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The Hollow Bone
A Field Guide to Shamanism
By Colleen Deatsman
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2011 Colleen Deatsman
All rights reserved.
The Spirituality of the Ages
Shamanism is many things to many people—at its core it is an ancient spiritual tradition dedicated to becoming fully human. Through partnership with the compassionate spirits, shamanic practitioners bring blessings of balance and healing to our world.
Nan Moss and David Corbin, Weather Shamanism
Shamanism is the path of immediate and direct personal contact with Spirit, deeply intuitive, and not subject to definition, censorship, or judgment by others.
Hank Wesselman and Sandra Ingerman, Awakening to the Spirit World
Though shamanism is the oldest living path of spirituality and healing, many people have never heard of it or don't know what it is. "Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to mankind and is the 'ancestor' of all our modern religions," Hank Wesselman and Sandra Ingerman say in Awakening to the Spirit World. "As a method, it is a form of meditation combined with focused intention to accomplish various things." The term shamanism refers to actions and movements made based on spirit connections; those actions and movements vary according to the culture, community, discipline, purpose, training, calling, beliefs, and interpretations of the shamanic practitioners, as well as the spirit guidance and clients involved. Shamanism is spirit in action in living and healing for oneself, others, and the world.
As Nan Moss and David Corbin's quote explains, shamanism is many things to many people. It is a way of life and a practice that is rich in tradition, eclecticism, and mysticism. In the world today, there is confusion about what shamanism is and who the shamans are; the confusion exists not only in science and everyday vernacular and thought, but also among indigenous peoples, shamanic groups, and practitioners. Another word for confusion is mystification, and since shamanism is steeped in mystery, confusion about it is not surprising.
Shamanism is a path of direct revelation that is not subject to definition, censorship, or judgment by others, as Ingerman and Wesselman make clear in their quote at the very beginning of the chapter. Additionally, shamanism is personal, idiosyncratic, crosscultural, and not owned by any person or peoples. The earth is shared by all people, yet individuals experience the earth in their own ways.
Similarly, shamanism is shared by people around the world, yet each person experiences shamanism in his or her own way. Shamanism is not a religion, nor does it have a doctrine, dogma, holy book, or set of rules to adhere to. Shamanism embodies the most widespread and time-tested practical system of spirituality and mind-body-soul healing known to humankind. It encompasses a timeless wisdom of indigenous cultures shared around the globe and passed down through tens of thousands of years to us, the recipient descendants.
Shamanism is not a religion, but the most widespread and time-tested practical system of spirituality and mind-body-soul healing known to humankind.
According to some reports supported by various archeological and anthropological discoveries, shamanism is estimated to have been an effective set of beliefs, actions, and healing methods for well over 50,000 years. In 1972, French archeologists working at the Hortus site in southern France unearthed a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site. They found the body of a man wearing a leopard hide. The claws and tail of the hide were still intact, but there were no leopard bones in the grave. Most scientists accept that the Neanderthal man found at the Hortus site was a shaman. Archeological and anthropological records show us that tribal shamans in many cultures have worn the heads, furs, and other body parts of animals during ritual and healing ceremonies. The shamans are commonly buried with these and other ceremonial tools.
Shamanism is estimated to have been an effective set of beliefs, actions, and healing methods for well over 50,000 years—since before people were even people.
Pictographs and petroglyphs bearing shamanic images of people wearing animal and bird masks, dancing ecstatically or sitting in trance states, and interacting with images thought to represent a power or energy emitted from animals and other unknown beings exist in multitudes of locations around the world. Newspaper Rock, shown in Figure 1, rises above the road and river on the way to the southern entrance of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. The rock contains a petroglyph, a carving in the sandstone, that clearly depicts over 2,000 years of life activity in the Fremont, Anasazi, Navajo, and Anglo cultures. It is one example of thousands of rock carvings and paintings from around the world that give us insight into shamans of the past.
If shamanism can endure 50,000 years of change, it can help us during these times of change.
Archeology, anthropology, and ancient artwork, as well as other evidence, point to the fact that shamanism has been around since before people were even people. It outlived the Neanderthal and has flourished for tens of thousands of years to the present day. Perhaps even more important to the human psyche and soul, every culture on the planet is rich in stories, myths, legends, and teachings passed down in oral traditions, speaking to the longevity of shamanism as a way of life and healing.
