Almost every time I mention to someone that I am a Shaman, I see the baffled look on their face. They are trying to reconcile their image of a Shaman (perhaps an old man beating a drum and chanting around a fire, casting out evil spirits and smoking a pipe containing unknown substances with me- a young modern woman who doesn’t appear to be crazy. Sometimes I love telling people I’m a Shaman just to see the baffled looks on their faces! I acknowledge that the concept is a bit out there in our modern times.
In historical times, almost all of the populations turned to some sort of Shaman for answers, healing, and wisdom. A Shaman was called different things such as medicine man or woman, healer, wisdom-keeper, curandera, and even witch in some cultures. The Shaman offered guidance, wisdom, healing, and advice to the people of the villages or cultures. They connected with the earth and spirit to transmit their wisdom and help their people. It is easy to see how this was a benefit to the people in historical time periods. It brought clarity, leadership, guidance, and connection to these villages.
Fast forward to today. The landscape is much different than the historical time periods. We no longer live in villages or rely on hunting, gathering, or farming in the way these historical periods did. Our lives are filled with computers, vehicles, doctor’s offices and grocery stores, which makes obsolete many of the roles a Shaman traditionally filled. Or does it?
I would argue that the traditional roles of a Shaman are even more important in the busy world today that is filled with instant connection via social media, but a general lack of true connection. Shamans are connectors. They connect people to healing, whether that’s in the physical, mental, or emotional form. Shamans hold ceremony, connecting themselves and others with the earth, sky, and stars. They are wisdom-keepers, connecting our modern day culture to the roots of traditions that still hold value. And they connect with Spirit, infusing a sense of belonging and gratitude to day-to-day life.
The modern context of being a Shaman is very different from what is pictured in more historical times, yet the essence remains the same. Shamans support the community, the earth, and themselves.
But what does a Shaman actually do?
This question varies as each Shaman has different ways they hold the role. Sometimes Shamans do ceremony such as fire ceremony (a way to release what is no longer needed), or Despacho (a ceremony focused on giving thanks). Sometimes Shamans act as healers, completing energy clearing in the body, working with disease or “stuck” patterns, and restoring the body, mind and spirit to a place of wholeness. Some are teachers, passing on spiritual knowledge and tradition to others. Some Shamans use their teachings in a more personal manner, just for themselves and their families while others are of service to the world.
Shamans use trance states
Often to get answers, Shamans will induce a light trance state. This can be completed through rattling or drumming as a way to “tune in” or go deeper. Shamanic Journeying is a technique Shamans will use to gain answers to questions and healing. Journeying can best be described as similar to a guided meditation, but the Shaman “travels” to realms beyond a typical meditation and usually does a journey for a specific purpose. Shamans can journey for themselves, on behalf of a client, or can lead a client on a journey for themselves. Look to a future post for more information about Shamanic Journeying (and perhaps an opportunity to experience it for yourself).
A note on plant medicine
Perhaps one of the biggest preconceived notions about a Shaman is their use of plant medicine. By this people usually are referring to hallucinogens such as Ayahuasca or Peyote sometimes used by Shamans as a way to induce trance or healing visions. While the use of these substances can be done in a healing way, I firmly believe they are not necessary to induce trance, healing, or visions. Ceremonies using these substances have traditionally been used, but today I think finding someone to lead you in a true traditional ceremony using these substances in a safe, healthy way and with the highest of intentions and vibrations is difficult. It is imperative to find a high quality ceremony leader, as these ceremonies with hallucinogens often leave you in a vulnerable space. So from my perspective, I choose to seek healing in other less vulnerable ways.
Plant medicine can also be much more loosely defined as working with plants to create healing (beyond the hallucinogen category), and I certainly support this aspect of plant medicine. Shamans often work with herbs and healing foods, and in this regard plant medicine certainly has a space in my personal life.
How do you become a Shaman?
Traditionally to become a Shaman, you apprentice with one and go through a series of initiations. This still happens, but more commonly today this can only occur if you are already part of a native culture, or by moving to an area to apprentice with a traditional Shaman such as Peru. In our more modern times, there are classes available to those seeking this path. I trained with Ginger and Dale Lee out of Swissvale, Colorado. My lineage is based on the teachings of Andean Shamans from Peru. I spent many weekends over the course of years with Ginger and Dale learning about the teachings. The beginning of the training is considered the Medicine Wheel, often spoken about from many native traditions. Basically, the Medicine Wheel is a way of organizing healing- each direction focuses on different aspects of living, and has tasks associated with it to let go of and heal. Going through the Medicine Wheel means attending classes focused on each direction, completing ceremony and deep inner healing work, becoming initiated into the nine rites of the Munai’Ki (focused on becoming a wisdom-keeper/Shaman), and slowly building a Mesa or medicine bundle to help with healing. After completing the Medicine Wheel trainings, I attended the advanced classes which were more focused on using techniques to heal others, and I chose to attain the highest initiation currently available as a Kurak Akulleq Shaman or fourth level priest and wisdom keeper.
My journey to become a Shaman was hugely transformational. I healed deep parts of myself and faced fears and doubt. I received beautiful messages and participated in ceremonies with others also seeking to lead more spiritual lives. I transformed myself, stepping into my own confidence and life purpose to be of service to others and self, and out of past patterning and fear. This period of transformation was wonderful and amazing, and also had moments of deep letting go, releasing, and wounding. I am deeply grateful for the experience, and feel deeply blessed to now be sharing healing with others in new ways! Please let me know if you have other questions!