What is Shamanism and what is a Shamanic Practitioner or Healer?
Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition present in almost every native or indigenous group of people, but more than that, Shamanism is a way of life for the practitioner or healer.
Shamanism is depicted on cave walls, on stones and boulders dating as far back as 20,000 years. Shamanism is the Grandmother of all spiritual beliefs today. It is not exclusive to any one culture. It has origins in most indigenous groups throughout the world.
Shamanic Practitioners work with the spirit or the soul of a person as well as with their Spirit Guides. They heal illness at the soul level. They gain knowledge and insight from working with the spirits of nature such as trees and plants, the land and elements and they gain knowledge from working with spirits of animals and humans such as their ancestors. For the Shamanic Healer, everything is alive and carries information. You can call this spirit energy or consciousness.
In order to communicate with the spirit or consciousness of these things, the Shamanic Practitioner will shift his or her own state of awareness. They can do this through various means, such as meditation, repetitive sounds such as that of the drum or rattle, breath-work, chanting, singing, dance or with the help of plant medicine.
They will then “see” through a new set of eyes, they will become aware what is going on at a spiritual level.
There is a lot of debate over the use of the word or title ‘Shamanic’ as it is a spiritual term that originally comes from a very specific tribe of people, however most people who do this type of work, after extended periods of training and self-healing, use it to describe the type of work they do, mostly for want of a better universally descriptive alternative. However, I feel the term Shamanic Practitioner, Healer or even Therapist best describes the work we do and would feel it would be extremely inappropriate and inaccurate to ever call myself a ‘Shaman’.
The word “shaman” probably originates from the Evenki word “šamán,” most likely from the southwestern dialect spoken by the Sym Evenki peoples. The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by Russians interacting with the indigenous peoples in Siberia. It is found in the memoirs of the exiled Russian churchman Avvakum.
The word was brought to Western Europe in the late 17th century by the Dutch traveller Nicolaes Witsen, who reported his stay and journeys among the Tungusic and Samoyedic-speaking indigenous peoples of Siberia in his book Noord en Oost Tataryen (1692).
I feel it has been ‘adopted’ into the English language much like many other words have, it is used generically in modern times to describe an individual known in the community as ‘someone who ‘sees’’ or ‘someone who’ knows’’ that which others do not, and are known as technicians of the sacred, masters of consciousness, and walkers between two worlds.
Different cultures across the world will have their own name for the ’Shamans’ in their mist such as Medicine Woman / Man, Wise Woman / Man or Cunning Woman / Man.
Often simply know as the Village or Tribal Healer.
In more recent times the word Witch has come to have a different unfortunate meaning and been greatly twisted and distorted, but was originally the title of the person (usually female) who gently healed, helped and counselled people- the midwife, herbalist and often go-between with the Spirits (both good and bad!).
Shamanic Practitioners are themselves individuals who have had to learn how to heal themselves from the debilitating effects of their own personal wounds, and they are known for their ability to successfully and regularly bring healing to others with the help of their Guides.
In the Irish tradition the ‘Shaman’ was/is most likely known as the Bean Feasa or Fear Feasa (Wise Woman/Man)
The wounded healer is an archetype for a Shamanic trial and journey. This process is important to the initiate. She/he undergoes a type of sickness that pushes her or him to the brink of death. This happens for two reasons:
The Shamanic Healer crosses over to the underworld. This happens so the they can venture to its depths to bring back vital information for the sick, and the tribe.
They must become sick to understand sickness. When the Shamanic Practitioner overcomes his or her own sickness, s/he will hold the cure to heal all that suffer. This is the uncanny mark of the wounded healer.
By engaging in their work, they are exposed to significant personal risk, there are many dangers and pitfalls that the practitioner may run into in the spirit world. Sometimes the she/he must travel into an area where there are dangerous or malevolent spirits.
A Shamanic Practitioner must not be timid or hesitant during a journey. They cannot have any fear. Their greatest weapon, is the heart. A heart filled with love, is the strongest protection there is. To some, this may sound a little naive, but to those who have experience in this field it is known that Love is the strongest force of all. It is fear that makes a person, a Shamanic Healer or any one else weak.
But there is also great beauty and love that the Healer encounters. There are wonderful great Spirits that wish more Humans had the ability to meet with them. They are there, just waiting to meet & help us. There was a time when communication between realms was not so infrequent. A time when beings met from both sides, in love and caring.