Shamanism: key concepts

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13 years 4 months ago #34602 by
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Shamanism is an ancient set of methods and beliefs that centre around a relationship with the natural world and its energies.

To quote from Wikipedia:
“Some anthropologists and religious scholars define a shaman as an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world, who travels between worlds in a state of trance. Once in the spirit world, the shaman would commune with the spirits for assistance in healing, hunting or weather management. Ripinsky-Naxon describes shamans as, “People who have a strong interest in their surrounding environment and the society of which they are a part.”
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism and animatism, which any and usually all members of a society practice, shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities. It could be said that shamans are the experts employed by animists and animist communities.

[The word] “shaman” originally referred to the traditional healers of Turkic-Mongol areas such as Northern Asia (Siberia) and Mongolia, a \"shaman\" being the Turkic-Tungus word for such a practitioner and literally meaning \"he or she who knows.\"

Shamanism can be seen as the root of most belief systems and its diversity matches its widespread nature and appeal. Within this broad umbrella there are some key concepts that are central to most forms of Shamanism:

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13 years 4 months ago - 13 years 4 months ago #34603 by
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The World Tree

Many cultures around the world contain reference to a World Tree (the Axis Mundi) that links the worlds together. The classical representation featured below is actually from Norse beliefs, where the tree is known as the Yggdrasil. The All-Father Norse God Odin hung from the Yggdrasil for nine days in order to receive the wisdom of the runes.

The concept of a World Tree is common to most shamanic systems and this can also be found in certain initiatory practices. In some tribes, when a student is learning to become a shaman they are sent up the tree, where they are torn into hundreds of pieces. Their ability to reform themselves and climb back down unharmed denotes their success at the initiation.

This process is undertaken as a shamanic, “otherworldly” journey as opposed to an actual physical dismemberment. However, the effect is much the same since shamans believe that there is a very real correlation between all aspects of the self.

Haitian Vodou (an example of a living shamanic tradition) regards the tree as being central to all things and each peristyle (the equivalent of a temple or celebratory sacred space) will contain a pole decorated with images of Damballah and his wife (two “world serpents” that curl around the tree) and known as the poteau mitan.

The World Tree can appear in many different forms since all trees are aspects of this One Tree. When you begin each shamanic journey, you should start at your own version of the World Tree. From there you can travel to each of the worlds (see below). The following meditation will allow you to visit the World Tree for yourself. Once you have experienced the energy of the Tree, is will be easier to return there (although it may be a different shape or species on each occasion!).

World Tree meditation

Make yourself comfortable, laying on your back on the floor. You may wish to use a blanket or duvet underneath you. It is also a good idea to place a small cushion under your knees as this will reduce tension on the lower back. If you wish, you may play some soft, relaxing music in the background.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Be aware of the breath as it fills your lungs, then allow it to fall away easily and naturally. Allow your breathing to become gentle and effortless and as you focus on your breath, let your mind empty of all thoughts. You are held in a safe place and do not need to anything else right now except to relax into this feeling of bliss.

Imagine yourself in a place in the countryside. Take a moment to look around and to experience the feeling of being there. Hear all of the sounds of nature around you; breathe deeply into the fragrances of the living world. Fix the intention in your mind that you are going to visit the World Tree and experience its energy.

Allow yourself to be drawn forwards, to a place where trees are growing in abundance. Walk through this wooded area, all the time following your instinct to the place where the World Tree will be waiting. Once you have reached the Tree, spend some time in getting to know what it’s like. Examine the shape, texture and size of the tree and if you can, remember what species it appears as. Walk around the tree and touch it, feeling the energy of the Tree flowing out towards you as you do so.

Allow your own energies to merge with that of the World Tree. Feel its very nature flowing into you as yours flows back into the Tree. Become as one. Get to know the World Tree and understand its purpose. Recognise the idea that the tree extends far up into the sky, reaching towards the Upper World, and its roots burrow deep into the earth, reaching towards the Lower World. Allow yourself to know this purpose.

