The Origins of Shamanism

Today, in the west we tend to generalise when we use the term shamanism, almost as an umbrella to cover a vast amount of spiritual beliefs and practices from just as many uniquely differing cultures. We even on occasion use it to describe other peoples elders, despite that community having an altogether different term of phrase or title for such people we would readily call a shaman. The common theme and what we recognise being the foundation of that persons practice being perhaps connection to ancestors, land, spirit and even plant consciousness and rituals such as various and sometimes dramatically different ceremonies.

Personally I take no issue with that. It is our truth that in the absence of (or at least less accessible) ancient spiritual beliefs and practices of our lands being passed down through generations, and in lack of our ancestors knowledge prior to the ‘introduction’ of Christianity, means that we have sought healing, training, study and influence from across the globe in search of reconnecting to some kind spiritual truth of our own truth and what I now regard as my ‘shamanic’ path. 

It’s the trade off. We have been left without our ancient ways being entrenched in our lives, society and our culture BUT, we have the luxury of experiencing depth and beauty in many ceremonies, experiences, peoples and belief's of many a foreign land. We get to bring home that experience and embrace it, integrate it and allow what resonates to influence our own ways in connection with our truth. We get to be influenced from many a rich culture and somewhere along the way we have (a global effort) come to an extremely broad sense of what Shamanism means, to us.

Today I wish to focus on an overview of the true origins to that word we now freely use to describe a broad myriad of practices and beliefs. That with which we identify as a certain approach to life and spiritual practice. That practice widely accepted as one of, if not ‘the’ oldest spiritual practice on Mother Earth, Shamanism.

For this we find ourselves in Siberia, its Eastern edge being where the word originates within the language of the Evenks. The is very much chosen by spirit , it is not a decision to become a Shaman. If you travel west towards the boarder of Mongolia then the practice is known as Tengerism (the honouring of spirits)

Despite Shamanism being one of the longest known forms of practice or healing, it too came through much struggle and conflict with Tibetan Buddhism and then repression under the Soviet Union.

More lately it’s seeing somewhat of a revival. That revival not only by locals reengaging with their custom, but foreigners such as myself in the past, who may have experienced struggles in life and/or are in search of healing, deeper understanding and as I now know of myself, reconnection.  

I feel as though if we to freely embrace the use of this word to describe a practice so broadly speaking, then perhaps we should know its origins. Shamanism or Tengerism embraces other cultures, beliefs and religions. Within its modern resurgence it is most accommodating and often works in conjunction with Buddhism and other religions whilst seeking to also keep alive its truth, its origins so as to pass down from generation to generation the unmistakable value of its ancient practices, steeped in rich culture, the heart of its people throughout their existence on the lands of their ancestors.

During its recent rise in popularity, there are of course many who claim Shaman status for their gain, perhaps over in this neck of the woods that can even simply be naivety, but that really isn’t something to claim over here. Indeed in the vast majority of cultures, the Shaman or the equivalent of, would not claim to be. More they would be referred to as by others. 

When we compare the true original Shamanism, its practice, core beliefs and rituals with western interpretation, Neo shamanism, transcultural shamanism and other expressions, we should expect to find differences in beliefs, rituals and views. Here we can now clearly see that this topic is actually very in depth and somewhat complicated, way in excess of most peoples current understanding and an awful lot of practitioners too. 

So, am I a Shaman? No is the quick answer, I would never claim to be, nor would consider myself a Shaman but I do practice a form of Shamanism.

There was a time that I wished to find some answers, what truly resonates with me most, my spiritual truth of who I am and where I could learn more from traditional Shaman or what we would call Shaman. But this is not my deepest truth. I asm of these lands and have been recently guided by my guides and local land spirits to give this land my heart. I answered that call in that very moment and discovered, of course that which I have known intellectually for some years, that my truth and everything I need is inside of me already. And so my practice is here, whatever my practice should be called. Perhaps this all means I am in some way more Shamanic than I give myself credit for (I am laughing inside whilst typing).

I now look to serve my local community with the tools I have and the tools that I am learning. This is not to say that I will never search and learn in Siberia or Peru again, but its more to further my knowledge in ways I cannot achieve here, even if to further understand this very subject, than it would be to discover who or what I actually am.

When looking into western practice you might also consider the following differences in opinion to more indigenous practices-

Universalisation - doesn’t matter if your’e in or of a specific place to be able to practice

Sanitising - extremes of physical and mental discomfort during initiations and ceremonies

Community - Truly serving an actual community rather than a journey for self development, inner peace even though offering 1-2-1 help.

Romanticising - Idea of mystical figures or practices transcending the material world. The false presumption that you won’t encounter harmful spirits, that all things or beings are benevolent.

Cultural primitivism - The notion that there was a golden age of humans living a more spiritual life and in harmony with Earth. therefor a tendency  seeing more primitive existence as living in that age. That then, holds that civilisation outside of our age, that they are still in the golden age. This denies our contemporary existence and views it as somehow wrong or negative.