It was late into the night that I drank a mixture of what appeared to be pulverized herbs.
The haunting sounds of a song suddenly appeared around me, intensifying my feelings of being utterly lost in an alien universe. The sounds that kept drawing me in, had a pleading quality that made me want to weep with sorrow.
As I started singing, I realized my song was inviting the spirit of the herb to move into my body. I wanted it to stop, to be over but in that moment I knew it was too late, I had left this reality.
I was canoeing through the infinite stream of the unconscious mind, and the song was my solitary paddle. It was up to me to avoid the rapids and control the currents by making the song more beautiful, by begging the Spirit of the herb to guide and heal me.
This was my initiation into shamanism. But before this experience, I had to first understand and identify the signs of my shamanic calling.
WHAT IS A SHAMAN?
At its most basic level, shamanism can be understood as a collection of ancient techniques that help to awaken and expand consciousness, as well as heal humanity’s inner wounds.
Shamanic practice is the earliest known form of religion that our ancestors experienced. The different number of spiritual techniques used to expand our conscious and provoke mystical experiences was astonishing. These techniques ranged from chanting, fasting, and nature immersion, to incessant trance dancing and ingesting hallucinogenic plants.
Unlike most religions where the main concern is finding answers, the Shaman is more interested in provoking you to ask the right questions that will lead you to experience truth. The Shaman doesn’t pursue meaning: he or she creates it by bringing the sacred to an otherwise mundane reality.
The word “Shaman” first originated in Siberia as the word “samarambi” meaning “to excite oneself,” and “sam-dambi” meaning to dance. The shaman, therefore, excites himself into a divine frenzy or ecstasy through drum beating and dancing, until he passes into a trance when his spirit leaves his body.
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The scholar of comparative religion and anthropologist Mirca Eliade gave us the most simple shaman definition as “specialists in ecstasy,” with an impressive list of abilities including thought-reading, clairvoyance, firewalking, and spirit interaction, just to name a few.
It’s these moments of ecstasy, of ego loss, that provide an experience of reality that is larger, deeper, and infinitely more exquisitely beautiful. Shamans worldwide know that in order to understand society and live more fully attuned to reality, they need to go wild, travel out of their normal minds, and visit the invisible world of Spirit, which is the undercurrent of the visible world.
By accessing the invisible realm, Shamans can tap into a powerful way of guiding their lives and the lives of others.
TRAINING AS WOUNDED HEALERS
By the time we become adults, most of us are so alienated from ourselves and the earth, indoctrinated by media, and deluded by “false needs” created by the consumer culture, that there’s little hope for us connecting with the other worlds surrounding us.
In tribal cultures, shamans or healers often experienced an illness that gave them the insight they needed to heal themselves and then bring wisdom to their people. This experience echoes Socrates notion that “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness.”
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It’s often through great struggle that Shamans break free from their illnesses and awaken to the truth. By learning how to cure themselves, they also learn how to cure others.
It’s because of this initiation process that Shamans are often called “Wounded Healers.”