Shamanism is a topic that is still more prevalent in anthropologic studies than in mainstream discussions of culture and society. For the western psyche, shamanism is a thing of the past, some type of sorcery used in relatively ‘primitive’ societies and cultures. The lack of understanding inherent in this cultural bias or stereotype prevents us from appreciating what shamanism is all about and more interestingly, how it is relevant to today’s society and to our future more than ever before.
Shamanic wisdom has been partly transmitted down through the eons and fragments of it still survives in certain cultures that preserve and honor their ancient heritage. Interestingly, there are also individuals coming outside this cultural lineage who have learned and are practicing shamanism in 21st century society. These are the modern day shamans who are contributing to what Terence McKenna called the archaic revival.
I decided to find out more about what shamanism can tell us today about ourselves and about our future. I talked to Franco Santoro, holistic counselor at the Findhorn Foundation Community in Scotland and author of the book series Astroshamanism. I asked Franco a few questions in my quest to dig deeper about the role of the shaman and shamanism in our present day world. What I learned was astonishing and revealing. I am quoting Franco’s own words ad verbatim below whenever I use the quote marks and his initials F.S.
The Role of the 21st Century Shaman is Open to Everyone:
F.S: “The role of a contemporary shaman, as I see it, is to be a living testimony of the experiential awareness of the unity of all aspects of life. This implies contributing to the release of separation, and promoting our human sense of purpose through the acknowledgment of the wider reality in which we exist. This reality also includes death and whatever lies beyond our ordinary perception, which and can ultimately provide the authentic understanding of who we truly are…
…In some way it is easy to play the shaman in nature or feel great power by emulating the ritual practices of native shamanic cultures. What is difficult is to keep this attitude in ordinary social life and the contemporary settings, and these are the places that need it most.
The world needs shamans able to function on the roads, among the electronic equipment and engines, in the squares and markets of our contemporary society.
Being a shaman, as I see it, is not about being a “shaman”. It is being whoever and whatever can serve for the purpose of healing, no matter how contradictory or incompatible it seems to be for narrow minded folks. Each identity is provisional, taken for the purpose of connecting with other identities, healing fragmentation and separation.
A shaman can shift from a “shaman” to a business man, an artist, a devoted Catholic, Hindu, or Muslim, a doctor, an architect, a gardener, you name it. Yet once a shaman becomes only a “shaman” you can be sure there is no shaman anymore.”
Direct Experience is key to Recovering our Original Unity:
The primacy of experience lies at the heart of shamanism. This means that direct experience should come prior to dogma, culturally transmitted beliefs, preconceptions and institutionalized knowledge. It is mostly the direct experience of ourselves as multidimensional beings connected to an original unity or source. Our path is to use, Stan Grof’s term ‘Holotropic’, that is, moving towards the whole – towards unity.
F.S: “I believe what most people on a quest seek today are not mere formalities, doctrines or creeds, but paths of direct experience. They search for a first-hand knowledge of their true self, their life purpose and ultimately a direct encounter and communion with God. This implies recovering our original unity, becoming whole and at one with God, which is ultimately, as I see it, the authentic essence of what shamanism pursues….”
We Need to Bust the Myth of Separation
The shaman sees the malaise and dysfunction of the modern world as arising from the disconnection from ourselves and the spiritual dimension and the disenchantment with our world. We have reinforced a perceived sense of separateness between ourselves, others, nature and between things in this world. This schism or sense of separation inherent in our psyche, is according to the shaman, the source of physical or mental imbalance that manifests both on an individual or collective level. The shamanic healing practice, for instance, addresses this energetic and psychic imbalance.
F.S: “…One of the basic experiential assumptions of shamanism is that I am not a separated physical being: I am an energy field or I am part of the whole. Actually, from a more genuine shamanic perspective, the entire notion of I, seen as separate from you and them, does not make any sense at all.
Contemporary human beings have confined themselves almost exclusively to the identification with the physical body and the idea of being a fragmented unit. Shamanic experience is one way in which it is possible to perceive others, the world and ourselves in their original united forms again.
