Contemporary Shamanism

By Leo Rutherford

The word shaman comes from the language of the Tungus reindeer herders of the Lake Baikal region of Russia. From the Encyclopaedia Britannica it seems its derivation is from the Tunguso-Manchurian word saman, formed from the verb sa- meaning 'to know' as in the French word savoir and the Spanish saber. The words witch and wizard come from the indo-European root meaning 'to see or 'to know' and are found in the French voir or the latin videre meaning to see or the German wissen meaning to know. Anthropologists researching healing practises the world over have applied the term shaman to indigenous tribal healers and medicine people. The meaning is sometimes quoted as 'to heat up, to burn, to work with heat and fire' and sometimes as 'Wise One' or 'One Who Knows', 'one who sees'. This brings us to the most important characteristic of shamans. They are masters of energy and of the fire which moves through the human body, called by such names as kundalini in the east, or mana in Hawaiian. They know that there is an energy, normally invisible, which connects all that exists, and they live with the knowledge of this energy and how to use it. They are masters of altered states of consciousness in which the normal rules of Newtonian three dimensional existence are broken, and in which travel to other worlds, pre-cognition, distant seeing are all possible.

The origins of shamanism pre-date recorded civilisation and may well go back 45000 years or more to stone age times. Evidence of shamanic practises exists from the paleolithic period and it is the oldest way in which humanity sought connection with the realm of creation. Its practise is shared by indigenous peoples the world over with an underlying cosmology that cuts across cultural differences and customs. Today shamanism survives on all inhabited continents in less 'developed' regions in spite of the relentless onslaught of western scientific materialism, the treatment of the Earth and nature as something to be dominated and exploited, and dogmatic male dominated religion.

Shamanism is not a religion, it is not about beliefs, in fact it is not a belief system at all. It is a path or paths to knowledge, which is gained through experience of many facets of life, through rituals, ceremonies, prayer and meditation, trials and tests. Knowledge is something that works, that stands up to test, and to the test of time, that is known from inside, unlike belief which is something taken on from outside, from others. Wars are fought over beliefs, never over knowledge.

The shaman as visionary, prophet, healer, ceremonialist, psychotherapist & often herbal doctor is the 'doctor of the soul' for both the community and individuals. S/he is always concerned with the health - the Spirit - of the people and with keeping the vision alive of who they are and where they are going. The shaman's primary task is to keep the people 'in spirit' - inspired - and to assist any individual who suffers from loss of spirit - or in our language - becomes dis-spirited.

The shaman is a 'Master of Ecstacy' - to quote Mercia Eliade - a master of ex-stasis (from the Greek) meaning outside the normal stasis of consciousness. 'Ordinary' people, to quote the Armenian teacher Gurdjieff, live in a state of 'waking sleep'. The shaman is someone who has woken up to true reality, the reality of the 'nagual' or fifth dimensional reality, the reality behind apparent reality, the reality of imagination. (I-mage-a-nation...I-the Mage.) The statement 'Oh its only imagination' is a gross denial of the not only the whole realm of the magical but of the any understanding of how the Universe really works. It is in the imagination, the thought or dream realm where all is conceived and of which this familiar third dimension of gross material reality is but a reflection.

It is commonplace to consider 'life' to be what we experience in interaction with the everyday world. But from a shaman's point of view, this is only a reflection of the 'real world' where all is created before it ever manifests externally. Consider the room or building you are sitting in, or a building nearby. What came first, 'reality' or the thought? Surely the thought! Someone thought of the building, we can say 'dreamed' it. Then architects came to convert the vision, the idea, into drawings and then the quantity surveyor to estimate quantities of materials which will be required. Only lastly did the builders enter the fray to create 'reality', the building itself.

From the point of view of the longterm history of humanity and how our ancestors have 'seen' the creation to be over the ages, it seems we in this western rational, technological, culture have picked up some extraordinary ideas. It is as if we are blinded by the apparent reality, what's 'out there', and have forgotten to look at whats 'in here' and have lost a sense of the connection between the two. We look avidly at the result and forget to give the cause any credence! We have even created a 'god' that is half a god, all masculine and no feminine. We have split good from evil as if one can cut a coin in half and have a one sided coin, and we have placed our object of worship somewhere out in the heavens and most certainly not anywhere near the Earth. We have condemned ourselves and our children as 'miserable sinners', ,judged wrong and bad even as we are born! We have grown an elevated idea of ourselves as the superior beings on the planet with the right to use, exploit, 'develop' whatever we wish, and have even persuaded our 'god' to support us in this fantasy. Surely we will be looked back upon by our descendents as very peculiar ancestors!

The rebirth in interest in shamanism and the wisdom of the ancients is timely and important. If we are to survive the human desecration of our Mother planet, we need all the help we can get. We are collectively like a paranoid being, terrified of parts of itself. We spent approximately one trillion $ last year on weapons for defence. Defence against who, what?? It is reckoned to require a mere 12 billion $ to end global starvation and yet we spend over 80 times as much defending ourselves from each other. We have holes in the ozone layer, yet the numbers of cars on the road increases daily as does the number of jets flying the air routes. The rainforests are cut down, last year the size of a large US state such as Oklahoma is reckoned to have gone. But the rainforests are the lungs, the oxygen producers of the earth and what will happen if we start running short of oxygen? Meanwhile millions worship a god who they say will come and sort out the mess, and all we have to do is believe and it will be alright. What kind of sense of responsibility is that?

It is time for us to free ourselves of the yoke of old fashioned male dominated religion of beliefs taken on from others, of separation from the Source and the godforsaken idea of original sin, and to make our own individual connections with Spirit, with the Source, and thus gain back our own power. This means accepting responsibility for our actions and most importantly our actions regarding our home, Mother Earth. We are supposed to be the caretakers of the Earth, determiners of energy. We are the one species with the knowledge of Self, and thus the power of conscious choice. We are now challenged as never before to awaken to our Oneness with All Things, our relationship to each other as cells in the body of Great Spirit manifest in and on Earth, and to use our power wisely.

Leo Rutherford is one of the UK's leading experts on shamanism. He runs the Eagle's Wing Centre which organises shamanism workshops and sells a number shamanism related books, tapes, and other materials. The Eagle's Wing Centre can be contacted on +44 (0)171 435 8174. Thanks to Leo for supplying this article.

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