Shamanism is not a system of belief or faith, it is a system of knowledge, and is directly experienced first hand by the senses. The world that Shamans work in is not a consensus reality, i.e. what we have agreed is reality. The Shaman sees i.e. experiences with all the senses. The Shaman is the mediator between the ordinary world and an alternate reality.
Shamanism offers a way for people to wake up to their potential, and begin to explore their spiritual relationship to the universe, to other forms of life, and to each other. The experiences which come from shamanism help a person to evolve a deeper bond and respect for all of creation, and from this perspective one is more likely to lead a life that enhances life, with an emphasis on harmony and balance, and which encourages understanding and optimism. The Shamanic path is a path to experience this expanded view of universe.
The origins of shamanism pre-date recorded civilisation and the earliest findings date back forty thousand years. The word Shaman originates from the Tungus people of Siberia, it means One who sees, and I would like to add to this as someone who sees with the heart. This brings us to one of the most important characteristics of shamans, that they are masters of energy and of the life-force which moves through the human body and all of creation. They know that there is energy normally invisible which connects all that exists, and they live with the knowledge of this energy and how to use it. This concept of the inter-relationship and understanding that man is a part of nature, not separate to it, a part of the connecting energy has been expressed in many ways and over many cultures, unfortunately not in ours. As Chief Seattle said in 1855 in his address to the American Congress;
What befalls the Earth befalls all the sons of the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.
As the Siberian shamans say;
Everything that is, is alive.
One of the other important characteristics of a shaman is that a man or woman who journeys into other realities to obtain hidden knowledge and wisdom on behalf of others i.e. in service to the community.
Shamans are masters of altered states of consciousness in which the normal rules of Newtonian three-dimensional existence are broken, and in which travel to other worlds, pre-cognition, distant seeing are all possible. To put another way, the shaman travels outside of time.
Today shamanism survives on all inhabited continents in less developed regions in spite of the constant pressure of Western materialism, and the treatment of the Earth and nature as something to be dominated and exploited.
Shamanism is a practice shared by peoples the world over with an underlying cosmology that cuts across cultural differences and customs. There is a common core, and when allowance is made for climatic, cultural, and geographical considerations there is a common experience. To illustrate this, a shaman from the frozen tundras of Siberia may not be familiar with the symbols of a shaman from the rainforests of South America, but he or she would certainly recognise the methods and techniques that are being used.
Contemporary shamanism is a path, a way, that we ourselves can be aware that we are a part, a strand in the web of life, and not outside of it. This path can lead us to experience in a practical way the nature of reality, and exceed our perception of the limits of reality.
Shamanism is currently enjoying a revival in the West, one of the factors in this is the re-discovery of health techniques that actively recognise and use the mind and spirit of the individual to help healing and maintain wellness. Many of these methods and the knowledge underlying these are known in ancient shamanic practices which have migrated in to Western society. Increasing numbers of people are seeking and finding solutions to their health problems, whether defined as physical, mental, or emotional. Many shamanic principles are widely used in holistic healing centres and practices.
Another factor in the revival of shamanism is that we ourselves as individuals can experience the inter-connectivity, the intricate web of life that unifies all things. Shamanism provides tools and techniques to help you become your own spiritual authority. By journeying to the other realities, extending the perception of perceived reality, individuals can start to see, feel, or sense the one-ness of all things. These new insights and understandings come from within you, and from the teachers and counsellors in these other realities. This is an experiential process, and this means that you know for yourself that these experiences are valid. This is the meaning of a spiritual democracy.
This expanded vision of life, can touch our heart, adding power to our walk in life, and we can move into a harmony and balance with nature, the Earth, and all living things. This not only changes our life perspective, but can also have a beneficial influence on all others, the community around us, which these days (whether we like it or not) is a global one.
The shamanic path is a way to transformation, a personal, and subjective experience to an expanded awareness of this great mystery we call life. Much of our universe which is hidden can be explored, a universe which is known mainly through myth and dream.