It isn’t always easy to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors, the hunter gatherers who roamed the earth before the advent of agricultural settlements and city states.
Imagine for a moment what it must have been like to be an integral part of the environment, perhaps with no concept of separation between nature and us, sitting round a campfire on a dark night looking up into the vastness of the start strewn skies, whilst listening to the cries of animals around you.
There is one source of the ideas which our ancestors held, which has survived the millennia and that comes from the shamans, the holy men and women of the tribes.
The main purposes of male and female shamans are:1
- protectors of mankind’s mythological knowledge
- understanding nature
- healing the sick
- preserving the psycho-mental equilibrium of the clan, so preventing the spread of psychic epidemics and psychosomatic illnesses
- communicating with spirits, who give them knowledge far in excess of that available to ordinary mortals.
One of the key elements of a shaman’s role, is to use trance or ecstatic mental states to gain insights or knowledge which is not available to ordinary consciousness. This ability seems to be a common part of shamanic rituals across the world. The means shamans use to achieve these altered states of consciousness varies with the culture they are in. For instance, the greek followers Dionysus god of wine, used alcohol. Other cultures use rhythmic drumming, chanting and singing or hallucinogenic plant extracts.
Whilst for some cultures, such as the Arctic shamans, spontaneously achieved trance states without artificial aids are preferred, and it is believed that only less skilled shamans use them.1
And in almost all cultures, this kind of working with consciousness was regarded as only for the strongest and most balanced of personalities.
Revival of Interest
After many centuries of persecution from most religions, during the last few decades there has been a considerable renewal of interest in the world of the shamans. This is due to a number of reasons, such as the work of anthropology academics like Michael Harner3, a growing interest in connecting with our historical culture2, a decline of organised religion and a wider acceptance of different spiritual practices.
1. Shamanism: A Concise Introduction. Contributors: Margaret Stutley – author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2002.
2. Shamanism: Traditional and Contemporary Approaches to the Mastery of Spirits and Healing. Contributors: Merete Demant Jakobsen – author. Publisher: Berghahn Books. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1999.
3. The Way of the Shaman, by Michael Harner, HarperSanFrancisco; Third edition edition (1 April 1992)
An excellent introductory book to the world of the shamans …
© David R. Durham
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