by Chris Goin
The value of studying shamanism is to learn how we can use it to help others, and the earth heal today. Even though different types of shaman are recognized throughout the world, many of their healing techniques are universal. Some shamans specialize in healing the body, some specialize in healing the mind, some specialize in healing the spirit, either before or after the physical life. Yet others recognize that you can't heal one without healing the others.
Shamans often help someone heal by entering an Altered State of Consciousness (ASC). They enter this state by drumming, singing, chanting, meditating, fasting, dancing, using entheogens, and more. During the ASC they journey across the Axis Mundi to the "upper world" to communicate with ancestral spirits. They may also journey to the "lower world" to visit power animals. They may journey into the past to help heal from a past experience, journey into the future, or journey into a remote part of the earth where the local spirits have the information the shaman needs.
During the journey they encounter spirits who play an important role in human lives. These spirits, though usually sympathetic with humanity, are not always helpful. So the shaman either controls or cooperates with the spirits to help the community. Every human has helping spirits, even if they aren't aware of it. These spirits usually are eager to help identify the cause of illness, either involving a power loss, or soul loss. Shamanic healing is designed to regain power and the protection this power provides. The soul loss may be the result of power-intrusion in which vagrant spirits come to reside uninvited in the body. So healing involves returning the intruding spirits to their rightful place in the universe.
A shaman's strength is derived from the strength and number of spirits she can call upon for help. The spirits are of varying strength and it is their strength that determines the shaman's rank. They help the shaman treat people, foretell the future, and influence it. The more powerful the shaman, the more loving, because with the power comes a lack of fear.
The shaman needs the spirits as much as they need her. It is said that spirits must be in touch with our physical world to stay charged with energy. So when a shaman, for some reason, decides to sever her ties with them, this may have dire consequences for both of them.
Shaman have a strong understanding of their surrounding environment and their true purpose is to balance humanity with nature. They learn by watching birds, animals, and fish. They may also simply ask the earth to answer their question. Different locations are believed to have spirits who command the birds and animals living there and can help humans if they choose.
Animals may be called upon to be united with the power and essence of the animal. Each animal has attributes that we can learn from and use to become stronger. An animal may also come to you as an omen or messenger. For example, bird songs will welcome you to an area, while bird fights will tell you to be on guard. Shadow animals invade you with fear to teach a lesson.
Many places on the earth are considered 'power spots where people can go to increase their power or experience greater power: Crater Lake in Oregon, Mt. Shasta in California, Stonehenge in England, Black Hills in South Dakota, Skellig Islands off the Irish coast, Serpent Mound in Utah, Red Rock in Sedona, Arizona, just to name a few.
Divination is the control over weather. Shaman believe they can smooth a tidal wave before it hits shore, or divert a tornado around the village rather than through it. They merge with the tornado, and as the tornado they aren't able to make it turn around and go the other direction; but they are able to encourage it do go a direction that it may have gone anyway. Shaman will gather together for added strength when severe weather conditions warrant it.
Wind/directions have spirit animals, elemental association, and attributes: East (lion/fire/spirit/enlightenment), South (human/water/emotions/strength), West (buffalo/earth/body/transformation), North (eagle/air/mind/information). The shaman uses this power of the wind, but doesn't control it.
The Axis Mundi is a location, bridge, rope, or plant symbolic for where the physical and metaphysical meet. The axis connects heaven and earth as well as provides a path between the two. So the shaman goes across the axis to bring back the knowledge needed for healing. The caduceus, the symbol for medicine today, uses this axis as the staff in the center and the serpents going around the staff are the guardians or guides to the other realm.
Another important role of the shaman is story telling. They tell stories about how they have experienced the world through the eyes and ears of mythic and spiritual beings. They are masters of symbolism and interpretation. There is a well-known tale of a group of blind men who come upon a strange entity that has just arrived in town, known as an elephant. Each blind man is trying to figure out what this elephant entity is all about. One puts his arms around its huge leg and concludes the elephant is probably a living tree, another crashes into the massive body and visualizes the elephant as a solid wall, a third feels the vibrating tusk and naturally infers it must be a huge serpent, while yet another touches the tail and concludes that it is just a wimpy, rope-like animal. The point of the story is that each one of us can only relate to life using the experiences we have available to us. These experiences may be very limited and therefore limit our ability to understand someone else's experience. Or we may have many experiences in our past that help us understand the troubles someone else is living today. The story telling is their way of helping us relate 'lessons' to our personal lives.
Many, if not all, religions have roots in shamanism. Hebrew/Jewish scriptures supported shamanistic practices. Had they never been given their Torah they would have been able to learn all they needed to know from the animals. They even recognize the importance of the four directions/winds, as having an organic, living nature.