You may wish to ask for a symbol or word that will help you to reach this place with a minimum of effort. This symbol will represent the World Tree and you may use it to call upon the energy of the Tree in future, or to start any further journeys. When you are ready, give thanks to the World Tree for sharing its nature with you and return to the place where you started off.

Gently allow your consciousness to return to your body, bringing back all of the feelings and knowledge that you have gained. When you are awake once more, reflect on your understanding of the World Tree.

Last edit: 13 years 4 months ago by . Reason: text clean up

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13 years 4 months ago - 11 years 10 months ago #34604 by
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Shamanic Journeying

This refers to the practices by which a shaman will enter into a state of trance and commune with the Universe for a specific purpose such as information gathering or healing.

The practice of shamanic journeying is reasonably simple - the work lies in deciphering the information received on the journey and applying its meaning in a useful form. To quote Terence McKenna, one of the foremost advocates of shamanic and transcendental experience:

“a shaman is someone who has been to the end, it's someone who knows how the world really works, and knowing how the world really works means to have risen outside, above, beyond the dimensions of ordinary space and time, ... stepped outside the confines of learned culture and learned and embedded language, into … the transcendental presence of the other, ... to yield systems of knowledge which can be brought back into ordinary social space for the good of the community”

Begin by creating your sacred space. You may set wards or cast a circle if you wish but the intention to create a clear and safe area is the most important. Lay on the floor on your back with your head well-supported. It helps to have a small cushion under your knees to relieve pressure on your lower back.

A classical shamanic pose is to have your right arm by your side and your left forearm covering your eyes. If you find this uncomfortable then you may wish to use an eye-mask or piece of material to cover your eyes. If all this is impractical, then it is helpful to have your surroundings as dark as possible. This will prevent any movements of light from distracting you.

Until you are practiced with drumming and journeying at the same time (at which point you may find it easier to sit while beating the drum), it is advisable to use a recording of a shamanic drum beat. You can download a 15-minute looped track of my own drum here (the file is 15Mb in size):

One of the hardest things to maintain when journeying is the balance between consciously directing your intention and letting go enough to receive visions and guidance. With practice you should be able to clearly follow your goals on the journey and change your experience when necessary. Quieting your conscious mind to the extent that it is not interfering too much in this process is altogether more difficult!
Last edit: 11 years 10 months ago by .

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13 years 4 months ago #34605 by
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The 3 Worlds

The shamanic notion of the three worlds can roughly be described as being
external energies, internal energies and everyday energies. The World Tree links them as shown below:

Lower World

This is where “internal” energies such as animal spirits reside. Spirit helpers are all around us and we only need to recognise and call upon their energy in order to work with them. Some of the most personal (due to their appearance in the Lower World) are animal spirits.

Even though we are not genetically related to all other forms of life, we hold the spiritual knowledge of the evolution of all life. Our spiritual “DNA” therefore contains the attributes and understanding of other forms of life. Each animal spirit has its own meaning and lesson for us and we have one “main” spirit animal with us to help in our journey. Throughout our development this animal may change to another to help us with the next stage. At this point, you should go on a shamanic journey to visit your new spirit animal guide. You may also have additional spirits to help with certain events in your life journey.

An example of a Lower World journey

“Close your eyes and relax. I want you to focus on your breathing and nothing else. As you breathe in, imagine warm energy filling your belly. As you breathe out, feel this warmth spread throughout your whole body, even down to your fingers and your toes.

As your body fills up with this welcoming and wonderful feeling, you feel yourself begin to relax. As your breathing starts to slow, you relax even further and with each breath you take, you feel yourself releasing more and more tension until you are completely free of any worries and any cares. You do not have to do a single thing right now but relax further and further.

As you sink even further into a state of pure bliss, you start to look around and see yourself in a forest, lush with greenery and full of the sounds of nature, softly washing over you. A tree stands before you, mighty and tall. It reaches up far into the sky – so far that you cannot see the top. Fix the intention in your mind that you are here to journey to meet your main spirit animal guide. You examine the base of the tree and notice thick roots that peek from the earth and snake along the ground.

