Salutogenesis & Shamanism
Masters Thesis © Barbara Buch, 2006

3. Shamanism

3.1 What is Shamanism?
3.2 Shamanism and Religion
3.3 The Evolvement and History of Shamanism
3.4 Specific Functions of Shamans
3.5 The Shamanic Worldview and Belief System
3.6 Initiation into the Shamanic Profession
3.7 Formal Training
3.8 Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)
     3.8.1 Labeling ASC
     3.8.2 Methods to Achieve ASC
     3.8.3 Structure of ASC Experiences
3.9 Myth
     3.9.1 Development of Myths
     3.9.2 Features and Themes of Myths

3.1 What is Shamanism?

The origin of the word Shamanism is uncertain (Krippner (2), 2000). However, it is often traced to the language of the Sibirical tribe of the Tungus (Paturi, 2005; Cowan, 1998), whose tribal life was studied by Russian ethnographers (Canda, 1982). The Tungusic šaman translates into, “one who is excited, moved, or raised” (Casanowicz, 1924; Lewis, 1990, both cited in Krippner (2) 2000, p. 93; Eliade, 1974). An alternative translation is, “inner heat” (Krippner (2), 2000, p. 93). But also the Sanskrit word saman or “song” could be the origin (Hoppal, 1987, cited in Krippner (2), 2000, p. 93).

The Shaman and shamanic orientation as a worldwide phenomenon are universal (e.g. Pandian, 1997; Winkelmann, 1997), they occur almost everywhere in the world. Fundamental universal specific traits (Townsend, 1997) and many basic characteristics, functions, practices, techniques and beliefs are amazingly similar cross culturally (Harner, 1990; Walsh, 1992; Green, 1998; Eliade, 1974; Canda, 1982), despite differences in other aspects of culture, as well as geographical and time differences.

However, at the same time, Shamanism is a very broad and cultural complex phenomenon (e.g. Hung-Youn, 1985) with a changing constellation of features through space and time (Townsend, 1997). The adaptability of Shamanism makes its definition so hard (Townsend, 1997). These, and other reasons, make it exceedingly difficult to develop a simple yet workable definition and holistic understanding of Shamanism (Hung-Youn, 1985; Townsend, 1997).

Consequently, numerous definitions of Shamanism exist (examples see appendix). Thus the term Shaman or Shamanism is not used in a clear way in literature. In general, Shamanism “is the complex of beliefs, rites and traditions clustered around the Shaman and his activities” (Hultkrantz, 1973, p. 36).

Some authors reserve the term Shaman exclusively for Siberian, Eurasian or sub-Arctic practitioners (e.g. Winkelmann, 1997). And “others have extended the label Shaman to other practitioners, for instance any practitioners who interact with the spirit world through ASC” (Altered States of Consciousness) (Winkelmann, 1997, p. 394). Some authors differentiate between Shamans, Shaman healers and shamanic healers and also mediums (e.g. Winkelmann, 1992, cited in Krippner (2), 2000; Winkelmann, 1989). Shamans are often also called medicine men or witch doctors, besides many other names (Harner, 1990).

In the context of this thesis, I choose Michael Harner’s definition of Shamanism because the definition must include the purpose of Shamanism besides the main phenomenon itself (Hung-Youn, 1985), with which I agree: “A shaman is a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness – at will – to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality (ASC) in order to acquire knowledge, power, and to help other persons” (Harner, 1990, p. 20) “Shamans [...] are the keepers of [...] ancient techniques that they use to achieve and maintain well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities” (Harner, 1990, p. xvii).

I don’t want to be perceived as biased but I will mostly refer to the Shaman in the male form ‘he’, as it is commonly used in literature for simplicity reasons, although the Shaman can be either female or male.

Today’s different forms of Shamanism are sometimes described as: Traditional Shamanism, the so called Neo-Shamanism (recent, ‘modern’ forms of culture-overlapping Shamanism - e.g. Harner, 1990) and Core Shamanism, which according to the definition from Harner includes all those elements, which are held in common by Shamans all over the world (Paturi, 2005; Harner, 1990).

