WHAT IS SHAMANISM

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THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD SHAMANISM IS A BIT COMPLICATED, and at times, a bit fraught.

Throughout the history of humankind, every tribe has had their healer or healers, and each culture has their own term for these healers.

They have been known as curanderos, pajés, strega, mães de santo, and countless other names.

The term shaman originated from an indigenous tribe in Siberia but was not used globally until modern times.

Shaman was the term for healer within this specific Siberian tribe and their culture.

In recent history, however, the term shamanism has been used by Western anthropologists to describe a collection of ceremonial techniques seen in the ritual practices of several indigenous tribes across the globe, and highlights the common elements seen across many of these cultures.

It shows us that similar techniques were discovered by medicine people all over the world, people who did not have contact with one another and nonetheless arrived at strikingly similar practices.

The value in recognizing these near-universal elements is in realizing that spirit has been calling to all of us in similar ways, throughout the history of humankind.

As different medicine people dedicated themselves to connecting with non-ordinary reality and uncovering how our helping spirits want to communicate with us, they came back with surprisingly similar answers.

These methodologies are part of all our heritages, and this ancestral knowledge is encoded in our DNA.

The popularity of the words shaman and shamanism is due in great part to the work of the late Michael Harner, an anthropologist who became a shamanic practitioner through years of visiting and studying with various indigenous tribes across the world.

As he observed common elements from culture to culture, the concept of universal (or semi-universal) shamanic practices emerged, giving form to Modern Shamanism.

More specifically, he observed the use of altered states to enter non-ordinary reality and forge an intentional working relationship with helping spirits.

Harner himself referred to this as Core Shamanism.

But it is extremely important to understand that most indigenous practitioners do not call themselves shamans, instead using the terms specific to their own culture.

In this book, we will not be exploring the practices or rites of a specific culture, but rather, a system of techniques any of us can use to bring healing into our lives.

For the sake of simplicity, I will be using the terms shamanism and shamanic practice, but I urge readers to understand this is a simplification and that the study of these practices warrants an understanding of cultural context.

As we have discussed, Shamanism refers to a system of common elements seen across many cultures.

This means Shamanism is not a religion, and it is non-dogmatic and uncodified.

Shamanism will not tell you which deity to worship because Shamanism is not exclusive to a single cosmology.

It is actually quite the opposite, since shamanic practices are found within various cosmologies around the world, which supports the idea of a source that is older and more expansive than modern concepts of divinity.

Shamanism is experiential, and completely personal. This practice is a system of direct revelation, meaning that it is not ritual performed by others and watched by spectators, but an experience every practitioner engages in.

All shamanic practitioners engage in ritual and ceremony as they develop a working, intimate relationship with their helping spirits.

The techniques of Shamanism connect us to Spirit or the Source, in whatever way you define it.

These methodologies center on rituals that engage one or more of the physical senses as a way to trigger alpha states and allow the practitioner to go on shamanic journeys.

The use of these trance states is central to shamanic practice, and something that we are all capable of.

It is important to note that entering trance or altered states is something that is an innate part of every person and can be achieved through many different methods.

Within the shamanic framework, altered states are used for the specific purpose of connecting with helping spirits.

Shamanic practices can take many different forms across cultures.

As an example, Reiki is a Japanese healing system based on the deliberate and directed use of ki, a Japanese term for vital energy.

Reiki has been described as Japanese Shamanism, a concept studied and expanded by Jim PathFinder Ewing.

Ewing discusses the method through which Reiki was devised as shamanic in nature.

Dr. Mikao Usui, the creator of Reiki, received the Reiki symbols during a period of reclusion, a common initiatory process in some indigenous practices.

Grace Walsh, a direct student of Ewing’s and one of my teachers, explains the term shaman as, “one who sees in the dark.”

Reiki allows us to engage in healing, of ourselves and others, beyond physical ailments, reaching both the emotional and spiritual levels.

When healing with Reiki, we are stepping outside of ordinary reality to see beyond physical trauma, seeing what lies “in the dark.”

Reiki also embodies the concept of hollow bone, discussed later in this book, where practitioners act as conduits for ki.

In my native Brazil, we have indigenous groups who still practice their ancestral ceremonies and live according to their ancient traditions.

They have developed their own contextual practices, such as using plant and animal poisons found in their environment for healing rites and the expansion of consciousness.

In the Tupi-Guarani cultures, the medicine folks are pajés.

We also have Candomblé, a cultural spiritual system that was born out of the African practices brought over by slaves and evolved within the context of the land and spirits of Brazil.

What all these different cultural systems and practices have in common is that they emphasize a connection to what exists beyond ordinary reality, accessing this connection, and doing so from a first-person, direct revelation perspective