The Shamanic Path
What is Shamanism? One of the most seminal works on the subject, the 1951 classic ‘Shamanism’ by Mircea Eliade, is subtitled ‘Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy.’ It is this so-called ecstatic state that characterizes the techniques of shamanic practice. Shamanism is a practice or series of techniques that induces an alternate state of consciousness or non-ordinary reality within the practitioner. This state serves the practitioner in re-establishing his or her relationship with their spirit-self and universal spirit energy. What does this mean? It implies that everything we perceive is usually at a mundane physical level. Our material senses identify a tree or a stone or a bird for example but we fail to acknowledge the deeper aspects, the further energetic components of a tree, a stone or a bird for beneath that obvious physical facade lies a much deeper and universally connected spiritual identity. We are, as the saying goes, eternal spirit beings enjoying a temporary physical existence. We fail, however, to see beyond that initial facade, we fail to see past the face in our mirror, the view from our window or even the smiles of our loved ones. Yet, that spiritual inter-connectivity is an inherent, integral part of who we are. It is, in fact, our true identity. This perspective is the underlying basis of Shamanic practice and it is commonly known as Animism. Many and varied definitions of Animism exist from such beliefs as nature worship to the invoking of ancestral spirits and while these many definitions may be partially correct the definition I prefer is not seeing any differentiation between the physical world and the spirit world. In the Animistic world view virtually everything is spirit. Every tree, every rock, every blade of grass and drop of water is imbued with a spiritual presence. A common manifestation of this understanding may be found in the Sanskrit word Namaste. While in modern new age parlance the word is loosely used as a respectful greeting it’s true definition is ‘the spirit in me acknowledges the spirit in you.’ What a profound realization! This is then seeing beyond the physical manifestation to the core spiritual identity of everyone we meet. Extend that view outward to encompass all things and you have the Animistic perspective. So, if Animism is the essential view then Shamanism is the embodiment of that view. It is putting that view into practice.
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How that practice unfolds is as varied as the many individuals from many cultures who embark upon the path but some common generalities and similarities can be found because our ancient ancestors were all Shamanic practitioners. Artifacts that reveal a Shamanic world view have been unearthed in sites dating back at least 60,000 years making Shamanism the precursor of all the worlds many religious belief systems! It should therefore be no surprise that each and every one of us has an ancient inheritance to the Shamanic path. It is literally who we are as one tiny, interconnected spoke on a very big wheel that spans species, time and place. As energetic beings we are not bound by the limitations of place, time or even realms of existence. We can connect with others outside of those limitations through the power of our own states of consciousness and utilize these connections to raise our own awareness and in doing so be of greater service to others. One of the many techniques we use to achieve this state of non-ordinary reality or Shamanic consciousness is the use of trance. While trance may indeed be achieved through the proper use of plant medicine or psychotropics, doing so is not necessary. Unfortunately, in our modern quick fix, push button, instant gratification lifestyles it is all too common to expect our spiritual path to be somehow streamlined by external methods. The technique of repetitive drumming, however, is literally found within virtually every ancient Shamanic culture from Siberia to the Amazon and for good reason – it works. Many contemporary anthropologists and psychologists have studied numerous modern Shamanic cultures and compiled vast data and catalogued the results of this drumming technique on altering the consciousness. As a result there is now a plethora of information on Shamanic techniques so there is no need to go into depth on it in this introductory article.
In concluding, I see a tremendous merit in adopting Shamanic practice to help awaken and strengthen that all-inclusive Animistic perspective of the world around us, both seen and unseen. It is spiritual solidarity with all that is and as such instils within the practitioner a universal reverence for all our relations.