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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Shamanism

By Kristy McCaffrey

Shamanism is a term for a range of beliefs and practices related to communication with the spirit world. Shamans—sometimes referred to as “medicine men” or “witch doctors”—are the keepers of ancient techniques used to achieve and maintain well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities. They are considered intermediaries between the human world and the spirit worlds, entering a trance-like state during a ritual to practice divination and healing. A shaman moves between an ordinary state of consciousness and a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Shamanic methods are strikingly similar all over the world, and are believed to have been in use for tens of thousands of years.

A rite of passage commonly initiates the training of a shaman. This could include a physical illness or a psychological crisis, pushing them to the brink of death. This prompts a crossing over into the underworld and a deep understanding of sickness, which can then be used to heal others suffering the same maladies. They can also be called by dreams or signs.

Shamans frequently work with spirit guides while in the spirit world. They help the shaman navigate the non-ordinary realms. Shamans glean information through dreams and visions, and through direct dialogue with spirits of all kinds: human, animal, and inanimate (such as rocks, trees, and plants). Spirits help to remove excess negative energies, often from sources beyond the injured person.

Shamanite (Black Calcite) is a high vibration stone of the ancients.
Native American tribes considered it a powerful protective talisman.

Shamans engage in soul retrieval, returning lost parts of the human soul from wherever they may have gone. A portion of the soul is free to leave the body, and will often do so when dreaming; soul pieces will also flee during traumatic events as a way of protection. In this instance, the soul piece will not return of its own accord and a shaman must intervene to assist in the recovery.

Rock carvings would often mark places of power.
This symbol signified a shamanic portal.

All forms of shamanism share several common beliefs: spirits exist and play important roles in individual lives and human society; shamans can communicate with the spirit world; spirits can be benevolent or malevolent; shamans can treat sickness caused by malevolent spirits; the shaman can employ trance-inducing techniques to incite visionary ecstasy and go on vision quests; the shaman’s spirit can leave the body to enter the supernatural world to search for answers; the shaman evokes animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers; the shaman can tell the future, scry, throw bones/runes, and perform other varied forms of divination.

Mongolian Shaman wearing a ritual gown and holding
a drum with the image of a spirit helper.
Photo courtesy of National Museum of Finland, circa 1909.

A shaman enters a supernatural realm to bring guidance to misguided souls, and to alleviate illnesses frequently caused by foreign elements in a person’s spirit.

Shaman with spirit helpers.


21 comments:

  1. I found this article so intriguing. I did not know many of these things about the Native American Shaman and never knew a person experienced a near death to become a Shaman. Wow. Why is it so many of us are so drawn to these spiritual leaders and healers? To a Native American, a Shaman must have seemed magical. I wish I was magical. A wonderful article, Kristy.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. It is fascinating. I think many people mistake shamanism as a religion, and it wasn't. It was a way of entering altered states. Indigenous peoples used this as a way to learn things and to survive because of it.

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    2. I have to agree with Sarah. I am sure they did seem magical! And I learned something today. I did not realize the extent of the importance of a Shaman.

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  2. Oh my Kristy I love this. I am so intrigued by anything having to do with Indian culture. I did a lot of research on the Sioux Indians and some of their rituals were banned by the US government. I do believe there is something to be said to anything that has been around for 10s of thousands of years.

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    1. Barb,
      I agree. It's easy as an outsider to misunderstand these techniques, but they're accessible to any of us. I do think certain people had a knack for it -- those near deaths probably helped with that -- so they came to is easier. Thanks for stopping by!!

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  3. Great article. Have you read the book Mircea Eliade wrote on Chamanism? It's very interesting and fascinating. Got it from a cousin of mine who was a diplomat in France for a while - I have it in French. I needed info for my historical novel and it has a big section on chamanisn in Central Asia. Here's a little blurb:

    Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy is a historical study of the different forms of shamanism around the world written by the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade. It was first published in France by Librarie Payot under the French title of Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l'extase in 1951. The book was subsequently translated into English by Willard R. Trask and published by Princeton University Press in 1964.

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    1. Liette,
      Thanks for the head-up on that book. I've heard of it, but haven't read it. I'm definitely going to have to get a copy!

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  4. Kristy, This was such an interesting post. I've done a bit of research into these rituals, but nothing like you've done. Thank you for sharing this!

    --Kirsten

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    1. Kirsten,
      I've stumbled through some shamanic rituals on my own. That's not likely the way they recommend, but I've had some interesting experiences.

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  5. Great article. I must look further into Shamanism. Like the others, I didn't know about the traumatic events that make a person a shaman, although it makes perfect sense now I know. I know more about the sympathetic magic aspects.

    Funny thing, my turtle tattoo is similar to the portal symbol you included.

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    1. Alison,
      I find tattoos so interesting. In marking yourself, you activate some of the magic of that talisman. The symbols that are often marked at ancient sites are often very similar and usually have a shamanic reference to them. (I remember seeing them in Ireland, and of course they are in the Southwest U.S. too).

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  6. Kristy,

    So many interesting tidbits in your post today--thank you. My limited foray into the world of shamanism began with reading Carlos Castaneda's books 20 years ago. I know there is a lot of controversy regarding the authenticity of his *research* but wow!! what a mind-opening reading adventure it was for me. I return to his books every few years and get something new each time I reread.

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    1. Kaye,
      I've heard of the Castaneda books as well, but haven't had a chance to read them. A big modern supporter of shamanism is Michael Harner, and I'm a big fan of Robert Moss, who also works in a more current version of shamanism. Some of his stuff is out there too, but I'm riveted by it.

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  7. The rituals and beliefs of indigenous peoples is endlessly fascinating. Thank you for enlarging that knowledge. Doris

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  8. This was great. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing this information with us. I have heard about shamans in general, read novels with shamans as characters, but have not delved into the specifics that you detail in this post.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

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    1. There's much out there. Thanks for your thoughts, Robyn. :-)

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  9. Kristy, sorry I'm late. This is soooo interesting. So much of this I didn't know. A wonderful post, and I really did enjoy it.
    Cheryl

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    1. Thanks Cheryl. I'm glad everyone enjoyed it!!

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