In some literature there is also writing about Shamans who act to do damage to other people, so called ‘black Shamans’, versus the ‘white Shamans’. According to Canda’s definition, “Shamanism is opposed to harm-intending sorcery and merely egocentric spiritual pleasures. The raison d’être of Shamanism is the healing of persons and groups” (Canda, 1982, p. 14). I agree with him. To me ‘black Shamanism’ only represents a misuse of techniques and knowledge.

A more complete general description of Shamanism, which to describe in this thesis would take too much space, is offered by Townsend (1997).

The words shamanic and shamanistic have different meanings. The basic difference is that the word ‘shamanic’ describes what shamans do, whereas the word ‘shamanistic’ refers to adaptations of shamanic practices (Graham Scott, 2002). To simplify, I use ‘shamanic’ throughout this thesis for both expressions.

3.2 Shamanism and Religion

Sometimes Shamanism is referred to as religion (e.g. Wilber, 1981, cited in Krippner (2), 2000; Riches, 1992). According to Kehrer and others the definition of the word ‘religion’ is not clear either (Kehrer, 1990; Hung-Youn, 1985; etc.). Different definitions of religion exist, which could be partly applied to Shamanism but the concept of a ‘moral community’, called church, or ‘institution’ does not exactly fit (Kehrer, 1990). In addition, Shamanism is a far broader concept than religion alone, since it consists of healing, medicinal aspects, counseling, interpreting (e.g. dreams), therapeutic work, art, trance and more. Ellison and Levin define religion as “a complex and multidimensional domain of human life comprising behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, experiences, values, and so on” (Ellison and Levin, 1998, p. 709). This is valid for Shamanism, too, and led to a long controversy among Western Scholars, if Shamanism is a religion or not (e.g. Hung-Youn, 1985; Motzki, 1977). Hung-Youn writes about Shamanism as a “complex religious phenomenon” (Hung-Youn, 1985, p. 18). Eliade writes, “Shamanism in the strict sense is pre-eminently a religious phenomenon [...]” (Eliade, 1964, cited in Hung-Youn, 1985, p. 21). Winkelmann has the opinion that Shamanism is the origin for all later religious forms, as the result of cultural adaptation to biologically based Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) (Winkelmann, 1986, cited in McClenon, 1997). Hultkrantz, as Eliade, have the opinion that Shamanism represents an autonomic complex and even if there are religious elements in it, it is not necessarily a religion (Hultkrantz, 1973). “But most writers on Shamanism focus on its technologies, its worldviews, and its ways of knowing rather than on its resemblance to institutionalized religions” (Harner, 1980; Krippner and Welch, 1992, both cited in Krippner (2), 2000, p. 111). According to Kehrer’s definition of religion, I would agree to assume Shamanism being a historical base or even origin for today’s existing religions. However, nowadays it often coexists with religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity, so there are Buddhist Shamans, Islamic Shamans, Christian Shamans, and neo-pagan Shamans (Hung-Youn, 1985; Krippner (2), 2000). Shamanism can exist beside of a religion and doesn’t interfere (Hung-Youn, 1985; Krippner (2), 2000).

3.3 The Evolvement and History of Shamanism

Shamanism occur(s)ed in different cultures all over the world, probably originating within paleolithic hunting/gathering/fishing societies (e.g. Canda, 1982; Krippner (2), 2000), where it was mainly practiced in bands and tribes (e.g. Krippner (2), 2000). Shamanism is at least 20,000 to 30,0000 years old (Eliade, 1964; Harner, 1980, both cited in Green, 1998; Eliade, 1972, cited in Krippner (2), 2000; Cowan, 1998; Walsh, 1992). Today, in most Western cultures, Shamanism is almost completely suppressed though it has been continuously practiced, in one form or another, in many tribal and preliterate cultures throughout the world (Green, 1998). Even in a few cultures within agricultural respectively centralized societies it remained in a modified form (e.g. Krippner (2), 2000).

