There are many paths to spirituality. While some might find the solace they seek by adopting a map that travels the most conventional of routes, others discover their truest selves in a pottery class. Or between the pages of an Oprah magazine. Or at the mall.
One of the coolest ways in is shamanism, an ancient pseudo-religious phenomenon that folks have been trying to explain for a couple of hundred years.
The term “shaman” began with the Tungus people in Siberia, and was later coined by the Romanian historian Mircea Eliade, in 1951. As it was taken up by other scholars, a shaman came to stand for what we modern folk might call a “medicine man.” When a contemporary adaptation of the practice emerged in the 1970s, some Native Americans regarded it to be a misappropriation of sacred spiritual practices, and chalked it up as yet another form of cultural assault by the white folk.
Shamanism devotees believe our ancestors did the legwork in mastering the trick to applying the limited human resources of mind and body to maximum effect in healing and problem-solving. By understanding that our physical selves function best when they’re in harmony with all the life that swirls around them, we capitalize on the potential of this much-misunderstood worldview.
More than that, shamanism embraces a philosophy that says man can gain control over the natural world via certain magical principles. Here, a human — generally the shaman, who acts as a medium for a group of individuals — serves as a vessel of communication with those magical spirits whose energies might speed the mortal processes of healing, divination and control over natural events. Shamanism focuses on a human’s entry into an ecstatic trance state in which the soul, with the aid of various spirit helpers, leaves the body and ascends to the sky (the heavens) or descends into the earth (the underworld).
Here’s a how-to for getting your inner shaman on.
• Appreciate that all of us are walking, breathing stores of energy. And before we get too high on ourselves over this remarkable distinction, remember, too, that all of the natural world shares the same extraordinary trait. By first honouring the truth of this universality, we can work toward the ideal: i.e., getting the works in perfect alignment.
• As opposed to blindly following established doctrines that require unquestioned allegiance to be a part of the club, shamanism offers followers utter autonomy. Adherents need only learn the concepts and test them in their own lives.
• Shamanism endorses animism, a notion that sees the world as populated by an abundance of spiritual forces. In this way of thinking, goblins, fairies, ghosts and demons wreak havoc while man stands helplessly by. The magic of shamanism, however, can shield us from their damage.
• The Institute for Contemporary Shamanic Studies (www1.icss.org/Toronto) is a Canadian multi-disciplinary spiritual centre that offers workshops, teachings and ceremonies in sacred spaces in Toronto and Calgary. Programs focus on different aspects of self-growth and healing, including weeklong ceremonies, various rites of passage and year-long shamanic training.
• The Canadian Centre for Shamanic Studies (www.shamanismcanada.com) is a resource dedicated to helping people rediscover their own indigenous spirit and restore their spiritual connection with the earth. The CCSS regularly hosts shamanism retreats, shamanic circles, and shamanism conferences and ceremonies at an Algonquin nature retreat in Ontario.