This is an ongoing US and global project to help enthusiasts, scholars, practitioners, and curious parties learn more about shamanic living in a contemporary culture. The space here is devoted to sharing info, experiences and opinions about all forms of shamanic expression covering shamanism's multiple permutations. Among subjects explored are traditions, techniques, insights, definitions, events, artists, authors, and creativity. You are invited to draw from your own experiences and contribute.

What is a SHAMAN?

MAYAN: "a technichian of the Holy, a lover of the Sacred." CELTIC: "Empower the people...by changing the way we think." MEXICAN APACHE: "Someone who has simply learned to give freely of themselves..." AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL: "...a teacher or healer, a wisdom keeper of knowledge... (who) takes people to a door and encourages them to enter." W. AFRICAN DIAGRA: "views every event in life within a spiritual context." HAWAIIAN: "...human bridges to the spiritual world and its laws and the material world and its trials..." QUECHUA INDIAN: "embodies all experience." AMAZON: "...willing to engage the forces of the Universe...in a beneficial end for self, people, and for life in general."

-- from Travelers, Magicians and Shamans (Danny Paradise)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

National Geographic Article

Shamanism finally going mainstream? Here is an article on Shamans and Ayahuasca in National Geographic, of all places. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0603/features/peru.html

It involves the familiar story of an American, Hamilton, who had once lived in desperation and was called to the other realms by the inexplicable. He made his way to Peru and is now a practicing master shaman there.

I just skimmed through it but here are my favorite excerpts:

To prepare the brew, apprentices spend years under the tutelage of an elder shaman getting to know the different plant ingredients, passing weeks or months at a time learning their individual healing properties and governing spirits. These beings, they claim, teach them icaros, or spirit songs, which, when sung or whistled, call forth the plants' unique assistance during ceremonies.
The training isn't easy; those like Hamilton who earn the title of "master shaman"—highly respected members of Amazonian communities—receive patients from far and wide. Based on the individual needs of their patients, shamans must know which plants are required for a ceremony (there are two primary ingredients, but any of an estimated 100 species have been used in ayahuasca brews), how much of them to harvest, and how to prepare them for ingestion. The plants' spirits are then said to work together to produce the most successful possible healing for each person, regardless of what ails them.

According to Grob, ayahuasca provokes a profound state of altered consciousness that can lead to temporary "ego disintegration," as he calls it, allowing people to move beyond their defense mechanisms into the depths of their unconscious minds—a unique opportunity, he says, that cannot be duplicated by any nondrug therapy methods.

"You come back with images, messages, even communications," he explains. "You're learning about yourself, reconceptualizing prior experiences. Having had a profound psycho-spiritual epiphany, you're not the same person you were before."

But the curious should take heed: The unconscious mind holds many things you don't want to look at. All those self-destructive beliefs, suppressed traumatic events, denied emotions. Little wonder that an ayahuasca vision can reveal itself as a kind of hell in which a person is forced—literally—to face his or her demons.

Hamilton explains it this way: Everyone has an energetic body run by an inextinguishable life force. In Eastern traditions, this force, known as chi or prana, is manipulated through such things as acupuncture or yoga to run smoothly and prevent the buildup of the negative energies that cause bodily disease, mental illness, and even death. To Amazonian shamans, however, these negative energies are actual spirit entities that attach themselves to the body and cause mischief. In everyone, Hamilton asserts, there is a loving "higher self," but whenever unpleasant thoughts enter a person's mind—anger, fear, sorrow—it's because a dark spirit is hooked to the body and is temporarily commandeering the person's mind. In some cases, he adds, particularly evil spirits from the lowest hell of the "astral realms" take over a person
permanently—known as full-blown demonic possession—creating a psychopathic mind that seeks only to harm others.

Shamans will tell you that during an ayahuasca cleansing they're not working with the contents of a person's hallucination but are actually visiting that person in whatever plane of reality his or her spirit happens to be. We are not, they insist, confined to the reality of our five senses, but can transcend it and enter a multidimensional universe.

And this notion of a spiritual experience marks the very juncture where Western science and analytic thought depart on the subject of ayahuasca and where indigenous culture and mysticism come in. Most ayahuasca researchers agree that, curiously, the compound appears to affect people on three different levels—the physical, psychological, and spiritual—complicating efforts to definitively catalog its effects, let alone explain specific therapeutic benefits.


Walks In Two Worlds said...

A good, solid article. Makes me want to journey with the aya again--this would be four I think--though I'm already gagging. What worlds are ours when we travel!

Allowing the light said...

Interesting indeed… I think that this can apply to any medicine journey, as long as it is undertaken for a spiritual purpose.

I clearly recognize the evocation of hell… Not fun (!) But I remember that even in popular literature and movies for instance, facing this is generally presented as an important part of an apprentice’s initiation. And for really good reasons… It is quite powerful to disintegrate many things that are on your way, the kind of stuff we usually call: ego, defences, unconscious fears, whatever.

It is a unique opportunity indeed… as long as you are able to come back – these journeys may sometimes look more real than reality itself, I swear! And craziness is never that far... So it is something to read about it and dream about being REALLY initiated; quite different to actually go through it. But it IS really powerful.

A cautious note however: because it is not so easy to come back, it is very important to do it in good conditions, meaning in particular: having somebody who is fully present and who can have an understanding of what is going on while you are journeying (and not only check to see if you are “apparently” doing well) and then can help you come back and debrief afterwards (not only immediately afterwards as you are still too close to the experience)… This person is called a teacher (or a master) – I am emphasizing that because some teachers may actually not do that for their apprentices – and it is really important that this person has a strong ethics and commitment and some kind of unconditional love for the apprentice (who can be rough towards the teacher; I was!).

Among the difficulties is the debriefing/interpretation part. In particular, it may sometimes be not so easy to distinguish between the different layers: what relates to the psychological realm and what relates to more spiritual levels and spaces in which all kinds of things can happen. You can be abducted / invaded by strong negative forces and spirits, real demons, even alien entities that will take profit of your own weaknesses, what constitutes your main challenges, your worst fears, your own version of nightmare and hell… Hell is never exactly what one may think. And it is also in part the darkest part of your unconscious mind…

So no doubt that you never come back the same. I suppose that is what becoming a shaman is also about.