Jewish shaman perceive magic in the ordinary, miracle is the natural course of events. Where most people will be awestruck at the sight of a passing comet, the Jewish shaman will be awestruck at the sight of a fallen leaf. By seeing the miracle of what we consider ordinary, they unite with the Creator in a clear and open relationship. Then the veil between spirit and matter grows thinner and thinner and they no longer experience themselves as observers of this wondrous planet, but as integral parts of it.
Some shaman use breath to redirect and transform the body/mind/soul. Breath is believed to connect the physical body with thoughts. Breath calms the mind creating a space that reflects our true nature. Without this stillness we see only distortions and illusions of separation and loss of love. Our true nature unites cosmic intelligence and human consciousness with the universes potential. With proper breathing techniques we can synchronize our breath/pulse with the breath/pulse of the universe.
One such breathing technique to begin a meditation is to inhale and hold it for a count of 4, then exhale and hold it for a count of 4, then slowly increase so that you are holding for a count of 12 or more! Meditations may also use symbols, mantras, sacred postures, drumming, music and burning of herbs.
Shaman believe life is a dream that we created and continually create with our thoughts, without limit. The apparent limits are the result of what we have learned. It is our beliefs, decisions, and actions today about ourselves and our world that give us what we have and make us who we are. So during psychotherapy the shaman tries to understand the source of the illness, believing it's the result of scars from our past that created a feeling of separation, or loss of love, in our subconscious. Understanding the origin of the pain, and bringing it into the conscious, releases deep seated traumas.
Sometimes they would encourage the 'patient' to embrace the suffering. By reaching a place where one can embrace the suffering, the negative emotions vanish. Sometimes they would get the 'patient' to figure out the right question he needed answered. Once the right question was formulated, the answer appeared and the sickness disappeared. The shaman may also ask the patient to touch the area of the body in pain and say "Whatever this is related to, I forgive it completely and it doesn't matter anymore." The shaman believes if the power was in you to create the illness, then the power is within you to change it.
The shaman teaches to watch your thoughts because your thoughts become your actions. Watch your actions because your actions become your habits. Watch your habits because your habits define who you are. It all starts with a single thought. So the more we can focus on positive thoughts the more positive our life will be.
Shaman may use chants like this Kahuna (Hawaiian shaman) chant: be aware, be free, be focused, be here, be loved, be strong, be healed. Is this more psychotherapy or is it calling spirits, or is it both?
It is said a shaman can resurrect the dead. A Kahuna would revive the dead by pushing the person's spirit back into the big toe. Surprisingly astute since squeezing the big toe is a well-known method for reviving someone who has fainted, and the day before someone dies their big toe drops downward.
Other techniques, not mentioned above, include behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, family therapy, herbal therapy, drug therapy, psychodrama, and dream interpretation. The shaman may also direct communal rituals, communicate with animals, invoke spirits, dream quest, make rain, smudge, create animal and human-like creatures out of the earth, exorcise wandering spirits, part waters, draw water out of stones, heal snake bites with a copper serpent, and consult oracles.
Today's shaman recognizes the earth is at a turning point and people need to become aware of clues through our senses and intuition. By developing our sensitivity to plants, animals, water, rocks, soil, etc. and by relating to them with appreciation we can gain powerful allies. To focus our thoughts on our intention to learn nature's language, the more she will communicate with us. By stating our intention, nature responds. Just like when we form the right question, the answer appears. Shaman believe that everything that exists is inter-connected. So a single thought of love or hate affects the whole world. Also, everything that exists is alive and can be communicated with, if approached properly. So by developing our sensitivity to the natural world we strengthen her.
There are many correlations between the earth and humans. The colors of the chakras are in the same order as the rainbow. The nervous system sends energy through the body, just like electricity sends it through the house, just like the ley lines send it through the earth. The invisible meridians of the body send energy like the invisible meridians of the earth.
Science proves many positive physical changes take place during spiritual practice. An increase of T-cells and salivary immunoglobulin has been documented which increases our immunity functions. Also, the more time someone spends in spiritual development, the less time they spend in pain and disease, because it triggers a shift in brain activity that brings a more positive sense of well-being. Science recognizes that 90% of all matter is empty space. Perhaps this is the creative void we use to create our lives.
I have shown the origin of religions to open the path for all people to return to shamanic ways. For the doubtful reader I have shown areas of science that support shamanic activities. If every sentence written here is truly absorbed into the mind and body of the reader, we will discover the shaman within each one of us and unite together to return the earth to her vibrant state of health.
by Rev. Chris Goin
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