Between these roots is a hole, easily big enough for you to venture into. The tunnel beyond is dark but inviting and you feel no fear for this is a safe place. No harm can befall you on this journey for you are protected by nature itself.
You find your way into the tunnel and push on as it leads you down and down, deep into the earth. The way is easy and there is just enough light for you to see where you are going as you descend deeper and deeper, pressing on and on. You are here to find your spirit animal, a guide to help you with your own personal power. Keep this intention in mind as you keep going, heading towards the place where your animal will be waiting.

Soon you see light ahead and the tunnel starts to open out into a bright, new landscape. Take a moment to look around, to breathe in the feel of this place. Listen for any sounds; breathe in the scent of your surroundings. Call out to your spirit animal and let it know that you are coming.

You see water and decide to follow it to its source. As you travel on and on, you notice a movement and catch a glimpse of your spirit animal before it moves out of sight. You keep walking, tracing the waterway and again you catch sight of your animal. It seems to be keeping pace with you as you journey deeper into the heart of this place.

You notice an area ahead where the water seems to spring forth. Your spirit animal rushes past you and on. You follow it to just past the source of the water and there you sit and wait. Call to your spirit animal, let it know that you are a friend and that you are here to seek its help with your own power.
Slowly your animal approaches and you notice its eyes, shining brightly and looking straight at you. As your animal guide makes contact, you feel a rush as its energy links with yours. Take a moment to savour this sensation and to receive any advice or guidance that your animal may wish to seek.

[pause for a while as the guidance is given]

It is time to leave now and you ask your animal to return with you. It is happy to do so and as you embrace, you can feel its energy flowing into your stomach area, spreading out throughout your body like before.

You retrace your steps and follow the water back to the entrance to the tunnel. Stop for a moment and bid farewell to this place before entering the hole and climbing back up to the forest where you began your journey.

As you return and make your way out from the roots of the tree, you can feel the energy of your spirit animal inside you. You are as one. Hold onto this feeling as your vision starts to fade and you feel yourself seeping back into your body. Slowly your consciousness returns and you are aware of your surroundings. With one more breath, you open your eyes and fully return.

Note that this journey includes some traditional techniques for finding your animal guide such as following water, the bright shining eyes of your guide and a connection to the energies and wisdom that it has for you.

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13 years 4 months ago #34606 by
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The Upper World

The Upper World is a different place to that of the Lower World, which is more rooted in physical places (jungles, mountains, etc). The Upper World is lighter and more ethereal and can be accessed via the World Tree.

Start your shamanic journey by travelling to the tree and then climbing up its branches into the sky. A mist will descend and you will need to press through this barrier in order to reach your destination. When you are there, you may find yourself in a place that resembles a physical location or it may be that there is hardly any form or substance to your surrounding.

Fix your intention - you are here to meet a tutelary spirit, a guide for your path. Spirits that reside in this realm can be angelic or spiritual in nature or they may be ascended masters - wise people and wisdom keepers that have passed over and chosen to remain outside the cycle of reincarnation in order to help those that need it. You may even encounter other shamans that now seek to guide, or even representations of ethereal energy such as members of ancient pantheons (gods or goddesses from traditions such as those from Egypt or Greece, or from Celtic or Viking beliefs, amongst others).

This journey should be easier since there are less “rules” to follow with regard to physicality of place. In certain cultures it is believed that when journeying to meet your spirit animal (Lower World), you need to meet your animal four times before you can communicate with it. There are no such impositions with an Upper World journey.

Once you have met with your tutelary spirit, you may ask any questions that you may have, or seek any guidance with your development. You could also ask your guide for its name - this will help you to call upon its energy more clearly when back in the waking world. If you would like a symbol or fetish to represent this spirit, then ask for one while on the journey although you may not need one as much as with your spirit animal.

Note the difference between an Upper World spirit and a Lower World one.
Whereas an animal guide will allow you to experience its energy more directly, a tutelary spirit may take on more of a “teacher” role. These spirits are external to you and therefore a closer association with them may not be realised. Nevertheless they may play a great part in your understanding of the visions that you may receive, or the direction that you may need to take in life.

