What are shamans really?
Shaman's are healers of both the spiritual and the physical person. Common misconception expects the shaman to come from primitive or tribal societies, with unusual or exotic costumes.
Shamans do not have to come from a traditional culture. They can be very different in their practice and appearance for different geographic places. Modern shamans are contemporary to their society. Even one that appears exotic to you, may not be so out of place where they are doing their healing work.
Shamans tend to be "of the tribe" they come from, whether that be a modern "tribe" or a traditional one. It is not easy to simplify which trappings make that person a shaman or not one.
A shaman is usually concerned about results, and he or she will use the methods that deliver those results. If a ceremony stops working, the ceremony will be changed. If wearing an animal head will scare off the vegan your working on healing, the shaman will change how they dress.
The shaman of people driving cars, following closely scheduled days, and making enough money they don’t have to grow their own food, is going to be very different than a shaman who is living with farmers, or with a hunting society. There might be an underlying similarity to what all human’s need for spiritual healing, but the society will have a big impact on what is required.
Modern Society's Return to Spiritual Healers
Modern society on the whole, for many of the recent preceding decades, has wanted to avoid anything too woo woo.
This is understandable.
Once upon a time, religious groups would take control of your life by god ordained rights, and/or messages from god. Much of the time, the spiritual unseen was used as a means for control. It may have been a good thing to move away from the unseen for a while and to delve into what is seen, and what can be proved through the senses.
Science is of the senses, and of what can be measured from without. Internal realities aren’t the field of science. Science has freed us from relying solely on authority that has no basis in measurable facts.
However, in the USA we’ve spend some time learning how to be individuals. We have a lot of skills now with which to make our own decisions.
We can approach the experience of spirituality through our own authentic authority. We don’t have to rely on others to tell us what is true. We can do our own explorations.
This is one of the things shamanic practice has to offer everyone, whether you are a shaman or not. Through journeying you can have a direct experience with the “other world". Through direct experience, you can see and decide for yourself.
Connecting with the "Other World"
The shaman makes a connection from “this world” to the “other world.”
The other word can be called heaven, god, or spirit.
What is this other world?
That can be hard to describe.
In some ways, it is more of an experience. An experience of the interconnection of everything that you see around you. Access to energy which feels different than the ones you interact with daily. Penetrating into a consciousness that already contains the knowledge that you are seeking.
It is a connection to knowledge or a knowing that imbues your day to day world with more meaning. The most important part of interacting with this “other world” (more so than defining it, measuring or mapping it) is the effect it can have on you.
The difference between a shaman and someone who is using shamanic practice to enhance their daily life may be more one of degree. In the US, there are a lot of people who are using shamanic practice to improve their own life without necessarily serving a larger community.
You can experience the benefits of the increased inner balance, a sense of interconnection, and the growing personal insight that come with shamanic practice without becoming a “shaman.” So I think that perhaps the modern shaman is one who is working to deepen their connection with the unseen, so they can serve their community.
My Personal Experience as a Healer
When I first began shamanic work, I already had a feeling of connection with something unseen. I had a sense that there was something imbued below the surface of things, and that there was some invisible support around me.
I embarked on shamanic learning without any intention of becoming a healer. The path itself led me along its merry way. So I began with connection to spirit, and my shamanic work deepened that connection.
The longer that you are a healer, the more skilled you will become.
These types of skill aren’t really a matter of technique, but rather one of connection and getting out of the way of that connection. My increased skills as a healer mean that I have the capacity to bring through more energy. They mean that when I heal someone, I’m less restricted by preconceptions and can instead respond to what is before me.
While I’ve gotten better at explaining the work, that isn’t really where the growth of being a healer lies.
The energy is there. It is calling to move forth and be welcomed into the client. If I can make that connection, if I can follow where it leads, I’m more likely to facilitate a powerful healing experience. This what used to be called the hollow bone. A modern analogy might be a shaman of high bandwith.
The other part is learning to be fully present.
When I started, my insecurities or my lack of focus could effect my ability to be fully present with my client. When a client opens themselves up to be healed, they know they are safe by the strength of your being present with them. They feel rejected to the degree that you can’t be fully present. This is why the path of a shamanic healer is always one of personal growth.
Healers cannot neglect their own emotional issues because it will effect their work. When I speak after a healing, if I am fully present and fully connected to spirit world, the words that come will be healing words. When I look at my clients and share the experience of their healing, the gaze will be a healing one ,if I look with the eyes of acceptance and love.
A modern shaman, and really any shaman, is one who is forming a bridge between the client and the healing energy of the spirit world.
Through the client’s connection to their healer – they can trust enough to open up. The healer can illuminate the pathway, but ultimately, it is the client who accepts, and it is the client who moves forward.
A modern shaman is one that the modern client can relate to, one that they can understand and trust.
When academics get together to define a shaman they are often constrained by what came before. But what came before, the shamans that came before, cannot be separated from the tribe they lived in. They will appear in whatever guise their society needs, and use the methods that heal. The outer form is not the foundation of shamanic healing, the foundation is connection.
Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2011 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved
Do not reproduce with out express written permission.
Originally Published: March 17, 2011 [updated Jan 2020]