When most people picture a shaman, they imagine an old, mysterious figure chanting or drumming by a fire – and yet contemporary shamans are still active, relevant and very much needed in today’s world.
In ancient times, shamans were the spiritual leaders and medicine men and women of the tribe who would travel between everyday consciousness and the spirit world to gather information for healing and empowerment. Many consider shamans to be the first physicians, diagnosticians, psychotherapists, religious functionaries, performing artists, and storytellers. The word shaman comes from Siberia and means “one who knows” or “one who sees in the dark” (the hidden realities), and widely refers to those who are medicine women/men, healers, and seers. The term “shaman” and “shamanic healer” are often used interchangeably.
Shamans believe that the basis of all problems – mental, emotional or physical, is a spiritual imbalance. A shaman works to restore balance and wholeness to the client by addressing the root cause of the problem. The techniques shamans use have withstood the test of time and are amazingly similar around the world, despite geographic and cultural differences among those practicing this mode of healing.
A shaman is a practitioner who has gained mastery of:
- Altered states of consciousness, possessing the ability to enter alternated states at will, and controlling themselves while moving in and out of those states.
- Mediating between the needs of the spirit world and those of the physical world in a way that can be understood and used by the client and community.
- Serving the needs of the community that cannot be met by practitioners of other disciplines, such as physicians, psychiatrists, priests, and leaders.
Nowadays, in non-indigenous cultures, shamanism is studied and practiced as a way of life. Following a shamanistic perspective, individuals seek to be in relationship with oneness, and with the spirit in all things. They seek to use information and guidance from non-ordinary reality to intentionally form their own life experience.
Just as in ancient times, contemporary people consult with modern day shamanic practitioners for practical and pragmatic solutions to problems in everyday life – from personal illness, professional challenges, or family discord to ancestral issues. People are finding their way to contemporary shamans for all types of health and life challenges, especially when they are not making satisfactory improvements with conventional approaches.
The most common reason clients seek out a shaman is that feel like they are “stuck” or “blocked” and they haven’t been able to resolve re-occurring issues through other modalities. Often clients report that they keep attracting the same situation or type of person over and over again. Many times, they feel “off” and can’t put their finger on the reason why.
Emotional & Mental Issues
- Feeling stuck, foggy, drained, blocked, ungrounded, frustrated or overwhelmed
- Sense of dread
- Physical pain
- Sudden weight gain/loss
- Disconnected from body
- Challenging family relationships
- Challenging/unfulfilling work, career or business
Shamans work to identify the seen and unseen energies at the root of the problem and then realign the energies to resolve the problem. With an understanding that we are both human and divine, experiencing multiple levels of reality, shamans work to harmonize the:
- Soul, and
Shamans work at all four levels, with the most focus on the spirit. Beyond knowing and understanding a problem or spiritual principle intellectually, shamans stress embodying oneness on all four levels.
Shamanic healing comes from oneness and transformation, not curing symptoms or fixing situations. From a shamanic perspective, “medicine” is anything that gives you a greater connection to spirit, heals the body, mind, or soul, or brings you more personal power, strength, and wisdom. It is a “way of life,” more than an antidote to symptoms. Medicine is not based in fighting or battling (such as “fighting cancer”) but in restoring what already exists – oneness and balance – as reflected by the natural world.
Many methods are used in shamanic healing, including:
- Working with spiritual guides, allies or power animals
- Calling in the four directions and four elements
- Shamanic journeying
- Tracking/stalking root cause of traumas & beliefs
- Soul retrieval
- Retrieval of a spiritual ally
- Removal of unwanted energies/cutting cords
- Soul remembering
- Ancestral work
- Past life work
- Psychopomp (helping the deceased to cross over into the Light)
- Dancing, drumming, chanting
- Herbs, feathers, crystals, rattles
- Medicine bag
- Mirror work
- Ceremony & ritual
- Vision quests
- Hands on healing
Shamans have also been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to between worlds.
There are many variations in shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism:
- Shamanism is a worldview based in oneness and deep connection to the divine in everything.
- All living beings are interconnected.
- Spirit(s) play important roles in human lives.
- The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the individual’s and community’s benefit.
- Shamans go into a trance or altered state by singing, dancing, taking entheogens, meditating and drumming.
- Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message-bearers, as well as representations of animal spirit guides.
- The shaman’s spirit leaves the body and enters into the supernatural world during certain tasks.
- Shamans can treat illnesses or sickness.
- Shamans are healers, psychics, and gurus who can diagnose and heal human suffering.
A shamanic healing session helps individuals break out of behaviors and patterns that keep them from reaching their wants and desires. Shamanic healing sessions are very successful where other techniques have failed. This is because the individual is working with the shaman and participating directly in their own healing work. They are letting go of the issues that are blocking them from moving forward in life. Shamanic healing sessions will:
- Enhance your ability to create desired life changes
- Increase your vitality and power
- Expand your sense of wholeness and well-being
- Give you greater ability to release addictions and maintain change
- Create a stronger connection to your spiritual source and soul purpose
- Strengthen your immune system
- Heal your emotional or physical pain
Every shaman has his or her own specialty. Some are skilled with understanding the mind and beliefs, clearing trauma or emotion, releasing physical pain, removing unwanted energies, communicating with the deceased, increasing personal power, or identifying how an individual connects to their power and Source.
Some make a distinction between a “shamanic healer” as a practitioner who uses shamanic techniques for healing, as opposed to a “shaman” from an indigenous culture.
