Shamanism in English


As the birch-tree logs crackle in the fire and the night grows darker outside the tent, whispers can be heard. The drumming slowly starts. It faintly resembles the sound of a herd of mammoths far away in the horizon. A man decorated with the feathers of an eagle takes to the centre of the tent and begins to dance. The drumming becomes faster. A cry of an eagle can be heard from the sky. The man dances feverishly and hums a tune until he collapses in spasms to the ground. A part of him is now traveling with the smoke rising from the tent. He floats towards the skies and strange worlds. The journey of the shaman has begun.

It seems that from the beginning of time, magic, science and religion have been entangled together. In such a world, the shaman is a focus point. He dreams and explains dreams; he heals the mind and the body; he knows his stones like a geologist and finds the places were the forces of nature are at their strongest. He is a clairvoyant. He can command the blood to stop flowing. A shaman could do and be all of these or just a few. Nevertheless, above anything else, he was the healer of grave diseases and injuries. He was able to fetch the soul of a patient back from other worlds, as well as locate and cure cancer. A shaman was the priest of his own time. He was the intermediate between gods, spirits and humans.

Shamanism has been widely practiced on Earth and clues of its existence can be found from many religions. Shamanism, unlike many other nature religions, has survived to this day without its traditions being broken. Naturally, shamanism has experienced some changes as the modern man has molded it to suit his needs thus creating neo-shamanism. Most of the literature on shamanism focuses on the shamanistic traditions of Siberia. However, shamanism was also practiced in the arctic areas, North- and South-America, Australia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, China, Tibet and Japan. The Finnish Kalevala also describes some shamanistic rituals, for example, traveling to other worlds.

Shamanism is an age-old method that utilizes altered states of the mind to contact spirits and deities. Visions, dreams and trance states are all commonly used. The collecting and hunting cultures created a demand for shamans, as humans needed to control beasts. The shamans of that time mimicked animals with the way they danced. This was done in order to achieve a psychic connection with the animal. This kind of a shaman the first of many: he believed in animal spirits and clan totems. He was able to transfer his consciousness into an animal form. This shape shifting technique has been preserved to this day.

The people of this time had an animistic worldview. This means that they believed all animals, minerals, objects and plants had a soul. By using an ecstasy technique, human spirits can be transferred to other humans or to animals and objects. This way, shamanism was animism applied to practice. It was believed that the different parts of the cosmos were connected to each other. A huge web of energy was imagined to bind things together. This energy manifested through different forms and vibrations. The shaman was necessary as the mediator between gods and humans. A shaman could project his consciousness into other worlds. This ability to venture into the realms of gods and spirits and return with information that would benefit the community was vital.

The road to becoming a shaman can vary in many ways. It was thought that shamans followed their calling. This calling could manifest itself through dreams or visions during grave illnesses or other great trials. Some people were chosen by spirits to become shamans and some inherited the profession. At least in Siberia and North America, people who became a shaman because of dreams or visions were held in greater respect than those who had inherited their status.
Shamanistic worldview

Shamanism could be regarded as the ability to leave the body by will. A shaman can project his soul into other levels of existence, to those invisible parallel worlds. During his stay in these worlds, he works with power animals and spirits or discusses matters with gods in order to seek knowledge. In addition, he can encounter spirits from the realms of death and disease or his ancestors. To produce a controlled out of body experience, the shamans used many different techniques: drumming, chanting, fasting, holy plants, meditation, sensory deprivation and sleeping techniques.

A journey is never undertaken for fun. The purposes varied from finding a cure to bringing back lost souls to balancing the harmony between the levels of existence. Although, these journeys are the best-known characteristic of shamanism, some shamans never journey. Some are content to heal and dream visions or to seek their answers from signs and omens they find in nature.

Shamans believe the cosmos to consist of three levels: the upper world, the middle world and the under world. This division is found from all over the world. The world we live in, the human world is the middle world. The three worlds are connected by a vertical axel, which is usually depicted as a tree. The axel goes right through the sky and the ground. When on a journey the shaman uses these holes to maneuver between the worlds.

In addition, Shamans believe in rebirth. The soul that detaches itself from a human at the moment of death travels down the river of death. During this process, the soul is purified and renewed until it reaches the river of life, which transports the soul to the upper world. From the upper world, the souls return to the middle world. After many cycles, purified souls are released from this reality into brighter and better worlds.

The tools of a shaman

The shaman can work with two kinds of spirits: some are firmly under his control and do his begging, while some protect him if he calls on them. These guardian spirits can be deceased shamans or lesser deities that are too powerful for the shaman to control. Spirits guides are extremely important to shamans. They are the manifestations of his psychic and magic capabilities.

Spirit guides help the shaman to discover the causes of illnesses and to bring back lost souls. These spirits could also come to the shamans help when he was in danger and guide him through obstacles. Spirit guides appear in dreams and visions. They can appear after the initiation into shamanism. In some cultures, shamans can trade guardian spirits. In the North, common spirit guides are bears, elks, hares, owls, ravens and wolfs. In some cases, the spirit guide can become so close to the shaman that it becomes the representation of the shaman in other levels of existence.

