Basic Shamanic Questions
The following questions are written as an introduction to shamanizing in the Full Circle style. In no way do the following ideas represent shamanizing in general or any particular culture.
The word “shaman” is often used to refer to a person in a particular community who is chosen by the spirit world to be a spiritual healer (a soul doctor) for the group and its members. (The origin of the word “shaman” is discussed below) The shaman is one who is able to communicate with the spirits, enter trance at will and inspire ecstatic healing in others. These abilities come from the spirit world, but they are honed by the shamanic initiate through practice.
The Tao Te Ching describes the master (shaman) as “A man or woman whose life is in perfect harmony with the way things are. This is not an idea; it is a reality. The master (shaman) has mastered Nature; not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it.” (Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell pg. ix)
Stalking Wolf, the master shaman teacher in the books by Tom Brown Jr, describes the shaman in the following way ” A shaman was one who has transcended the very religion that brought him to the final path of enlightenment. The shaman needs no religious toys or crutches, no ceremony, custom, gaudy religious dogmas or cathedrals. The shaman needs nothing but the purity of her/his own spiritual mind.” He goes on to say, “There is no right or wrong religion or belief, for they all lead up the mountain of spiritual enlightenment. However, at one point, far up the mountain, all of these paths come together and fuse into one well-defined trail. This is the path of the shaman, where all come together as one, where all speak a common tongue, and religious beliefs and differences are cast aside. It is this path that we should all seek.” (Awakening Spirits by Tom Brown Jr. pg. 205)
Joseph Campbell’s description completely describes my experience.
“The shaman is a person, male or female, who has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him (her) totally inward. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it.” (Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 86)
Quynn describes the shaman as “One who has learned to become one with her Nature, in doing this she becomes a master of ecstasy, a magic maker, a heart healer. One who speaks the “truth” to help people understand their Nature.”
SHAMANA is a name for the force that flows through All That Is.
A SHAMANA is One who learns how to move with this flow.
A SHAMANA is a modern One who is called to the path of the ancient One who has had many names, one of which is SHAMAN.
A SHAMANA is a spirit world traveler, artist and Earth honoring activist. SHAMANA is the gathering of individuals called to this path.
(The word Shamana is often used by ISA practitioners to describe their role)
The shamanic arts explore modern applications and benefits (emotional, mental, physical and spiritual) of consciously voyaging into the wilderness of one’s mind for the purposes of healing, increasing communication skills and inspiring arts. The Shamanic Arts are PRACTICE.
Shamans are ordinary people, just like everyone else. They happen to have an ability to be able to connect with the spirit world and enter trance, and they dedicate themselves to honing this gift. The shaman is a member of a community who participates in the daily life activities of the group. The old saying goes “before enlightenment, chop wood and haul water. After enlightenment, chop wood and haul water.” In the book Trances, anthropologist Audrey Butt wrote of Akawaio shamans in the Amazon, “There is no wonder the Akawaio shaman is sometimes called eneogei,”the one who perceives”. Yet there is nothing surprising about shamans: they are just like ordinary people. Seeing them hunting each day and fishing, teaching the young how to survive in the forest, or even on a drinking spree with their pals, you would never suspect their skill in the art of trance.” (Trances by Stewart Wavell, Audrey Butt and Nina Epton pg. 38)
NO! Each culture is different. There are similarities between shamanic cultures, such as Nature connection, belief in the power of the Ancestors and the spirits, and herbal awareness. One similarity is that in many old-ways cultures the shaman was the physician of the group, expected to diagnose and treat sickness. Keep in mind that throughout time people have believed differently about the causes of illness. In our modern culture, people generally believe that sickness is caused by disease. A physical ailment. In pre-technological cultures they most often believed that illness was caused by bad magic. A curse, spell or sorcerer. As our culture uses doctors, shamanic cultures used(s) shamans. Only one culture originally called their “Shamans” ‘Shamans’. There are many words for this sacred role.
For the most part, however, the way in which each culture used its shamans was different. One shaman might have a gift for prophecy, another might be proficient at connecting with the dead. The details were different, but the purpose was the same, to heal.
Anthropologists say that the word “shaman” comes from the Tungus people of Siberia. I have also heard that “shaman” originally comes from the word “saman” meaning “exalted”. Keep in mind, however, that this explanation came from anthropologists 50-100 years ago (when much of the original writing and observations of shamanic culture were brought to light in the western mind). Many of them were white christian men with certain biases against non-christian lifestyle.
If “shaman” does come from the word “saman” (exalted), it describes a state of consciousness, not a role. The whole idea of Shaman culture is to be able to connect with the Divine through ecstasy.
