Shamanism is the oldest spiritual practice on Earth. It has existed since the beginnings of our human tribe. Ancient cave paintings in Australia, the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa depict Shaman performing rituals tens of thousands of years ago. “Shaman” is a Siberian word that means “one who sees in the dark”.
Throughout history there have been many different types of Shaman and practices vary from tribe to tribe. But the hallmark of every Shaman, both ancient and modern, is the ability to intuitively “see in the dark” and travel beyond this physical plane into non-ordinary reality. The Australian aborigines call non-ordinary reality the Dreamtime. The Celtic tribes of Britain referred to it as the Other World. And modern Shaman continue to use ancient methods to enter a deep meditative or trance state and see in the dark, beyond this reality.
Shaman believed in the “web of life” long before modern theories of ecology were formulated; I consider Shaman to be the first environmentalists. From a Shamanic viewpoint, everything is alive and has a spirit; grass, pine tree, fox, flower, stone and river are all infused and flowing with spiritual essence and consciousness. To the Shaman, Mother Earth is a pulsing, flowing living system where humans are completely interwoven and interdependent with every other form of life. All of life is interconnected; any belief that humans are separate from other life forms is an illusion, according to Shaman.
One of the Shaman’s primary roles in the community was (and is) to maintain balance between the members of the tribe and all other forms of life on Earth. In indigenous cultures, Shaman performed many sacred ceremonies and spiritual rituals for the tribe in order to maintain balance; e.g. blessing every hunting expedition, divining where the tribe should settle or when to plant crops, welcoming newborn babies into the tribe, and helping the dying make their transition to spirit gracefully.
Shamanism is also the oldest form of healing on this planet. Long before antibiotics, surgeries and heart stents, Shamanic healers journeyed into non-ordinary reality to learn about the nature of illness and help their tribe heal. And today, modern Shamanic practitioners such as myself continue to journey, seeking guidance and help with the healing of many different kinds of physical, emotional and spiritual wounds.
Shaman are said to see with their hearts, rather than logical minds. And Shamanic healing practices have a deep spiritual and emotional focus. Psychopomp, spiritual intrusion, soul retrieval, energy extraction, depossession… there are many Shamanic healing practices with odd and intimidating names. These ancient healing practices are designed to help you:
- locate and release energies from your body-mind-spirit that do not belong there
- regain power and other energies that are lost or stuck in your past
- locate and unlock aspects of your Soul or True Self that are frozen or “lost”
Shamanic healing is very effective for understanding and healing painful or traumatic experiences. And because of the Shaman’s focus on balancing the entire web of life, Shamanic healing practices tend to be innately holistic, integrating all aspects of body, mind, heart and spirit into the healing process.
The Journey Process
A Shaman journeys in trance state in order to perform ‘divination’ and gather spiritual information about your illness and its cause. The shaman acts as a “hollow bone”, becoming a channel for healing energies and spiritual wisdom. You may travel to non-ordinary reality with the Shaman, or they may go alone. During the journey, spirit allies help the Shaman to uncover the cause of the illness. The spiritual helpers may also assist the Shaman in performing any process required for healing during the journey. The Shaman may merge with a helping spirit and/or elemental energies in order to help you heal.
When Shaman travel into Dreamtime in search of healing, they seek guidance from allies and guides in spiritual form; e.g. angels, ancestors, departed teachers – Shaman call on all sources of wisdom. And the answers may be found in non-human forms as well; a power animal or totem, a wise old tree, a flower, a gem stone or even a place of power on Mother Earth may hold wisdom that is the key to healing. In the Shamanic world, healing wisdom is found in all forms of life.
Everything is Connected
Separation is an Illusion
All is One
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Our dreams can help us heal by reconnecting us with aspects of ourselves that we have suppressed, or lost touch with. Below, I share a dream flow experience that was deeply healing for me personally. In traditional Shamanic terms, this is called a soul retrieval journey:
Dream Flow Journey
I lie in my bath, and I daydream about the power of trees in dream journeys. Suddenly, I can see my favorite tree from childhood – the one where I spent hours perched on a branch reading Nancy Drew and King Arthur stories.
In my mind, I go back to that tree on the edge of the cow pasture; I can feel the rough bark and the curve of the branch under me. I imagine myself shrinking and climbing down its roots into the earth. I spiral down the main root in my mind – seeing the dark rich soil. I go further and further down until I find myself in a huge cavern with a slow moving underground river Flowing by.
I know I have traveled this route before – it all looks so familiar. I jump into the water. I wonder about a guide and imagine dolphins – no manatees swimming with me, guiding me. we swim downstream through a series of 3 pools, each a different color.
In the last pool, I see my 7 year old self sitting on the beach with our old dachshund under her arm. I get out of the water crying, I am so happy to see her – she is mermaid girl – the part of me that KNEW she was destined to grow gills and swim away. And so she did.
I ask her to come back with me, telling her how much my life has changed. She is reluctant at first to return to this reality. She didn’t like this place much! We finally agree that she will come back and be my treasure hunter part; she will hunt for stories that I can use in my writing and in my classes. It is the perfect job for her – she adores books; myths and stories especially.
Mermaid girl and I merge energetically. I am ecstatic. I jump back in the water and swim with the manatees up through the pools to the cavern. I climb up the tree roots and fly home on eagle.