Background on Shamanism


Shamanism is not a religion. It is a healing technology:

Shamanic healing is humanity's oldest healing system, going back perhaps as much as 40 thousand years. That it has persisted so long, and in essentially the same form across many cultures, is a testament to its effectiveness. While indigenous shamanism is always embedded in its culture, the many elements that are common across the world's cultures can be studied and practiced in the context of our own culture. Michael Harner was one of the first to do this; he set up the Foundation for Shamanic Studies to train and teach practitioners, and to aid indigenous peoples wishing to regain a lost shamanic heritage.

Shamanic healing is based on the idea that there are spirits. That is, non-physical entities that seem to be conscious, and that it's possible for some people to interact with them. In Shamanism, the specially skilled person (called the shaman) travels in trance to the worlds where the spirits live, with the mission of getting help or information, for healing his or her clients and the whole community. In particular, there are compassionate spirits that have an interest in helping humans reduce the load of suffering in this world. The shaman learns where in the spirit worlds to find these compassionate spirits, and develops a partnership with them for this work.

While it's easy to dismiss the idea of spirits as "unscientific", the work is practical and effective. All the world's cultures have a rich folklore around the idea of spirits -- with many parables of both the trouble you can get yourself into, and the good that you can do, by exploring the spirit worlds. Whether there are "really" spirits or not is perhaps unimportant -- the idea is a powerful and effective metaphor. Shamanic healing work is a highly disciplined approach to the spirit worlds. The shaman is focused on a mission during the trance -- learning to hold this focus in the trance state is the essence of shamanic training. Once the shaman returns from trance, he or she is completely back.

 The Journey

In almost all of the world's cultures that have a shamanic tradition, the shaman will go into trance with the aid of monotonous drumming, or other similar percussion. In this trance, he or she will travel to the spirits in their realm -- hence the term journey. A few traditions use psychoactive plant extracts, but drumming has been found to be equally effective, and it's much easier to end the trance when needed!

Interestingly, the layout of the spirit worlds, as seem by shamans in all the world's cultures, is remarkably similar. (We take this as evidence that there is "actually" a spiritual reality, independent of culture, that they are independently visiting.)

Spiritual Healing

Shamanic healing is almost always done in close partnership with the shaman's helping spirits. The shaman relies on these spirits for information, guidance, power, and protection. The spirits rely on the shaman as a physical intermediary and compassionate helper. There are roughly four main kinds of shamanic healing:

Power Retrieval
In the process of going through life, a person may lose some of his or her personal spiritual power. This will cause symptoms like chronic fatigue, a run of bad luck, chronic illness. The shaman will attempt to restore the client's power, usually by reconnecting the client to a former source of power, often in the form of a power animal or totem.
Soul Retrieval
When traumatic events happen, a portion of our vital essence (soul) can become separated and lost. This can happen in both physical trauma (accidents, anesthesia, physical abuse) and emotional trauma (separation, loss of love, emotional abuse). Sometimes we even (unconsciously) "give away" our vital essence, or unwittingly participate in someone else taking it. The shaman attempts to locate these lost fragments of vital essence and determine if it's safe for them to be brought back at this time. If so, the shaman will bring back the client's lost essence, or "soul parts". This work is often combined with power animal retrieval. This is incredibly beautiful work.

Sandra Ingerman (see her web site for books and seminars) developed this technique on her own, then discovered that it was essentially identical to what indigenous shamans had been doing for eons. She is now widely regarded as the foremost authority on soul retrieval. She has refined the technique over the years, in thousands of sessions, to the gentle and effective practice it is today.

If someone is low on personal power, or has suffered some soul loss, they are "open" for opportunistic spiritual intrusions to enter. Localized physical (or emotional) pain, with no particular physical reason, is a common symptom. This is sort-of like the raccoons moving into an unoccupied wing of a large house -- though they create quite a mess, they are not "evil" or malicious -- just in the wrong place. The shaman will, with the help of his or her helpers, find and "extract" these spiritual intrusions. They are usually returned to nature, where they should be. This work is often very theatrical and dramatic.
Similar to a spiritual intrusion, the spirit of a deceased person that didn't "go on to the light" can attach to someone. Usually these spirits are not malicious -- just confused. They are looking for a nice warm body to live in, like they used to. To the host, the symptoms will be things like a sudden change in personality, a change in desires, or addictive behavior. What is sometimes thought of as "demonic possession" is often just the fear carried by the possession being -- perhaps a frightened child -- being experienced by the host. The shaman will contact the possessing entity and bring it enough light and love that it will understand its situation. Then the shaman will help it to heal and go to the light.

We have experience with several different masters in this field -- Michael Harner of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, Brazilian Spiritists Carlos and Maria Lucia Sauer (incidentally, we do not know their current contact information), and Betsy Bergstrom.

In traditional cultures, shamans perform other (related) work as well:

this is where the shaman will attempt to get information for a client from the spirits -- by reading cards, tossing stones, or directly in a journey. We are familiar in our culture with the idea of going to a psychic for a "reading".
Weather Work:
in many traditions the shamans work to control the weather -- usually either stopping or starting the rain -- but sometimes wind and other aspects of the weather, such as "turning a hurricane". (While we have had some training and initiation in this, we do not do this kind of work.)
Healing the Dead:
one of the most important jobs of the shaman is to help people through the dying process, then help them afterwards to be sure they "cross over", or "go on to the light". In addition to the shaman's clients and their families, this sort of work is also done to clear "haunted" houses and land. Sometimes this work is called "psychopomp", which means to conduct the soul.
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