In recent times the word “shaman” has been adopted by many people as the generic term for Nature centered, ecstasy based, spirituality. I use this word because many people are familiar with it but please remember, “shaman” is a word describing one group of people, there are thousands of words that have been used, and can be used, to describe these emerging humans.
There are still a few cultures around the world that still live their shamanic nature, but for the most part, the onset of religions, especially christianity, have been the downfall of shamanic culture all over the world.
All human cultures began as Nature, or Animist, cultures. Humans lived with Nature and all of Its spirits for thousands of years. Salvation religions, those that believe that humans need to be “saved” from the sins and sadness of life, emerged between 500BC and 700AD, and proceeded to spread throughout the known world. Throughout history, when Nature honoring folks crossed paths with religious folks, it meant that the people who honored the ways of Nature would not be allowed to practice their sacred practices anymore.
In the past, many good christian folks felt that Nature people needed to be saved from their “heathen” lives, and so they made them convert to the new religion, or made them suffer the consequences. This happened all over the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
So, there are still master shamans tucked away in corners around the planet, but for the most part, any culture that has been touched by modern economics and religion, their shamans and the magical world that goes with them and they have faded away from being a prominent part of the culture.
In many areas of the world (Africa, Europe and The Americas), Nature worship and shaman culture was purposefully wiped out through torture, slavery and death. Many that lived through the “conquest” were eventually reprogrammed with the new religion. christianity is the King in this category.
Good news is here, however. Our Nature honoring ancestors are coming out of a time when their roots of Nature and Magic were horribly repressed, but now we may begin to reopen that part of our collective soul without fear of being hurt or killed. Our shamanic soul is not dead, it has merely gone dormant until the danger of death and torture have gone out of fashion.
It is now time for the New Shamans to resurface and learn how to connect with our Magic once again so they can learn to assist in the resurrection of our species‚ collective shamanic consciousness.
Shamanism is different from the main religions of the world because the “Creator” in shamanism, is found in the world around us, in Nature/All That Is. Not some God-type human. Often the word “animism” is also used to describe shamanistic cultures. To read more about Animism, click here.
To honor Nature, we don’t need doctrines, a priest, or a monk, or even a shaman to pray for us. We were each born with an inherent connection to the Divine, and Nature is our connection. Please understand that there is a difference between Nature and culture. Humans have always come up with ways to live with Nature. They have had different languages, prayers and gods, and invariably, they end up saying that their way is best way. This, in my mind, is culture. There are, however, truths. Truths that cut through all religious beliefs and cultures. These truths are in Nature.
Once a person opens their mind and heart to the truth that the world around them, Nature, can speak directly to them, then they don’t need an interpreter anymore. Religions tend to want people to believe that the figurehead is needed to assure communication, or even worse, that the figurehead is the only one who can communicate. They seem to ignore the fact that each person on the planet is connected to Nature. The point of religion (from the Latin “to tie again”) is to support each person in their practice of letting the Nature outside of them talk to, and guide, the Nature inside of them.
Humans have become so self-absorbed that we have forgotten the great power that we live in every day. This power is the power of the Earth and all that grows on her. Nature is what provides for us, not humans.
Any religion that puts the prosperity of their human followers above the well-being of Nature is not in alignment with the Prime Directive. They are part of the problem. Nature and all of it’s spirits are what will remain after religions fall away.
We have borrowed this term from Star Trek-The Next Generation. In the case of shamanism the Prime Directive is to honor and enhance the plants and animals. When we enhance the lives of the plants and animals around us, we enhance our own lives. We live in the Sixth Extinction, only the sixth time in the eons of time that such large numbers of plants and animals are going extinct. This time humans are contributing to the extinction going on around us. Because of this, the most important thing for any of us to do in our lives is to leave our world better than we found it.
Eligibility varies from group to group but there are themes. Generally, there is a “calling” that happens in some way. A person could be called to follow the path of the shaman in two typical ways, to come from a family of shamans, or to have a spontaneous calling such as a near-death experience, a sickness or, for the Akawaio people of the Amazon, epilepsy is a sign of a possible shaman. There are many people who could be eligible to “try out” to be a shaman but this does not mean that all who attempt to do so will be successful. “Just as it is probably wise in our society to warn a person not to become a doctor unless she/he is willing to be totally dedicated to the profession, it is not advised to become a shaman apprentice unless she/he is prepared to submit her/his mind to the vacillating and demanding needs of the spirit world. To achieve a receptive condition- to learn how to perceive- requires training, technique and discipline.” (Trances pgs 41-42)
Anthropologists document that many shamans of traditional Nature cultures have been men. This does not, however, mean that women could not be shamans. Traditionally, women have had children, which, of course, took most of their time. Many times a woman would become a shaman after childrearing was complete.
