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What is Shamanism... and why is it relevant to us now?

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Dona Maria, Q'ero Shaman

As more and more of us are becoming interested in Shamanism, I find myself having conversations with people trying to demystify it. Some express concerns about it being 'weird' or 'tribal'; others regard Western Shamanic practitioners as hopelessly deluded romantics seeking inspiration in outdated animism; while others think that only indigenous peoples may practice it.

Shamanism is said to date back 30,000 years, making it the oldest spiritual source that we know about. There is archaeological evidence of it all around the world and while there are cultural variations according to the land in which it has developed it is also fair to say that a common theme weaving through is 'Indigenous Natural Spirituality'.

So, traditionally, villages which supported and consulted the local Shaman were inhabited by people who greatly revered mother nature and for whom it was critical to live in harmony with the environment. Indeed in remote parts of the world as yet untrammeled by gold-digging, rubber-tapping, oil extraction or other forms of exploitation, this way of life still goes on, just.

The word SHAMAN derives from the Siberian term for a man or woman who mediates between the visible world of humans and the invisible world of energy and spirit. The traditional role of Shaman would have been multifaceted – medicine woman/man; herbalist; ceremonialist; seer/prophet; tracker; guide; earth-keeper/steward. The key aspect is a deep breadth of understanding which will have been forged over many years with several initiations.

This wisdom, albeit with cultural variants, will have forged in the Shaman an ability to work with different aspects of the life force. The Shaman will have learned how to dance between the worlds, honouring all of creation and helping her village to stay in right relationship: how to take enough from the environment but not too much; through tracking discovering where to find the salmon; through consulting teacher plants how to heal the sick; through ceremony guiding each member of the community through rites of passage; through seership how to release emotional trauma.

How does Shamanism differ to other spiritual approaches? There is a distinct difference in the relationship between the earth and people. For example the major religions are largely humanocentric, whereas in Shamanism we are in a fine balance with nature where all is one, divinity runs through everything, heaven is right here on earth. Those few Shaman who still live here on earth regard us westerners as orphaned, so disconnected are we from the earth and creation.

This is a vast subject about which I am passionate and which I will expand on in future blogs but for now it seems to me that Shamanism, deeply honed with integrity, is critically relevant to us now as we face environmental disaster and global turmoil. It is the heart and soul of green activism and eco-consciousness.

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