The spiritual tradition of shamanism has existed on every continent of the world for more than 40,000 years and continues to exist today. Thanks to the work of anthropologists such as Mircea Eliade and Michael Harner, we know that the ancient shamans practiced everywhere and used techniques that were remarkably similar all over the world.
Today, despite the grievous loss of shamanic knowledge due to the eradication of many of the world’s indigenous cultures, we still have access to our original shamanic roots. Many of our contemporary spiritual and healing practices evolved directly from this earlier knowledge. It is significant for us all to reflect upon the fact that we each have direct ancestral ties to one or more of the world’s shamanic traditions.
The practice of “core shamanism” – those techniques that are used throughout the world’s shamanic cultures – is a means by which we can reawaken and revitalize our own culture. We as individuals, and as members of the entire world community – all of our relations – stand to benefit greatly from the resurrection and modern practice of our ancient shamanic heritage.
Shamanism is a spirituality that reveres everything, including our planet, Earth, as alive. In the shamanic world view, everything that exists is interrelated with everything else. We are all related, not just to each other as families and humans, but also to all things in nature – trees, rocks, animals and so forth. We are all alive beings, privileged to live upon our relative, the Earth.
Shamanism is a tradition of personal and planetary health, empowerment, relatedness, and spiritual growth. It recognizes that we live in a Universe of both ordinary and non-ordinary realities, and that these worlds are vitally connected to the well-being of all.
People living in cultures with a shamanic tradition understand these basic precepts of shamanism, and when experiencing a state of disharmony in their lives – such as illness or misfortune – can turn to a shaman for healing and spiritual guidance. Effort on behalf of another is a great part of shamanism. When asked, a shaman will often journey to the non-ordinary worlds of spirit to obtain information and healing wisdom for use in our ordinary world and reality.
It is the journey, or “flight of the soul” that distinguishes a shaman from other healers or mystics. A shaman will enter an “ecstatic” or trance like state, usually induced by a steady drumbeat, or other rhythmic sound. In some cultures this trance was induced by the use of psychotropic plants, which were considered to have very powerful spirits. Once in this altered state of consciousness, a shaman will travel into non-ordinary reality, exploring mythical landscapes, and seeking those helping spirits that can provide the healing and wisdom that is needed. The shaman also acts as psychopomp, helping the spirits of the dead to cross over from this world to the next.
Besides its uses for healing and divination, shamanism is also a powerful means for learning first hand the oneness and sacredness of all things. Each journey is a merging into that oneness of the universe, a union with timeless wisdom and compassion that can have profound effects on your life. It is described by Mircea Eliade as a state of “ecstasy”. Part of why our world is in such a precarious condition right now is that we have been separated for so long from this source of wisdom that we no longer remember that all things are connected. We are so far removed from nature and from spirit, it is no wonder that we suffer from so much stress, depression and illness.
In a world that is struggling to survive our abuses and excesses, we need now more than ever to have people working to heal the rift between ourselves and nature. Working shamanically is an effective and profound way to reconnect with nature, with the power and wisdom found in the spiritual world, and to learn to live in harmony with all things and all beings on the Planet.
The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, founded by Dr. Michael Harner, teaches workshops in shamanism all over the world. These courses range from the Basic workshop, which introduces the techniques of core shamanism and is the pre-requisite for all other workshops, to various advanced healing and divination techniques. There is also a three year training program, which provides the opportunity to work over an extended period of time with a committed group of people exploring long lost knowledge.
- Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
Princeton University Press, 1972
- The Way of the Shaman
Harper San Francisco, 1980
- Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self
Harper San Francisco, 1991
© 1998 David Corbin and Nan Moss