In many cultures the appearance of Shamanism during the last centuries changed dramatically by misunderstandings and persecution, following colonization and conquest (Kiev, 1964, cited in Kendall, 1977; Krippner (2), 2000). Religious, cultural and governmental influences (ideologies) were responsible for this change and especially Western intellectual views later on (mostly during the last century), which led to wrong interpretations and ridiculing of the Shaman’s main tool, trance / ecstasy / Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) (e.g. Motzki, 1977). Hauschild writes: „Bis in die 30er oder 40er Jahre war man jedenfalls gewohnt, magische Praktiken als lächerlich-‘abergläubische Spreu’ vom naturwissenschaftlich erklärbaren kräuter- und naturheilkundlichen ‘Weizen’ der Volksmedizin zu trennen“ (Hauschild, 1982, p. 269-271). Labels such as ‘devotees of the devil’, ‘neurotic’, ‘charlatan’ (Hung Joun, 1985; Kendall, 1977) and ‘psychopathological cases’ such as epileptic, hysteric, schizophrenic, etc. (Hung Joun, 1985; Motzki, 1977; Noll, 1983), were created and often caused the social degradation of Shamans from high social standing, privileges and prestige, often being rulers (e.g. in Korea and among the Native American tribes, e.g. the Cree, Crow, and Kiman) to the lowest classes (e.g. Hung Joun, 1985). Persecution, reduced political power and social status, led to shame and psychological complex, often resulting in isolation from the outer world (e.g. in Korea, Hung Joun, 1985). Consequently remaining Shamans - in some cultures today are still often “exclusive and sensitive to outsiders” (Hung-Joun, 1985). Besides others, Noll proves that the ‘schizophrenia metaphor’ of Shamanism and its altered states is non-tenable. There are significant phenomenological differences between both, the shamanic and the schizophrenic states of consciousness (Noll, 1983). Shamans and their functions for society then were often replaced by institutionalized priest-centered religions, ministers, physicians and psychotherapists (Canda, 1982). Priests (priestesses) emerged, taking control of a society’s religious rituals, while witches, sorcerers, diviner and mediums took over other functions of the Shaman (Krippner (2), 2000). The Shamans major function then was mostly reduced to specialized “healing capacities as the performing of healing songs and dances, dispensing herbal medicines, and diagnosis, bone-setting, midwifery and surgery” (Krippner (2), 2000, p. 100). In North American Natives for example, present day native Shamans avoid the term Shaman and call themselves with synonyms like “Indian doctor” (Harner, 1990, p. 104) and related terms like ‘medicine man’ or ‘healer’ (oral communication, anonymous). Other synonyms include practitioner, doctor, theurgist, leech, herbalist, physician-herbalist, magician, white magician, conjurer, sorcerer, witch doctor, witch, wizard, priest, lama, diviner, seer, medium, wiseman, and juggler (Charles, 1953). Under the changed value systems, the traditional shamanic profession and/or knowledge is often lost partly or completely (e.g. Hung-Joun, 1985), as well as mixed with other belief systems in many countries today, leading to more simplified (e.g. ceremonial) techniques and superficial ways of Shamanism (Hung-Joun, 1985).

Despite of all this historical change, there are some shamanic practices and Shamans which survived the changes relatively well, like in Peru (Andritzky, 1999). Meanwhile, researchers increasingly recognize the value of Shamanism and its technologies for humans today (e.g. Krippner, 1987 and (2), 2000; Halifax, 1990; Harper, 2006, etc.), comparing it to (archaic) psychotherapy and hailing Shamans as “folk psychiatrists” (Kendall, 1977, p. 8).

Essential elements of original shamanic worldviews, belief systems and concepts still constitute today - according to Lowery - basic beliefs of indigenous peoples, like American Indians, even when often forgotten or neglected. Examples are medicine wheels, people being “surrounded by the power of the landscape in the physical environment”, their place “in kinship systems” and “healing is communal” (Lowery ,1998, p. 132). In Korea for example, Shamanism still represents the culture’s belief system (Hung-Youn, 1985). And thus it plays an important role in social work, for healing and recovery of widespread abuse, alcohol and other problems, resulting mainly from historical traumata (e.g. Lowery, 1998).

