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Psychology and Shamanism

(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 1 Number1)

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By: Joanne Shenandoah

I have found that most people do not know what a shaman is, and for those who have got an inkling about shamans, they usually see them as the primitive tribal witch doctors who sing and dance around a patient doing all sorts of weird things. Firstly the word 'shaman' originally came from the Tungsic culture in Siberia, but is now accepted as referring to the common aspects found in every culture throughout the world, with names such as Medicine Man/Woman, Sorcerer, Witch, and others that could fill a book, just like the different names for God. I cannot describe Shamanism any better than the way Teresa Moorey does here:

"Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice of all. It entails no dogma, and very few rules, for shamanism is about doing, experiencing and knowing. It is a path of the heart - the heart that opens and enfolds all of the natural world. It is a way of beauty and balance".

Although it is the most ancient, it is far from being primitive and therefore useless in our modern society of technology and separation from the natural world. In fact as we, as human beings, are a part of nature, shamanism can help us to get in touch with ourselves, and our true human nature. The late Australian anthropologist A.P. Elkin says this about the Australian Aboriginal shamans:

“Aboriginal Medicine Men, so far from being rogues, charlatans or ignoramuses, are men of HIGH degree; that is, men who have taken a degree in the secret life beyond that taken by most adult males - a step which implies discipline, mental training, courage and perseverance... They are men of respected, and often out standing personality... They are of immense social significance, the psychological health of the group largely depending on faith in their powers... The various psychic powers attributed to them must not be too readily dismissed as mere primitive magic and ‘make-believe’, for many of them have specialized in the working of the human mind, and in the influence of mind on body and of mind on mind.”

From ‘Aboriginal Men Of High Degree by: A.P. Elkin (1945: pp78-79)

As this shows the link between shamanism and psychology, I would like to note here that as with psychology, a shaman’s ability to achieve a proper lasting healing, be it physical or psychological, depends primarily on his or her motivation or intentions to heal. This is because if the shaman or psychologist has any other motives, e.g.: money, income, livelihood, or social status, their heart is not 100% in helping a patient, and therefore there may be important symbols and experiences of the patient that they might overlook. A shaman or a psychologist must be alert and focused as well as patient, persistent, caring or loving, courageous, and flexible. In psychology, a psychologist assesses a patient’s cognitive skills, or in other words, their ability to think subjectively and objectively, as well as their understanding of their own emotional responses to their experiences. A psychiatrist might also assess a patient’s behaviour based on the chemical reactions in the brain, and the effects of any toxins or drugs that may be influencing these reactions. The difference between this and what a shaman does, is that a shaman does all of the above as well as assessing the patient’s spirit or their ability to recognize and understand the symbolic messages they might be receiving from the spiritual realms that are trying to guide the patient along their spiritual path. These messages can come in the form of dream images and sometimes come in physical accidents or coincidences as well as omens. The most common omens come in the form of birds and animals that are trying to remind the patient of the personality strengths that they could be using and relying on, or weaknesses that they should be trying to overcome.

The real skill in the shaman is to be able to help the patient firstly become aware of these messages and then to discern what the messages are trying to say. This can be quite difficult, as the messages are always in a symbolic, metaphoric form, that are created by and therefore best understood by the patient, themselves. However because we are all human being with basically the same nature, there are many symbols that are common, and therefore a good shaman who is very alert to his or her own human spirit can be of great help in translating these cryptic messages. And because we, as humans, are actually made up of all the ‘lower life forms’, e.g.; we eat the plants and animals; and we drink the minerals; our body is made of this planet; this is why, for a shaman especially, the characteristics or powers of all bird, plant, animal and mineral beings must be clearly known. A shaman would of course be most familiar with the powers that are most influencing his or her own life as birth totems. But as well as totems, which are characteristics of their own soul and from the universal forces that come at the time of their birth, a shaman can, by studying the characteristics or powers of other beings, gain an understanding and use of other powers which are often referred to as spirit guides, spirit helpers or angels. 

I would like to explain how this is done, how it can be experienced differently for different individuals and the scientific understanding behind all of what I just said, but because that would fill an encyclopaedia, all I can say is that it has a lot to do with the understanding of Mythology, it’s functions and also quantum physics. If any one wants to know more they can talk to me or read any of Joseph Campbell’s work on Mythology (the best start here would be ‘The Power Of Myth’ DVD); and for a scientific understanding I recommend Fred Alan wolf’s book: ‘The Eagle’s Quest - A Physicists Search For Truth In the Heart of the Shamanic World’. And for a practical beginners guide, that also has very good information for advanced shamans I recommend Teresa Moorey’s book ‘Shamanism - A beginners guide’; and for a good overall guide on practising shamanism, based on the Hawaiian tradition you can’t go past the book ‘Urban Shaman’ by Serge Kahili King, among others. Alternatively and preferably, if possible, you could let go of ALL existing beliefs about life and reality, and open up to the universal forces within and around you, but that is exactly what monks, mystics etc. spend most of their life practising.

For more info on Shamanic Consciousness, Shamanic Tools, Shamanic Principles, Shamanic Physics, and Shamanism follow the links.


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