‘Shaman’ has become a shorthand term in the west. Taken from the word ‘Saman’ meaning ‘healer’ in the Tungus language and culture of Siberia.
Some are in resistance to this term in Western technocracies, believing that what this word represents can only exist in indigenous societies. Ironically this belief is in contradiction to the essence of what the word ‘Shaman’ and concept of ‘Shamanism’ has come to mean. In Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, the word ‘Chaman’ is also being used as shorthand by holders of long lineages of healers. Likewise this term is being used by different peoples on Turtle Island (commonly referred to as North America). Despite it’s wide usage, shaman is not restrained by it’s origins. It’s etymology, though curious and of course originally appropriated by Dutch colonialists, is not it’s essence.
In it’s essence Shamanism, which for this article I’ll use interchangeably with Animism, is the view that all of life and all experiences and expressions of life are sacred, accepted and interconnected.
It is a non-dualistic practice, it does not reject things by listing them as essentially positive or negative but sees the power of all things in ones approach. Death and dying is a perfectly accepted rite of passage and a process to be revered rather than avoided by any means necessary. Where there is preventable death within reason then death is prevented, where there is inevitable, the suffering is eased and dying is respected.
Rocks are considered to be life just as much as plants and animals. Mountains vibrate with ore and crystal, as well as soil and sand. All of creation has roles and identities in the order of the universe just as much our own family of humans. Rivers carry life giving water from the mountains to the plains and are not forgotten or mistreated but honoured and respected. Just as our own family can teach us, guide us, protect and nourish us, so can our extended family of the plant, animal, mineral and spirit realms.
In animist practice once we are weaned from our natal mother and have begun to walk, we are then introduced to our collective Mother Earth, she who feeds, houses and clothes us. In this time of early childhood we are already in the psyche state of animism, as studied by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. The difference in cultures where our interconnectedness is revered is that animism isn’t a stage of childhood that ends in adolescence (when we form, strengthen and test the ego), but an initiation into the mechanisms of life, which introduces the reverence carried through our life journey.
The role of the ‘Shaman’ or Healer, Animist practitioner or what they are known as in their context, is to mediate this interconnection. They are seeking to reinstate you in right-relationship in the world. They mediate these connections through dialogues with material beings and non-material essences of beings. As you speak to the healer before you they likely on some plane of experience are interacting with all the composite energies that have created you in this moment. If they are working with you to alleviate a dis-ease you are experiencing they are likely negotiating with the conflicting elements of your being. The elements of your being are comprised of your parents, your diet, your social groups, your footprint on the planet, your soul and memories and many other things. The helping spirits of rivers and mountains, food and medicine plants, the energies of animals and more are enlisted to rebalance you in a comfortable state of interconnectedness, rather than a rebellious or disconnected one.
In my own initiatory experiences the word ‘Shaman’ was given to me as a shorthand for my conscience engagement with the Great Game of Creation. A passport to awareness in Non-Ordinary Reality. Through initiation I was taught the infinite power of Forgiveness, Compassion, Kindness and Courage. Following these lessons (which are continuing) my engagement with the Game of Life increased and I absorbed deeper understanding of the greater cycles and smaller cycles of Life and my own places within them. In this knowing one can consciously Way-find through life toward specific manifestations, engaging in ecstasy and embracing lessons along the way.
The shaman knows that nothing comes into our lives without a lesson. We do not vanish dis-ease, ailments or emotional pain, but simply identify it’s essence and speak with it until it’s expression leaves the realm of the material, emotional and spiritual body. Shamanism does not dismiss pain, but instead dialogues with anguish as a teacher and seeks to understand the teaching for the being or place experiencing dis-ease. It’s understood that a pain can be invited by the soul to teach the person how better to nurture the body, mind or community. The shaman will invite the form that is causing the pain to clarify it’s purpose so the pain can leave. The quicker the lesson is committed to, the less likely the pain is to return.
The shaman is a universal archetype, as suffering and healing are universal. Those who are called to this work will often appear as distant or disengaged with constructed reality. In honouring the Web of Life often we must remove ourselves from that which is not in harmony in order to restore balance. The outsider element to this role is the act of the Shaman holding the space of the bridge between Spirit and Sensory.
