At its most basic level, shamanism can be understood as a collection of ancient techniques that help to awaken and expand consciousness, as well as heal humanity’s inner wounds.
Shamanic practice is the earliest known form of religion that our ancestors experienced. The different number of spiritual techniques used to expand our conscious and provoke mystical experiences was astonishing. These techniques ranged from chanting, fasting, and nature immersion, to incessant trance dancing and ingesting hallucinogenic plants.
Unlike most religions where the main concern is finding answers, the Shaman is more interested in provoking you to ask the right questions that will lead you to experience truth. The Shaman doesn’t pursue meaning: he or she creates it by bringing the sacred to an otherwise mundane reality.
The word “Shaman” first originated in Siberia as the word “samarambi” meaning “to excite oneself,” and “sam-dambi” meaning to dance. The shaman, therefore, excites himself into a divine frenzy or ecstasy through drum beating and dancing, until he passes into a trance when his spirit leaves his body.
The scholar of comparative religion and anthropologist Mirca Eliade gave us the most simple shaman definition as “specialists in ecstasy,” with an impressive list of abilities including thought-reading, clairvoyance, fire-walking, and spirit interaction, just to name a few.
It’s these moments of ecstasy, of ego death, that provide an experience of reality that is larger, deeper, and infinitely more exquisitely beautiful. Shamans worldwide know that in order to understand society and live more fully attuned to reality, they need to go wild, travel out of their normal minds, and visit the invisible world of Spirit, which is the undercurrent of the visible world.
By accessing the invisible realm, Shamans can tap into a powerful way of guiding their lives and the lives of others. (lonerwolf.com)
11 Signs of the Shamanic Calling
There are three stages of becoming a Shaman: the Calling, Training, and Initiation process. In the past, you were trained by a mentor or an older Shaman but in today’s world, most Shamans won’t know how to recognize their calling to even begin their training. Most people undergoing a shamanic calling won’t understand what is happening to them and will, therefore, feel overwhelmed by fear.
But it’s through training that the Shaman-in-making becomes a master of the sacred; of being able to effectively find, protect, and use the creative but intense energies of the sacred for therapeutic or other beneficial purposes.
Here are some of the signs you might experience if you’re being called to the Shamanic path:
1) You feel a strong connection to nature
Shamans understand “the web of life”; that everything on Earth is deeply interconnected through the web of Spirit. Nothing embodies this understanding better than nature, how it nurtures us, and how we nurture it in a mutually dependent relationship.
2) You enjoy solitude and find it hard to fit in with others
Shamans in most cultures were solitary individuals (often living in the outskirts of the village), and they were often considered eccentric or “different.”
However, they were respected because of the wisdom they shared. Because of their unique gifts and sensitivities, Shamans could never fit into typical society because they acted as the bridges between this world and the unseen worlds.
3) You’ve experienced a near-death, out-of-body or mystical experience
To be a Shaman you must experience a complete “death and rebirth,” and often this can present itself as a temporary illness or shocking crisis of some kind that ignites an existential crisis.
It’s through overcoming and healing from this terrifying ordeal that the Shaman-to-be surrenders everything they know as true for whatever wisdom they’re meant to learn.
4) You’ve felt a subtle healing energy in your hands
Many Shamans are born with the capacity to act as “curanderos,” as masters of living energy. In other words, they have the ability to control and manipulate the energy in their bodies and the bodies of others.
Carrying healing energy is often manifested as having good circulation of blood in your hands. Your hands will almost always feel warm to the touch (or even boiling hot) and you might sometimes feel subtle energy emanating from them.
5) You have the ability to “read” others
Some Shamans are born with the gift of “vision” or the capacity to look at other people and see the illness they may be carrying or spiritual obstacle they must overcome.
People with a shamanic calling frequently report psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, clairaudience, or other paranormal experiences.
6) You have ancestors who were healers or medical herbalists
Many cultures believe that the gift of being a Shaman is inherited and can only be passed down through generations.
Of course, in today’s world, it’s almost impossible to know whether any of our ancestors were healers as our recent ancestors, much like ourselves, never claimed and cultivated this Shamanic gift.
7) You have vivid or prophetic dreams
Some Shamans are born with the natural ability to travel between realms, to bring back information, and even see visions of future events through their dreams.
8) You are visited by spirit animals
Animals or hybrid animals (half animal half human) play a big role in the Shaman’s journey. Spirit animals serve as Guides that share vital information and serve as reminders whenever we require their help.
9) You see things that others can’t see
The ability to access other realms and hidden dimensions can start at a very early age. To be an effective Shaman you must have the fluidity of mind to be open and receptive to new information.
It’s this unique trait that has resulted in many Shamans being labeled and prescribed as mentally ill by modern medicine.
10) You have physical abnormalities that set you apart
In the past, many physical characteristics such as being born with extra fingers, toes or with a caul (thin membrane) covering your head at birth were considered omens that a person has a special relationship with the spirit world.
11) You feel a calling to help, heal or ease the suffering of others
Ultimately, Shamanism can be seen as a practice of balancing or self-correcting our relationship with others and the natural world around us.
