Shamanism is as old as the hills; it is prehistoric, historic and contemporary. It harkens back to time before recorded history but also many of its practices have been described in the written record and it is still practiced to this day around the world.
“Shamanism” is a term that anthropologists borrowed from Siberian tribes who called their spiritual medicine practitioners “shamans.” We now use it to refer to the rituals and healings of all tribal shamans and some of us in non-tribal modern society who use similar practices.
What does a shaman do?
A shaman travels or “journeys” to the world of the spirits — animal (e.g. power animals), vegetable (e.g. plant spirits) or human (e.g. guardian angels, wise teachers and guides) — to bring back some kind of aid for the suffering subject before them. The shaman may experience a kind of conscious dream or literally move out of body during a healing session.
Can I “journey”? Or can only shamans do this?
Anyone with some training can do this. Shamans simply have a great deal of training or an exceptional ability to have this super-imaginary experience; and with this experience, the aptitude for healing.
What is the experience?
Some shamans have visions; some hear spirit voices; some feel sensations in their bodies; some travel out of their bodies and see, hear or feel these things as well. Personally, as in a visual dream, I see whole scenes when I journey. The difference between a dream and a journey is that whereas in a dream I have little control, will and intention, in a journey I go with an intention, can exercise my will and can get out of trouble immediately if I feel I need to.
My intention is generally to help others or myself; and, the spirits of the shamanic universe are more than willing to help out.
What comes back?
Examples of what a shaman can bring back from the spirit world to help someone:
Soul Retrieval: Traumas at any time of life can cause part of our soul to escape further damage by retreating into the safe world of the spirit world. Frequently what is brought back in a soul retrieval is a lost child who was abused at an early age or a part of us that left in, for example, a serious automobile accident or when someone close to us dies and we want, at least in part, to go with them. There are many reasons for soul loss.
When the shaman coaxes the soul piece to return you may feel whole again, yourself, your natural self.
Extraction: Sometimes the shaman finds entities in your spirit that do not belong there, that are burdening you and must be removed for your well being and health. And even sometimes someone you know who wishes you harm or is inappropriately attached to you has intruded into your spirit, in which case a type of extraction called a depossession is performed.
But it need not be another person that shows up unwelcome in your spirit, but symbolic things or entities, that should not stay. Whether it is a barbed wire fence or a hot dog, it does not belong in your spirit and has to go. There is, of course, a reason it is there and burdening you — a feeling of restriction for the barbed wire fence or a feeling of having overeaten for the hot dog, for examples — and the shaman is there to remove it. And later you feel free and clear and much better, perhaps unfettered and without cravings for fast foods.
Power Animal Retrieval: A shaman can find sources of power and ability that you did not know you had or have lay dormant. A shaman can find that power and return it to you for your aid and assistance in navigating in this world.
Advice: Journeys to the spirit world often involve spirits, especially human spirits giving the subject good advice. Whether the spirit that wants to help you is your guardian angel, your long dead uncle Ralph or any other benevolent and wise advisor, shamans can return to you answers to profound questions concerning your life.
Soul Portraits: From the perspective of the spirits of the spirit world, who you really a truly are and what you might do with your life, what the purpose of your incarnation is — a shaman can bring back a picture or series of meaningful images that can help inform you of the nature of your very soul.
Rituals and More: There is much that a shaman traveling to the world of the spirit can do. There is a rich variety of helpers from the plant spirit world, from the animal spirit world, from the human spirit world: creative solutions to life’s problems and sufferings that these spirits can help with. They can create rituals for you to perform or perform rituals on their own to help you.
Direct Healing: Sometimes shamans can perform what seems to be miraculous healings. With the help of some part or someone in the spirit worlds, they bring back immediate and profound relief to this world.
Of course, as in all healing work, some shamans are frauds and their healings are illusory at best; and sometimes, an intended healing does not happen, either because of the abilities of the shaman or the depth and impossibility of the problem. Nonetheless, shamans have and do heal — just not every last single time.