I believe we have become estranged from something of which we were once aware, establishing a mythology of separation where unity and ecstasy are the most rooted taboos. As we consider ourselves individuals severed from other people and the environment, we tend to invest much energy to exploit our fellows and the Earth.”
It’s Time to Shift our Consciousness: Entering the Shamanic Trance State and Leaving the Mass Trance of Consensual Reality
The most important aspect of shamanic practice is the most misconceived as it is based on fear and lack of familiarity. This is the trance or shamanic states of consciousness which shamans use to journey between dimensions or ‘walk between worlds’ and get information from higher dimensional entities or from the wisdom of the inner self. What we refer to as non-ordinary states of consciousness are ordinary, or let’s say, familiar territory for the shaman. Surprisingly, it is also worth noting that research in neuroscience is starting to understand these states of mind under its own lens.
F.S “A typical feature of shamans is their familiarity with states of consciousness that allow visions and explorations of other dimensions. Their primary function is to navigate from one reality to another in order to operate as bridges and create healing connections. There are many dimensions and worlds, which in our separate reality are totally unknown.
Trance and shamanic states of consciousness are part of the genetic structure of mankind. Each one of us, in the past, present or future, has an inner biological need for ecstatic experience. The problem is that such experiences, in the majority of contemporary human cultures they do not find space in the official educational or scientific context and tend to be socially unacceptable. As a consequence, this unmet need often ends up being expressed through harmful addictions.
Shamanic states of consciousness represent the major taboo for the ordinary perception of the world as they cause its deceptive structure to vanish and expose to the secrets of our origin, that is where we truly come from and how and why we got to be here. In recent societies, perceptions beyond the physical body have been generally ignored or disregarded. The forms we see with our physical eyes, identified with names and specific shapes, have been extracted from their original unity and transformed into fragmented pieces. They are seen as definite configurations and separated from each other by areas termed as nothing or void.
Most mankind seems to live in a symbolic reality where only what is conventionally accepted is acknowledged as real, whereas everything else disappears from sight and dwells in a dimension surrounded by fear and mystery.
In the contemporary world what counts is the goal. To reconnect with the Earth and the Sky what matters is the present, not the destination. Trance or shamanic states of consciousness have to do with the present and with getting out of the most dangerous trance: our conditioning and daily conventions.
The fact is that on the Earth we are always in some kind of trance and the actual work consists of learning to balance such states and being aware that you cannot go into a new trance without moving out of the one you are already in. When there is unbalance we live in a state of hallucination where we perceive pain, anger and all kinds of grievances. When there is balance we choose consciously to open only to the trance states that bring love, ecstasy, peace and blessings to ourselves and others.
Opening up to shamanic states of consciousness means to truly say yes to life and be fully responsible. It means to accept becoming a conscious part of the universe, choosing to trust a divine purpose, identifying with the maximum expressions of our being and moving further to project this potential on all that surrounds us.
Despite the strong oppositions and conditioning of the consensus reality, shamanic states of consciousness are regularly experienced by all human beings. What is missed is solely the willingness to acknowledge them or consider them significant.”
Looking Ahead: The Shamanic Revolution and the Archaic Revival
F.S: “As we have separated from the Earth, we have also disconnected with the dimension of the Sky. Through a blind adherence to religious and social conditionings, we have denied a direct access to God, resigning ourselves to the power of religious teachings or hierarchical structures to operate as mediators between us and the Divine.
Through shamanism each one can obtain visions and spiritual experiences without any mediation. Yet, shamanism, as I see it, is not about mounting opposition to political and religious authorities; this is what has been happened throughout history and it has resulted only in even more grievances and separation.
According to shamanism, I believe the true revolution consists of taking the courage to face the spiritual or inner world, for it is from this world that all that seems to be outside emanates. This does not mean that life should be limited to shamanic journeys or states of consciousness. These experiences are important, yet we also need to take physical actions.
The best physical actions are those which allow the ecstatic experience of unity and love derived from shamanic states of consciousness to be grounded on earth. This can happen by promoting healing relationships with ourselves and the environment, by creating works of arts and doing whatever can make this world a better place.”
Featured artwork credits: Limbic Resonance by Asage
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