Perhaps shamanism has survived the ages because it is experiential, practical, interactive, creative, and can be altered based on direct revelation and what is needed in each unique set of circumstances. Certainly, if shamanism can endure through all the changes of well over 50,000 years, and even the death of an entire species, it can help us during these times of change.
Those Who See in the Dark
Who are these extraordinary people who imitated the sounds of animals in the dark, or drank tobacco juice through funnels, or wore collars filled with stinging ants? —Jeremy Narby and Francis Huxley, Shamans Through Time
A practitioner of shamanism is known as a shaman.
Figure 2 gives us a glimpse of just one culture's extraordinary shamans. Haru (left), leader and peacemaker of his people, and his father, Univu (right), medicine man, pictured in ceremonial prayer, are from Amazonia Brazil, the place of the rainforest (the land of the big trees). This photograph was taken in Greenland (the land of the Big Ice) during the Ice Wisdom gathering of shamans and shamanic practitioners in 2009. Chapter 9 has more on the phenomenon and prophecy behind this gathering.
Shaman (pronounced shah-maan) is a word from the language of the Tungus people of Siberia and has been adopted widely by anthropologists to refer to persons in a great variety of non-Western cultures who were previously known by such terms as witch, witch doctor, medicine man, sorcerer, wizard, magic man, magician, and seer. A shaman is a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness—at will—to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality in order to acquire knowledge and power, and to help other persons. This name denotes shamans' ability to journey out of ordinary reality, space, and time, with discipline and purpose, into nonordinary reality, where they connect with energy and helping spirits to receive guidance, gain insight or power, or diagnose and treat illness. The term seer is often used to refer to shamans for the same reason. Through various methods of intention and trance, the shaman enters the nonordinary reality that exists just outside of our everyday perceptions. In part three, we'll look at nonordinary reality, the shamans' ability to journey there, and the intentions and trances they use to do so.
Shamanic seeing is different from ordinary seeing; it is a wholebody sensing and knowing that can, but does not always, include visual images. Shamans gather information and energy through what has been coined extrasensory perception (ESP). They receive visual images, feelings, insights, flashes, direct knowledge, telepathic messages, gut feelings, sensations, and direct experiences through all aspects and perception facilities of their mind, body, emotions, energy field, and soul.
Animism: the belief that all things are souls created from, filled with, and sustained by lifeforce energy
Shamans work diligently, on a daily basis, throughout their lives, to honor their spirit connections and to perfect their natural abilities to enter the nonordinary worlds of spirit for specific purposes, such as to gain insight, knowledge, or power; to obtain energy for healing, restoration, balance, or wholeness; or to find solutions to problems challenging their clients or the community. Nonshamans perceive that shamans enter into other dimensions of reality, time, and space. Therefore, shamans serve as intermediaries, messengers, and energy connections between the human world and the spirit worlds.
The Worlds According to Shamanism
We cannot separate the physical from the spiritual, the visible from the invisible. —Ted Andrews, Animal Speak
To the outsider or beginner, it may appear that shamans choose to live in two worlds at the same time. They consciously hold their awareness here in the ordinary, everyday world of physical matter as well as in the nonordinary world of spirit. The truth is, we all live in both worlds. Most of us are just not as aware of the other, less visible one as the shaman is. Seeing nonordinary reality is a natural ability available to all of us, but it's an ability that must be developed.
There is a common misunderstanding that the physical and spirit worlds are separate, when they are actually one and the same. What shamans call the spirit world does not exist in some other place, but is a part of our everyday reality, just outside of our usual perceptions.
Modern quantum physics has proven that there are, in fact, many worlds, dimensions, and realms that overlap and interact with one another. Much of the shaman's work is harnessing information and energies from these lesser-known worlds for practical use in our everyday world. Thus, shamans serve as bridges between the many other worlds.
The Great Web of Life: the vast web of energy connecting all things
For simplicity, I'll refer to two worlds: the everyday, ordinary, physical reality or world and the nonordinary reality or spirit world, with the understanding that the latter is actually a vast realm of infinite and indefinable energies and dimensions.
