AN ARTICLE ABOUT SHAMANISM
AND SHAMANIC HEALING
Over tens of thousands of years, our ancient ancestors worldwide discovered how to maximize our human abilities for healing and problem-solving. The remarkable system of knowledge they developed is today known as shamanism, it is the earliest spiritual practice known to humankind, dating back possibly 100,000 years, and the word ‘Shaman’ comes from the Tung tribe of Siberia, meaning ‘healer’, or ‘one who sees in the dark’.
Practices are based on certain knowledge :-
• The animistic understanding that all things have a spirit, a blueprint, or creative force, which animates them, and their own consciousness, which can be communicated with;
• That everything consists of energy which can be moved and transformed;
- In the web of life, all things are interconnected and affect one other, and should be respected;
• All dis-ease has spiritual origins, so by identifying the problem, and putting right the flow of energy, healing can be facilitated.
All modern forms of healing have originated from this knowledge.
In indigenous cultures the shaman has traditionally been the doctor, healer, counsellor, herbalist, and oracle for the tribe, getting guidance about where to hunt or to find food, or water, and talking to the plant spirits about how to use them for medicine. The shaman conducts ceremonies for birth, death, weddings, and rites of passage; helps the souls of the dead, stuck in this dimension, to pass over; reads signs, omens, and the cycles of nature to choose auspicious timings; and interprets dreams for guidance. The fact that shamanic methods are still in use after many thousands of years is testimony to their effectiveness – they produce practical results.
Probably the oldest shamanic culture in the world is that of the San tribes of southern Africa, indigenous to Botswana and Namibia. For at least 70,00 years they have roamed their lands as hunter-gatherers, living in the same gentle and exquisitely skilful ways. Their understanding of the land, plants and animals is unparalleled, and although their culture has been brutally threatened in recent years by the demands of other people, they continue to warmly welcome visitors to their settlements. Their whole way of life is based upon community and sharing - sharing of food, tools, skills, responsibilities, and child raising. The San people regularly hold healing dances in which the whole community gather after dark around a huge fire, the women clap a rhythm and sing their ancient polyphonic song, and the healers, their legs wound around with rattles made from dried moth cocoons, dance themselves into trance before giving healing to each individual. The dance is wild and unpredictable, full of drama and laughter. In this way everyone’s needs are supported and their community stays strong.
Shamanic techniques all over the world are based on a few basic practices, and modern ‘core shamanism’ brings together these key elements, without any particular cultural slant, although many practitioners still use ethnic techniques. Shamanism carries no dogma, requires no religious belief, and is non-judgmental. The most common practice is the shamanic journey, in which the shaman uses a monotonous drum beat, rattle, or chant, to enter a trance state, and travels into the realms of spirit to consult with guides for healing or divination. These invisible realms are what the Celts referred to as the Otherworld, the Aborigines the Dreamtime, the Norse Nine Worlds, the pagan Summerlands. Many traditions talk of three worlds, connected by the World Tree, – the Lower world, a beautiful, earthy dimension, where one connects with power animals; the Upper world, often perceived as an ethereal, bright place where one connects with guides in human or angelic form; and the Middle world, the spiritual dimension of our physical world, with all its beauty, creativity, and indeed, trickery, strangeness, and humanity.
The shamanic journey is a controlled visionary experience, which can be learned by anyone, to meet with their guides and power animals, for guidance and healing. The imagination, often dismissed in our culture as unimportant, even problematic, is the tool – in truth it is our greatest asset, allowing us to see into the invisible realms, to work with helping spirits and energies, to heal the past and create the future. A power animal is the spirit of an animal, which protects and guides us through life – and we all have at least one. Spirit guides, usually first encountered in the upper world, are teachers in human form - maybe angels, deities, historical figures, or ancestors. The shaman has a strong relationship with his or her animal and spirit guides, who do the healing work and give guidance on journeys.
A shamanic healer typically uses a repertoire of healing methods, such as energy healing, body work, crystals, and sound, as well as healings done using the shamanic journey, which most commonly include power and soul retrieval, and extraction. The healer must also work on healing themselves, to become like a ‘hollow bone’, free from ego and projections, so that they can give their complete attention and be fully present with the client, without becoming judgmental or energetically drained. This is an important and ongoing part of the shamanic training.
Soul Retrieval is a powerful healing for those needing a quantum leap along their life’s path, it is a healing that requires genuine commitment, and should not be undertaken lightly. Soul loss can happen at any time, when traumatic life events occur, for example at birth, emotional or physical abuse, bullying, accident, bereavement, surgery, extreme stress, or relationship difficulties, and can stem from past life traumas too. A part of the soul’s essence splits off and goes away, to preserve itself – in the meantime, the full life force is not present or able to function, causing symptoms and problems. In psychological terms this is known as dissociation, and many people live with the effects for years without really understanding what has happened, or that anything can be done. In shamanic cultures, looking after each individual is understood to be vital to maintaining the balance of the community, and the problem is addressed more quickly.
