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Shamanism, Shamans and Healing

Copyright Francis Joy 2007.

Shamanism. In brief, Shamanism, is a Tungus word from Siberia. The term Shaman/ess (originally called saman/xaman), was given to a man or woman who had the power to heal, and to know past and future events, and who was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the tribe or community. A shaman is an individual sometimes called a Wounded Healer, who has usually encountered extremely difficult experiences in life. As a result of these traumatic and often dangerous expriences, he or she receives a special call to work as an intermediate between the people and the spirits and the community. Through being wounded and re-wounded, he or she heals themselves,  and then helps others with their own healing process as a result of his or her direct personal experience but with the help and guidance of assistants from the spiritual world. Shamanism and Shamans usually runs in families but individuals can be chosen for the vocation..

The face of shamanism has changed over the past decades, and the initial ideas and images which were brought out from the darkness and unknown about Shamanism, by ethnographers and anthropologists from Siberia and the Pacific countries, were mainly concerned with soul flights to other worlds, and battling with harmful spirits. In the Northern and Circumpolar regions, shamanism has evolved from the ancient hunting cultures and the rites that were related to animal ceremonialism and traditional ecological knowledge, where the world-view several thousand years ago did not comprehend any kind of division or separation between human beings and the natural world. Sickness and health was portrayed through both positive and harmful spirits. Shamans and ancient peoples who lived close to the natural world, were in close contact with supernatural forces and powers of nature. At particular times of the year, certain totemic ancestors embodied sacred boulders and trees and were appeased by the shaman through sacrificial activities, as a way of establishing contact with celestial clan animals and  ancestors who were both animals and guardians of each tribe or clan of people, and who offered power and hunting luck through sacrfice. The basis for shamanism is a term called Animism, which means that everything is alive with with meaning and purpose and has a soul, in other words, everything is intimately connected together through the 'Web of Life'. Shamans know how to travel within this web, and harness spiritual power either for positive or negative uses. In addition, the powers of nature were personified in male and female deities, which were both localised and collective.

Copyright Francis Joy 2007.

Shamanism & Healing. Although a shaman is a person who has contact with the spirits, he or she usually lives a normal life within society. There has been much controversy about the subject of Urban, Core and Contemporary Shamanism, which is emerging through the fragments of the past. This is in contrast to traditional and much older forms of shamanism, but as is known, the fact that tribal and indigenous societies have been broken down and subject to modernisation because of globalisation and the pace at which the world is developing, people from the West are now interested in rediscovering their ancient heritage and are subsequently re-embracing the re-emergence of shamanism in a contemporary way. In addition, there is no form of shamanism that remains unchangeable, and the shamans who have been here before, are now returning and working in their own unique and individual ways which are a mixture of traditional and contemporary practices.

There are also many different types of Shamans. One of the common tasks of a shaman is working with the Spirits of the Dead when called to do so, who have become trapped between the physical and spiritual side of life, because the life has ended suddenly on physical plane, and the soul of the deceased person may have become trapped and needs to be released. The shaman in this role is sometimes called a Psychopomp or Deathwalker, who guides the lost souls to the other side of life. This work carried out with the assistance of spirit helpers, sometimes during sleep in a state of trance, individually or with a group, where the departed soul is guided in order to get the healing power they need to help them across the threshold into the spiritual world. This is also the case with animals and tree spirits who have suffered a sudden loss of life. Another very common way shamans undertake their work is with what is called Plant Spirit Medicine, whereby shamans utilize the spirits of different plants through ingestation, and then this application is applied as herbal medicine in cases of illness and disease.

The idea of life being linear, that we are born, we grow old and then die and are gone forever is a belief left over from early thinking from the Judeo-Christian era. Because the concept of rebirth is not considered in most cases, there is a lack of awareness regarding the process of death and dying and the kind of help that souls sometimes need in certain cases. In past times, the role of a Psychopomp was what both the Shaman and the Witch undertook within the community.

