Shamanism is a practice in which a practitioner achieves altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with the spirit world and then channel these transcendental energies into this world. At its core, shamanism is a form of spiritual and energy work done to gain clarity, wisdom, or to address a spiritual imbalance that may be causing a person to feel incomplete or blocked, which in turn can cause mental, emotional, or physical problems. In modern cultures, we typically address the physical pathology, mental, or emotional causes of wellness imbalances, while the spiritual or energetic aspect is often forgotten. We are spiritual beings so this leaves an important aspect of our overall health unaddressed.
Shamanism is an ancient and sacred form of spiritual healing in which a practitioner enters a meditative state to interact with the spirit world and bring back personal empowerment for a person (e.g. spirit animal retrieval or soul retrieval) and/or shift energies or traumas from previous experiences that aren't serving them. This is a little different than Reiki or other forms of direct energy healing, which involve a practitioner channeling healing energy from around us into a person; however, the two forms can work well together.
Anthropologists believe there’s evidence of shamanism in cultures around the world dating back 65,000 years ago or more. However, the word “shaman”, which means “one who sees in the dark” or “spiritual healer”, was first used in reference to indigenous people of Siberia in the 1600’s. There are many books that go into detail about the origins and practice of shamanism, but this piece is meant to give a basic introduction of what it is and how it works.
In finding answers and the spiritual causes of issues, shamanism, like other spiritual healing methods, often involves helping a person realign the spirit to sync with their true self in order to faciliate their own healing process. This may be an alignment that is closer to how we felt as a child. As children, we are inherently open and sensitive to the energies around us. We tend to view the world around us with an unfiltered lense of possibility. We don’t think twice about playing with our imaginary friend or trusting our senses. Kids often read and pick-up on these energies and say intuitive things in a nonchalant way. They trust what they sense without overthinking and they go with it. We are all born this way with intuitive senses. The key is to continue trusting it and using it, as kids do. As we do so, our senses develop and help guide us.
Our World and the Spirit World
In shamanism, there is our ordinary reality, where we exist, and there is non-ordinary reality where the unseen spirit world exists. Then, within the spirit world, there are three areas: the upper world, middle world, and lower world.
These three worlds are where different types of spirit helpers, teachers and guides tend to reside. There’s no connotation associated with them, good, bad or otherwise; they are simply locations. The upper world is associated with the heavens and the spirit helpers that reside there tend to be more ethereal or angelic. The lower world is associated with going within mother Earth and is usually where spirit helpers and teachers in animal, plant, rock, and human forms reside. Middle world is the spiritual realms of our word. The shamanic healing described below doesn’t involve accessing it; however, other work, such as helping a soul cross over during psychopomp, may involve a journey to the middle world.
Drumming and Journeying
In order to access these worlds and their spirit helpers, the shamanic practitioner does a shamanic journey. They do this by using a specific drumming rhythm (a brief example mp3 is below) to reach the Theta brainwave state, which is described in the earlier blog “The Science of Meditation”. In reaching this state, they achieve a deep meditation or altered state consciousness and then use their intention to visualize the journey. Some practitioners may have someone drum for them, or use a recording of the drumming, or simply recreate it in their head, as is it can be easier to focus on the spiritual work without a drum in the hands. Scientists originally thought the drumming was part of the shamanic culture, dress, and ceremony. It wasn't until they studied further and recreated a shamanic experience with sensors and measurement tools that they realized there is a science to the drumming rhythm and it is an integral part of the process. The specific rhythm helps the shamanic practitioner enter the Theta state quickly, and also allows them to leave when they’re done, enabling them to shift in and out of journeys at will.
This ability to shift quickly between ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality lucidly and at will is an important factor in doing the shamanic work with others that's described below. Using drums allows the practitioner to listen to the person seeking help, journey to the spirit world to find the needed healing, and return again in a matter of minutes to talk with the person.
