Classical and modern shamanism.

Web of Power & The Spirit World

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One of the most basic beliefs of shamanism is the belief in the web of power that runs through all things. Shamans believe that everything is alive and is connected in a mutually supportive way to everything else in the world. It is this web of power that brings sense to the world. The web has an unlimited amount of potential and power to send to the physical world. Understanding this web of power, this spirit world, is necessary to understanding and learning shamanism.

All objects in the physical world have “spirit.” It is the spirit that is the source of power. Shamans communicate with the spirit of both living and (what most would consider) non-living things. Through this communication they gain an understanding of the world around them and the more you learn the more power you have to draw from.

As a general rule, shamans believe that unlike natural objects, plants and animals, each human has his or her own unique spirit body. (I believe all things do, but that’s my twist on it.) This spirit body can be see surrounding people like brightly colored flames or heat waves. The spirit body normally extends around people anywhere from eighteen inches to about three feet and responds to how people feel and what they are thinking. Brighter colors have higher vibrations and darker, duller ones have lower vibrations. Some believe that the size of a spirit body equates to how much power a person has. Basically it is aura by another name.

Since shamans deal so closely with the spirit world it is easy to become “lost” between the real and the spirit worlds. People who are always daydreaming or are said to have their heads in the clouds are such unattached people. Shamanic presence is the ability to live with a foot in the real world and a foot in the spirit world and not forget who and where you are. This is done by keeping balanced, grounded and ‘present,’ or mentally aware of your physical presence. Shamans must know where they are at all times. This is one of the reasons shamans seem powerful to others, they always know where they are. People very familiar with Shamanic techniques and very aware of their presence can do a quick inner journey while walking down the street.

One way shamans stay organized and focused as to where they are is through use of certain images. One is the Tree of Life. Its roots are in the Lower World, also known as the underworld or world of the dead, where shamans go to talk with ancestors, to find lost information, or to find information about diseases and other things to do with the physical body. Travel to the land of the dead should not be attempted without a guide. The trunk of the tree is known as the Middle World. Often the trunk is seen as square, one side for each of the four directions and their corresponding season. It is the magickal version of our reality and shamans visit it to solve everyday problems. The branches of the tree are in the Upper World. It is a place of the future, creativity and flight. No one world is viewed as better or more important than any other and most shamans from around the world have used similar guides.

Another such image is the medicine wheel, also known as a mandala. It is a circle that is divided into four sections (or sometimes subdivided down to eight) that symbolize the four directions. The circle of the wheel symbolizes the Middle World, the sky above it, the Upper World, and the earth below it the Lower World. the centre of the circle is the centre of the universe and the entire circle, including the Upper and Lower worlds are spiralling to the centre. Every person has a place on this wheel which symbolizes where they are in relationship to their spirit centre at the centre of the circle. The better you know your center the more power you will have.

Here is a simple exercise to help you find out where you are on the medicine wheel.

Centre yourself and relax. Close your eyes. Create a medicine wheel in your mind. Divide it into the four quarters with two lines intersecting in the middle. Decide which line stands for which direction. Make a dot in the centre and then colour the quadrants however you wish. Let a spirit animal come to symbolize each quadrant. Don’t think about it, they’ll come if you should be doing this. If not stop and try again at another time. Ask your spirit animal to show you where you are in the wheel. Remember the quadrant, the colour, the spirit animal for that section, and how close you are to the centre. Feel free to ask your spirit guide what this means for you at this time. Thank the spirits for their help and come back to where you are (in other words, feel your body and what you are sitting on etc…) Then open your eyes. Write and/or draw what you saw. You should do this every so often to see where you are in relation to your centre.

Learning About Shamanism

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As you start to practice shamanism in your life you will start to see obstacles being removed from your path and things starting to work for you. You will notice that you will become more comfortable with yourself and with the world around you. You will feel more connected and will find potentials within yourself that you never before realized were there. This will only happen if you let it and if you politely work with the spirit world and give it a chance to work for you.

What is on these pages is by no means everything there is to know, or even a good percentage of it. As you study you might decide that you want to go further than simply using some basic shamanic practices in your life. If so then you will want to find a teacher. This teacher will not necessarily be a human being in the physical plane. You might find that you are more comfortable with and will learn more of what you want to from a plant, animal or other spirit in the spirit world. Or you might be more comfortable with a human teacher. Neither choice is better or worse. It is all a matter of personal preference. Remember that formal training will take time and dedication.