Whenever a Shaman sees suffering, they’ll feel a strong desire to heal it in order to re-establish that lost harmony within the web of life.
In traditional shamanic cultures, shamans were selected in specific ways, often through a near-death experience, such as an illness, lightning strike or animal attack. They were chosen by Spirit and called into service. Sometimes they went willingly, sometimes grudgingly. Nonetheless, the path to becoming a shaman was distinct and narrow.
In the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition as well as other modern variations of shamanic traditions, it is recognized that “the calling” to a shamanic path can occur through a wide variety of means and is no longer limited to those born into indigenous shamanic cultures. The initiations are often symbolic and not as literal as the old ways. Personal trauma, identity or family crisis, UFO encounters, and spontaneous visions can also act as the awakening catalyst. (all paragraphs from heartofthehealer.org)
Whatever initially calls one forward, willingly aligning with that calling means you are engaging in a process of “self-selection.” Though a controversial topic, self-selection is becoming more widely accepted as a legitimate way to enter into a shamanic relationship with the world. These types of relationships are often termed non-traditional apprenticeships, relying on both a shamanic teacher, but also on a person’s own inner authority and direct experience.
This is quite a departure from the traditional ways. Yet it speaks to the evolution of human consciousness. Throughout history there have been overwhelming factions hostile to shamanic, Earth-based, or goddess-honoring practices. It was crucial that the priests, priestesses, shamans, and other spiritual elders took those teachings into hiding to preserve them for a time when humanity would be ready for them again. No matter how or why these traditions and practices have been sequestered, I believe it is time for the ancient teachings, mystery schools and sacred texts to be made available – to everyone. What was once esoteric and reserved for a select few to safeguard is now desperately needed and fervently sought. Humanity is raising in consciousness. Shamanism isn’t just for shamans anymore.
And yet, as a white girl from Illinois, I recognize there are indigenous peoples who would call me a fraud. Who would think it blasphemous for me to even consider myself in the same league as them. In embracing a shamanic tradition or practice, I fully acknowledge that there is much I will never know because I didn’t grow up in a culture with shamanic traditions. There are experiences and skills I will never have as I didn’t apprentice with a shaman for 20 or 30 years. There are nuances to these cultures and their practices that I would never presume to claim. But it doesn’t mean I’m illegitimate. (all paragraphs from heartofthehealer.org)
In the broadest sense, I believe we are all shamanic beings. We can all achieve shamanic consciousness. We all have access to this universal wisdom and intelligence. We all have the ability to develop shamanic skills. If I choose to practice the shamanic arts, walk in shamanic consciousness, or pursue a specific tradition, I have the right to make that choice as does every other person on this planet. It illustrates a concept that is a pillar of my personal values as well as my sacred work in the world: that each person has their own inner spiritual authority.
What do I mean by this term? Let me give you a real-life example.
One of the major themes in my life has been learning to trust myself – to validate and believe in my right to exist. To acknowledge that I am the authority on myself, including my relationship with Creator. It means that I choose not to let an outside authority decide what is best – or possible – for me, nor to usurp my sovereignty.
For several years before I became ordained, I knew I wanted to be a minister. But I had an internal conflict that needed settling first. How could I possibly be legitimate if all I did was send money to an organization, fill out a couple forms and receive a certificate? How could I defend myself if someone confronted me and said I wasn’t a “real” minister? It took me several years of inner searching before I could confidently answer those difficult questions.
(all paragraphs from heartofthehealer.org)
My final conclusion went something like this: if a Bachelor’s degree requires 120 credit hours, then I have earned multiple Doctoral degrees in the experience of life from the years spent living 24/7 in the spiritual crucible. I wasn’t learning a specific religion’s doctrine or dogma. I was gaining direct experience in my relationship with Creator. My personal spirituality didn’t come from a thousand-year-old tradition, wasn’t passed down by my family, wasn’t derived from a book, nor regurgitated from what someone told me about God. No, I realized – and began to own – that I was my own channel; I was my own mediator. I could trust my own inner spiritual authority and no one was a higher authority on my relationship with Creator than me.
Self-selection into shamanism is a personal choice, made at the soul level, and embraced with a measure of consciousness and humility. It doesn’t imply one just claims the title of shaman. Will some people do it, though? Sure. I must acknowledge that possibility as an inherent risk in an age where we have the freedom to choose the shamanic path. That freedom means we will have to trust our judgment and powers of discernment to determine if the “shaman” we want to work with feels authentic, resonates with our values, has our best interest at heart, and can serve our needs. Which then opens up an entire Pandora’s box of, “How exactly do you define what a shaman is?” Someone I seek healing from or to apprenticeship with might completely embody what a shaman is to me but might come off as a quack to you.
(all paragraphs from heartofthehealer.org)
These are the risks of expanding and modernizing the reach – and definition – of shamanism. Traditions organically shift over time. Cultures blend and adapt to new influences. Language and definitions change. Consciousness evolves. The Pachakuti Mesa Tradition teaches us that our mesa is a reflection of us. It is we who give the items their power and significance while at the same time recognizing each item is a sovereign and sentient presence. Ultimately, we carry the medicine within us.
