What Is Shamanism?

Shamanism is a phenomenon where special members of a tribe provide healing, therapy, advice, teaching, or spiritual services through the use of altered states of consciousness. It is a phenomenon that is common around the world, from Native Americans Medicine Men adept in using Peyote cactus, to Siberian Shamans who enjoy psychedelic mushrooms, to Tibetan Bon Lamas mastering the practice of Dream Yoga. Taken together, Shamanic traditions form a worldwide culture with the roots stretching back earlier than any other spiritual teachings. Since time immemorial, Shamans and Medicine Men (and Women) have been able to transcend the limitations of their respective societies in their quest for empowerment and enlightenment.

Given the universal qualities of Shamanism throughout the world, it is quite understandable that every civilization originated from some type of Shamanic culture. The suppressive forces of the modern civilizations and monotheistic religions over several millennia have been forcing this oldest form of spirituality known to us into the background. They have never entirely extinguished Shamanism, but rather displaced it from its traditional place in the development of human history.

Shamans are men and women who conduct their work using altered states of consciousness. Inducing a state of trance similar to a state of hypnosis allows them to journey to other dimensions of existence. Various methods including music, chanting, drums, meditation, solitude, movement, dancing and psychoactive plants assist the Shamans in achieving such altered states. These experiences may naturally occur while dreaming, too. The practice of Dream-being plays a particularly significant role in the training of the Shamanic apprentice in the tradition of Bon, or Tibetan Shamanism.

A Shaman, usually referred to as Lama in our tradition, is not just anyone with some trance experiences. Firstly, he or she has received a proper initiation. Of course, a Shaman is an adept in Shamanic healing and Shamanic journeying as well as other techniques of ecstasy, not a rookie initiate who has not received sufficient training. This is not even a matter of casual acquaintance with such skills; it is a matter of mastery of them. So, secondly, at least four years of apprenticeship under a knowledgeable master precede becoming a practicing Shaman. Finally, a Shaman must be a spiritual mentor and a role model for the community.

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