3.4 Specific Functions of Shamans

Shamans were mostly poor but high in social ranks and rich in esteem and satisfaction (Canda, 1982). They could and still can have many different functions (e.g. Krippner, comments in Noll, 1985). We have to conceive the original Shaman as a person who mediates supernatural influence in situations when such influence is needed in a hunting culture. The hunter expects supernatural intervention in stressor- and crisis situations: when he, some member of his family, or the hunting camp, “is ill, when the game is scarce, or concealed to the hunters, when the weather is difficult or if natural catastrophes happen. On such occasions the Shaman steps in as doctor, as diviner, as hunting magician, as intercessor for the people in front of sacred powers” (Hultkrantz, 1973, p. 35). Shamans provide information for their community, which are from a database consisting of their learned knowledge, their dreams, visions, intuitions, as well as their keen observations of the natural- and social world (Krippner (2), 2000). They interpret their own and people’s dreams and visions, and create myths basically through their essential ability to manipulate symbols (Krippner (2), 2000). They use symbolism in image-making and story-telling, which are both adaptive by helping to make sense of one’s body and environment, etc. (Krippner (2), 2000). They deliver needed explanations for all kinds of bodily phenomena, like birth, death, illness, procreation, etc., as well as for natural events like cyclones, forest fires, floods, sunsets, eclipses, and the change of seasons (Krippner (2), 2000). “In sum shamanic treatment focuses on the facilitation of successful passage through critical transitions” (Canda, 1982, p. 14). The goal of journeying are images that are directed at reestablishing and maintaining a balanced relationship between nature and community as well as at caring for the welfare (spiritual and physical) of its members (Ripinsky-Naxon, 1993, cited in Krippner (2), 2000). Shamans display rituals as social performance, using symbols that seem to ‘trigger’ healing (Turner, 1968, cited in Krippner (2), 2000). Further functions are listed: Political leader (Winkelmann, 1997); Moral keeper - upholding special rules and taboos, authorized by the spirits (Riches, 1992); Artist - masks, dresses, costumes, paint, music for the purposes of healing and for “negotiation with unseen spirits, exerting magical influences on creatures, and depicting his (or her) adventures in the spirit world” (Krippner (2), 2000, p. 106); Performer: drama - e.g. exorcism of demons to cure the sick, psychological drama of shamanic cure (e.g. Charles, 1953); Priest (Krippner (2), 2000); Master of Ceremonials and Rituals - e.g. vision quest (purification, solitude), sweat lodge, pilgrimage, contacting of guardian spirits (Canda, 1982; Krippner (2), 2000); Medicine Man, Soul Doctor, Healer - “Shamanism is the most archaic form of healing practice of which we are aware” (Halifax, 1990, p. 53); Social and environmental Healer (Halifax, 1990); Physician; Psychotherapist (e.g. Charles, 1953), “having experienced deathly illnesses and been cured by accepting the shamanic vocation, a Shaman learns the art of curing others” (Canda, 1982, p. 15), shamanic extractions (Green, 1998), e.g. extracting harmful intrusions; examination, diagnosis and therapy, purification techniques (e.g. smudging, extracting objects or negative forces from persons, etc.), restoring power, keeping power by e.g. blowing the guardian back into the client or retrieving the power animal by different means; Herbalist; Researcher; Scientist - attempting to explain ‘reality’, employing repeated observations and making statements about general principles, which can be tested experimentally or observed repeatedly (Goldstein and Goldstein, 1978, cited in Krippner (2), 2000), revelation and inspiration comes from the ‘spirit world’, from plant- and animal ‘allies’ and from ‘journeys’, associated with changed states of consciousness (Krippner (2), 2000; Overing, 1988); Psychopomp, “a conductor of souls between this world and the world of the dead” (Green, 1998, p. 211); Counselor - life counseling, e.g. oracle methods or foreseeing, crisis intervention (Andritzky, 1999); Fortune-Teller; Hunting Guide; Environmentalist and Nature protector - keeping balance: restrictions in regards of controlling over hunting, the excessive use of fish poisons and other activity which might lead to depletion of resources are enforced by Shamans (by e.g. shamanic threats of illness, upset spirits, etc.), landscape features are believed to be inhabited by supernatural spirits, e.g. gamekeepers, etc. (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1981); Hunting advisor - hunting advice, knowing spiritual properties of animals, remarkable hunters (Charles, 1953); Seer (see-er), predictions (game, weather prophesy, enemies, flight paths (Krippner (2), 2000; Green, 1998); Active Dreamer (Harner, 1980, cited in Green, 1998); Historian; Mythmaker - mythopoeic symbolism with myth, ritual performance, drama, art, stories, mythological worldviews, conceptualizing people as an integral part of nature, explainable worldview, where supernatural forces can be influenced through the Shamans acting but also through the clients themselves, symbolic manipulation (Turner, 1968, cited in Krippner (2), 2000; Krippner, 1987; Krippner (2), 2000; Laughlin, 1997); Storyteller - reflects the culture of his people but directs the development of that culture (Krippner comments in Noll, 1985); Teacher - preparing, instructing, guiding their initiates, and interpreting their visions (Krippner (2), 2000); Weather Controller (Charles, 1953); Detectives - e.g. locating murderers and thieves (Charles, 1953); General Public Servants - giving demonstrations for entertainment (Charles, 1953); Transformation in animals and supernatural beings - in order to achieve goals (Charles, 1953).

