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What do shamans do?
Shamans work with the spirit or the soul. They heal illness at the soul level. They gain knowledge and insight from working with the spirits of nature such as rocks and trees, the land, and they gain knowledge from working with spirits of animals and humans such as their ancestors. For the shaman everything is alive and carries information, you can call this spirit, energy, or consciousness.
In order to communicate with the spirit or consciousness of these things, the shaman will shift his or her own state of awareness. Shamans can do this through various means, such as meditation, repetitive sounds such as that of the drum or rattle, or through the help of plants. The shaman will then "see" through a new set of eyes, they will see what is going on with you on a spiritual level. The shaman's practice is also characterized by the soul flight. The shift of consciousness that the shaman makes, which allows the free part of his or her soul to leave the body. The shaman can then go retrieve information for your healing and growth. They can retrieve healing power, or things that you have lost along the way in living your life. During the soul flight the shaman is both in the room, and going on this "journey" so that he or she has an awareness of both at the same time. More about the soul flight or journey.
The shaman sees illness as a lack of power because it was lost somewhere in your life. In order to heal you the shaman returns your power to you. She or he may perform a power animal retrieval, see link for more details. A power animal is a protector, similar to a guardian angel, which protects you from harm and helps you with your spiritual growth by lending its power to you.
The shaman also removes misplaced energy. The negative emotions you may feel, or the negative emotions that another can send at you are seen by the shaman to be stuck or stored in various parts of the body. This can be seen with the example such as how stress causes ulcers or back pains. The shaman will re-empower you by removing the energy that does not belong within your body. This is called a shamanic extraction, other healing modalities in addition to shamanism practice this in various forms. This energy is not bad, it is just misplaced. Because it does not belong in your body, it is seen as causing illness that then shows itself in a physical way through pain, sickness or emotional difficulties.
In the shamanic system part of the soul is free to leave the body, so therefore it is also believed that soul parts of each individual will leave the body in order to protect itself from trauma. This is considered a positive protection mechanism. For instance, if someone were to be in a car accident, part of the soul would leave the body to protect itself from the trauma of the impact. The soul does not always know how to return, however, and if it has not returned for whatever reason this is referred to as soul loss. That is when the shaman would become involved, in order to assist with returning this missing piece of yourself. The healer would perform a soul retrieval, see link for more information. In indigenous cultures this was performed quite regularly. In these modern times, a person may go a long time feeling like a part of him or herself has been missing.
Soul loss would be comparable to the psychological concept of disassociation.
Other activities which shamans have traditionally performed, in addition to healing people, also involved healing the land. For centuries, shamans for centuries have been involved with earth healing by using their ability to communicate with the consciousness of land, bodies of water and other such natural features of their landscape. Whether it by determining why crops would not grow in a certain location, or reasons for draught; working with growing things, the weather, and the land has been a traditional activity for the shaman. They would also communicate with nature to find plants to heal illness. Many South American shamans are responsible for discovering the healing property of certain plants, which later formed the basis for specific medicines we use in the western health system today.
In most cultures, even in current times, a particular shaman will be gifted in working with one or another shamanic activity. A shaman may be more called to do soul retrieval, extraction, to work with death and dying, or to work with the land to name a few. Some will specialize in one particular activity, some will be gifted in several areas.
The effectiveness of a shaman is generally measured by the results he or she is able to achieve. It is believed that unless the shaman is able to call power animals and spiritual aid to help her, she will not be effective. Indeed that individual could not be called a shaman. The teaching of detachment, and letting go of one's ego is a central lesson for the shaman. If the individual cannot let go of pride and self interest, he or she are not considered to be a good healer, and may not be able to enlist the spiritual aid considered necessary for effective healing. There is a concept that the spirits must take pity on the healer and the one being healed. If the shaman cannot evoke compassion from those that would aid her or him, but instead offends with his or her pride - no assistance will be given to that person for the healing work.
Most of the techniques of a shaman are particular to the individual or culture. Whether a rattle or a drum is used is not considered an essential difference for effectiveness. The shaman must do what ever he or she finds effective to call forth the energy for healing. Whatever the shaman does to shift his consciousness, must only achieve the results of shifting consciousness. The trappings of what the shaman does is comparable to how a star athlete prepares for a game, whether they do calisthenics to prepare, or simply rub their lucky sock, these preparations are just the trappings around the work itself. Once again it is the results that measure the skill level.
Therefore there can be a wide variety of tools and techniques used by shamans, although certain tools/techniques appear frequently. Percussion instruments such as rattles or drums, plants, water, stones, fires, and singing often accompany shamanic work - but what is specifically used will vary with the shaman, who must achieve the shift of consciousness, receive information being communicated, and be able to direct the healing by whatever means are most effective for him or her. The same applies to whether the shaman uses hawk medicine or bear medicine, although all of these things may change the texture or feel of the shamanic work, one is not better than another.
There are certain techniques or perhaps skills that are considered essentially different in shamanic work. Shapeshifting, merging, journeying, and seeing are some of the skills a shaman may or may not posses, the ability to work over a long distance. More will be added to this this website on these topics, check back for updates to the site.
Lauren Torres - Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2002 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved.