Shamanism: A Traditional Practice Gets a 21st Century Spin

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Although Shamanism has been around for thousands of years, this healing tradition has experienced a revival in recent years. But what is Shamanism, how is it practiced, and how is it reinventing itself for the modern era?

Shamanism takes its name from the Manchu-Tungus word šaman, which essentially translates as “someone with wisdom”. So, it’s fitting that Shamans are usually wise men (or women) who offer healing and guidance in ancient communities. The practice is deeply rooted in spirituality, but it’s also highly individual. Each Shaman follows their own path – or soul journey – and has their own methods of practice.

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Photo: Courtesy of Petr Sidorov

WHAT IS SHAMANISM?

At its core, Shamanism is about wisdom and knowledge. It involves achieving altered states of consciousness to perceive alternate realities and interacting with the energies and spirits that exist in different planes of our world. Shamans believe that everything has a spirit or soul, perception, and intelligence; this belief is central to the practice.

“Shamanism is animistic,” says Marc Nelson, a Shamanic practitioner at Shakti Healing Circle. “Everything is believed to have sentience. Shamanic work involves entering an altered state of consciousness to perceive the spiritual nature of reality that co-exists with our physical reality. Shamanic rituals are typically concerned with healing, divination, and initiation.”

Because it’s not tied to any particular religion, Shamanism is compatible with a wide range of belief systems; it shares similarities with the spiritual practices of many different cultures and has been practiced in societies across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia. Shamanism is considered one of the oldest healing traditions in the world; archeological and anthropological findings suggest it’s between 20,000 to 30,000 years old.

In traditional societies, Shamans combine the functions of healers, doctors, priests, and mystics. They provide healing for the community and function as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual realms. “Shaman practitioners fundamentally seek to restore or maintain wholeness, balance, and harmony,” adds Nelson. “That harmony can be in ourselves, between us and others (and the natural world), and between humanity and spirits.”

Shamanic practices can be very useful for people seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. “As an individual, practicing Shamanism can help you heal, develop spiritually, and live more authentically and in alignment with your life purpose,” says Nelson.

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Photo: Courtesy of Post Ranch Inn

HOW DO YOU PRACTICE IT?

The practice of Shamanism involves many different elements. A Shaman is a conduit to the spirit world and gains knowledge through life experience and prayer, meditation, and different types of rituals and ceremonies.

In their community work, Shamans use tools and rituals such as herbal medicine, “journeying,” fire rituals, dancing, drumming ceremonies, meditation, and protective amulets.

“Practicing Shamanism involves being open to different ways of looking at the world,” says Nelson. “Rituals such as Shamanic journeying, which uses drumming or similar techniques to facilitate an altered state, are used to develop a working relationship with healing spirits.”

A Shaman must master three things in order to be considered a bona fide practitioner. These are:

  • Achieving altered states of consciousness.
  • The ability to act as a medium between the physical and spiritual world.
  • The ability to meet their community’s needs in a way that other traditional practitioners (such as doctors and religious leaders) can’t.

For those who are new to Shamanism, a good place to start is dreams. This is because when you’re dreaming, you’re accessing a different state of consciousness. You could begin by keeping a dream journal where you note down all your dreams as soon as you wake up. This can help you begin to access knowledge and ideas from the spiritual realm.

See also: Circadian Health: A New Way to Think About Sleep and our Bodies

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Photos: Courtesy of Michael Walk

BRINGING SHAMANISM INTO THE 21ST CENTURY

The traditions of Shamanism stretch back through millennia, but the reason it’s still around is because it’s adaptable – it’s a practice that can fit different lifestyles, trends, and approaches. It can even be found on the spa menu at Post Ranch Inn and many other reputable resorts. 

“Some rituals have been continuously used in different cultures across time, others are introduced to meet the needs of a specific period,” describes Nelson. “In the 21st century, we are facing issues related to climate change, environmental destruction, disease, and a general breakdown of economic and social systems. Shamanism can help to understand the underlying causes of such issues.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, Shamanism is evolving once again. “The increasing use of advanced technology and the advent of new technologies such as artificial intelligence present new opportunities,” says Nelson. “One example in this context is the use of conferencing tools by practitioners to conduct group rituals online or to deliver remote learning.”

Shamanism is also being combined with modern medicine and new technologies to create a heightened practice called Neoshamanism. Pioneering this is Six Senses Resort, which had developed a unique wellness program in collaboration with Dr. Alberto Villoldo. Called “Grow a New Body”, the new program incorporates Shamanic practices like fasting, plant medicine, and intensive spiritual work, as well as other detoxing therapies such as light therapy, IV infusions, and oxygen treatments.

MODERN SPIRITUALITY

Given the tumultuous times we live in, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a surge of interest in Shamanism. The practice offers spiritual healing and a way of making sense of the world that’s hard to find through other means; it’s a useful tool for those seeking meaning in life.

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