3.5 The Shamanic Worldview and Belief System

In Shamanism the central belief is that human beings are seen as being one with the universe and in balance, harmony, intimacy and rapport with nature and their environment (Singh, 1999; Canda, 1982). Shamans “often report feelings of unity with their surroundings” (Krippner, 1987, p. 22). Cooperation and cohesiveness with the environment instead of mastery and control and holistic, rather than dualistic, thinking is valued (Singh, 1999). This relational understanding of one’s place in the universe – “as an integral part of all things rather than as a separate entity - lends itself to a healing model of health [...]” (Singh, 1999, p. 133).

The shamanic worldview is essentially based on a system of gods, spirits and supernatural forces with their hierarchy, as well as on the Shaman’s religious experiences, so-called Shaman’s illness (initiation), ceremonies, and the relation between the Shamans, their followers and society. This belief system finds its expression in various aspects of traditional culture, like dance, literature, music and musical instruments, dress and ornaments, food and drama, etc. which are structurally combined with each other (Hung Joun, 1985).

The Shaman’s role – in their own understanding – “is to provide or restore balance in nature so that everything is in its place” (Singh, 1999, p. 133). Disharmony – which can be a disruption of one aspect of life energy flowing among everything - causes pain and suffering. This aspect must be healed in order to prevent great misfortune or further suffering on those, who have caused the disruption (Singh, 1999). Thus certain actions are regarded as improving relationships with the spirits or supernatural forces, whereas other behaviors can make them upset or angry. Those forces are powerful and influence human beings in a positive or negative way (e.g. possession). Wholeness can be facilitated by removing an individual’s pain and suffering by the Shaman, who regards himself in this sense as being instrumental (Singh, 1999).

The recognition of the interdependence and interconnection of all things is the basis of Shamanism, resulting in treatment which “often addresses the maintenance of harmony and the balancing and reconciling of opposites within these interrelationships” (Canda, 1982, p. 14).

The microcosm effects the macrocosm and thus the macrocosm can be influenced. Everything, plants, animals, minerals and other things possess a spiritual essence. They are inhabited by spirits, numinous forces and powers which also exist in different realities with which the Shaman can communicate directly (e.g. Green, 1998). By being able to communicate with spirits of animals and plants, the Shaman is able to choose and use the right herbs for healing purposes, etc.. However, man depends on spiritual forces as well (Charles, 1953). For the Shaman, everything provides knowledge about everything else, and the whole of being is basically an immense signal system (Kalweit, 1992, cited in Krippner (2), 2000).

Body and mind are seen as different aspects of the same entity, which is embedded in the unity of everything (Singh, 1999). Thus this “concept of oneness is so fundamental to the shamanic belief that diseases are not even considered to be an individual affliction, but a disruption in the balance of life”, where each individual is considered a part of the collective spirit of the culture (Singh, 1999, p. 132, 133).

