The word “shaman” is thought to come from the Tunguso-Mandchurian word “Saman”, meaning a person who knows. Initially the Tungus were nomadic and semi-nomadic hunters and fishermen from sub-arctic Siberia. They lived in clans, each with its own shaman who was central to its religious beliefs and practices. In these communities the shaman was a prophetic figure who used music, mediumship, and a variety of healing techniques to help the others. A shaman is a person of wisdom who uses his or her awareness to guide and serve the others. He, or she, is able to build bridges between the surrounding physical world, and the forces of the non-physical world that also affect us. Shamans possess an awareness of the spiritual nature within all things, and use it to serve others to whom they bring balance, wisdom, inspiration, education, enlightenment, and healing. Shamans do not have the same activities everywhere. In some cultures, the shaman was the medicine man (or woman) while in others he (she) was the priest or priestess. It is not so much the role, task, or job that distinguishes the shaman from other people, but rather it is the motivation behind their role. Shamans are ordinary people with extraordinary wisdom and insight. All of us have some of these characteristics within us, but the shamans are only those people who are able, through training and will power, to harness that inner wisdom and make it grows. The shaman is the wise man (or woman), the mystic, the healer, the seer, the teacher, and the peacemaker. Some people are born shaman and even as a child their wisdom is obvious. Other shamans develop over a period of time, their wisdom and their unique gifts awakening with age. Many shamans become aware of their wisdom during periods of challenge, upheaval, or rapid change in their life.
Shamans, who they are and what they do
Many shamanic beliefs and traditions have grown from an awareness of the natural world. Before the diffusion of modern technologies, people knew that to survive they needed to respect the elements and live in harmony with nature.
The Innua of the Eskimos
The traditional religion and culture of the Eskimos reflect the harshness of the environment in which they live. Innuit traditions state that many invisible forces called Innua rule the world. The sea, the air, the animals, and the stones all have their Innua who become the guardians or helpers of men if given their due respect.
Indians of the Plains and Forests
Indigenous peoples of North America, such as the Indians of the Plains, believe in a Great Spirit that is the breath of the Divine within all things. The Great Spirit can be honoured and worshipped by honouring and learning from the spirits of the natural world, the sun, the moon, the winds, the rain, the thunder, and lightning as well as the animals, birds, plants, and stones.
The Navajo Indian traditions include the use of sacred art in ceremonies of healing. One such example is the practice of sand painting using ground rocks of different colours to make sacred images. The colours and images are chosen to bring balance to the person or situation that requires healing.
The Hopi Indians have rainmaking traditions that are passed from generation to generation. When their land is dry and parched, the rainmaker would dance and call upon the rain to replenish the earth and make the crops grow.
Tibetan Buddhists have also a tradition of sand painting. The monks perform many rituals of healing including sacred dance, music, and songs in addition to sand painting. Their rituals aim to attract a “medicine Buddha” or to cleanse the environment.
It is the Shaman’s job to communicate with the spirit world, giving respect to the spirit of the ancestors, as well as to live in harmony with nature. The ancestors are the spirits of the people who have gone before us. They have lived in the world, gaining the knowledge and awareness that we are now here to learn before passing in the invisible realms in our turn. By tradition, shamans study the ways of the animals that live in their lands. Animals are thought to have a purity of purpose that could help the humans to know much about their own spiritual potential. During trance states induced by meditation or sacred rituals, the shaman contacts his or her animal and travel with it through the inner planes. These animals would literally or symbolically give the shaman important insights into his own nature, the nature of the person seeking healing or counsel, and the needs of the community. Shamans have many different roles to play but all serve greater purposes, building bridges between the physical and non-physical world, serving the earth and humanity, and to touch the Divine so that healing may occur. The shaman is above all a healer and all cultures have natural healing traditions; modern medicine grew from the skills of the herbalist, the medicine person, the white witch, and the faith healer. The Chinese symbol of Yin and yang is a powerful sign of balance. The areas of black and white are evenly distributed and there is a little of each colour that resides within the other. The Chinese medicine has tried to maintain that balance of Yin and Yang for thousands of years. Chinese doctors rely on energetic meridians, or circuits of energy, that pass through and around the physical body. When there is an imbalance, these meridians are blocked or distorted and disease can take place. The original imbalance can be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. A shaman could also be the fool, the clown, or the court jester using skill, ingenuity, and humour to entertain or to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. Many shamans were the seers, the visionaries, and the psychics whose knowledge of human nature, intuition, and power of divination were highly valued by others. These shamans had developed natural skills of clairvoyance, clair-audience, and awareness that are latent within all of us. The shaman’s capacity for clear sight often comes from their ability to attain altered states of awareness that give them a bigger picture of the world, and to see beyond the daily events of community life. The visionary role of the shaman often gave him social and economic power.
Can everybody be a Shaman?
Some people are born shaman and some others become through training that brings their shamanic potential to life. For most people, the path to being a shaman is a slow process without trauma. On the way to become a shaman the candidate has to find a balance between the logical, reasonable, and rational side of his personality and his instinctive, intuitive, and irrational personal characteristics. Shamans must be aware of a full range of human emotions, to feel them, to live with them, and to draw motivation from them. To regain touch with the natural world and find places of stillness and truth that will enhance their power of vision, many would-be shamans retreated from community life for some time. Fasting and meditation generally help having vision during which the spirits of the natural world may visit the seeker, bringing protection, wisdom, and awareness. During vision, the shaman sometimes connects, or reconnects, to special guides (an ancestor, an animal, a plant, a stone or any other aspect of nature). Awakening the shaman within oneself often comes with an increased creative power and ability, reversing the natural instinct to belittle our own qualities in these fields. Creativity opens up other dimensions and expands awareness. Those who feels that their shamanic nature is awakening following a period of crisis in their life have better to fully accept it rather that fight it. Many people, when they focus upon their own spiritual growth, self-healing, and personal development, find that their intuition expands. All people have a range of psychic senses as real and as important as their five physical senses. Not all of us have the same abilities in all areas, but we all have psychic abilities that can be expanded.
To be a shaman today
Shamans have always been described as wounded healers; this means persons who bring healing to others as a way to heal their own similar wounds. Good shamans do not have to hurt themselves with wounds or problems to be able to heal others. Being wounded healers does not require them to damage their own life in order to understand the others’ problems. All that is required is that they must be willing to heal themselves as they follow their shamatic path and draw wisdom from their personal experience. Disharmony and disease often are the result of an inner conflict between mind and body or between logic and reason. The shaman must negotiate a balance of mind and body within himself, as well as to help others to find that balance too. The body, mind, and emotions have the ability to stay healthy; when this ability stop working, spiritual and energetic forms of healing can stimulate it again and restore the balance.
Modern shamans come from every social background and culture. Their jobs, no matter how humble, seem to give them the opportunity to serve other people, or serve the environment. Many modern shamans choose to remain invisible and they practice their skills unnoticed. However, with experience and an increase in their awareness and skill, they tend to move to jobs that will allow them to express better their healing skills and creative abilities. Shamans should live in places where they are best able to serve other people and facilitate their own spiritual growth. People who do their best to heal themselves and follow their spiritual path become naturally spiritual teachers to other people.