Is shamanism a religion?
Shamanism is a method, practice and way of life, not a religion. It is a spiritual practice found in cultures around the world from ancient times up to the present day. Shamanism coexists with all religions and does not preclude or exclude any part of a religious faith. In Siberia, you’ll find shamanism coexisting with Buddhism and Lamaism, and in Japan with Buddhism. Shamanism has no hierarchy, no levels of authority, no ‘certifying’ agency or board. Shamanism has no Holy Scriptures or universal doctrine. Shamans’ practices coexist over millennia with varying cultures, systems of government, and organized religious practices.
Is shamanism compatible with modern medicine?
Yes, spiritual healing is complementary to modern medicine, therapy and training. Often it is the missing link that allows healing and recovery to rapidly progress.
The perspective on disease is different in shamanism than in the conventional medical view. In a shamanistic view,
- Similar symptoms or diseases do not stem from the same underlying root energetic problem.
- Community disharmony often manifests in individual illness.
- Any illness may have a significant underlying spiritual or energetic issue, regardless of the form in which that illness manifests – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or relational.
Shamanic healing is often part of a multi-pronged approach to an illness, and is fully compatible with both conventional medicine and other integrative treatments, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, and others.
Do all shamans use drugs or plants to alter their consciousness?
No. While some shamans are trained to use sacred plants in their healing practice, other shamans believe that you can access altered states of consciousness without them.
Do you have to be Native American to be a shaman?
No. Shamans are found in cultures all around the world – Siberia, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. You do not have to be Native American or indigenous to be a shaman.
How do you become a shaman?
Shamans are trained and come from lineages of shamans. Shamanism is often taught in a master-apprentice role, with the training sometimes taking many years. Shamanic training may also be facilitated in part by non-physical means; described as ‘gifts of knowing’ or ‘discernment.’
There are several ways that you can become a shaman. Some shamans are born into a family or culture that has a shamanic tradition and they practice within that tradition and culture. Other shamans come from a shamanic tradition, but act as a bridge between the tradition and modern Western world, often adding ceremonies and rituals that are not necessarily part of their indigenous culture. Still others are born into families or cultures that do not have a shamanic tradition. These individuals feel called by spirit to serve as a shaman and find a shamanic teacher to study with until they are trained and named a shaman.
In the Western world, there are some controversial “schools” that teach shamanic workshops and confer “certifications,” sometimes after a short course of study. Many shamans are wary of students and teachers who come out of these schools and call themselves “shamans.”
Ideally, the role of the shaman within a community is a sacred one. A shaman is an intermediary between the physical, energetic and the spiritual, often deeply involved in virtually every aspect of their community’s health and wellbeing. A community’s trusted shaman will be one with a strong track record of integrity, impeccable honesty, and efficacy.
Before working with a shaman, you should inquire about the length and depth of their training and their lineage.
How do I find a shamanic practitioner?
For individuals who live within an indigenous culture, shamanic practitioners are readily known and easily accessible. But for the majority of contemporary westerners, shamanic practitioners are not known. As shamans are called to their practices through direct spiritual initiation, there is not a certifying body to register practitioners. If you find a practitioner in your local community, ask friends and colleagues about their reputation. Then meet with the practitioner and ask how they were initiated and trained, as well as how they practice. Au Soleil Healing has wonderful shamanic healers that you can work with.
What happens during a shamanic healing session?
Each shaman has their own way of working. In general, sessions begin with a shaman inquiring about the “trigger” – the emotional or physical pain or life challenge. The shaman then shifts into a trance or meditative state and uses shamanic techniques to realign the clients’ energy. This may happen sitting or standing, with or without hands on healing and energywork. A shaman might also create a ceremony or ritual to assist in the process. The session usually concludes with the shamanic practitioner assessing the shift within the client.
Do you have to work with a shaman in person?
No. While many shamans do work in person, many are able to do long distance healing over the phone or internet.
How much time and money do I have to invest in shamanic healing?
There are a wide range of fees among shamanic practitioners, generally ranging from $50-250/hour in the Western world. Sometimes the issue is cleared and resolved in one session. Other issues need multiple sessions or follow up work to integrate the change into the client’s life.
Is there proof that shamanic healing works?
Because shamanic healing is individualized to each unique person and their illness, it does not lend itself readily to conventional research designs. Additionally, there has been little interest in, or financial support for, the scientific research of shamanic practices.
Thousands of years of experience have been the best documentation that shamanic approaches indeed work, or they would not have survived and been perpetuated. Most understanding in this area has come from the observations of cultural anthropologists. There has been a growing body of academic studies in the field since the 1950s. In recent years, some initial research efforts have begun, although they are still challenged by the design issues.
Shamanism is considered the oldest form of healing on the planet, dating back approximately thirty thousand years. It has been found in many indigenous cultures in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Central and Northern Asia, Eastern and Northern Europe and Africa. A shaman may fill one or more traditional roles within their community, including that of a medicine man, a spiritual intermediary, and often a sage counsel for his or her people.
It is generally accepted that the term, “shaman” originated from the Tungus tribes of the Siberian Tundra and essentially translates as, “one who knows” or “one who sees in the dark” (hidden realities). The word “shaman” has since been used in a generalized form since many indigenous cultures use words such as “Ayahuasceros,” “Curanderos,” or “Naguals.” Today, “shaman” has also become synonymous (some would argue erroneously) with a person of spiritual and/or healing abilities.
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