What is a Shaman and Shamanism?
The actual word, Shaman, comes from the medicine people of Siberia and has been widely adopted throughout the western cultures to describe someone who facilitates a coming into power and freedom, which is often referred to as healing, and which fully uncovers our core nature of love, compassion, and joy. Ideally, someone who practices shamanism has been trained in techniques and initiated in a way that allows them to safely and effectively mediate between the physical and non-physical worlds in order to bring about some desired change on all layers of our being: literal/physical, psycho-spiritual/mind, mythic, and essential.
While western medicine diagnoses or maps and intervenes only on the physical or psychological layers, the shaman engages the healing process on all four layers and preferably intervenes at the essential energetic layer and maps the new healed state at the mythic layer. So there are shamans who will stop the bleeding, set bones, prescribe herbs, and help change thoughts and beliefs, but then they will help empower you and help you to create more desirable experiences in the future, no longer repeating the same old patterns and wounds that you or your ancestors have experienced.
The shaman is a healer, a storyteller, a myth-maker, a wisdom keeper, a visionary, and a technician of the sacred mediating between the worlds.
She calls on all the forces of nature, both physical and non-physical to help her do her work. She brings balance back into any situation by being in balance and dialogue with nature herself. Because of her preparation and relationship with the forces of the universe, there is very little for her to actually do, she just has to be and hold a safe and non-judging space for the healing and visioning work to take place.
The shaman sees no separation of matter and spirit the way we do in the west and many eastern traditions. To the shaman, all matter is animated and there is nowhere that spirit is not. For example there is nothing more spiritual than biology the way it seeks more complex and beautiful forms.
The Work and Training of a Shaman
The shaman uses metaphor to describe the work, but in contrast to the way westerners use metaphor, the shaman knows that behind the metaphor is a real force that can be summoned and a process that can be engaged to make real changes in the physical and psycho-spiritual layers. An example of the use of metaphor is the four step process that I have learned from the Inka tradition through the Fourwinds Society, which follows:
- The Way of the Healer. This is represented by the serpent that teaches us to shed the way we hold the wounds of the past the way she sheds her skin, which is all at once. This makes us available to power and knowledge. Even western medicine has borrowed this metaphor with the serpents wound around a staff and sprouting wings. The shamanic process associated with this we refer to as the Illumination process, which is like and energetic enema that cleanses the chakras and luminous body and replaces the heavy energies with the light of our true nature. The forces that the shaman is connected via initiation rites in this step are a lineage of healers, or Hampe in Quechua, that are the Earthkeepers from the past that assist us in our healing process. The healer’s luminous body is also given rites of protection, seeing, and harmony with the organizing principles and archangels of the three worlds, subconscious, conscious, and superconscious.
- The Way of the Warrior. This is the way of the peaceful warrior represented by the jaguar who teaches us to leap beyond fear and violence and the old myths and stories that keep us bound to the same patterns that we and our ancestors have been repeating and that inform the way that we live and die. We clear ourselves of the way that death slowly stalks our spirit taking our power until we are more dead than alive. Instead we allow ourselves to be claimed by life and our own inherent power to create our own myths and follow our own footsteps, no longer needing to engage in battle, internally with ourselves, or externally. The shamanic processes associated with this step are the extraction process, cutting chords, and the death rites, which are really the life rites. The forces that the shaman is connected to are the lineage of the Daykeepers, or Pampamesayoq in Quechua, that are the bone setters, midwives, herbalists, and keepers of the calendars and stone altars such as Stonehenge.
- The Way of the Sage. This is the way of the ancient wisdom and the wisdom to come that is not only orally passed down but that we are able to remember directly. This step is represented by the hummingbird that teaches us to reclaim our true nature and passion for life. Here we learn to manifest, appreciate, and be unattached. We shed our identities and teachers so that we have nothing left to defend and can now be truly free to create and work for the joy of it, drinking the nectar of life all along the way. Here we learn to enjoy the journey and the process, even the contrast, and that the impossible can be made possible. This is where we stop having “spiritual experiences” because we are no long physical beings having a spiritual experience, but instead spiritual beings having a physical experience. We learn to master time and journey into the past and future to retrieve lost or compromised parts of our energy and change our perception and to nudge our destiny by re-aligning our energy with who we desire to become. We learn to keep a secret even from ourselves so that life remains exhilarating (much like you do when you go to a movie and purposely keep the secret from yourself that it is just a script with a director and actors so that you can get fully into the drama). And finally we learn to be invisible, to blend in with our village to remain free and safe. The shamanic processes associated with this step are the Soul Retrieval and Destiny Retrieval. The forces that the shaman is connected to are the lineage of Wisdomkeepers, or Altomesayoq in Quechua, who keep and share the wisdom teachings that come to us from the Source.