Within Shamanistic Philosophy, the term 'Soul Loss' is a common concept, used to describe the loss of a part of ones personal power or spiritual essence, needed in order to live a healthy and consistent life. Soul Loss manifests in a number of ways but is typically expreinced as numbness in the physical body, and/or disease and illness, especially depression and a feeling of being empty, with no purpose in life. Individuals can be born with this condition from previous lives, but in the physical sense soul loss is caused by trauma and illness caused for example by a serious accident, violence, sexual trauma, the death of a friend or relative, and also surgery and comatisation. Also, people can lose soul parts if they have become intoxicated with alcohol, nicotine, sugar, violence or narcotics, and can also become possessed by the spirit of the substance, where they lose their power because of consistant and prolonged useage.

The soul has been identified and described in a variety of ways, in different cultures throughout the world, but perhaps the simplest description of what the soul is, would be to describe it as the Divine Spiritual Essence of a person,  the core inner-self, which is a vehicle for human consciousness. Shamans believe that human beings have a free soul, which leaves the body during sleep and illness, and can be in the form of an animal, plant or tree. This free soul is sometimes referred to as the Shadow. The physical soul on the other hand, oversees the bodily functions.



Copyright Francis Joy 2007.

Power Animal Retrieval: When a person comes for help to restore power, the first task is to find out how the power-loss has happened. Power Loss: Often physical illness is related to a loss of power. One way of losing power is by giving everything to everybody, and to keep nothing for oneself. There are also people who take other peoples' power so that they can feel 'Power filled'. This also happens through sexual gains between two people. Also in couple relationships and friendships, concerning the giving and taking of power...all give and no take = power loss. This condition is called Codependency.

The Shaman's Drum. Traditionally Drums have been used for healing, community and ritual work. The drum is also used as an oracle and an animal guide as it is beaten. In northern cultures the drum is also ridden by the shaman when put between the legs. The beat of the drum has been compared to the hooves of an animal running through the forest or across the tundra. The drum is seen pictured in rock art, rock carvings, story telling and narrative; each one having a story behind it. Typically, and for example, the oldest type of drums seen in Finland, the segmented types, are divided into three layers, which represent a map of the shamans cosmos which is divided into three levels. Some later types, bowl drums in Swedish and Norwegian Lapland, which are heliocentric drums are sometimes divided into three or five levels. It is traditional that a power song is whistled and/or sung to accompany the drumming which helps to synchronise the ritual act with the rhythm of the shaman's own consciousness, and his/her breath. It is with the combination of these elements that the shaman meets his helping spirits and changes which brings about a change in the perception of reality in order to make the journey for healing purposes or divination into another dimension of reality. The drum is used too as a medium for bringing both the physical and spiritual worlds together for healing and creating change.

Drumming has been recognised as one of the oldest forms of expression and communication. There are two sides to a drum: the public side and the private side. Before drumming begins, in some ceremonies, a rattle is used to invoke the shamans helping powers. The rattle is used like an antenna to the realm of spirits, and also a tool which signifies a shift from one level of consciousness to another. It has a similar function to a telephone; like a radar. In ancient times in the North, the Shamans drum was outlawed (especially in Lapland) as an instrument of the devil, and a great many persons were persecuted for possessing one. Hundreds of drums were destroyed and burned, and those which survived were collected and taken to various museums around Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are approximately 70 Saami divination drums in museums around Europe.

The work of the shaman if different from the work of other healers. Traditional shamanic practice is concerned with ecstasy-altered states of consciousness and divination where the shaman with the help of assistant spirits, travels into the world of the spirits to seek information in matters relating to divination, and for recovering lost soul parts and power. The shaman may also seek help from the world of the ancestors under certain circumstances. 

It has been suggested, that the Spiritual practice of Shamanism, will be a phenomena, which will in time, unify all cultures throughout the whole World.

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