Symptoms of soul loss include, among others:
A feeling of not being ‘all there’
Physical or mental illness
Disempowerment and struggle, out of touch with creativity
Lack of confidence – general, or in some particular area
Fears and phobias
Inability to focus
Soul retrieval typically takes two healing sessions. In the first, the shaman journeys to bring back the missing soul part(s), to be returned. Sometimes the client may be guided to journey for themselves, but this depends on the circumstances – some come for shamanic healing after quite obviously working towards it, making changes in their lives and dealing with issues, so that the soul retrieval is a completion of their process – it’s as if the soul part is very near, waiting to come back in. Others can be too fearful, emotional, stressed, desperate, or resistant to manage their own journey, so the healer will journey for them.
A healing begins with a smudging ceremony, using burning sage to cleanse and create sacred space, and the shamanic healer connects with their spirit allies through prayer or meditation. The healer then uses a drum beat for the ten or fifteen minute journeying process, during which the client simply relaxes, and is receptive to whatever may happen. The healer returns with the soul part, and blows it into the client’s energy system, usually through the heart and the crown chakras, before telling the client the story of the journey, and any guidance received.
Memories, emotions and dreams often arise as part of the healing and clearing process, as the newly returned soul part integrates, and it is important to remember that the original trauma which caused the soul part to leave is NOT being returned. The shamanic healer may support the client through this time with extra sessions, or simply being available for reassurance.
The second session, around a week later, aids this integration by helping the client find ways to welcome the soul part, find its active role, and to bring it fully into life once more. For example, if the soul part returned was a little child who had left because of the fear and low self esteem caused by bullying, then the client might imagine themselves, as a kind protective adult, asking the little child how it needs to be looked after, and what it would like to do. Sometimes the answers to these questions are great fun! After integrating, this soul part could be expected to bring qualities back to the person, such as courage and self esteem, and the ability to play and create. Another important part of the healing that is addressed at this time is to find and return soul energies which the client has unconsciously taken from others. The effects of soul retrieval can frequently cause rapid and profound shifts, but sometimes they are more apparent when looked at in hindsight, over the following weeks or months.
Power Retrieval, or restoring part of the client’s personal power in the form of their power animal, which they have lost their connection to, is similar, and can generally be achieved with one healing session. Shamanic cultures say that we are born with a power animal, whether we are aware of it or not, and this connection is very important to our wellbeing. Symptoms of power loss can include a series of unfortunate events, minor accidents and illnesses, or just being unable to ‘get it together’, so this healing can result in significant improvements in a person’s confidence and abilities, and connects them with a guide whom they can consult whenever necessary.
Soul Release is similar to soul retrieval, and is a method of freeing the soul from old entangled relationships which are still felt to be holding the client back, whether they are with another person, their ancestry, or something else, for example with an addiction. It is important to remember that there is always a gift of healing, growth and learning in every difficult life situation!
Extraction healing involves the healer journeying to remove and transmute what is really just energy caught in the wrong place. When we are not truly full of our own power, blockages and intrusions occur in our energy system, caused by our own beliefs and attitudes (imagine a ‘bee in your bonnet’, a ‘chip on your shoulder’, a ‘rod for your own back’), the thoughts and actions of others (‘stabbed in the back’), or picked up accidentally as we walk through life’s sea of constantly moving energy (‘caught in the cross-fire’). Symptoms of these intrusions are very often physically painful. An experienced shamanic healer checks which aspects of a client’s spiritual health need attention for each healing - very often more than one type of shamanic healing is needed, in combination with work on the energy bodies and chakras, and there are many techniques besides journeying which could also be used. Every healing is completely unique.
Depossession involves the removal of entities which may be energetically attached to and troubling the client, thereby exacerbating their problems. A shamanic healer is also trained in Soul Rescue and helping the souls of the departed to cross over successfully.
Shamanism is practical, and adapts to the changing needs of society, the methods can also be applied to animals, places, and the spirits of the land. People finding that they are surrounded by urbanisation and technology (which, incidentally, also have spirits!) are adopting shamanic practices into their lives, as they seek to connect with nature, and their own souls. The old ways embodied in modern core shamanism are easily learned, and infinitely usable in any situation.
We owe it to ourselves, our children, and our ancestors to become free from the effects of old, abusive relationships, guilt, and pain, and because journeying is a process of direct revelation, it is possible to seek shamanic help for absolutely any issue. Shamanic techniques can go directly to the roots of a problem, and healings are always uniquely tailored to the needs of the individual. Whether you need one or two sessions, or an ongoing, supportive process, this can be guided by your own feelings and intuition.
© Sarah Howcroft 2008