The Shamanic Way
What is the shamanic way? The word shaman comes from the Tungus language, a tribe from Siberia. Shamanism has since been used to describe the way of living and being of indigenous peoples and their spiritual practices. Within these communities, there are many other words that are used to describe the shamanic way or shaman. Shamanism can be found today in varying forms as well as throughout history, regardless of place and culture. In this way it is universal.
Connection and Relationship
At the centre of this universal wisdom and way of being, is that everything is connected, to everything. That it is the quality of those relationships that determines our awareness of how connected everything is.
Our ancestors were more connected to their natural environment than we are today. Life depended on humans being in meaningful relationships with the seasons, rhythms and cycles of nature and place. Not just for survival but to give meaning and be in balance. For all life to be harmonious with each other, with ourselves too. It was known and still is, that life is more enjoyable when we are. This wisdom was gathered over thousands of years of human experience and connectedness to the cosmos as a whole.
It is a delusion therefore, to be believe we are separate.
Ancient to Modern
For at least 40-60,000 years we can document some of these shamanic ways from rock art from all continents of the globe. Within indigenous tribes throughout the world, their heritage and traditions sustain their own ways in which these connections were forged and developed. providing a rich tapestry of our human cultural ways.
Shamanism is still relevant today. What it is to be human at its essence hasn’t changed. What has changed all too often, are our relationships with our environment, the pace of life and our overall disconnection to how everything is related.
Ritual and Ceremony
Ceremony and ritual were and still are intrinsic in how traditions are formed, held and eventually passed on. They gave context to the feelings and meaning as our ancestors encountered all life. Creating ways of healing and integrating the body, mind and spirit or life force, as well as providing wisdom through direct experience. Such understandings were often portrayed through artistic forms and within sacred geometric structures such as circles, wheels and spirals.
Our ancestors knew the importance of passing on this wisdom and so developed initiations. A rites of passage marks where we are in life and gives significance to these times. Such ceremonies, like a Vision Quest or Fast, form part of a sort of map. To acknowledge where we are in life and importantly to know roughly how to move on. Such frameworks were filled with ritual, experiences, pilgrimages and ceremonies. They supported and expanded self awareness and therefore consciousness. Initiation was and still is as equally beneficial to the community as it is to the individual. As a consequence the whole community validated, participated and witnessed the rituals and ceremonies appropriately.
Who is a Shaman?
She or he is a medicine man or woman or the spiritual guide of a community. The word shaman has become more widely spread since the 19th century. It is a person who is indigenous to the land upon which they work and, they can work solely within a specific tradition. The shaman/medicine woman, was and still is a conduit between the world that we sense through our physical senses and the world that exists within the realm of our sixth sense, or the unknown. They are often referred to as a walker between worlds, they perceive the different realms. Their role was to consensually commune with this ‘otherworld’, as it is known by the Celtic peoples. By being in relationship with the unknown, healing, teachings and information beneficial for all the community and the environment can be conveyed.
Journeying to the Unknown
Medicine men and women within different traditions still use different methods to journey to these places. Ecstatic dances like the twirling dervishes within the Sufi tradition or the songs sung by the those following Seidr, the Norse traditions of Northern Europe. Sometimes these ways were passed down within families or people felt called to participate. Yet as a community everyone took ownership of their own connections to nature and to Spirit too, even if they themselves were not stepping into the role of medicine woman/man. Dance and song in community are some of these ways. Being able to journey is actually within all of us. We find some ways seemingly easier than others. Often it is a case of re-membering and therefore re-minding ourselves how to. These ecstatic states can bring about changes as to how we perceive the world and ourselves. Encountering the unknown happens in life all the time. A Medicine Walk in nature with intention to encounter our own sometimes unknown internal workings or landscape, is one form that is easily accessible to all.
Guiding – Eldering – Midwifing
Consciously participating in shamanic experiences allows us to come to the powerful place of creation. Such experiences can assist us to make good choices in life. To own our lives and to live softly on the earth, with respect and love.
In order to learn these ways and be comfortable in discovering your own ways, it is good and necessary to be guided. Shamanic training is therefore not a one off experience and is best integrated through the guidance of others who have done it before.
Within all traditions there has always been a passing on of the knowledge, meaning that in order to ‘journey’ we need to be shown and held by others as we gain experience. The elders of communities were often the ones that passed on such wisdom and knowledge. The term midwife is often used to describe the role of the guide or elder when people come to the ancient ways. Changing the way we are in the world is likened to giving birth. As midwife they guide, assists and suggest, as the work is done by the initiate, the seeker themselves.