What is Shamanism? Connecting with Spirit and Nature
Shamanism is often seen as something at home in faraway lands such as the Amazon rainforest, the Siberian tundra or the mountains of North Africa. But could it be that this, the oldest of all known spiritual practices, is our best hope for reconnecting with ourselves and the wider environment?
Continue reading to explore the essence of this ancient practice and see its relevance in today’s modern society.
A time before gods
Shamanism is the oldest known spiritual practice still in existence today. We have evidence of its practices dating back 30,000 years, but it could have been around much longer than that. It is part of a belief system called animism, which pre-dates all modern religions. Animism is the belief that spirit resides in all things, and as such all things are sacred. Modern religions, by contrast, believe either in a single god (monotheist religions) or multiple gods (polytheist religions).
The leading theory follows that animism developed as a result of deceased relatives visiting ancient tribe members in their dreams. These dreams are said to have helped ancient civilizations come to the understanding that the human soul or spirit exists beyond the body. From here these civilizations developed beliefs that spirits also exist within other things. This is said to have started with the likes of the sun, moon, and storms, and developed to the ultimate belief system that spirit exists within everything.
Shamanism then evolved from this set of beliefs. The healer of the tribe, or shaman, was the one who was able to communicate and work with these spirits to help restore balance in some way.
Restoring balance here could mean healing a sick tribesman, helping the tribe’s relationship with nature or bringing nature itself back into balance, such as bringing rains after a dry spell.
The spirit within
To restore balance the shaman will work with some of these spirits. But what exactly do we mean by spirit? It has long been known in spiritual circles that there is a life force that underpins every living thing and every material thing in this whole universe.
Sufis (link) know it as the divine. Physicists know it as energy. And shamans, long before Sufis and physicists existed, knew it as spirit. And what’s more, shamans are able to communicate with this spirit and work with it to help achieve real changes in the material world in which we live.
To do this, they must alter their consciousness by performing certain rituals, such as:
- Sweat lodges
- Using plant substances
These rituals allow the shaman to change the energetic frequency of their consciousness, that in turn allows them to travel to the spirit worlds that exist beyond our material world.
The three spirit worlds
During rituals, shamans will enter an altered state of consciousness and begin their journey into the spirit world. In these spirit worlds, it is common for the shaman or those practicing shamanism to come into contact with different spirit guides or power animals.
Spirit guides are teachers, protectors, companions and the like that come forward to help the shaman on their path. They may help the shaman understand something, or they may help the shaman restore balance in the physical world. Power animals, or spirit animals, are seen as being a deep part of someone’s essence. Shamanic wisdom states everyone is born with one or multiple animal spirits within them. By reconnecting with our inner spirit animals we are able to reconnect with a deep part of ourselves. On the shaman’s journey, they may travel to one or all of the three spirit worlds: the lower, the middle and the upper.
The Lower World
The lower spirit world is not in any way evil or malevolent as it may be depicted in stories. Instead, it is the world of nature and has a very earth-like feel. Here, the shaman can communicate with nature directly in the form of such things as mountains, rivers, and the wind.
Traveling here through shamanic journeys or meditations you may find yourself in dense jungles or desert planes, but the laws of physics may not fully apply. You may be able to fly over the jungle or swim to the floor of the ocean. This world is said to be inhabited by our ancestors, as well as our power animals. These power animals can be real, mythical or even something new entirely. The lower world represents the subconscious mind.
The Middle World
The middle spirit world is the spirit world that corresponds to our ordinary world. This is where the shaman will most likely begin their journey. Here, the shaman can communicate with the spirits of everyday things, such as the moon, plants, and animals, and living human beings.
Traveling here may look and feel like our normal waking world, and is where people travel during astral projection and remote viewing. This world can be inhabited by the spirits of the deceased who are unable to cross over beyond this world. It is said to be neither good nor evil, and as such, it can be a tricky world for the shaman to navigate. Spirits here should not be taken seriously. The middle world represents the conscious mind and ego.
The Upper World
The upper spirit world is dreamlike and surreal, not like anything you’d ever see here on earth.
Traveling here allows the mind to realize its true self. It is where pure spirit resides, so spirits in this world should be taken seriously. This world is inhabited by great spirit teachers and spirit guides who help the shaman with knowledge and healing. These may appear human-like, animal-like or in any other form. The upper world represents the superconscious mind.
“Honouring the world of form and spirit; surrendering to endless death and rebirth; this is the source of all healing — the shaman’s power.”
— Theodore Tsaousidis
The shaman recognizes that everything comes back to spirit. The shamanic belief is that all sickness, even physical pain, stems from an underlying spiritual sickness.
In shamanism, there are said to be three causes of sickness:
- Soul Loss
Fear is very common, resulting in feelings of anxiety, insecurity, jealousy or anger. These emotions are all interrelated and all stem from an underlying fear. While shamans have known this for millennia, modern medicine is now showing the clear link between these mental states and the manifestation of physical illness.
Disharmony is when the balance of someone’s life has been hit by some internal or external event and it has sent them on a trajectory that has led to some illness, either mentally or physically. This could be the loss of a loved one, for example, and they are struggling to return to a healthy balanced place.
Soul Loss can be seen as an extreme case of disharmony. A traumatic or tragic event has shattered the soul and in extreme cases, fragments can be lost. This results in a feeling of emptiness and feeling like a different person than before.
Shamanic healing looks to resolve these spiritual illnesses so that the body and mind can heal themselves naturally. All shamans know that true healing is self-healing. In this end, the shaman’s role is to become a channel for the spirit to flow through and conduct the healing. Different tribes have used different terms for this, such as hollow bone, hollow bamboo or empty vessel but the underlying principle is the same: let the spirit flow through the shaman to reach the sick and restore balance.
The ultimate goal of shamanism is to maintain balance in all things. It is even said that as long as shamans continue practicing, then humanity will survive.
It is our belief at HoC that we all have an inner shaman within us, and that invoking this shamanic spirit can help on our journey to spiritual healing as well as reconnecting with nature as a whole. This inner shaman can be accessed in a number of ways, but a great starting point is through specific shamanic meditations.
To connect to your spirit and unlock your inner shaman, join mystic and healer Deepa Arora for regular Shaman Consciousness talks and meditations at Hub of Consciousness, Dubai.