Women make excellent shamans. The intuitive nature of shamanic ability perfectly suits the intuitive strength of women. Before the switch from the worship of the Goddess to the God, women were powerful shamans. In our modern times, women are the perfect candidates to learn how to be shamans, especially women who choose not to have children, or have already raised them.
Each community teaches their shaman apprentices differently but there are two ways that seem most consistent. One is to learn how to shamanize from a master shaman. The other is to learn from the spirit world, the ghosts of dead shamans, the trees etc..
Shamanizing is a serious profession, and it takes time to learn. For those of us that did not grow up with a spiritual connection to Nature, we must learn how to heal our hearts, and then learn to think and feel the world as a part of Nature. This is the foundation upon which shamanic training can rest. This takes time. I would say, from my experience, that a person interested in shamanizing must be willing to dedicate at least five years of their life to the unfolding of their shamanic wings. Learning to become a master, one who is at one with their Nature, takes a lifetime.
Wicca is one spiritual tradition based on an agricultural pagan culture of pre-christian northern Europe. Shamanas come from cultures all over the world. Most of them were migratory or hunter/cultivator cultures, not agriculturally-based farmers. Settling down in permanent villages and farming was the beginning of the shift away from shamanic culture.
Many shamanic cultures have believed that there are sacred medicinal plants that help people move into the spirit world. Some have used Peyote, Tobacco, Cannibis, Mushrooms, Hayauasca, and others. These plants are used in a sacred manner, not recreationally. Not all shamanas or shamanic cultures, however, use these helpers to connect with the spirits.
Modern people who are connected with the Earth know that there is a difference between man-made “drugs” like cocaine, prozac, meth and heroin that are used to escape the pain of the world, and the sacred plants that help people see the multidimensional quality of the Universe and our souls. Be careful, however, to not become dependent on any substance. Thinking that you cannot do something without the helper is the beginning of power loss.
At one point I was told by my spirit helpers, “certain plants help humans part the veil between the everyday reality and the spirit world, but the point is to see what is possible and then learn how to get there on your own.”
A shaman is one who needs no helpers but her mind to pass into the spirit world.
Animism is the understanding that everything is “alive”. The rock, the tree, the cloud and the moon all have a spirit, an energy, that we can communicate with, if we believe that we can. Animism is the original, worldwide religion. Since every human culture lived together with Nature for thousands, even millions, of years, every human is an Animist at heart.
When we use this word, we mean the Force That Runs Through All Things, as in “The Force” of Star Wars, The Tao of the Taoist Chinese, that which created the Universe and all of us in it. Magic is the force that is constantly creating, and we have to ability to read It, to learn to understand It, to feel It in our lives.
Urban shamanism is part of the modern evolution of old shamanic practices. Our tribal ancestors lived close to Nature, therefore, all their symbolism related to the plants, trees and animals. The world around them was alive and it guided them in their daily lives. This is what they knew.
In modern times, most people live in urban or suburban environments. The most important job of modern shamans is to be spokespeople for the plants and animals, which are disappearing everyday. To be able to do this, they need to be well versed in the ways of Nature, however, Spirit and the power of Earth can speak to us anywhere, anyhow. We can get messages from a magazine just as easily as from a tree. Once a person understands that the world is alive, including the world of urban consciousness, then messages and guidance can be heard, no matter where you are. The awakening of our spiritual eyes, ears and heart reconnect us with the Nature that is around us, ready to guide us in every moment.
Shamanism is evolving for modern humans. You are a tribe of One. Wherever you are, this is the center of your Universe. Learn to understand how It speaks to you.
Full Circle Shamanism is the form of shamanizing that ISA practices. Every culture has a creation myth. These myths tell of their people’s beginning and how the ancestors learned the spiritual laws of the land.
Every culture, in its beginning, had to learn the ways that worked. They had to learn which plants could be eaten, how to build, how to pray and who to pray to. This took time. At some point, however, they figured out, through experience, what did work. They then passed this knowledge to their children, and eventually, these practices became “the way we do things”.
Those who practice “Full Circle” Shamanism are those of the first generation in their family line to remember and live out their shamanic ancestry. While we channel, and honor our ancestor’s ways, it is also time for finding our new shamanic ways. The old ways, for the most part, have been lost. In these times we are called to remember what our ancestors did, and then find new ways “to do things” from our reviving shamanic hearts. In this time, we are coming “full circle”.
Shamanic culture is where we came from, each one of us. Shamanism is important now because in the last thousand years more and more people around the world have turned their backs on Nature, on our host, the Earth. Not only do we not honor it anymore, we are actually poisoning it with our choices. If Earth is poisoned, we are poisoned. I believe that reconnecting with our collective shamanic soul, the part of us that is at one with the cycles of Nature, is the only hope that we, as a human species, have to not make our home completely toxic and barren of the diversity of life on this planet.
