Urban Shamanism

Urban Shamanism
When most people think of Shamanism it conjures images of Jungle Tribes or prehistoric rites before cities developed. Many Pagans are aware that Shamanism is making something of a slow comeback, usually based on anthropological research into remote tribes in Indonesia, Lapland, or South America. One other fruitful branch has been the commercialisation of Native North American shamanic practices, I can think of three people within 30 miles of where I am writing this who run retreats based on these systems. Needless to say the originators of these spiritual paths are less than impressed by their commercialisation, feeling that having their lands and way of life stolen their only unique part of their culture left were their beliefs. Having them and variations on them, sold piecemeal leaves them very upset. So if you decide to go on any advertised shamanic retreats, this is well worth bearing in mind.

What is less well known is the subtle rise of Urban Shamanism. It has always been there as a counterculture to the state and formal religions, usually practiced by individuals that pass their skills down from one exponent to the next. Usually this happens within a family or clan, but it is not unknown for practitioners to choose someone from outside to share their skills with people they feel can use them. This happened to me when I lived in Mexico City from 1976 to 1979, I met a Brujo called “Jim” who shared his skills with me informally in exchange for information about the world outside Mexico. Although his day job was a shoeshine man on a street corner he was a skilled magickal practitioner. I both saw him in action, and visited him at one of the houses he owned outright, having bought it for cash. He had learned his skills from his father, then came to Mexico City and decided that the “Zona Rosa” with its embassies, company headquarters, and high-end tourist hotels was an ideal power centre.

In the countryside these power centres are found where ley lines cross, underground water streams intersect, or areas rich in particular minerals are found. Early humans tapped into the energies in these areas and both enhanced and marked them by building cairns and megalithic monuments. Early urban civilizations frequently grew up around one or more of these, and began to duplicate them and others in the new landscape of the city. In Asia this was the beginning of systems such as Vastu Shastra, and Feng Shui, while in Europe many of the systems came together under the umbrella of Sacred Geometry. These included the systems of Astrology and Freemasonry which reached a pinnacle in the early part of the 18th Century.

With the rise of civilisation Spirituality became more specialised, forming into various religions. These quickly became less about connecting with the divine and more about social control and Shamanism became part of the sub, or counter culture. It was more common in the countryside than in the urban environment, it still carried on in towns, but in secret. Sometimes sacred sites were used by both Shamans and the established religion common to the area. I even saw it when I lived in Budapest, Hungary, the local churches frequently had to remove poppets (dolls used in spellcraft) from behind their altars, or hidden in other parts of the building – especially by the statues of saints or the Madonna. I also saw magickal items placed at other sacred sites in other parts of the city including an abandoned church built over a Pagan grotto, various springs and sacred trees.

Shamans, both rural and urban, also “travel between the worlds” this is the term Shamans use for projecting their consciousness to other realms. Traditional Shamans use a three-world system based around a central support, such as a tree, as a general guide to their travelling practices. The middle world is everyday reality, the lower world is the realm of so-called ‘negative entities’, while the upper world is the abode of positive entities/Deities. Urban Shamans use the same model, but they incorporate the cityscape into it, so the lower world includes negativity- such as the sewers, communication, and hidden forces. The Upper world is where the decisions affecting power and money are made, in addition to being the homes of cultural icons and rulers. The middle world feels the effect of both upper and lower realms, while having powers of its own. The connecting access between them can be seen in many ways; Jim for example would use the telephone pole by his shoeshine stand as a conduit when he was at ‘work’, and a more traditional system at his home in the suburbs.

One symbol gaining popularity at the moment is the skyscraper. With its connections in the lower world, and basement/parking garage, through the middle world, to the heavens at the top of the building. As with the traditional Shamanic tree it exists on the Astral and the Shaman travels there by Trancework. In earlier times various extracts from nature were used to aid in this, but nowadays these have been largely eschewed in favour of “Riding the Drum”. This describes the ritual where the Shaman enters trance by playing a hand-held drum which frequently looks like the traditional Celtic Bodhran. The rhythmic movement of drumming, and the sound itself facilitates the Shaman entering the Astral Plane hence the term.

Although this technique is sometimes used by Urban Shamans, they also listen to modern electronic dance “trance music” with a beat between 125 to 160 beats per minute to enter altered states, aided by rhythmic dancing. Sometimes headphones are used to channel music with different tempos into each earpiece to achieve a Binaural Beats, or Binaural Tones, where the tones are synthesised in the brain to achieve specific levels of consciousness for Shamanic work in less time than traditional methods. Which system is the most effective is still a subject for investigation and debate.

In the next article we will be looking more closely at the power points in a city and how to use them in spell work and ritual.

You Should Also Read:
Shamanism & lucid dreaming
Examples of early Shamanism

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