Shamanism is humanity’s oldest healing art to exist. It dates back to the Paleolithic era. Initially, the word Shaman referred to healers of the Tungus people of Siberia but in recent times it has been given to healers in many traditional cultures globally who use the consciousness altering techniques in the healing process. Mircea Eliade asserts in his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy that Shamanism underlies all the other spiritual traditions that exist on the planet and that one of the fundamental characteristics of shamanism is traveling to other worlds in a state of consciousness (Bonnie). The Shamans are commonly referred to as seers or “people who know” in their tribal based languages because they are involved in the system of knowledge based on first-hand experiences. It is important t to note that Shamanism is not a belief system because it is based on personal experimentation conducted to heal, get information, or even engage in other things. In fact, if a shaman does not get the desired results, then they are discredited and will no longer be used in the tribe again. The paper below gives a documentation of Shamanism as well as an account of an experience e had by a Shaman.
The word shaman is an English translation of the Tungus word saman. The Tungus are the indigenous people located in Siberia along the Altai Mountains. The literal translation of the word Tung means, “To know.” Another research indicates that the word Shaman was derived from the earliest people perhaps the Vedic people from northern India. One example given in that line is the Tibetan word for a Buddhist monk, which is Samana. However, despite the ambiguity in the true meaning of the word and its origin, Shamanism is now a global technique that cannot be overlooked.
Contrary to common belief, Shamanism is not a religion; it is a method and not a religion. It coexists with the existing religions found in diverse cultures. In some countries such as Siberia Shamanism coexist with religions such as Buddhism and Lamaism. However, they are mostly found in animism cultures that are those that believe in the existence of spirits since the Shamans may interact with the spirits to come up with a form of healing (Stevens & Lena, 25). The shamans, however, do not believe in spirits, but they engage with them and talk to them. Therefore, shamanism sis not a system of belief or faith but rather is a practice. Shamanism is also not exclusive in that it accommodates the other practices within the culture. They use the spiritual means at their disposal I collaboration with the other community members that have other tactics or techniques that they employ. Such may include the plant healing, bone setting, and massage. The purpose of the Shaman is to help the patient get well by all means possible and not rather prove their prowess. In fact, the gifts that the shamans receive because of their work, they return them all in case the patient dies or fails to get well after they perform their healing process (Stevens & Lena, 26).
Tom Cowan the author of Pocket Guide to Shamanism states that the role of the Shaman is a wide range. Some of the roles that they have are to heal the spirit, herbal healing, divination, soul leading and dream work. However, not all the Shamans perform the same services at all times (pages 23-27). The exact role that the Shaman plays depends on their area of Calling. There are some of the Shamans that are energetic healers, diviners, communicators with other realities, herbal healers, soul retrievers, and light workers. However, the role that they play is of lesser importance as compared to the services that they provide.
The primary function is the healing the spirit for a Shaman. This may include the first the soul extraction, which involves the Shaman extracting the psychic chords and darts making an intrusion into the soul of the patient. It is at times an attack from an individual that has attempted to harm or kill the patient. In the current set up, the extraction of the soul should involve the cleansing and protection rituals for the individual in need. Secondly, is the soul retrieval whereby the Shaman retrieves the pieces of the lost soul of an individual. It is usually done through journeying to the spirit world with the help of the ancestors, spirits to find out what is wrong with the individual, and hence fought to bring back what the individual lost. It is effective for those suffering from mental illness, abused children or those that have missing puzzles in their lives. The third role is soul restoration that involves the accrual reinstatement of the person’s soul. It occurs when a person is near death may be due to trauma, and hence the energy is re-centered. The other role is hands-on healing that is a technique that involves the body work and hands-on healing involving the energy or spirit of the shaman working with that of the patient. The other important role is divination which whereby the shaman can foretell the future describing the illness of people and find the needed cure, the divination shows the path to the patient that will lead to their healing. The herbal healing role is also bestowed on the shaman, which gives them the credence of being a true medicine man or witch doctor. Therefore, the Shaman try to protect the plant life that produce the all needed herbal value. Herbal healing works in conjunction with spirit healing to facilitate quick recovery of the individual. The shaman also engages in dream work whereby they interpret the dreams that individuals have as a way to assist in the healing process of a then dreamer. The other important role is soul leading whereby they work with the dead. The shaman escorts the newly dead into the otherworld because they are more familiar with the other world. They direct the soul of the dead to a proper place in the other world (Cowan, 23-27).
Not all the shamans perform the task and the practices listed above. However, the shaman engages in providing a holistic healing process. They perform their work involving counseling, herbs, physical healing methods, and rituals. The goals of the shaman are to address the mind, body, and soul of the person seeking their assistance to ensure holistic wellbeing. The shaman’s role is to guide the community, and they acknowledge that healing comes from within the individual and hence their role is to take them through or guide them on how to do it. Shamanic is also a matter of personal choice whereby individuals have the liberty to choose between modern medicine and Shamanism. However, most individuals combine both of them (Eliade, 33).
One experience of a Shaman is the initiation process into shamanism. The shamanic initiation is usual two-fold that is it happens in the physical word and the next world. It is part of the call that all the traditional Shamans have to receive and is usually a very strict and involved process that can at times lead to the death or permanent disabilities of the individual if not seen through to the proper conclusion. There is a tale of a young Manchu apprentice that got so frightened that he tore himself from the vision of an eagle that had grabbed him with his talons and then fell from a cliff meeting his death (Matthews, 17).
According to the tradition, training by the ecstatic method is done through visions and dreams. The individual spends a lot of time that could be months, at times even years in solitude living in a cave or forest in the most deplorable manner. The instruction has to be given by the ancestors, spirits, and guides and it involves the initiation to the other world. The individuals then let themselves fall into starvation and isolation to get into the ecstatic state. The experience is so tough and gruesome and is the reason there are so few Shamans in existence and why the lineage is not growing (Eliade, 40).
In conclusion, Shamanism is a traditional healing method and a way of life and not a religion. It was first practiced among the Tungus if Siberia but spread globally over the course of time to merge with the diverse cultures in the world. The shaman acts as an intermediary between the physical world and the spirit world. They take to action on behalf of the community and the individuals to conduct ceremonies for rituals, heal the people, and help to guide others on the shamanic path. The life of the shaman is dedicated to the service of the people in society and hence they have a responsibility to ensure the well-being of family and the entire community. They help to maintain a balance in society. It is, however, a very strenuous and self-sacrificing ritual to become a Shaman and hence there is a diminishing number of the Shamans in the world over the course of time.