Shamanism & Native American Articles

Beginners guide to Shamanism - What is Shamanism?

By Brett Almond

What is shamanism?

Shamanism is perhaps the oldest system with which man has sought connection with creation, yet it has no scriptures or dogma. It doesn't tell you to worship one god, or to associate only with those who hold the same beliefs. Shamanism is concerned with what goes on beneath the surface of things - why certain situations occur in our lives and why we act as we do. It is concerned with the nature of our creation - why and how we came to be.

Shamanism takes nature as its teacher. It is concerned with the natural flow of life and with showing respect to our fellow creatures and to one another. North American medicine men are similar to African witchdoctors in their belief in the power of the earth. Those who share these beliefs have often been misunderstood and regarded with suspicion and fear. Medieval witches were burnt and, more recently, Native Americans killed and their ancestral homes seized. The Aborigines face discrimination, and the development of the modern world draws Inuit and other native peoples away from their traditional ways.

Shamanism would seem to be hanging on by a thread. Because all is connected, this is also true of humanity and the globe. In the West, there has been a resurgence of interest in nature-based religions, shamanism among them. Shamanism is not complicated. Many people conduct their lives in a shamanistic manner without referring to it in that way. For others, the word shamanism describes this energy perfectly.

How can I use shamanism?

Shamanism is concerned with being a true human; living in a manner that is respectful and true. Many who choose to travel this road develop clairvoyance or healing ability, but as a by-product of shamanism.

Shamanism is something with which you feel a connection. It is not something to which you sign up. It is not about having powers, but it is about the power to be ourselves, to live the way we would like to live and to feel connected to something greater than ourselves.

Another way to describe it is as a form of personal development. Many of the ceremonies of the Native Americans help us to improve ourselves. If during a ceremony you pray that you may become less angry, this may draw situations to you that will force you to overcome your anger. You may also find yourself moved to help your prayers into being. Praying for help for a neighbour is good, but it is not so easy to actually do their shopping for them.

What is ceremony?

Ceremony is central to shamanism. It is a method of putting your intention into practice, like kneeling and putting your hands together to pray in the Christian tradition. It is about expressing how you would like to live and what you want to be.

There are many traditional ceremonies in use, but you can invent your own as appropriate. You may make up an 'I want a job I can really enjoy' ceremony. You could meditate for five minutes, write a wish-list of all the things you want from a new job on a piece of paper and then burn it, symbolically sending your message to the spirit world. Performing this ceremony won't guarantee you a new job next Monday, but it will signal to the spirit world and to yourself that you are ready for something new. Using ceremony can bring opportunities for change.

In ceremony I tend to focus on the one or two issues that are most important to me. When I started attending sweat lodges, I prayed for every little thing that I wanted to change in my life. Afterwards I would have very concentrated periods of learning because praying has consequences, and prayers are often answered in unexpected ways. You may pray for a better relationship with your wife and then, when you get home, have the biggest row the two of you have ever had, only after which can you start talking openly with one another. If, during a sweat lodge ceremony, you pray for 10 different things, you may trigger 10 events of similar magnitude and give yourself a very unpleasant time. My advice is to choose your prayers wisely, as results will entail some work on your part.

Why are some ceremonies always performed in exactly the same way?

Some ceremonies have existed for many generations, and as they are performed again and again they bring with them the power and intention of previous occasions. When performed repeatedly a ceremony itself begins to hold power.

Many of the ancient ceremonies were received by shamans in visions. Their visions often contained precise details of how to perform every aspect of the ceremony, as if God were saying that a ceremony performed exactly as described would inherently carry much power and the ability to bring blessings to the planet and its people.

Will I need any special equipment?

We can provide related items but we cannot sell you shamanism. The products we sell are only tools - the true place of learning is within your self.

Pipes are smoked in a ceremonial manner with intent and awareness that you are praying and not simply having a smoke after dinner. The smoke is blown to the heavens so that it may symbolically carry your prayers to the creator. Tobacco symbolically holds your prayers and is considered sacred. If you wish to carry your prayers with you in ceremony, you could wrap a pinch of tobacco in a square of coloured material, secure it with string and wear it around your neck. After the ceremony, you can throw this 'prayer tie' into the fire and, as it burns, your prayers will be carried to the heavens.

Feathers and wings can help you to brush the smoke from smudge sticks over yourself to cleanse your aura of unwanted energies. Smudging is like having a wash on a level that soap and water cannot reach. Feathers can also be used to direct energy in healing and ceremony.

Jewellery can also be used in a ceremonial way. If you feel that you need insight, you could wear a pendant of an owl. If you wear this pendant only when you want to receive insight, it will begin to carry a power of its own, because of your intention that it should do so. This may help draw you to situations in which you can receive insight. You could of course wear an owl pendant purely because you find it attractive as a piece of jewellery.

If you hang a dream catcher above your bed, this sends out the message that you want to 'catch' or remember your dreams and to filter out those that are of no use to you.

Objects are only as powerful as your intention. If you wish to make an offering to the spirits you could purchase blue corn, which is traditionally used by some Native Americans. However, it would be equally valid to walk out to a field and leave an apple - or any other item - there as an offering, as long as you do this with firm intent. By showing intent, you give of yourself. What you have done has taken effort and, through giving, you may receive. Making an offering sends a signal that you are open to receiving, and is a symbol of your appreciation of the guidance of the spirits and of God. The spirits will not eat your offering, but in a way they absorb your intention, for, like everything else, your intention is energy. Your offering completes the circle of giving and receiving.

Summary

Shamanism is not about becoming a Native American Indian. It is about trying to reach our full potential as we walk on planet earth. Recently people have begun to blend different faiths from around the world. We may meditate like Buddhists, pray like Native Americans and use tarot for personal development, bringing knowledge from many sources to create positive energy and a better planet.

Shamanism is natural and is only as magical as we believe it to be. A student once asked a great teacher, with whom I performed a ceremony, a very deep question about why a ceremony was carried out in a particular manner. He replied, "Don't ask me, I just work here." His answer illustrates that when we have an affinity with this path it can feel as if we are wondrous tools in life's great mystery. We sense that life around us is an extension of ourselves, and acts as a giant instruction manual on how to live life. Shamanism is in part a study of our environment, which is a big reflection of who we are. All the information we need is around us. We only need to know how to look for it.

Brett Almond

© holisticshop 2000. All rights reserved

About the author / more information

Brett Almond is the founder and director of Holisticshop.co.uk. His main personal spiritual pursuits of choice are Tarot, community through how we treat each other and ceremony using fasting, dance and sound. He also runs a regular sweat lodge in Norfolk. He has a natural intrigue for personal development and all things spiritual.

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