WHAT IS A MODERN SHAMAN?
n. A member of certain tribal societies who acts as a medium between the visible world and an invisible spirit world and who practices magic or sorcery for purposes of healing, divination, and control over natural events.
Especially among certain tribal peoples, a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc.
Note: Shamanism is not a religion as such. I am a Christian Shaman with eclectic tendencies. That is, I was baptized in the Church of England, and adhere to Christian principles, but I am not averse to borrowing from any and every other belief system if it helps heal. From Native American Medicine to Scientology, there are some very effective techniques we can borrow without accepting their systems lock, stock and barrel, (or hook, line and sinker if you prefer it). After all, they did not invent this stuff; God did. They borrowed it from the Great Spirit. Simply, the Greek Eclectics had a good idea. If it works use it no matter what the source. (From E-Workshop)
The term Shaman is actually of Russian origin. I first came across the concept reading a book about the “mobile center of consciousness”, although the name of the book escapes me now. It was about the various methods Shaman of different cultures used to get free of their bodies and travel in alternate dimensions. They might dance wildly like the Siberian Shaman or the Indian Whirling Dervishes, or they might use herbs like Mescaline or Peyote, etc. They might use the hypnotic beat of drums or the mesmerizing ring of Tibetan bowls to help achieve their effect. I was impressed at that time with the way a Siberian trainee had to use his body heat to dry several wet sheets thrown over his naked body while he sat otherwise naked on the ice or snow all alone. Shaman, apparently, could do some amazing feats.
This particular method focused on in the book was Psilocybin or the Amanita Muscaria mushroom, which can be very poisoness if taken incorrectly. I was young and impressionable and wanted to find out how to do this. Since I had no access to this mushroom at that time, B.B. (before the Beatles), I had to look elsewhere into Yoga, Zen, and other more natural approaches. This was a blessing since I never got heavily into drugs like many of my contemporaries. It was not until much later that I heard of Don Juan series of books about the Native American approach. By then, I had found my own way. I leaned more toward the East Indian natural way of Meditation, although traditionally, drugs have played more than a small part in Shamanic ceremonies, e.g. the use of a small amount of vodka by the Siberian Shaman to help along with dancing himself into a trance state or the use of boiled down hashish drunken by the Dervishes of India.
I believe the standard definition of Shaman is too limited. According to Sandra Ingerman, in her book Shamanic Journeying;
“SHAMANISM IS THE EARLIEST spiritual practice known to humankind, dating back tens of thousands of years…..Shamans have taken on many roles in tribal communities. They have acted as healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapist, mystics and storytellers.”
Well gosh, that narrows it down. Actually, I prefer to subsume myself in the category of healer. This saves me from having to perform marriages and other odd ceremonies that may not be mentionable. Incidentally, I prefer not to be paid in goats or chickens.
Let’s just say that the role of Shaman in various cultures has taken on characteristics peculiar to the culture, needs and mores of that society. In America, the Indian medicine man, in China the wandering mendicant etc., Even in South America, the healer wears many hats depending on the needs of the tribe.
There are obviously many opportunities for pretenders and charlatans in this field as there are in most religions and cults of various types. It is not without trepidation that one assumes the role of even the humblest of Shaman, since much may be expected. Suffice it to say, my role is mostly informational since that is the inherent nature of Reality. As the author and physician Deepak Chopra always points out in his series of books, "all matter is merely frozen energy and all energy is information in the Universal Mind". If you know how it works you can fix it!
But, you don’t have to believe it for it to work. Faith can work miracles, and I use this avenue when all else is blocked, but I prefer to work with techniques that are based in science, albeit a science that may be beyond the present human conception.
Whereas ancient Shaman were obligated to work with music and rhythm circumscribed by their times, like primitive trumpets and drums, now we have electronic synthesizers and computers. Many of the Shamanic techniques can be adapted to a more modern approach, thus magnifying the potential effectiveness and efficiency. For example, instead of trying to obtain a certain chord or series of sound frequencies with curative powers, using singing or musical instruments, my technique involves utilizing an instrument that produces these sounds automatically in just the right way.
You can say that modern Shaman can capture lightning in a bottle using science. We can use technology to reproduce the energies of the sunlight using manmade paraphernalia. But we also must be careful or we can go the way of the mythic Atlanteans who misused their mighty technology to challenge the Power of God---and lost.
This may not be very satisfying as an explanation but it may have to do. A physicist P.W. Bridgeman, once wrote that we must define our terms “operationally” if we intend to understand and communicate. I think he meant that we tend to define words using other words until we reach a point where we realize we don’t really know what a word means. The dictionary only gives us more words. To understand a concept, we must do it operationally, i.e. we have to taste an apple, examine the redness, etc. before we know an apple. If apple is all we know, then our concept of the term “fruit” will be very limited indeed. In fact, the more various types of fruits we have tried and enjoyed the richer will be our concept of the term “fruit”. So, the only way to really know something is to experience it to some degree. By going with me through some of the articles and information on this site, perhaps I can relay a deeper and richer “definition” of what a Shaman truly is.
Alfred Korzyski was another great thinker who realized we depend far too much on the dictionary meaning of things. We lose track of the real world and adopt a sort of mirage like verbal construct or matrix. We don’t even realise this until somehow we are freed of this illusion and begin to see the Realtiy around us. It is like we are asleep and dreaming, a shared dream. A Good Shaman is one who sees past or through this dream-like matrix and helps us to see our real potential and Higher Selves. In so doing, a healing is just an effect. Not all Shaman are equal though, so do be careful.