- The Way of the Visionary. This is represented by the Eagle and Condor who teach us to look at the big picture and be driven by a vision. We put the cart way before the horse and use our creative power to dream a world into being for the benefit of our children’s children. Here we come from a place of total stillness and unity consciousness and we dare to make the possible more probable by tracking our vision well into the future. The processes associated with this step are to acknowledge what we have identified with, dis-identified with, transcended, and ultimately included as Creator. And here we do a lot of shadow work as well to dig deep into the subconscious to that which may still be eluding us and where we are wasting energy in a secret battle. We do this shadow work to ensure that the dreaming the world into being is done without the resistance of our own hidden judgments and personal agendas. The forces that the shaman is connected to are the lineage of the Earthkeepers, or Kuraqaquyeq in Quechua, who are the archangels and guardians of our galaxy. Two additional rites have been brought forth in recent years and passed on to us by the Q’ero and they include the Starkeepers, or Maillku in Quechua, who are the stewards of the time to come, the next evolution of our species. This connection allows us to more easily process the contrasting events of our life at the essential layer instead of the physical or psychological so that our bodies actually react differently than before. And a final rite of initiation was just introduced in June 2006 by the Q’ero Laika for transmission from human to human and this is the Creator rites, which are called the Taitanchis Ranti in Quechua. And this connects us to the stewardship of all creation in the Universe. This allows us to more easily realize our true Godliness and role in the creation process.
Shamanism is as profound and powerful as it sounds and very practical and pragmatic.
The first shaman was the one who kept the fire burning in the village, then learned the migration patterns of the animals and the cycles of nature to better feed the village. That grew into the knowledge of plant medicines and anatomy and physiology, the storytelling and psychological work, and the journeying and dialogue with the non-physical worlds, to improve the quality of life of the villagers. At the same time, the shaman shows up with a sense of the poetry and love of life, a kind of love that is unconditional and open.
One of the greatest goals to a person of power, knowledge, and freedom is to live fully in the moment of now, to be fully present as opposed to preparing or waiting for the next experience to happen. I like to say that life is a series of moments, and you are either in them or not; and life is a series of experiences that you either ask for deliberately and consciously or by default.
You Too May Have Been Born a Shaman
Most people would think of shamans solely as those medicine people of the indigenous or primary cultures of the world living on the outer edge of some remote jungle, desert, or mountain village and born into a long line of healers, and unless that is your story, you cannot be a shaman. I held that belief for years and it kept me from realizing and fulfilling my destiny sooner rather than later, until I was in my thirties. The truth is that those are indeed the shamans/medicine people/healers of unbroken traditions and lineages going back as far as can be imagined, and thankfully are still around; some of who maintained the powerful teachings and techniques learned, practiced, and expanded upon over hundreds of thousands of years. And the very good news for our western cultures that live in villages of millions now is that we too are worthy and capable of being shamans if we so choose. I am one of several thousands of westerners who have made that choice and have taken the time and effort to become trained and initiated as a safe and effective shaman.
Shamanism has many forms and is generally associated with the healing techniques and worldview of the primary cultures of the Earth, the cultures that have survived the longest, and of which some remain largely untouched by western worldviews, mythologies, and techniques.
True shamanism can be defined as an open system that is non-hierarchical and un-institutionalized. The true shaman is non-judgmental, has nothing to defend, and sees no separation between spirit and matter, understanding that all of nature, all-that-is in the Universe is benignly supportive and is essentially only one Source of energy with multitudes of both physical and non-physical expressions [and what the non-shamanic perspectives call good or "godly", is the full connection and letting through of the one Source stream of energy, and what is called bad or "evil", is the disconnection, cutting off/blocking of the one Source energy, like a light switch in varying degrees where there is not an independent source of darkness].