When choosing a teacher remember to be selective. You will find some great advice on the subject of at another link here: Finding A Teacher. However when choosing someone to help you learn shamanism, there are some other things to keep in mind. Look for someone who has a good sense of humor and is able to laugh at themselves and help you laugh at yourself, rather than someone who is serious all the time. A good teacher should have respect for the world around them, for themselves and you. They should be more willing to include people than to exclude them. They should not claim to be perfect and should not expect you to be. They should be able to make mistakes and learn form them and to show emotions. They should have a strong shamanic presence and should practice what they teach.

The Academic Question of Shamanic Studies

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To: soc.religion.shamanism
From: deane[at]netcom[dot]com (Dean Edwards)
Subject: Re: The Academic Question of Shamanic Studies
Date: 16 Nov 1994 06:49:52 GMT

…Each person has their own experience. This is a combination of our outer and inner lives. Without an inner life, a shaman cannot develop the personal tools necessary to function for anyone. The inner journey and the outer journey become complementary aspects. Each have their own value and usefulness. The act of connecting the inner with the outer existence is a personal thing. Sometimes it may also be done within a group, sometimes not. Such things are usually held sacred and close.

Among many Siberian people’s there is a keen appreciation for the symbolic significance of the pole star which they see in the night sky. All other objects in the heavens move around this central star, Polaris. It is often called ‘the nail (peg) in the sky.’ It connects the heavens to the earth via a great cosmic pillar. (This pillar shows up prominently in many traditions, including the Celtic.) The pillar (or column) is a musical expression of light. It is sometimes called the axis-mundi here in the west.

Actual initiation, in the sense in which I am speaking here, is well represented by the cosmic/world pillar connecting earth and the heavens. It is an inner spiritual event. It also, in my experience, has an outer component. An initiation (or for that matter, any inner experience), IMHO, is made whole by grounding it in all aspects of being, including the physical. What an outer initiator can do is to assist in the process of grounding the experience in the physical and perhaps also in the other aspects of emotion, heart, mind and spirit.

…A shaman engages in the exploration and development of their own initiation and experience. There are also a whole lot of cultural variables. Most of the real training that a shaman experiences seems to occur inwardly and not outwardly. Applying what has been learned is another broad topic in itself. A shaman engages in the practice of being a shaman. This goes beyond desire, feeling or ritual.

…There is, it would seem, a distance that must be crossed between the Call and the actual practice. In the Shamanism-General Overview I use a lot of qualifying words such as usually and often. There are no hard and fast delineations here. This is why we cannot specify exactly when the line between recognizing a possibility and being able to put life into it and practice it is crossed. This is an individual experience. It can have significant ramifications for those who work with, interact with or come to a shaman, but the one who is doing the work is the shaman. Much of this is personal and involves self development. Even in these quiet ways, a shaman can affect the community in which they live. The recognition of this seems to often lead to more obvious methods of interacting with those around her/him.

There is an old street expression, “You can talk the talk, can you walk the walk?” A shaman may or may not talk much, but walks, swims, flies and moves beyond the ken of the mundane. Personal experience varies considerably, but a shaman does indeed put into practice a process of inner and outer life we more generally refer to as shamanism.


Real shamanism

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Date: Sun, 07 Nov 93 05:53:46 EST
From: lynsa[at]aol[dot]com
To: [This is a mailing list about shamanism.]
Subject: Real Shamans

I’m not an academic. I’m not a traditional medicine person or secret society member or village healer. I’m just a 32-year-old white girl with a Macintosh named Gypsy and Internet access. I don’t consider myself a real shaman. I don’t have the community/cultural support or the training. I have some shamanic-type abilities and a teacher I consider a real shaman who’s helping me expand them. Since I’ve recently joined Church of All Worlds and am interested in their clergy track, maybe I will have the community support to someday be some kind of shaman. But it won’t look like any other kind of shamanism on the planet. In fact, I’d doubt that very many of us on this list practice what could be called a traditional shamanism. What do we call ourselves, then? What are we? I get the sense in this ongoing discussion that behind the phrase “Real Shaman” lurks the phrase “Wannabe.” I don’t know about the lurkers, but I’ve rarely seen postings here that make me think most of the people here are wannabes. I don’t wannabe anything other than what I am, a late 20th-century mixed-European American. That’s confusing enough without grafting someone else’s culture on, on top of it. Continue reading

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