Shaman is a Russian word from the Tungas Tribe in Siberia. It is not man of sha, there are no shawomen. It is not a sexist word. It just happens to be a Russian word that ends in m-a-n.
The Shaman is a go-between between the mundane world and the spirit world, and by "spirit world" I do not mean; just dead people, but they are included. Michael Harner* of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, "Mr. Shamanism", defines shaman as "one who transposes their consciousness into an alternate reality, deals with that reality and the entities in it and in doing so, creates change in this reality", sometimes seen as miracles. We call it journeying. Yes, they do a lot of other things too but if they don't journey, if they don't enter an alternate reality and deal with it successfully, it's hard to consider them shamans. Not every herbal healer, tribal priest, medicine man is a shaman. But if you go into the astral and do healing work, spell work, invoke masters and study...
Let's touch on "spirit world" a little. A primary concept is that everything has a spirit, an essence, that can be contacted and communicated with. I have a hard time with absolutes but this is one time where I have to concede everything. That chair you're sitting in, the necklace around your neck, each and every stone in the necklace, every plant, every leaf on those plants, your tarot cards. Abstracts too, the number 7, south, the dawn. With a little work you can journey and talk to the spirit of these "things".
Usually journeying is divided up into either lower or upper world journeys. Lower world journeys usually entails going down something and there you deal with lower (than human) forms. Upper world journeys entails going up something and dealing with forms higher that yourself - teachers, guides etc. Usually but not always! The Celts, for one, don't seem to make this distinction; everything is just "otherworld". There are also middle world journeys.
The "transposing of consciousness" is usually done through a trance state. Drumming, chanting, dancing are all common methods. Drumming, for one, uses a beat of 7 to 14 per second; alpha. The drumming puts your brain into alpha rhythm. I've tried it both with and without the drumming and I got very different results.
Ok now, lets talk about some of the "entities" you will be dealing with. EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE HAS AN AGENDA ! (There's another one of those absolutes I don't like). Most of them have a specialty and not all of them are nice. Spirit animals are archetypal energies manifesting in a familiar form.
else do Shamans do? Well, maybe it would be better to ask; what else can
we do as Shamans. Tribal Shamans really weren't a very spiritual lot:
find food, heal people, extract revenge, divinate.
You can heal, any number of ways, By the way: when they say herbal healers learned by trial and error, they weren't experimenting on sick people. The Shaman journeyed and by trial and error, talked with the spirit of each plant and asked it what it could/would heal. Extracting revenge -curses- are kinda the opposites of healing.
A Shamanic "healing" can be very successful but the patient can still die. Another aspect is that of psychopomp work. Helping the dead and dying cross over, preparing them for an easy transition. And helping the ones left behind cope.
You can divinate. You can journey and ask your animals or guides questions. Yon can journey and go through each card in a tarot deck or each rune stone and talk to it and ask it what it means, how to read it. (By the way the same card is different decks will have different meanings.)
It's somewhat of an art to know who to ask what. You don't ask a "warrior" how to heal. You don't ask a rock about the near future.
Acquiring esoteric knowledge. This can be a spiritual act but usually the knowledge is hard to put into words. How do you explain love to someone who has never experienced it? This can be done either by talking to the object directly (the esoteric meaning behind the number 7) or asking your spirit guides and teachers to teach you.
Finding/bringing back a power animal for someone. You journey and call out until you find the animal, bring it back and "blow" it into the person.
You can journey and read items, jewelry, crystals, herbs. Lets say you have some pretty crystals and you want to know what they are good for. You can journey and ask them, like the herbal healer.
Fine-tuning a mojo bag, etc. You journey and talk to each item you are going to put in the bag and make sure it is willing to help and that it knows what it is supposed to do and that it will work with the other items in the bag. This can markedly increase the success and power of your bags. The downside is that it takes time, even at only 10 to 15 minutes per journey, a 7 item bag is going to take at least an hour and a half and that is if each item will cooperate, if you have something that won't you have to find another item like it and journey again.
When I first started testing this idea I was teaching a Wicca class with my Priestess. I had her and the student journey with a piece of herb I had. While they were journeying the shop cat walked through. When they came back my priestess said that for one thing this herb didn't like cats. What she didn't know was the reason I had that sample of herd is because a cat had slept in it's pot and broken it. If you had planned to use this piece of herb in a protective bag for your cat it wouldn't work!
Shamanic journeying is a very simple skill; every member in your group should know how to do it. It just takes time, and a little practice. When your animals and guides see that you are serious and not just playing around they will be more than willing to help you.
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