The relationship between the shaman and his spirit guide is often extremely valuable. The relationship could be described as a mental marriage. The shaman honors his helper spirits with sacrifices, songs, rituals and dancing. In addition, the shaman can restrain from eating the flesh of his spirit guide, as well as hide the connection they share from others.

In a shamanistic ritual, the inner journey is depicted externally. The ritual is not just for show. It is an attempt to see the internal journey. The mystical act a shaman performs gives him the possibility to feel a connection with his gods and manifest the personifications of other supernatural powers. In a ritual, the shaman sets aside his everyday life and becomes one with the cosmos. These connections to other worlds can be seen from special clothes or objects, especially from the shaman’s drum. The forms, materials and ornaments symbolize the connection.

Drums are important instruments of shamanism. Their deep sounds transport many shamans to other worlds. Thus, the drum is sometimes called a horse or a reindeer. The drum is also a symbol of the tree of the world. The maps of the cosmos, gods and other important symbols have been drawn to the skin of the drum. Sometimes a sun is drawn to the centre of the drum. Others say that this sun-like picture is actually a representation of the birth canal as the journey of a shaman has many things in common with birth.

The monotonous sound of the drum enables the spirit to travel to the upper and lower world by helping the shaman to concentrate and reach a trance state. Research has proven that the rhythmic beating of the drum enables the brain to switch to theta waves, which occur when we dream or are in trance. In this way, shamanism resembles dreaming while awake. The shaman knows he is in an altered state of consciousness and is thus able to control his actions. However, what happens on a spirit journey is not a dream, but reality in another world. As everything is connected by energy, the actions in these others worlds influence our reality.

For a shaman, songs are a tool. Through singing, he can express his intentions and move forward. The purpose of a shamanistic journey and songs can be to seek out the root of an illness and send it back to where it came from. Recovering from an illness is therefore seen as the process of conquering negative energies, as someone or something is always the sender of these ailments. Imagination and open-mindedness are important since the shamanistic way of thinking is visual. Dreams and inner visions are accepted as guidelines for life.

Modern shamans

Most people practising neo-shamanism do not feel that they need a formal initiation to begin their journey. As neo-shamanism is not restricted by any religion, it is an open path to any who are interested. Any one can practise shamanism in any way they feel comfortable. It can be a small part of someone’s life or it can be the foundation. Shamanism is, as it has always been, a very practical religion. Suitable working practises are sought by a trial-and-error basis by individuals.

Modern shamanism has much in common with psychology as it utilises the inner world of a particular person. Both seek answers from the subconscious mind. Shamanism presents us with many ways to retrieve and use hidden information, as well as increase personal power. Moreover, it combines the physical world, the imagination and the world of visions. It is said that shamans fly deep within themselves to find the connections to the spirit world and its habitants. The energy that flows through everything, creates these connections between the worlds, as well as keeps the worlds in order so that they do not slip into chaos.

There many techniques available for undertaking a shamanistic journey: first focus on a question or a problem, then clear your mind of all thoughts, and give up the need to control everything that happens. After you have done this, begin drumming and visualizing. You will proceed on your journey, with the help of a spirit guide and encounter visions that will answer your questions or give advice on the matter. The sought answer can appear in a symbolic form, for example, as a tiny object. The meaning of the object is revealed eventually.

How can you become a shaman?

Many, who are interested in shamanism, begin by familiarizing themselves with the energy that flows everywhere since it is the foundation of the shamanistic worldview. Emotions, feelings and thoughts direct energy towards an outcome in the physical world, as well as in any other world. You must get to know your spirit body and how its energy functions. This way you can use the energy without becoming tired. Down the road, you must familiarize yourself with the centers of energy that are in your body. This will enable you to use them as tunnels to the spirit world. Shamanism can also teach you how to ground and protect yourself. Grounding means that you unite your spirit body to the universal energy, which you must learn to feel around you.

The most important thing to a modern shaman is his imagination. You can train your imagination by visualizing. People restrict their imagination in many ways, especially skepticism. The purpose of shamanism is to break the habits that restrict you. All senses are used in visualizations. In addition, they can be used in reaching set goals. The difference between visualization and a shamanistic journey is that during a journey the shaman is in a deeper state of consciousness and that they use reserved energy to achieve the wanted result. During a journey, a shaman can also encounter visions that they had not expected. The ability to visualize is the foundation of a successful shamanistic journey. The more active your imagination is, the more powerful you will become.

An important aspect of shamanism is exploring energy as the source of all life. This will grant the shaman deep insight into the cosmos and with that deep respect towards existence. He will also become sensitive to many locations that have powerful energies, as well as get to know the different properties minerals and plants have.

A practicing shaman will learn how to stay in touch with two worlds at the same time. He will also discover how to reverse the linear perception of time most of us have. Learning how to be present at all times and how to relax completely, as well as interpreting symbols are useful skills even in our modern world. Practicality and flexibility are characteristic qualities of a shaman. A responsible shaman will never trample down anyone as he strives for personal gain. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and against the laws of the spirit world. It will also come back to you and can prevent, for example, you from proceeding in your studies and journeys to the spirit world. The best way to use your shaman skills is to benefit all.

More information

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