Shamanism is humanity’s oldest spiritual tradition, dating back some 35,000 years to the first signs of human consciousness. It is not a religion, but a spiritual technique – a visionary technique of journeying “outside of time” to the spirits for the purposes of healing and problem solving. This works for people of all varieties of religious and spiritual orientations or intellectual opinions about the nature of reality. The essence of shamanism is cross-cultural; that is, no one person or group has possessive rights or powers to utilize the concepts.
“Shamans are found in many cultures world wide, but the word shaman comes from the Tungus tribe of Siberia. A shaman is a man or woman who heals the spiritual aspect of illness: diagnosing and treating illness, divining information for the community, communicating and interacting with the spirit world, and often acting as a psychopomp, helping souls cross over to the other worlds.” (Ingerman, Medicine for the Earth, pg. 2)
Shamans typically contact the spirit world by entering into a trance state. The most common way to enter this state, is to use percussive sound (i.e., drum or rattle), and “ride” the sound waves into what Carlos Castaneda called non-ordinary reality. Non-ordinary reality is subdivided into three areas: Upper, Lower, and Middle Worlds. Sandra Ingerman and Michael Harner teach that the Upper and Lower Worlds are where the helping spirits are, while the Middle World is the spiritual component of our ordinary reality.
In the Lower World, the helping compassionate spirits usually present themselves as animals. The terrain is usually experienced as jungles, forests, seas, mountains: earthy type landscapes. The Upper World is usually experienced as a more ethereal place where the compassionate helping teachers usually present themselves in human form as deceased ancestors, religious leaders, or figures from history. The landscape maybe crystal cities, ancient civilizations, or simple clouds. The Middle World looks a lot like ordinary reality and this is where shamans do long distance healing work and look for lost objects.
Shamans work to heal the spiritual aspect of an illness. The healing may or may not effect emotional or physical pain. Shamans look for what is spiritually out of balance. Curing happens from what the spirits will teach the shaman and/or the client. The shaman’s power animal or teacher does the diagnosis.
Some types of general complaints and associated symptoms:
Loss of personal power – power animal has gone away and no new one has come to take its place. Symptoms: chronic types of illness, chronic depression, chronic suicidality, and chronic misfortune.
Loss of soul essence – soul essence is lost due to trauma. Part of the soul retreats into non-ordinary reality because it could not survive the pain of the trauma in ordinary reality. Symptoms: difficult time staying grounded; feeling numb, apathetic, or deadened; chronic depression, immune system weakness, chronically ill as child, gaps in memory, addictions, or abnormal difficulty moving on after divorce or death of a loved one.
Spiritual intrusion – intrusion comes into being from negative thought forms. If you send angry thought forms to someone else, it may manifest as an intrusion. An intrusion may also form by not expressing yourself, but instead, stuffing emotions. Symptoms: localized pain or illness in the human body.
Divination – client has questions that they would like spiritual guidance on. The first part of this process is forming the question. Non-ordinary reality is outside of time and space, so “where” and “when” questions usually aren’t productive. Next, the shaman may go on a journey on the client’s behalf, or the shaman may teach the client to journey on her/his own behalf to non-ordinary reality for answers from the helping spirits or teachers.
In each of the above examples (and any time a shaman works with a client) the shaman journeys to her/his power animal or teacher in non-ordinary reality for a diagnosis and help in bringing spiritual balance back to the client.
In our world today, there is a great longing inside of us for Divine contact. Many of us have turned away from traditional spiritual practices – searching for something that will light our inner flame. The shamanic journey is an experience of direct spiritual revelation. It can add depth and meaning to any spiritual practice by allowing hands on experience of the Divine.