"Shamanism underlays all the other spiritual traditions on the planet. The most distinctive feature of shamanism is the journey to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness" ~ Mircea Eliade
What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is the oldest spiritual practice in the world, outdating any prescribed religion. It was the practice of every culture, still is in indigenous cultures. It appears to be only the modernised world that has turned its back on spirit and now views any form of connection to the Divine/spirit world as "quirky" or "woo woo".
Michael Harner PhD, Professor and anthropologist with decades of experience and research into shamanic practice stated: "Shamanism is a method, not a religion" (1). All prescribed religions practice shamanism in some form. There is no one belief system. It is the personal exploration of the subconscious into a non-ordinary reality.
Indigenous cultures around the world that have not been entirely oppressed by modern concepts of reality, still embrace shamanic practice as part of daily life. The Shaman will communicate with spirits and perform rituals of healing and ceremony. Using the astral plain of dreaming and journeying, tribes can locate sources of water, aid hunting and predict danger.
Although the traditional shamanic practice involves a Shaman navigating the other realms, the practice of shamanic journeying and healing can be done by anybody at any time. It is learning to access this altered state of consciousness that allows you passage to your soul's wisdom, ancestors and spirit guides.
From our conception, the first sound we become familiar with is the sound of our mother's heartbeat. It is no wonder then, the universal comfort found from the drumbeat is also neurobiologically relevant to access higher conscious states. Commonly, drumming is used as the entry into the gamma brain wave (super consciousness) where access to non-ordinary reality exists. Studies into the brain patterns of shamans and shamanic practitioners during a journey have shown to be similar (yet distinct) to that of psychedelic induced brain changes. With reports of mystical experiences, disembodiment and ego dissolution (2).
What is it for?
In the same way, our bodies become sick from exposure to toxins, illness and injury, our souls become sick from trauma. Part of modern shamanic practice is soul retrieval. Sandra Ingerman, Shaman and author, describes the process of soul retrieval as entering into the psyche of the "client" to find the place and time the soul sloughed a part of itself off as a protective measure. This often leads her to moments of childhood trauma. She then coaxes the child-self back into the present where she makes passage safe for that part to return. Sandra talks of a fragmented self, where life trials have disassociated or disengaged parts of us, that when absent, are cause for physical and mental illness (3). Soul retrieval is a skill only to be performed by Shamans and experienced shamanic practitioners.
A major tenant of shamanism is connection to the earth. To appreciate and worship every sentient being, every tree, every body of water. To become one with the earth again so we can protect all it gives us and call upon the spirits and forces of nature to help guide us through our human experiences.
The thought of trees and land having spirit or soul is yet another cause for contempt in modern society. However, Suzanne Simard, Professor of ecology at British Columbia University, has spent many decades of her career studying the activity of the forest. She was mocked and disregarded for her early research as her peers did not believe the forest to be dynamically active. With mycelium/fungi (mycorrhizal networks) connecting the roots of the trees, not only has she evidenced that a network of intricate communication exists between plants and trees, but that the whole forest exists in a state of negotiation, reciprocity and sharp perception of what is happening all around. Signals of danger can alert nearby trees and plants to trigger a chemical reaction (4). The trees literally speak to each other. (Simard has an excellent Ted Talk for more info: How trees talk to each other | Suzanne Simard - YouTube )
There is active awareness. The forest is alive. So, the enchanted forests in the fairy tales may not be as fictional as we think. Maybe these tales were just written in a time before forestation when we were more in touch with the earth. In any case, my shamanic practice has incorporated the forests, the rivers, the sea. Every aspect of nature I have called upon for wisdom and strength. But most of all, I have accessed a whole other world of existence. Every time I close my eyes I can be wherever I need to be in the universe. I have guidance and eternal love from sources I never knew existed. Always showing me the way.
I had never heard of shamanism. Least of all shamanic journeying. Like most people, the word "Shaman" triggered images of a Siberian witch doctor banging a drum, but I had absolutely no idea what was about to open up into my life.
I woke up from a dream in the hypnopompic state with a voice whispering in my ear "Dream your soul back home". The words echoed through my head all morning, like a song that gets stuck in your head. By lunchtime I was so sick of the words ringing in my ears I googled: "dreaming your soul back home" (what did we do before Google?). Up popped a book by Robert Moss (5) funnily enough called: Dreaming The Soul Back Home. From there I learned that my always vivid and often lucid dreams existed in a space and time somewhere out there on the astral plane. That my dreams were a place that my soul had visited and experienced so, therefore, exist as a reality. As real as this human experience within our human body. That there was healing to be found in this space.
I'd had several extremely disturbing dreams leading up to this. I decided to jump in feet first, found a shamanic drum track on YouTube and went for it. With no experience and only what I'd briefly read, I jumped back into a nightmare I'd had. Like a third party visitor, I retraced the background and setting of the dream. Everything that was disturbing about the dream, I confronted, correcting everything as a third person participant. It was one of the most profound and enlightening experiences of my life. I read several of Sandra Ingerman's books and then embarked upon a sequence of journeys over a ten-month period that revealed deep, unresolved trauma. The manifestation of which came in the form of fragmented personalities, spirit guides, animal guides and self-directed healing.
People often don't know where to start with journeying. It came so naturally to me, and I believe divinely guided as it was literally screamed in my ear one morning that this was my path! I recommend investigating the process before you begin. Understanding the realms and interaction with the spirit guides will give you confidence and clarity to enter into that other world.
1. Harner, M., (1997). Shamanism; 10:1 https://www.shamanism.org/articles/article01.html
2. Huels et al. (2021). Neural Correlates of the Shamanic State of Consciousness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2021.610466/full
3. Ingerman, S., (2006). Soul Retrieval: Mending the fragmented self. HarperCollins Publishers
5. Moss, R., (2012). Dreaming the Soul Back Home. US Publishers