Peter Russell, author of The Global Brain describes our situation this way, “If we postulate that the entire biosphere of Earth has evolved as a single living system, in which all the numerous subsystems play diverse and mutually dependent roles, then humanity, a subsystem of this larger planetary system, cannot be separated from it or treated in isolation. What then might be our function in relationship to Gaia (the living Earth)?
One possible response to this question suggests that humanity is like some vast nervous system, a global brain in which each of us are the individual nerve cells. The second, more pessimistic response supposes that we could be like some kind of planetary cancer…
Modern civilization does indeed seem to be eating its way across the surface of the planet, consuming in decades, resources that Gaia herself inherited billions of years ago, and threatening the biological fabric that took millennia to create. Large forests essential to the ecosystem are looking moth eaten, animal species are being hunted out of existence, lakes and rivers are turning sour, and large areas of the planet are being laid barren by mining and the spread of concrete. Indeed, an aerial photograph of almost any large metropolis, with its sprawling suburbs, is very reminiscent of the way some cancers grow in the human body. If we are to fulfill our role as a part of the planetary brain, our malignant behavior must be stopped. To bring this about, we will need to change, in the most radical way, our attitudes toward ourselves, others, and the planet as a whole.”
Later in his book, he says that there are a number of parallels between the way a malignant growth develops in the human being, eventually destroying the body on which it is ultimately dependent, and the way in which humanity appears to be eating its way indiscriminately across the surface of the planet, disrupting and possibly destroying its planetary host.”In malignant tissue the individual cells cease to function as part of the larger organism. They feed and reproduce themselves at the expense of the rest of the body. They are, in a sense, egocentric cells.
The reason why a particular cell becomes cancerous is that the genetic code in the nucleus of the cell is in some way disturbed or interfered with and it stops acting in synergy with the system as a whole.” That which ties the individual back to the system as a whole is the awareness of our oneness with our common source, with Nature. (The Global Brain by Peter Russell pgs. 31 & 158)
Shamanic connection, and service, to the Earth and the Oneness Of All Things is essential to us being able to tie together again the individual will with the cycles of Nature.
The Institute for the Shamanic Arts offers a knowledgeable path that is not defined by one cultural approach to shamanism. It is a path of Nature, Spirit, and intuition. In this time of accelerated personal and planetary awakening, we are, more than ever, aware of the infinite number of ways to Spirit. The Institute for the Shamanic Arts was founded to be a stage for each student to find their unique spiritual voice and then to find an outlet for that voice in the world.
Shaman World is here to help you reconnect with your spirit world, in your own unique way. “We live in a world whose voice we can no longer hear. When we describe what goes on around and within us, we come up with a picture of something inanimate that can be manipulated and is the same for all. This is the technological world view, and it undoubtedly has brought us many things. But we have also lost something, the experiences of a living world that responds to individual needs. For all the advantages that our science has brought us, we have lost the language through which the world can speak to us, the language of Nature and intuition.
We cannot go back to living in the pretechnological world, but we can seek out something of that lost language and translate it into our own experience.” (The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Divination by Dr. Stephen Karcher)
We were each born with a shamanic soul, the part of us that knows how to interact and participate with the magic that always flows through the world. This magic can guide us, communicate with us, and help us heal. This magic is most easily expressed through Nature, intuition, signs, symbols and dreams. For many of us, this way of interacting with the world has been consciously repressed and then forgotten. It is time to remember.
The mission of Shaman World is to help you learn how to reconnect with your inner and outer magic, realize blocks and/or patterns that hinder your innate connection to your inner guidance and gain confidence in your ability to let your heart be your most important spiritual teacher.
The path of shamanic practice is long, and intricate. Here are a few suggestions.
1) Read all the books/sites about shamans, shamanizing and shamanic culture that you can find. You can go to a library, look on the web, and go to lectures/public events. This does not have to cost you any money.
2) Explore your abilities and heal what is holding you back. You must heal your pain to become a shamanic practitioner. There are a number of ways to do this. One suggestion is to go to ‘At Home Study’ to learn how to explore the world of the shamanic journey.
3) When and if you find yourself in Tucson, Arizona, come to one of the workshops and circles offered by The Institute for the Shamanic Arts (click here to see schedule).
4) Another option is to do a web search for ‘shamans’ and your town to see if there is someone in your area.
If you feel that you have been called to the path of the shamana, it will ask you to grow and expand in ways that may seem difficult, but it is an honorable path. If you make it through the initiations, congratulations, you will then be ready to give yourself back to your community.
Thank you for your interest in Shamanism. Peace.