Through integrating these two perspectives – the traditional and the modern – I arrive at an acceptance of “both/and” instead of forcing myself into “either/or”. I can appreciate the ancestral, indigenous, centuries-old traditions as well as the magic that occurs from repetition and devoted practice. I have the greatest respect for the cultures and lineages that have kept shamanic teachings pure, sacred and safe through the centuries. I know in past lives I was a part of those traditions. And, I can embrace the more philosophical, consciousness-based practices which recognize that intention and state of being are “more important” than a collection of physical objects, no matter how sacred they are. Every human has a shamanic soul and every being has access to the unseen realms, guidance from Spirit, and their own intuition. Every person has the right to claim for themselves the shamanic path.
(all paragraphs from heartofthehealer.org)
Shamanic Initiation and the Legacy of Suffering
"It isn't the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it's how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer."
-- Pema Chödrön
Suffering has long been associated with the shamanic process. Our studies of ancient shamanic cultures indicate that tribal shamans were often chosen based on how they overcame personal adversity as witnessed by their tribe. Thus, after surviving their soul's initiation to emerge as a spiritual conduit to their communities, shamans were bestowed with the power to help their communities. This concept has been carried through many histories and cultures as "the wounded healer," and has been lauded as the singular most pivotal step onto the path of shamanism, even into modern practice.
Contemporary shamanic paths are a mixed bag at best. Indigenous cultures of unbroken shamanic lineage brought their process for moving through initiations and subsequent recognition of the shaman into the present. Those of western ilk generally don't have a time-tested framework through which to address "spiritual crises" -- modern terminology applied to the age-old state as presented to the world by Stanislav Grof in his groundbreaking 1989 text "Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis". The closest cultural nod of acceptance to the process of the contemporary wounded healer was the inclusion of "spiritual emergency" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) in 1993, as a "Religious or Spiritual Problem," under which "Shamanic Crisis" is listed. It's a clinical representation of a spiritual event, but I guess it's better than nothing? What we still largely lack is a culturally accepted methodology of how to deal with spiritual experiences that fall outside our common bounds of ecstasy or trauma. We definitely don't acknowledge when someone's spiritual crisis is the opening to a higher calling. (all paragraphs from huffpost.com/entry/shaman-initiation_b_916400)
Not having been brought up in a shamanic tradition, when I identified that I was experiencing a spiritual crisis in my early 20s I was well aware of shamanism, but not of a shaman. My self-care included what options were available to me: psychotherapy, behavioral modification and medication. To my great fortune, it was actually my therapist who connected me with a local shaman, who was able to help me realize my initiation for what it was. I did not go into working with her planning to assume the role of shaman, though it emerged shortly after our time together. In retrospect, my life had fit the classic pattern of a shaman: stunting trauma, followed by spiritual revelation and healing. From that experience, I assumed what had been transmitted to me regarding initiation: There is one shamanic initiation -- the shamanic death, which I gratefully survived. Indeed, I did stop the pattern of trauma I had carried through childhood, and in doing so found insight into how to facilitate healing for others.
The euphoria of that experience and new life path stayed with me for several years, well into the establishing of my shamanic practice, Soul Intent Arts, until I was thrown into another spiritual crisis after sustaining injuries in a car crash. This time I recognized what was happening right away and began addressing it appropriately. Despite all the good things I did for myself, and following the insight of the wise caregivers I consulted, pain from my injuries lingered for years. Even when blazing physical symptoms smoldered to chronic pain, I continued to struggle with the emotional and psychological trauma of feeling that I was re-experiencing a shamanic wound. The heartbreak from that observation left me feeling that perhaps I wasn't meant to be in the role of modern shaman. I thought that having withstood one initiation, I was doing something wrong to be faced with more.
I realized in hindsight that my struggle to find balance with that initiation stemmed from the same broken lineage of wisdom that leaves many modern shamans feeling unsupported. The wisdom teaches that there is no singular initiation into shamanhood, or into any aspect of life. Perhaps a specific initiation brings us to a pivotal fork in our path, such as the one that brings many to shamanism. Still, the fork presents us with options in how we proceed. Grieving that I shouldn't suffer during a life transformation actually caused my suffering to linger.
(all paragraphs from huffpost.com/entry/shaman-initiation_b_916400)
Experiencing recurrent initiations doesn't mean we're chronically doomed to suffer pain in order to grow. Furthermore, initiation doesn't have to be painful, it just has to provoke us to make change in our lives. Initiation can come in many guises -- sincerely apologizing to someone, volunteering in a community less privileged than our own, realizing a long-held belief no longer suits our present awareness or allowing joy. Most any event in our lives can serve as initiation into a greater experience of ourselves, if we let them. In that wisdom rests the deeper truth -- it isn't what happens to us that determines our fitness, spiritual or otherwise; rather, it's how we deal with what happens to us. In that choice lies our responsibility to accept the challenges that makes us grow.
Now when I'm greeted with trauma, instead of probing it as failure on my path, I accept it for the initiation that it is; thus, I accept my power in choosing how to move through it. In moving through it, I remain affirmed.
(all paragraphs from huffpost.com/entry/shaman-initiation_b_916400)