heal or to injure by occult means
- The ability to assume the forms of animals and mountains
- The understanding of the inherent powers of certain animals and of natural places
- A reliance on dreams for information and warnings
In addition to this list, we might add the concept of physical or mental illness and near death experiences that can portend the shamanic call..
There is also an almost universal use of trance dancing,, including special steps and rhythms. Dancers often wear colorful bird, animal and spirit masks that assist in the making of magic. Painted drums and a wide variety of sacred trance inducing instruments and rhythms are used ceremonially. Also important are: the exaltation of fire and/or water as purifying substances, the use of animal costumes, wands and staffs, and in some cultures, the use of psychotropic substances to induce trance.
The lineage of the shaman's domain is finding renewal in our times. For those who dare to follow the path, to accept the call, shamanism represents an extraordinary source of healing for the modern ills of humankind.
Ione is a shaman, author and master teacher. She is the Director of Ministry of Maat and Women‚s Mysteries: Healing the Intuitive. Ione wrote Pride of Family ,Four Generations of American Woman of Color and The Play - Nijnga the Queen King, The Return of a Warrior.