Shamanism is often thought of in connection with Native American culture, however there are many Shamanic customs and practices to be found across the globe. Shamanism can be traced back at least 50,000 years.
Tribal cultures have still commonly retained their Shamanic practices and Shamanism is also found in Australia, Siberia, Europe, Africa and South America amongst other places. The word Shaman comes from Siberia and has variously been translated as meaning "one who sees in the dark", or "excited person". The excited person is a healer and magician, and the word Shaman has become a word which means a person from almost any culture with a special knowledge of healing and a greater awareness of how the world of spirit works.
Although there are many variations between the cultures certain core beliefs and practices can be found:
- That the soul can journey away from the body to visit other realms
- That there are spirits to communicate with in the other realms
- That guidance or wisdom can be sought in these other realms
That the soul can journey away from the body to other realms:
This concept is not as extreme or weird as it sounds- think how far away you can travel from 'reality' just by daydreaming and how people tend physically to 'jump' back into their bodies if suddenly snapped out of it and may automatically say "sorry I wasn't really here." Equally when we sleep every night our consciousness shifts and that takes us into other realities, even if we don't always have conscious recall.
Traditional Shamanic traditions use a variety of techniques to facilitate the trance state which helps the soul to journey. Some, like the ingestion of psychotropic plants are not easy to work with legally in Western society, are potentially poisonous and are found unacceptable by the 'moral majority'. Others, like sleep deprivation, are not easy if your Shamanic practice has to fit into full time work commitments and all the other calls on your time that modern life makes.
For practical purposes sonic driving is one of the simplest ways to facilitate the journeying. Sonic driving is the repetitive and monotonous beat of a drum or rattle, which has an effect on the brainwaves, taking them out of the everyday waking state into a trance state. Drumming is particularly effective because a drum can build up beautiful overtones and 'sing', which further helps the journeying. The drum is often referred to as the 'shaman's horse' carrying him safely into the spirit realms and back again.
It is ideal to have a physical drummer present when learning to journey, but recorded drumming will work and can be listened to through headphones if you are concerned about disturbing others. Any continuous sound, including the human voice chanting can be journeyed on. Water flowing over stones is a pleasant sound to try out.
That there are spirits to communicate with in the other realms:
In travelling to other realms spirit guides, or allies, can be contacted and communicated with. We can journey to the Lower World, where we can find our power animals and receive practical help, and the Upper World, where we can meet and communicate with our spirit guides, who often, but not always appear in human form.
The Middle World is the non-physical parallel reality to the world we inhabit in everyday consciousness. It is wise to have a strong connection with your power animal before you journey here as just like in our physical world the Middle World contains the dark and the light. It is here that we are most likely to meet with the faeries, crystal and plant spirits, and the other beings that in reality inhabit our world alongside us, but are hard to glimpse with everyday consciousness.
Just as in everyday life you are able to choose what you will or will not do. As long as you behave respectfully towards your allies they will not be offended.
That knowledge or wisdom can be sought in other realms
When we journey we can leave our busy, rational, scientific consciousness behind. In fact the rational mind needs to be quietened through the chosen trance technique to release us in exploring these more magical, creative realities. We open ourselves up to the opportunities for guidance from other beings and give our third eye the opportunity to work unhindered. The wisdom found on a journey may not stand up to scientific investigation, but it should have a quality of 'rightness' about it.
If you would like to try journeying for yourself I recommend reading Sandra Ingerman's book, Shamanic Journeying, A Beginner's Guide.