By Colleen Deatsman and Paul Bowersox
Copyright © 2009
Though shamanism is the oldest living path of spirituality and healing, many people have never heard of it, or don’t understand what it is. Shamanism is not merely a practice or a set of methodologies, it is a way of living and being in the world that is rich in tradition, eclecticism, and mysticism. It is not a religion. Shamanism is not an ancient archaic art – it is a living power path. It is currently alive in many countries where it often co-exists, blends with, and complements at least one religion, including the major world religions of Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It is practical, not dogmatic, nor does it have a specific set of rules to follow. Shamanism is interactive, experiential, creative, and in constant dynamic change, based on what works in each unique set of circumstances, not any particular protocol. Shamanism is based in animism. Animism is the understanding that all things are living and are a soul: trees, animals, this magazine, the chair you are sitting in, and you and I.
The term “Shaman” has been adapted from the Tungus people of Siberia, meaning “one who sees in the dark”. This name denotes the ability of the shaman to “see” energy, but shamans not only see energy with their vision, they feel, sense and experience energy using all aspects of their being – physical, emotional, mental, energetic, and spiritual. The work of the shaman is to harness the power of this energy for the benefit of themselves and the people, by acting as the bridge between the energy-based, Spirit Otherworlds and the physical middle world. Using techniques such as journeying, the shaman travels outside of space and time to seek information and harness energy for balance and wholeness for many benefits, including diagnosing and treating illness. They are often called “seers” or “knowers” because of this ability to journey into non-ordinary reality and experience information and energy first-hand.
Shamanism represents the most widespread and ancient methodological system of awareness and mind-body healing known to humanity. Shamans are the visionaries, healers, counselors and psychologists of their communities. They are the medicine people that look out for the well-being of the entire tribe, clan or community, as well as providing individual treatment. Studying shamanism and learning basic journeying techniques does not make one a shaman. To become a shaman requires a deep, undeniable internal calling, intense self-exploration, initiations, and a lifetime dedication to study, training, apprenticing, experiencing, healing, and practicing. It is no easy undertaking and one that few ever consider. However, learning to use shamanic journeys and techniques for personal use is accessible and powerfully healing and enlightening for many people. We all have a natural ability to live from and express our soul-self and to connect with Spirit and the energy of the Otherworlds.
In shamanism there are three worlds: the middle world, the lower world, and the upper world. The middle world is the world in which we live that has both physical and spiritual aspects. It is both the ordinary and the non-ordinary worlds overlapped. It is the world of duality, balance and integration. The upper and lower worlds are places of power where we directly access guidance and empowerment. The lower and upper worlds are non-ordinary worlds that have nothing to do with heaven or hell. These spiritual worlds are referred to as the Otherworlds or spirit realms. These Otherworlds exist within and around all of us, just outside of our daily perceptions. They are the “places” that shamans and journeyers experience and can be accessed through portals, gateways, or tunnels.
Shamans consciously choose to live in two different worlds at the same time. They have one foot here in the everyday ordinary physical world and one foot in the non-ordinary Otherworlds. The fact is, we all live in these two different worlds, but are commonly not aware of the non-ordinary, less visible one. The world that we are most aware of is the world of telephones, cars, airplanes, stress, work, taxi-ing children, paying bills, responsibilities, loves, hobbies and worldly comforts. It is the world of our everyday life.
But there is another world that intermingles and overlaps the everyday world. This world does not exist in some other place, but is right beside us, just outside of our usual perceptions. Because we must hone our perceptions to connect with this subtle world, it seems separate, when in reality it is the undercurrent of the world that we are familiar with.
We often think of non-ordinary reality as the land of mysterious miracles and the paranormal, in which only the wild-eyed few who have ESP can maneuver. Not true. Shamans are ordinary people trained to enter the non-ordinary world to bring its benefits to the aid of the everyday world. We all have the innate ability to do this. Much of the art, music, and wisdom that we enjoy in our daily lives comes from ordinary people who know the power, beauty and ecstasy of the non-ordinary world, even though they may not travel there consciously.
The world of non-ordinary reality is the world of the energy, mystery, and magic that created our world and holds it together by threads of an interconnected web that is the Spirit that moves in all things, referred to by many traditions as The Great Web of Life. Everything is alive with this soul-essence that is both the source of life and the giver of life and vitality to everything everywhere. Through the simple techniques of journeying and performing ceremony and ritual, the veils that separate the worlds are lifted and the Web can be seen, sensed, experienced and accessed, and the Helping Spirits can be contacted. It is by entering this world of non-ordinary reality that shamans tap into the infinite life force energy that heals, creates miracles and reveals wisdom.
A shaman or journeyer enters a trance state in order to access the Otherworlds. This ecstatic state is commonly termed the shamanic state of consciousness (SSC) and/or non-ordinary reality (NOR). This state of deep awareness allows the journeyer to place the conscious, critical, left-brained mind at rest while exploring the realms of vast possibility in the Otherworlds. The trance-state used by shamans and journeyers is the theta state of brain wave activity, a state that is the close to sleep. Thus, many shamans are called “dreamers” or are said to be “dreaming” the journey. This state feels similar to daydreaming though much, much deeper. The shamanic trance is often entered into with the assistance of monotonous rhythmic drumming, rattling, singing or movement. Once the shaman enters this altered state of consciousness, they journey to meet with their Helping Spirits and fulfill the intention of the journey whether it be for growth, guidance or healing for personal use or on behalf of the community or a client. Helping Spirits are ambassadors of the Great Web, and may appear as energy or may take the form of Power Animals or Totems, Angels, Religious Deities, Mythological Beings, or Ascended Spirit Masters, to name but a few.
