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Friday, November 1, 2013

What is Shamanism?

According to the Encyclopedia of Shamanism, a shaman is a practitioner who has developed the mastery of "accessing altered states of consciousness" and "mediating between the needs of the spirit world and those of the physical world in a way that can be understood by the community ...." Shamanism is the intentional effort to acquire and nurture ongoing relationships with personal helping spirits by journeying into realms where the spirits dwell. The reason for developing personal relationships with spirit helpers is to gain wisdom, healing techniques, and other vital information that can benefit the community. It is this intimate relationship with spirit and the use of trance states that distinguishes the shaman from other practitioners.

Shamanism represents a universal conceptual framework found among indigenous tribal humans. It includes the belief that the natural world has two aspects: ordinary everyday awareness, formed by our habitual behaviors, patterns of belief, social norms, and cultural conditioning, and a second non-ordinary awareness accessed through altered states, or trance, induced by shamanic practices such as repetitive drumming. This second-order awareness can be developed over time or appear all at once, but once it is discerned the world is never the same. According to shamanic theory, the ordinary and non-ordinary worlds interact continuously, and a shamanic practitioner can gain knowledge about how to alter ordinary reality by taking direct action in the non-ordinary aspect of the world.

Shamans employ methods for altering consciousness so that they can send their souls into the non-ordinary reality of the spirits who become their friends, guides, guardians, instructors, and allies. These helping spirits might be the spirits of nature, animals, plants, the elements, ancestors, gods, goddesses, or teachers from various religious traditions. The act of sending one's soul into the spirit world is called the soul flight or shamanic journey, and it allows the journeyer to view life and life's problems from a detached, spiritual perspective, not easily achieved in a state of ordinary consciousness.

The shaman's trance is an intentionally induced state of ecstasy. Shamanic trance is characterized by its flexibility, ranging from a light diagnostic state, to spirit flight, and to full embodiment by spirit. Shamans use intention and discipline to control the nature, depth, and qualities of their trance states. The shaman may progress through a range of trance states until they reach the level that is necessary for healing to occur.

The capacity to enter a range of trance states is a natural manifestation of human consciousness. The ability to enter trance states makes us a human - not a shaman. What makes shamans unique is their mastery over an otherwise normal human trait. It requires training, practice, and devotion to master any expressive art. Shamans master the art of ecstasy to see the true nature of the universe.

Copyright © 2013 by Michael Drake

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