The Shaman’s position and work are set in a universal but culturally shaped image of a threefold worldview. The cosmological construction mainly postulates three cosmic zones or levels, sometimes more, which are believed to be real (and not simply mental constructions or metaphors for psychological states (Green, 1998)). They are Upper World (heaven) - also called the Over World, the Celestial Realm, the realm of transcendent consciousness or the domicile of the Sun (e.g. Halifax, 1990); the Middle World - which corresponds roughly to physical reality, meaning the world as we know it, of normal human events (Halifax, 1990); and the Under World (World Below or Lower World, subterranean and subaquatic), where dead and dangerous spirits reside (e.g. Halifax, 1990). Those three zones are vertically connected by the ‘axis mundi’, the archetype of the center of the world, which is symbolized by sacred structures such as mountains, trees, ladders, temples, caves, mud paddles, lakes, etc. (e.g. Canda, 1982). The three cosmic zones, which in some cultures are subdivided into more zones, as nonordinary reality, are inhabited by numerous forces, sacred beings and spirits, which are accessible to people at death or in an Altered State of Consciousness (e.g. Green, 1998). The Shaman contacts them in order to maintain harmony and health in the world (Canda, 1982). Only the Shamans have the ability to travel between worlds and to interact with those spirits and forces by ecstatic flights of the soul (ecstatic visions during trance) in order to help care for the lives of the people they minister (Green, 1998). They have an ongoing relationship in which these spirits help and participate (Green, 1998). Their ‘vehicle’ to actively enter in another reality, which means the world of spirits, are techniques to get into Altered States of Consciousness (ASC, trance, ecstasy). The sacred motif, dedicated to gods, runs beneath all shamanic actions (songs, rites and traditional culture (Kim, 1975)).

3.6 Initiation into the Shamanic Profession

According to several authors there are mainly three methods to recruit a Shaman in different cultures and often also within the same culture (e.g. Eliade, 1974). However, the shamanic initiatory process always involves two aspects: sacred selection respectively ecstatic experience and formal training.

  1. Spontaneous vocation (‘shamanic call’ or ‘election’) This is “the most frequent and most genuine manner of initiation” and in most cultures this form is the most recognized way to become a Shaman (Halifax, 1990, p. 54). These Shamans will be most powerful (Klopfer and Boyer, 1961). The call of a neophyte by the sacred forces to become a Shaman happens through a severe crisis which involves suffering through physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual catastrophes (e.g. Halifax, 1990; Canda, 1982). “Typically sacred forces manifest their choice of a medium by drastically disrupting the selected person’s emotional, physical, mental, and social balance” (Canda, 1982, p. 15). The result often is a “temporary disorder with the goal of recreating him on a higher level of health, social status, and religious meaning“ (Canda, 1982, p. 15). Through this, the individual is being chosen by a supernatural (divine) being, which gives him new rules for life (Winkelmann, 1997). Green describes this initiation experience phenomenological as Near-Death-Experience (Green, 1998). Some authors claim the involved severe crisis as the ‘true’ shamanic experience (e.g. Wilber, 1981, cited in Krippner (2), 2000), while others describe accounts of shamanic callings that do not involve catastrophes (e.g. Krippner and Welch, 1992, cited in Krippner (2), 2000). Other events in which people received the shamanic call may include: having dreams, being struck by lightning, seeing visions or hallucinations, experiencing the trauma of loosing family members or having survived a deadly disease, etc. (Serdahely, 1991; Klopfer and Boyer, 1961). “This initiation crisis typically involved an experience of suffering, followed by death, dismemberment, and rebirth, and ascent to the sky and descent to the underworld, and conversations with spirits and souls” (Winkelmann, 1997, p. 394). If a chosen candidate refuses to become a Shaman, serious illness or death frequently occurs (Canda, 1982).

  2. Hereditary transmission of shamanic powers The selection of a Shaman recruit can happen by formal social designation, such as a rule of hereditary transmission (Canda, 1982; Klopfer and Boyer, 1961).

  3. Becoming Shaman of their own free will or by the will of the clan According to Canda “an aspiring candidate may also decide on his own to pursue contact with the sacred and formal initiation” (Canda, 1982, p. 15). Often a gift or purchase then is necessary (Klopfer and Boyer, 1961). The selection of a neophyte by the clan might be based on “a proclivity or gift that is recognized in childhood, by signs at birth, through a realization arising in the course of a ceremonial event, or in the experience of a quest for vision” (Halifax, 1990, p. 54). However, the clan’s selection is only followed through, if the candidate’s appropriate ecstatic experience follows.