For example, one of my tutelary spirits is that of an African shaman. He sits by a fire in the desert and I am sometimes invited to join in a dance with the other spirits present. He will always provide sage advice when asked but his questions can either be very direct or confusingly obtuse, depending on the effect that they need to have on me. Dealing with this relationship is a constant source of frustration, elation and gratitude.

When you have completed your journey, return back the way you came and climb down the World Tree, making sure to pass through the \"barrier\" as you go. This \"veil\" separates the Upper World (known in spiritualist circles as the Spirit World) from that of the waking world.

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13 years 4 months ago #34607 by
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The Middle World

The Middle World consists of two places that co-exist: that of the waking world and that of its “shadow”. The waking world is all that we know on a purely physical basis but it also has this complimentary spiritual aspect. It is here that nature spirits reside and earthbound spirits roam (such as the energies that some call “ghosts”).

Middle World journey to meet a plant spirit ally

Start by journeying to the World Tree but instead of climbing its branches or
venturing into the ground, simply keep walking through this place until a mist
descends. Keep your intention in mind (to journey to the middle world in order to find a nature spirit ally) and keep going until you find it. It will usually be a place that you know of in the waking world or it may be a place that you have not yet visited. It helps if you intend this to be a place that you can easily visit in the physical world.

You may experience this in its physical form (tree, plant, etc) but will also be able to see its spirit form; this varies from spirit to spirit. Once you have reached your destination, spend time with this nature ally as you did with the spirit animals of the Lower World although it is not as necessary to take on its energies.

You may wish to make a commitment to this spirit. For example, when working with it as part of your healing work, the spirit may occasionally ask for an offering in return. It may require you to leave certain foods in its physical place or to spend some time on a Middle World journey by giving universal energy to it.

Soul energies

The Middle World is also a good place to do any personal work. It is believed many many shamanic practitioners that traumatic incidents such as grief, shock, accidents and health problems can result in fragments of your “soul energy” becoming dislodged and wandering/hiding in the Middle World. Restoring them to you in order to bring you into a greater state of awareness and wellbeing can be delicate and complicated and advisable only for those with the experience and confidence to perform such work. There are many excellent books on the subject, such as Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self by Sandra Ingerman.

Psychopomp work

Another form of spirit work involves dealing with earthbound spirits. These are commonly referred to as “ghosts” and are the energetic traces of people that have died. Reasons for their remaining in this state are varied and may include traumatic deaths or unresolved issues that they feel compelled to deal with. Sometimes these spirits are unaware of their own passing or may be reluctant to move on.

These spirits reside in the Middle World, in its “shadow” counterpart and you can journey to meet them and help them to the next phase of their existence. Make sure that you are power-full and confident with dealing with such entities. This can be a scary prospect since earthbound spirits may be attracted to your own “life force”.

Journey to the Middle World, to a place that holds strong emotions (such as a hospital). You will be able to recognise and interact with these spirits in the same way as meeting your spirit allies. If you start to lose confidence in yourself you can always manifest objects for your use. For instance you may wish to visualise armour to protect you from potential harm.

Choose a spirit that you would like to help. You may need to listen to its concerns so that it unburdens itself; you may need to persuade the spirit that it no longer needs to be in this place and that a better direction can be taken. When you are ready, visualise a doorway made of light. You may wish to manifest an object such as a wand or key to help you with this.

This doorway shines with a bright white light and pure universal love energy radiates from it. The spirit may experience the feeling of loved ones beyond this doorway and you can help it into the light. Working towards the greater good for these spirits can have a positive effect on the waking world too, since these forces will have moved to a place where they belong.

In performing this action you are not only referencing archetypal images in order to persuade the spirit of its true direction but you are also using your own intention to create a situation where it may find peace or a more enlightened purpose.

Remember to remain power-full during your journey. If you feel threatened at any time, simply move your awareness to a different place and build up your energy and strength. You may wish to call upon the help of your spirit allies and this can be done at any time.

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