Animism and the Web of Life: Cornerstones of Shamanism
And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. —Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks
Shamans see the soul of the world in every rock, stream, bird, and cloud. This belief that all things are souls created from, filled with, and sustained by life-force energy is known as animism. It's the view that everything is alive and animated, even if it does not appear so. This book, the compost and plants in your garden, the trees, the mountains, the wind, the tarmac road, the rocks, the animals, the chair you are sitting in, you and me—all are animated souls.
In shaman traditions, we acknowledge that everything is living, filled with dynamic life-force energy, and connected to everything else by a web of energy called the Great Web of Life. This web itself is alive, spirited, animated, intelligent, accessible, mysterious, and divine. Some shamans see the web as a diffuse image of organized energy moving about like light smoke in the wind. Some shamans feel, sense, and experience the web as a force of energy.
Many shamans see and feel the Great Web of Life as a vast, infinite web or net of light-filled energy filaments connecting endless numbers of beings, who are also made of light and life-force energy. The density, composition, and flow of life-force energy varies from being to being and filament to filament. We know that light is made up of a broad spectrum of frequencies, some of which we can see, some of which are invisible to us. The filaments of the web of life are similar to light in that some are very dense, having the appearance of a solid, physical form, while others are not and do not.
This life-force energy is a free-flowing, high-vibrational energy that shamans believe is the source—also referred to as the Creator, Great Spirit, or God—and is the foundation of everything. This energy is omnipresent and is the essence of all things, a subtle yet powerful undercurrent of all that is. Everything that exists is alive with life-force energy. This same life-force energy makes up the minute fibers of the web that links all things. The web of life radiates and pulses with this all-pervading energy.
Everything that exists is alive with life-force energy, a free-flowing, omnipresent, highvibrational energy.
In the ordinary world, manifestations of the web are visible as things such as beings, objects, and colors. Sounds, tastes, smells, and tingling sensations are also manifestations of the web, as are things considered to be extraordinary perceptions, like gut feelings, premonitions, intuition, and visions. Most people don't perceive the latter, the nonordinary- world manifestations of the web, with their five physical senses, since those manifestations are made of more subtle, less dense life-force energy. It is this less dense, subtle energy that shamans are trained to see, sense, feel, and experience through bare awareness, altered states of consciousness, and heightened sensory awareness. Bare awareness is the place within each person where the mind falls silent and inner knowing is all that exists.
In 1854, Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes in what is now Washington State, very eloquently described the shamanic view of animism and the interconnectedness of the web of life: Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people.
Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.
Bare awareness is the place within each person where the mind falls silent, and inner knowing is all that exists.
Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds. —Chief Seattle, 1854
The Shaman's Companions: Helping Spirits
A shaman is never truly alone. Instead, there is an unwavering belief that loving companions are always traveling with us.
Evelyn C. Rysdyk, teacher, healer, author
As we've already seen, shamans understand that everything that exists is made of and sustained by life-force energy and is interconnected by the energy of the Great Web of Life. This life-force energy is intelligent and omnipotent, formless and omnipresent. Ever since human beings became aware of the less-visible world around them, they have felt a need to identify this great force. Shamans, as well as yogis, esotericists, philosophers, spiritual authorities, and practitioners of all kinds, have referred to it by names that imply a vast and divine or spiritual power: Great Spirit, Great Mystery, Creator, Spirit, God, the Goddess, the Holy Spirit, Lord, Lady, Mother/Father God, Allah, prana, chi, ki, qi, Universal Power, the Higher Power, the Universal Source, the Light, the Source, the Divine, causal energy—the list goes on. For centuries, people have argued and fought over the names, but regardless of what it is called, this single life-force energy moves within every living thing. It is the spirit that moves in all things and imbues all things, whether those things are observably animate or inanimate, with the radiance of life. Many shamans refer to this energy as Great Spirit, so I will as well.
The all-pervading, divine life-force energy of Great Spirit has "assistant" energies, which are connected to it, each other, and everything that exists, including us, by the web of life. These assistant energies interact with us and act as bridges between us and the web and between us and the all-pervasive life force. These energies also take on particular energetic signatures and appearances that shamans can see, sense, feel, experience, and interact with in personal and tangible ways. Sometimes these energies manifest as personified images. These ambassadors of the web work with the shamans to bridge the worlds and to bring about harmony and balance within all of the worlds and their inhabitants. Shamans refer to these energies as helping spirits.
Excerpted from The Hollow Bone by Colleen Deatsman. Copyright © 2011 Colleen Deatsman. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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