Once the drumming starts, the practitioner enters the meditation and visualizes going upward into the heavens to journey to the upper world or visualizes going downward into the Earth to journey to the lower world. It’s a process that involves the practitioner being focused and aware, yet relaxed and loose. Each practitioner uses their own visualization to do this. Some may visualize a bird or a tree, or a column of wind or water to journey upwards, but it can be anything natural that resonates with the practitioner, as long as it goes up into the heavens. Similarly, a practitioner can use anything that resonates with them to journey to the Earth. Some may visualize going into a hole in the ground that brings them there, or in a body of water, or it may also be a tree that brings them down through the roots. Once the practitioner reaches the spirit word, they find the spirit helpers, and find the information, healing or empowerment that’s needed for the person.
The Session Process
From the perspective of the person who asks for healing, they simply lay down and relax and be open to receiving the healing. They can meditate while it’s happening or lay still with their eyes closed, as long as they’re relaxed and open to the experience. Some people may see or hear or otherwise sense things during the process - that’s normal and there’s nothing they need to do except be open. This is effective both in-person and when done remotely over a distance. In both scenarios, the person lays down while the shamanic practitioner does the journey or ceremony. For remote distance work, though, the practitioner energetically travels to the person first and then does the work. This is convenient for both people as they can be comfortable in their own space and it can be done anywhere in the world at any time.
Spirit Animal Retrieval Journey
During a spirit animal retrieval, while the person is lying down and relaxed, the practitioner journeys to the lower world and asks for the person’s spirit animal(s) to come forward. Once found, the practitioner may sense if the animal is a main power animal or an animal with specific support the person needs at the moment. The practitioner then brings back the animal’s energy with the gifts and support it has, and connects that energy with the person. When the person is connected with their spirit animal they tend to feel an improved sense of identity and confidence.
Soul Retrieval Journey
When we go through a traumatic experience, our soul (spirit) can sometimes temporarily and slightly separate from our body as a protection mechanism. The soul is anchored to the body so it doesn't completely leave, but the separation is enough to feel. When this happens, it may feel surreal and we may feel “out of it” or "spacey". As the soul returns to its place, a piece may stay separated because that part of us still wants protection. When this happens, a person may feel like they’re not completely themselves, as if something is missing. It may be confidence, patience, humor, etc, but something feels off kilter. An example might be if a person goes through a trauma involving feeling attacked for being themselves (speaking their truth) or it might be a trauma associated with love or an accident; and then the person has fears or feels blocked with similar dynamics going forward. We may have a strong reaction afterwards or it may be a subtle feeling that's easy to dismiss, especially when a person has to deal with the busy nature of life. During a soul retrieval, the practitioner journeys to the upper world and with help from a spirit helper, asks for the soul part(s) of that person that is ready to return, to come forward. Once found, the practitioner senses what the soul part is, brings back the energy, and connects it with the person. The practitioner then tells the person when and/or why the soul part stayed behind and what trait it brings back, which solidifies the connection with the person.
Sometimes, we can unintentionally take on energy that does not belong to us. This can happen during a susceptible time when we are weak. The foreign energy can cause a person to feel blocked or do/say/feel things that are uncharacteristic of themselves. An extraction is a ceremony (not a journey) to remove this energy. During the ceremony, the practitioner enters the altered state and then, with help from their spirit animal, scans the person with their hand a few inches above their body to search for foreign energy. The energy that doesn’t belong feels different than the rest of the person’s energy. It vibrates differently and the sensation that’s felt while scanning changes. After scanning the entire body, the practitioner extracts the energy with their hand and puts the energy in a bowl of water (which the practitioner discards safely afterwards). Following the ceremony, the practitioner may also do a spirit animal retrieval or soul retrieval to further solidify the person’s true energy.
Sometimes when we have issues, illnesses or injuries, there are spiritual aspects of it that can be healed just as the physical aspects can be healed. They're both important. The shamanic practitioner connects with the spiritual world around us to find and connect the healing, answers and empowerment with the person. As the spirit aligns, healing occurs. There is much more to shamanism than what’s described here, but this gives a sense of what it is, the process that is used and how it works. It’s an ancient and fascinating practice with thousands of years of history combining spirit, science, faith, nature and the universe; and the healing it provides is sacred and powerful.