Do you ever think about how different our lives would be if we were born several hundred years ago? That’s a lot to think about, I know. How about specifically with regard to health and healing? What did people do before modern medicine, psychiatry, and wellness coaching? Who or what did they seek out in order to get well? Historically, healers across the globe have gone by many names. In this short article, I will focus on a particular type of healer, a practitioner of traditional ways, sometimes referred to as ‘shaman.’ For shamans, healing is equivalent to transformation, not simply focusing on curing an ailment (Kalweit, 1992).
Shamanism has an extensive history (evidence suggests going back tens of thousands of years) on every continent of the world. The word ‘shaman’ comes from the language of the Tungus people of Siberia (Harner, 1980, 1990), although, the word ‘shaman’ however is not typically used by shaman’s themselves (it can be considered bad luck) and traditionally, it is not a role one volunteers for (Ingerman, 2004, 2008). Basically, one does not chose shamanism, it chooses you. Shaman’s, appointed by their communities, act in service of those communities on many levels. Shaman’s are also skilled dreamers. Restoring balance (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) is among the many duties performed. Duties can take place in dream consciousness or others states of consciousness, such as a shamanic state of consciousness.
Whether we call them shamanic journeys, imaginal journeys, ecstatic journeys, or something else, humans across time and place have known how to travel to, entering and exiting, otherworldly realms, or unseen worlds. This is done in order to gain access to a wide variety of information, ask for spiritual help and support, and heal themselves, their families and communities. These unseen realms have been referred to by different names across the globe, such as “Other World” in Celtic Shamanism and the “Dreamtime” in Australian Aboriginal tradition (Ingerman, 2004, 2008). These ‘other’ locales can be divided into three major territories: Lower, Middle, and Upper Worlds. Each ‘world’ has something different to reveal to us or teach us. The ‘laws’ we have come to know and expect, do not apply any longer. The community-appointed shaman is considered an expert in navigating these realms. Diverse communities across the world have used various means to assist the shaman in altering consciousness in order to begin the journey. Most commonly repetitious, monotonous sounds, such as those created by a rattle or drum, or chanting, are used.
One can experience a shamanic journey without being appointed shaman, and many do, myself included. As one who uses hypnosis and various types of meditation and breathwork for my own benefit (and offers these services to my clients), it is clear that there are similarities and differences among these trance-like ‘altered states.’ An ability to concentrate is key! Learning the skills to enter a shamanic state of consciousness with intent and purpose, and return to the ordinary state of consciousness can be taught by experienced practitioners and skills can be honed by dedicated students. After all, these are natural conditions. That being said, the worlds entered through a shamanic state of consciousness are not playgrounds and there is a lot to learn before jumping onboard.
Restoring wholeness, coming into balance and harmony with the universe, as well as our full creative potential can be supported through shamanic journeying, as the practice supports us moving forward in our own soul’s journey (Ingerman, 1991).
If this topic interests you, and you would like to learn more, I recommend reading the books written by Michael Harner, Holger Kalweit, Sandra Ingerman, and Robert Moss, for starters. If you want additional references and resources, contact me.
As we approach Samhain, Dia de Los Muertos, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, I wish peace and harmony to you and to all of your family members and ancestors, whether embodied or otherwise.