3.7 Formal Training

Through formal apprenticeship the candidate can be transformed from a possible neurotic into a Shaman, recognized by his particular society (Eliade, 1974; Canda, 1982). In most cases one or several master Shamans teach the apprentice for a long period of time, often five to ten years. The formal training includes didactic supervision, traditional education and training in all the techniques that comprise the art of Shamanism (Eliade, 1974; Canda, 1982; Green, 1998). Cornerstones in this training are:

  • spirituality, which refers to the concept of life energy that flows among everything (Singh, 1999).
  • medicinal plants and objects and their use (Singh, 1999)
  • becoming acquainted with sacred paraphernalia (Canda, 1982)
  • learning to let the soul dissociate from the body and travel to the spirit world, visualizing and dealing with spirits by acting as their mouth pieces within ASC (Rasmussen, 1979)
  • entering voluntarily ASC, induced by different means (see chapter 3.8.2), while maintaining integration of the personality, learning to gain control over ASC (testing, improving the ability to enter ASC at will), cultivate visionary experiences in order to refine, organize, name them, making them coherent to the cultural heritage (Stephen and Suryani, 2000; Canda, 1982), accessing a special intuitive mode of understanding (“autonomous imagination”, Stephen and Suryani, 2000, p. 33) and magically navigating the cosmos as culturally defined (Canda, 1982)
  • learning of relevant myths, rituals and chants (Canda, 1982), receiving and finding during visionary experiences in ASC own power and healing songs and other knowledge about cures and dream interpretation, own specific guardian spirits (e.g. in the form of an animal totem), etc., with which will be worked (Harner, 1990; Rogers, 1982, cited in Krippner (2), 2000)
  • prognosticate and cure (Canda, 1982)
  • learning to experience, endure and integrate the experiences of sickness, suffering, dying, and death (the struggle with the forces of disease and death is sometimes envisioned as a battle with demons and monsters of the underworld), in order to be reborn as a sacred healer, as well as to share this special knowledge of powerful events with those who face disease or death for the first time (Canda, 1982), being “able to confront the fearsome and the deadly with courage, endurance, and an empowering vigor” (Canda, 1982, p. 16), utilizing the knowledge and power gleaned from the successful struggle in order to assist others through the healing process (Canda, 1982)
  • practicing power (e.g. the bone-, stick- or hand-game, practiced e.g. by the Salish; Harner, 1990), and other techniques within the community, in order to become respected, intellectual, self-controlled, noted for good judgment (Canda, 1982), where “the final status of Shaman is conferred upon them by members of their community based on their performance” (Green, 1998, p. 208)
  • skills at story-telling, singing, playing instruments, and performing other arts (e.g. Canda, 1982)
  • learning to become the master of the sacred as a server of it, through achieving balance, helping others successfully to pass through critical transitions, just as the Shaman has learned to do (Canda, 1982).

3.8 Altered States of Consciousness (ASC)

3.8.1 Labeling ASC

The Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) are sometimes labeled as no ordinary states of consciousness, shamanic states of consciousness (Harner, 1990), ’heightened awareness’ (Berman, 2000), trance, ecstasy, soul flights, out-of-body experiences, shamanic journey, journey into other dimensions, possession, obsession, enlightenment, samadhi and/or transformation into animals and others. This same type of experience (ASC) in literature is also sometimes split and distinguished in dissociation trances, shamanic trances, meditative trances, mystical and religious experiences, acute hysterical or psychotic episodes, hypoactive (meditative), hyperactive (hallucinatory), male, female, amnesic, or lucid. Most authors agree that all may be creative, therapeutic, and involve regression or dissociation in the service of the self if utilized within cultural context (Peters and Price-Williams, 1983). It is the journey into other dimensions by the Shaman in order to obtain benefits for people, the community and the world. I will use the term ASC, which seems the most appropriate to me, because it is a neutral term for a different than the normal state of consciousness.

According to many authors (Eliade, 1974; Green, 2001) the ASC (or ecstasy as Eliade calls it) is central to most shamanic activities. During a shamanic journey, using ASC, the Shaman leaves his body, enters into spiritual realities and communicates with spirit helpers he encounters there (Green, 2001). According to Pandian the following examples show shamanic orientations “that have focused on creating Altered States of Consciousness that enable the participants to transcend social categories and to merge their symbol-selves with the symbols of the sacred other”: The Tibetan Book of the Dead of Vajrayana Buddhism, Tao of China, Tantrism of India, Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbala (Pandian, 1997, p. 512).