The shaman is intimately connected with and makes use of all that is available on the Earth and beyond in a relationship that benefits all parties. The shaman lives life from the perspective of the co-creator (script writer/director), the conscious player or witness (actor), and the witness that has chosen to forget for the moment in order to enjoy the drama (audience), moving between each at will. Hence, the focus of shamanism is on the very practical attainment of getting more out of this life right here and right now. Whatever it is that brings the most enjoyment, fulfillment, exhilaration, and love of life; the result of which is expansion/growth of all that is. Many systems say that growth is the purpose of life, like a school that needs to be struggled through in order to graduate to a better place, whereas the shaman sees the purpose of life as simply joy, one big recess, and in the desire we have to continue to come back and play here, growth and graduation happens naturally and joyfully.
The true goals of the shamanic techniques are to obtain total freedom and power; where each individual obtains the level of freedom from any past or present influences on all levels of being in order to be deliberate, clear, and conscious about what she/he is asking the Universe to create in her/his experience, and, where she/he has the power/energy to remain clear and free regardless of external influences, if anything, their energy is the primary influence. Examples of these influences are: the energies of past wounds and traumas that are carried in the energy body/soul over lifetimes or from ancestors which then influence the mythologies we operate under and hence our dominant thoughts and beliefs that live in our psyche/minds; and, the influences of the people and events that we witness in our physical reality and who sometimes also influence us on the energetic, mythic, and psychic layers.
The shamans recognize that Creation is not done, and that the ultimate act of power and love is to participate in the creative process. As this becomes the practice of the person of power and knowledge, the idea of the victim-perpetrator-rescuer trap is transcended completely. The need for both external and internal battles then disappears and a world of peace, beauty, harmony, exhilaration, joy, and new levels of expansion/creation becomes the dominant collective experience.
The person who engages in the healing path of the true shaman is leading the way for the eventual and inevitable healing and evolution of the entire human species. A person can engage in the healing techniques of shamanism with the help of a trained and clear shaman to become a person of power and knowledge as described regardless of what they most enjoy being or doing for work. And, in some cases, that person discovers that they too would enjoy most doing the work of a shaman. In either case, because shamanism is an open system, one need not give up any work or belief system that serves them in order to engage in this ultimately practical and powerful work.
Shamans recognize that there are four layers to our existence, each one being informed by the next.
- The Literal physical reality, all of your experiences i.e. health, work, relationships, events, etc. in your current body/mind,
- The Psycho-spiritual, all of your thoughts and beliefs both conscious and unconscious, i.e. your dominant broadcasting/asking that creates/informs your literal experiences (layer 1.),
- The Mythic, all of the familial/ancestral, religious, cultural, archetypal, and personal imperatives that are largely unconscious and inform how we think and our habits of thought (layer 2.), i.e. the you shoulds and shouldn’ts, cans and can’ts, or since you are this sex, religion, family, these are your limitations, obstacles, or opportunities.
- The Essential energetic, who you really are even after this body is gone, i.e. your soul, aura and chakras, luminous energy body and wheels of light, etc., which when allowed to operate freely will process energies of events and experiences in the moment then let the heavy/toxic energies go into the Earth where they become mulched. This layer informs the rest of the layers and has been with us for lifetimes, and/or carries the energies of our ancestors through the morphogenetic field of the DNA. Just like in the physical body, if we didn’t eliminate all the remains of the processed energy from our food into the toilet where it eventually becomes fertilizer, we would become toxic and physically ill, and likewise when we don’t let the heavy toxic energies from processed traumas, etc. go to the earth, they build up in our energy body and influence us in ways we would rather avoid. Most people have been taught to hold onto those energies, i.e. don’t express your anger, don’t forget and forgive, don’t cry, always be afraid; instead of getting angry in the moment, grieving in the moment, using fear in the moment, and then letting it go. It is this layer that becomes visible when you are completely clear of past energies and in your power, i.e. a clean slate or being like children again, reborn, and hence you would be painted with a halo around your head; people would notice your vibrant glow. And instead of being informed by what happened to you 20 years ago, or 20 minutes ago, or 20 lifetimes ago, you are being informed by what you are wanting to be, do, or have next, and it is completely your choice.
