by Ross Bishop
People are curious about Shamanism. Although the term is becoming more widely recognized, there is still confusion about exactly what it is. Shamanism is not a cultural or religious phenomenon. It reaches beyond acculturation into the core of the individual regardless of a person's background, culture, training or beliefs.
No country or culture has a corner on shamanism. There is no "true" shamanism but rather each culture's interpretation of what true spirituality is. That is one of the reasons shamanism has been successfully practiced for 20,000 years (or more) in vastly different cultures all over the planet. You don't remain vital for that long if you are not meeting some essential human need.
(I am writing in generalities here, so I am going to paint with a rather wide brush, but if you have specific questions, I would be happy to respond to them.)
First, shaman are many things, but most of what shaman do is to guide individuals through the process of their own healing. By healing I do not mean the Western approach of fixing a failed body, but rather a much broader and deeper process that goes to the underlying causes of physical, emotional, psychic or social dysfunction.
If your heart fails or your liver fails, those are weaknesses in the physical body that are reacting to stress that has been ignored for a long time. And while it is important to treat the dysfunctional organ, shaman believe that unless the underlying cause is also addressed, the difficulties will just continue.
While the Western view, as I said, is that we become ill because of a failure of the body, the shaman sees illness as a warning, and a serious one, that a person has not been paying attention to the disharmonies in his or her life. This is also true, although to a lesser extent, of our daily emotional pain. To the shaman, this is God's way of asking someone to pay attention to something they have been reluctant to look at.
At the beginning stages, a shaman will ask you to make a "sacrifice" by giving up your dysfunctional behaviors. And that presents a dilemma. None of us see ourselves very clearly. We see through the distorted lens of our beliefs, which allows us to avoid dealing with what we believe is at our core, unworthiness being a typical example. And although there is no way you can be unworthy, as long as you hold that belief, you must compensate for your feelings of "inadequacy" through your behavior.
Sacrificing our compensating behaviors puts us face to face with our feelings of inadequacy, and brings to the surface our core values so that we can validate them and dispel those which are not true. And if you are to truly heal, this is what you must do. It takes a great deal of courage and a real commitment to find the truth to do that. Most people would rather just take a pill. (If you would like to know more about this process I have written an article: The Mystery of Life
Complicating the healing process are the "dark" forces that reside in the human shadow. The shadow is that part of the human psyche where feelings like insecurity, beliefs and the dark forces that protect them, reside. Misunderstood as various forms of evil, these dark forces are the protective "entities" that powerless children call in when they face an overwhelming difficulty, such as an abusive parent, for example. The dark forces seek to protect a fragile child from a dangerous environment, and they can be quite powerful! And because they are successful (at a certain level), the child will carry these protective, but disruptive influences, into adulthood.
The shadow is where we shaman do most of our work. In some cultures the shaman will journey into the shadow realm for you and then guide you through the steps you need to take in order to heal. Where tribal people will follow the guidance of their shaman, Westerners are more independent and have a need to "understand" why they are being guided to do certain things. Years ago I adopted the practice of teaching my clients how to journey (with guidance) so that they could see what needed to be done for themselves.
I am frequently asked about "protection" from dark forces. If you are susceptible to the energies of someone else, it is because something in you is vulnerable to those forces via your own beliefs. Protection is a nice concept, but it's a largely useless idea because the vulnerability is within you. It is an inside job as it were, and it must be dealt with as such.
Shaman use many healing tools. In addition to journeying, what we know as music originated from the shaman's chant, a way to directly reach into the human shadow. Think about "soul music," or "the blues," etc. What we know as dance, theater and art all began with shamanic healing rituals, another way to access and work directly with the dark forces in the shadow. The Hero's Journey of myth and legend is a metaphor for the struggle with one's inner "dragon." Jewelry came from the shamanic practice of using the healing energy of stones and crystals to salve disruptive energies. In more of a direct line, \ pharmacology and medicine came from the shaman's healing and herbal medicine.
Although they have become secularized, the universal appeal of the arts is in the "magic" of each of these forms to speak to the soul. What we know today as medicine, religion and each of the arts all evolved directly from thousands of years of shamanic healing practice. However, shaman are not responsible for politics, lawyers, the military or bankers - we left those things to the tribal chiefs.
"The secret to happiness is freedom...
And the secret to freedom is courage."
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