The shaman, as the sole mediator between humanity and the universe of spirits and omens, originated in the very early stages of human cultural development. The hunter-gatherer stage of society endured for hundreds of thousands of years. As societies began to move towards settled agriculture (this being only about 10,000 years ago) then the shamans began to differentiate into a developing priesthood.
The hunter-gatherer society is a closely-knit culture, geared towards the least possible change both within and across generations. This is a stark contrast to modern society, where the pace of social change is seemingly outstripping our capacity to assimilate it. As Alvin Toffler put it, many of us are suffering from future shock.
This naturally poses a problem for anyone seeking to emulate the shaman in our society. All lines of tradition have been broken, and in the
West, we now have the ability to enter any world-view at will and imprint its symbolism on our minds. If you work at it long enough, then the deeper regions of the mind will ‘speak’ to you in terms of a particular set of symbols. There is a wide range of belief systems which we can adopt with varying degrees of success, and the criteria seems to be that you adopt something that fires your imagination to greater heights.
Our idea of spiritual progress has become synonymous with the idea that as we change ourselves, we change our society as a whole. This idea is a direct antithesis to that of the hunter-gatherer, where any changes which threaten the continuity of tradition are viewed with great suspicion.