What is Shamanism?

Vinales, Cuba, painting by Pina, 2001


If you are reading this, you are probably searching for something, or looking for answers to questions you may not even have asked yet. When I started exploring shamanism in 1998 I knew very little about it and my original focus was on self-help. I had two specific purposes: could shamanism help me with my own health problems and could it help me feel differently about my own and others’ death? Now, years later, I understand that shamanism is not psychotherapy, nor is it primarily a system for self-healing, though it can be highly therapeutic in both.

Briefly, shamanism, the world's oldest healing and problem-solving technique, is a way of being in and engaging with the world. It is a means of experiencing spirit, not just as an observance or ritual, but as an expression of oneself in everyday life. By spirit, I mean that consciousness which animates you and me and is part of all things organic and inorganic, visible and invisible. For many people, such concepts may seem alien or ‘new age’. In terms of human history and culture however, the prevalent materialist worldview, which assumes an observation/sense based reality that can be divided and classified, is in fact the newcomer, being only hundreds of years old. Shamanism has been an effective means of accessing and changing reality for at least 40,000 years and despite the pressure of Western ideas, many indigenous societies around the world today have never recognised the materialism view of reality.

How It Works

Anyone working fully with shamanism recognises themselves as spirit and therefore connected to everything that exists. From a shamanic perspective even matter, being part of everything, is also spirit. A practitioner knows that, through the shamanic journey and other techniques, she can work on behalf of another person, for herself, or for any living or non-living thing. A shaman's primary role is to engage with the unlimited energies available through spirit, in order to facilitate the process of change so that physical, emotional, or spiritual healing can take place. Shamanism works on the principle of harmony and balance; any illness, mental or physical, any interpersonal challenge or material difficulty, is seen as the result of an imbalance or disharmony which can be healed by accessing the unlimited help available once we step beyond our own limited, human perception. The purpose of all shamanic work then is to restore balance. In a person, this means re-integrating the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional aspects.

These are just a few of the areas in which shamanism can help:

HEALING ................GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

SOUL RETRIEVAL................SHAMANIC COUNSELLING
PHYSICAL HEALING.............SPIRITUAL DIRECTION
GRIEF and LOSS.................EMPOWERMENT
DEATH............................LIFE CHANGES




The Journey

‘The goal of the shamanic path of initiation is to broaden and deepen the normal emotions that we all know. Shamanism is thus not a somehow obscure or incomprehensible or mysterious magical path, but the simple heightening of the emotional experience of the world. If we want to understand shamans, we really have only to penetrate into our own emotions.’ H. Kalweit

The shamanic journey is one of the main keys to accessing the power of the spirit world. Practitioners access the world of spirit through using percussive sound, drumming, rattling or chanting. These simple, yet very powerful sound techniques measurably alter brain waves, helping the practitioner to move from awareness of this ordinary, everyday reality to an altered consciousness which gives more direct access to spirit. As well as inviting help and healing, the practitioner experiences a transcendence of normal, everyday perception. Time, space and even self can shift repeatedly as the shaman moves through the ‘journey’, looking for the answers to questions, asking for help.

Learning to journey with a clear and stated purpose, the results of which can be integrated into your daily life and/or used for the benefit of others, is the goal of the shamanic journey. The process itself, let alone its results, gives access to previously unimagined worlds and states. On the surface these worlds and states have little to do with the traditional shamans of the Amazon or Siberia, yet after almost of twelve years of working with the spirits I remain astonished by the universal nature of shamanism, the striking similarities between my own and my clients’ journeys and those of traditional shamans around the world whose experiences have been recorded by anthropologists or ethnographers over generations.


Since the so-called Enlightenment, the Western mind has sheared off in new directions, which whilst wondrous in many ways, have effectively deprived us, as a society and as individuals, of our sense of belonging and association. And perhaps that is all spirituality is after all, just a cell-deep sense of not being alone. Although you may never know how an Amazonian or a Siberian shaman sees his or her world, a world now vanished for most of us, the emotional experience of shamanic journeying can allow you to step closer to that world and engage with it, for the benefit of yourself and others, whilst maintaining a firm foothold in the everyday world.