We are a part of this Great Web of Life. The omnipotent force of the Web is the source of your life and the giver of the energy that you need to live your life. This life force energy within you is your soul essence and constitutes your soul-self. Anytime your connection to your soul-self or the Web of Life is compromised, an imbalance and disharmony is created. If the imbalance continues, it eventually develops into an issue, a symptom or a syndrome. This is your wake-up call. It is your inner wisdom sending a message to your consciousness that something is out of balance. If you don’t get the message, or if you choose to ignore the message, it will eventually develop into a chronic condition. To put an end to this spiraling decline, you must become aware, listen to yourself, and express your soul-self, connecting with The Great Web of Life.
Within your soul-self lives your inner wisdom, inner healer, inner guide and inner peace. Becoming aware of, and connected to these aspects of yourself is integral to living a life full of energy, vitality, passion, purpose, health and wisdom. You can achieve this by living shamanism. Learning how to journey, and journeying on a regular basis, will help you get to know yourself and these important inner aspects for self-healing and self-fulfillment. Bringing this energy and information into your everyday life in real, practical ways makes subtle shifts in your senses, perceptions, experiences, and life. In doing so, you learn how to energize and heal yourself by becoming centered in your universe. You learn how to find your center space within your soul, body, mind, emotions, energy field, life, the Web of Life, the world, and beyond.
Shamanism connects us with the powerful forces of energy, spirit and our own soul-self by using our thinking machinery, wits and senses, awareness skills, and fact-finding abilities to shift our focus from ego to soul/spirit. In the beginning, a person learns about animism, the nature of spirit, navigating through the cosmology of the worlds, multiple effective methods to perceive and receive energy, and techniques that open the doors of the soul to power and energy. Shamanic initiates learn how to stand strong in their own personal power, and find that this power is soul power, not ego power. To advance beyond the basic level, the initiate must build a consistent daily spiritual practice, cultivate intimate relationships with their Helping Spirits, and use their mind, senses, and spirit connections to “see” the world with clarity and act accordingly. Initiates must also dedicate themselves to living from their soul, rather than their ego. This is not an easy task, and is where many initiates lose their way, thus rendering themselves less effective or even directionless. Dismantling the ego allows the shaman’s soul to shine bright and their spirit connections to be clear and strong.
As we recognize, delete or re-write the programs/behaviors, conditionings, masks, and identities that we have unconsciously worn most of our lives, we learn to “get out of our own way” and draw ourselves into harmony with the natural world and its myriad energies. This important aspect of shamanism cultivates the deep work and enables us to take off these “masks” and link up with our authentic soul-self in order to be a clear channel for such things as healing and divination. This process must happen over and over again for the shaman to be free of their programming and clear the energetic, emotional, mental and physical muck out of the way so their soul can shine into the world.
Balance and healing takes place when the energy of the individual is in harmony with the energies of the natural world and the energy body is free of impurities, is whole and has good boundaries. The shamanic path is geared pointedly to this end. This is the path and the tool set that Colleen used to cure herself of fibromyalgia, CFIDS, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism and asthma.
Once a shaman has learned how to get out of their own way, harmonize with their world, and has become whole and healed, they can begin to effectively interact with the world by interfacing directly with the subtle energies that flow through it, known shamanically as the Great Web of Life. To do so, the shaman must be able to merge with and harness these energies through conscious focus and intent. This allows the shaman to perceive and utilize energy the likes of which others are largely unaware. That’s why the shaman can “see” and affect what is going on with others, the world, and the Web of Life.
The great shamans are like the Yogis that have gained popularity in the Western cultures of late. They are simple but brilliant, direct, to the point, power-filled, powerful, free of their personal demons, and are radiant with pure life force energy which they are honored to share with others. The enormity of the shaman’s art is not in the mystic spirit-worlds but in the bringing of the fullness of soul and spirit into this world. That’s how miracles are created.
Shamanism will help each one of us come as close as we are willing to that state of inner peace and power by providing a process and a way of life that changes us. As time goes on, we learn that living peacefully and powerfully is not only about what we do, but who we become.
About the authors:
Colleen Deatsman www.colleendeatsman.com, firstname.lastname@example.org is the Co-Author of Seeing in the Dark: Claim Your Own Shamanic Power Now and in the Coming Age (Red Wheel Weiser 2009), and the Author of Energy for Life: Connect with the Source (Llewellyn 2006), Inner Power: Six Techniques for Increased Energy and Self-Healing (Llewellyn 2005), and numerous on-line and magazine articles. She holds a Masters Degree and is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Social Worker, Shamanic Practitioner, Energy Movement Healer, Reiki Master, Certified Hypnotherapist, and Certified Alternative Healing Consultant at Circle of Life Counseling and Healing Services in Mason, Michigan. Colleen is also an expert by personal experience. She has healed herself from chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome (CFIDS), fibromyalgia, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism and asthma.
Paul Bowersox (email@example.com) is the Co-Author of Seeing in the Dark: Claim Your Own Shamanic Power Now and in the Coming Age (Red Wheel Weiser 2009). He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering, is a Shamanic Practitioner and Teacher, Reiki Practitioner, Writing Coach, Editor and Contributing Writer for a number of on-line sources, publications and authors including authors Colleen Deatsman (Red Wheel Weiser and Llewellyn) and Mark Stavish (Red Wheel Weiser and Llewellyn).