Many of the wonderful modern western and eastern and even energy medicine modalities intervene primarily at the 1st and 2nd layers whether they use a physical technology or an energy force. For example, you can get surgery, massage, acupuncture, reiki, thetahealing, change your relationships, work out and eat well, change your job or relationships, and so on to affect change on the first layer, the literal physical. And/or you can think positive, use affirmations, read all the books, meditate, pray, use all forms of psychotherapy, hypnosis, “the secret”, thetahealing, and so on to affect change at the 2nd layer, the psycho-spiritual. And much progress can be made by all this work on the outer 2 layers, and can even eventually work its way down to heal the mythic and energetic as well with enough time and effort. So, an ailment can be cured, and/or the symptoms, i.e. pain, can be eliminated, and a tumor can be removed very quickly, or a psychosis medicated, or an addiction avoided by abstinence and support, but if not addressed at the essential energetic blueprint and mythic layers, they have a tendency to re-express later or in different forms. Also, many forms of psychic healing or reading and consultation are often just reading/diagnosing the essential energetic and/or mythic, and psycho-spiritual aspects, helping you to understand on a deep level, but may not be changing it or empowering you to change it on all levels quickly.
Shamans avoid diagnosis, which can actually further lock in the problem and make it worse. The idea is to just clear the energy once and for all and stay away from the story. All of these modalities and medicines have their strengths and effectiveness for any given person and time, and, are part of an integral approach to healing; and a shaman will encourage you to continue with what is most effective and necessary in the moment.
Shamans know that change can be far quicker and gentler if first engaged at the source, the Essential energetic and the mythic. For example, it’s much easier to heal a heart condition on the energetic before it becomes a full-blown heart attack; or a relationship condition before it becomes the 4th marriage, etc. Then engage in the work of the mythic, and whatever modalities of the first 2 layers you find most effective and the results are much easier to come by. It’s a matter of putting the horse before the cart. In the non-shamanic modalities, much of the healing work is based on the idea that if we can understand it, then we can heal it, but the shamans say heal it first, then understand it later. And shamans also say, if you’re having a heart attack, or got bit by a dog, then by all means get to the hospital and treat it right away. Then come to the shaman to find out why your heart stopped or why you crossed paths with the frightened or rabid dog, and do the healing necessary to make sure you don’t have that experience again in this life or the next.
The Inka or medicine person who glows with the light of the Sun is an individual who has identified himself as a luminous being. They feel the entire Earth from the inside. They are peoples of the Earth, and they walk with beauty on the Earth. The shamans are individuals who have had a mystical experience where they can perceive the totalities of life and understand the cycles of life. If you want to heal the world, you change the vision you hold for the world, to call forth the highest possibilities for the entire Earth.
The luminous body holds the template of our possibilities, of an imminent quantum leap to who we will become 10,000 years from now. We have the ability and the knowledge to uncoil new strands in our DNA, allowing us to grow new bodies of light, and releasing us from the grip of our genetic inheritance. The awakened luminous body begins to inform our physical bodies, erasing the imprints of trauma and disease. We can begin to heal differently, age differently, and experience new levels of wellness and awareness. Weaving new psycho-spiritual, neurological, and genetic patterns of being, we summon forth our essential destiny as individuals, and as a planet.
- From the DVD “Inka Shamanism & Healing” by Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D. and The Four Winds Society, Inc.
To the shaman, spirit permeates all of creation, and the totality of the universe is alive. The task of the shaman is to establish a dialog with the sacred, and all of the luminous threads that interconnect us to life and to the cosmos. The shaman does this through his Mesa, comprised of a collection of power objects that are connected by a luminous thread to a sacred mountain, a river, a canyon, or an ancient place of power. The shaman relates to his mesa as a living embodiment and direct reflection of her own personal journey and power on the medicine path. In ceremony, the shaman calls upon the spirits of the mountains and the essential powers of nature, to acquire and attitude of invisibility and unquestioning love. This Ayni, or proper relationship, is used to bring order and balance to a person and to the world.
- From the DVD “The Shaman’s Altar” by Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D. and The Four Winds Society, Inc.
Video Summary of Modern Shamans and the People Seeing Them