In animism this pain that removes the person from the community is a divine intervention to allow both the individual and the community to heal from the a disharmonious connection. In the case of a depression, the desire to be alone is honoured while the individual is supported to heal their identity. The individual is not isolated completely as there is an awareness that their is a soul sickness. If the individual requests the healer will retrieve their soul from a trauma, or if the sickness is an initiatory one the individual is encouraged to begin a learning journey of self-healing. Likewise in Western technocracy many see ‘disability’ as being something to avoid. The animist approach is that those born with, or who develop different capacity are welcome teachers to their community about developing different types of cohesion, co-operation, patience and compassion.
The soul is interested not only in your body, but the body of Earth. Pay attention and you will notice that the holistic actions being requested of those with dis-ease are often those that nourish the natural world. ‘Eat less meat and dairy’ ‘Refrain from gluten’, ‘Spend time barefoot in nature’. Often the client will need to not only repair a relationship to a person, but also to a non-human being, either by eliminating that plant or animal from their diet or by giving offerings. Obesity, in the Web of Life, is an illness of mindless ‘cultivation’ of plants and animals, which leads to mindless consumption, which brings about the karma of the suffering the beings who were mistreated down the chain, to those consuming (and their progeny). In the Web of Life, our bodies are the Universe, made of all the elements, with their origins in the stars.
Why Shamanism/Animism is the Original State
It is a state of universal experience; what is in the Macrocosm is in the Microcosm. As Above, So Below. As the many archaeologists and anthropologists have noted Animism (or Shamanism) is the original ‘religion’ (a word which means ‘to bond’). Therefore Animism is our first bond to the spiritual experience historically, and also our first perceptive experience of the material in early childhood.
In creating Eden one could say we each are borne into an animated, fully interative and living world. That our Eden lasts as long as we are allowed our ‘imaginary friends’ and our bond with the natural material world. In this world, all the material is sacred and nuanced. We ‘fall’ with the arrival of the myth of seperation, the myth of objectivity or ‘Other’. We are introduced to the notion of non-feeling beings. Objects and in contemporary society animals and plant and elemental beings are percevied as such also.
This is where goal oriented ‘rationalism’ is introduced at the cost of connectedness. This can be our first major trauma in this life (birth/ our first day at school/ our first separation from our mothers) where we are not enabled to re-establish our place in the web (as what is necessary to re-establish it is not in the interest of the goal oriented society) we gradually fall further away from it.
When the shaman retrieves the soul fragments of a person that were lost through difficult experiences, the soul is being brought back to their Eden. Thus the individual becomes further empowered to return to their state of Eden and connection in the Web of Life. What does this look like?
This looks like an individual honouring their talents and gifts, honouring those they love, all their relations and the living land and elements that support them. The individual is supported by Spirit to realise their reason for being, be it Motherhood, Leadership, Stewardship, Creation, Connection or any of the other myriad expressions of the soul.
Being truly oneself and honouring Creation by doing so IS the return to Paradise.
As the source of all religions, the animist, to borrow the Australian Aboriginal term, ‘Dreamtime’ of early childhood, and early humanity, is the essential roots of our humanity. The lessons and connections learned in these personal and collective epochs are to be nurtured and protected, not discarded. In seeking your souls purpose, ask the child within you what she (/he) truly believes in, for herself and for the world. Nurture that, for it is the key to your souls journey forged in the time before you knew the rights and wrongs of duality.
What is needed for real thriving and real healing of society and the planet is for us to remember ourselves and remember that we are ALL indigenous to the Earth, we are ALL connected to Her and one another, we all crawl, walk, swim, slither, and stand beneath Father Sky and we are responsible for right relationships to our true selves to cultivate right relationship to the illusion of other also. These relationships are not for other cultures, they are universal human experiences that we all can reawaken as we reawaken and explore to potential of our own souls.
Animism, through the practice of sacredness revives the value of all experience. The more we can value the original cycles of life in ourselves and our society, the more the living earth can thrive.