Ask any passer-by on any street to spell out shamanism and also the result will likely be blank stares. Everybody is surprised to learn that shamanism is not an religion however the oldest spiritual and problem-solving technology on the planet. A lot more surprising will be the discovery that it is the precursor to the majority major world religions, such as the Judaeo-Christian and Buddhist traditions, and that it has become practised on every inhabited continent in the world not less than 40,000 a number of possibly quite definitely longer. Historically, shamanism was 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 straight from shamanic experience. We no more reside in caves or even in very small communities whose members are all known to us. The majority of us live far longer, healthier lives than our ancient ancestors, but the brain, that section of us competent at fearing the dark and getting help from things unseen, hasn’t changed in almost 25 % of an million years. What made the uncertain lives of prehistoric people less difficult works today because, although world could have changed, fundamentally we’ve not.

Ask exactly what a shaman is and also the question may evoke several words about Native American ‘medicine men’ and the word ‘witchdoctor’. In reality, what a shaman is and does is actually explained. In the Siberian Tungus language which produced the word, ‘shaman’ means ‘the person who sees’ and refers to an individual creating a ‘journey’ to alternate realities whilst in an altered state of consciousness in order to meet and work with spirit helpers. What the shaman ‘sees’, what she realises, within this experience with meeting spirits is the fact that there’s no separation between any situation that is: no separation between me writing and you reading these words, from your dog and cat, between life and death, between this apparently material reality and the non-material realities of the spirit worlds. This concept of ‘oneness’ is normal currency in contemporary culture and increasingly given credence by certain quantum physicists dealing with sub atomic theory, though of course it is a predominantly physical, instead of a spiritual, oneness that such scientists are attempting to describe. However, where most of us could only look at the notion of ‘oneness’, shaman’s actually live it over the experience with the shamanic ‘journey’ and direct, personal interaction with spirit.

Identified as a ‘breakthrough in plane’, in physiological terms your way begins as the shaman redirects the key cognitive process in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain off to the right, with the corpus collosum – that is certainly, through the structuring, organising hemisphere, for the visualising, sensing one. Inside the overwhelming majority of traditions around the world this ‘breakthrough’ will probably be assisted through percussive sound, for example drumming, rattling or clapping. Although hallucinogens, like ayahuasca, are widely advertised in the western world as a technique to aid alter consciousness, in fact no more than 10% of traditional shamans use plants in this way. Metaphysically, right onto your pathway begins when the shaman’s consciousness shifts from the present and enters worlds visible only to her. These worlds, which vary with each culture and tradition all over the world, are described as ‘alternate reality’, ‘the an entire world of the spirits’, or ‘non-ordinary reality’. Some traditions call shamans ‘the walker between the worlds’ since they’re the bridge between ‘here’ and ‘there’.

Although often considered primitive or seen as an ‘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 could be felt, smelt and experienced as clearly as this ‘ordinary’ reality. Concurrently these are qualitative spaces, states to become that reflect and secure the cause of the shaman’s journey – to request help, healing or information from the spirits. Contemporary research inside the cognitive sciences shows that the human being mental faculties are hardwired to view the ‘unseen’ as well as the mystical; even Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds with the shaman – translated into Hell, Earth and Heaven in later tripartite cosmologies – are seemingly an important part of human perception.

Not surprisingly, one of several questions normally asked by students being brought to shamanism is, “What are spirits?”. Perhaps because Western society has mostly avoided thinking of spirituality for several generations we lack a definite, objective idea of things like spirits. Today it’s really a one-size-fits-all word encompassing entities, energies, ghosts, angels, ancestors, the undead, elves, fairies; their list is seemingly endless. Personally, We’ve two understandings from the notion of spirit reality the 2 coincide, they aren’t exactly the same nevertheless they work for me. The main Shamanic, or Western, tradition which underpins my very own practice and teaching, describes spirits included in all of that exists. I’m a spirit currently inhabiting a physical body to be able to possess a human experience. The spirits I meet in my ‘journeys’ are dis-embodied and for that reason offer an existential overview unavailable in my experience, but we’re basically the same: particles of infinite universal energy, fragments of the Great Spirit. Most of us come from this energy, exist within it and come back to it. It really is living this perspective that allows a shaman to experience having less separation between things that ordinary-reality considers very separate indeed, including life and death or health and disease.

My second understanding of spirit is a bit more psychological and archetypal and was very simply explained by CG Jung as part of his autobiography ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’. Describing his knowledge of spirit helpers Jung wrote, “Philemon… brought where you can me the important insight there are things within the psyche that we don’t produce, but which produce themselves and possess their unique life. Philemon represented a force that has been not myself.” This is the beautifully lucid explanation of how it could feel to have interaction with spirit throughout a shamanic journey. More prosaically, I describe the process of journeying to my students as having one’s imagination harnessed and directed by something external.
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