3.8.2 Methods to Achieve ASC

There are a number of different methods and techniques to achieve Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) respectively to bring internal feeling states into awareness or to encounter the ‘All-Self’ how Krippner (1) and (2), (2000) calls it. Winkelmann describes three major types of ASC traditions, which correspond to specific entailment chains (Winkelmann, 1997, p. 410-418):

  1. soul flight: associated with excessive motor behavior (e.g. dancing), sleep states, and unconsciousness
  2. mediumistic or possession trance tradition: associated with amnesia, convulsions, and spontaneous seizures
  3. yogic or meditative tradition: associated with sleep deprivation, auditory driving, fasting, social isolation and austerities.
The one method frequently used all over the world - besides the use of hallucinogens - is auditory stimuli, like e.g. prolonged drumming or percussion and/or chanting/singing, etc. (e.g. Green, 1998; Olsen, 1975). Percussion instruments used include the drum, gong, bell, cymbal, tambourine, xylophone, metallophone, rattle, rasp, stamping tube, sticks, resounding rocks and clashing anklets (Needham, 1979, p. 312). Those percussion instruments like the drum permit or accompany the communication with the other world. During the altered state, the ‘world tree’, symbolized by the drum, needs to be climbed by the Shaman in order to reach the ‘upper world’ (or descend to the ‘lower world’) (Krippner (2), 2000). Other means to achieve ASC, often used in combination with the above, include e.g. extensive exercise such as dancing (1) and long-distance running, jumping, participating in sexual activity, refraining from sexual activity, engaging in lucid dreaming, visualizing, sleep deprivation, fasting and water deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, various austerities, social and sensory deprivation. Krippner reports of Shamans who reach ASC through controlled breathing, lucid dreaming, mental imagery, and the utilization of music, movement, and vocalization during ceremonies, rites and rituals (Krippner, (2), 2000). Naturally occurring altered states, such as dreaming and daydreaming, may also be utilized (Harner, 1980; Rogers, 1982, both cited in Krippner, (2), 2000). Meditation is another form of ASC (Winkelmann, 1997) (see above, types of ASC traditions (3)). Hallucinogens (e.g. mind-altering plants which contain psychoactive substances) are commonly known to cause ASC (e.g. Krippner (2), 2000; Winkelmann, 1997). Different hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms are used like the complex brew Ayahuasca, made from a powerful psychotropic vine, which goes by many other names (Canda, 1982; Harner, 1990; Green, 1998; Krippner (2), 2000, etc.) or mind-altering plants such as Datura or Jimson Weed (Krippner (2), 2000), the Peyote Cactus (see Peyote Cult), psychotropic mushrooms known as Veladas (used by Mazatec Shamans), Psilocybin Mushrooms (Krippner (2), 2000) or Fly Agaric, as well as tabacco (nicotine) (Andritzky, 1999). In sum ASC can be caused by pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods. Non-pharmacological methods are probably based on the release of neurotransmitters of the body, which are chemically and structurally analogue with psychoactive drugs (Zehentbauer, 1992, cited in Rätsch, 1995; Rätsch, 1995). The use of hallucinogens or the use of frequency or some kind of deprivation, the effects are basically the same, just different means are used, which is an example for the flexibility and wide range of methods in Shamanism.

3.8.3 Structure of ASC experiences

Typical in shamanic states are death and rebirth experiences. Within ASC the Shaman is able to control spirits, particularly animal spirits and provides hunting magic. Here he has the capacity to fly (Winkelmann, 1997). Peters and Price-Williams suggest that all forms of these states have the same structure as a rite of passage: panic (chaos, separation) → insight (cosmos, transition) → reintegration or disintegration (Peters and Price-Williams, 1983). “The ‘dark night of the soul’ is followed by ‘light’ or psychosis depending on cultural context, as well as on predispositional and biological factors which may inhibit a nondistorted recrystalization of the ego” (Peters and Price-Williams, 1983, p. 29, 30). The evolvement of shamanic consciousness in three stages is described (Clottes and Lewis-Williams, 1998, cited in Krippner (2), 2000).:
Stage 1): Moving from alert consciousness to a ‘light’ alteration, beginning to experience geometric forms, meandering lines, and other ‘phosphenes’ or ‘form constants’. E.g. undulating lines of dots for example represent the Milky Way, a goal of shamanic journeying.
Stage 2): Beginning to attribute complex meanings to these ‘constants’.
Stage 3): The constants are combined with images of people, animals, and mythical beings; interacting with these images, often feeling themselves to be transformed into animals, either completely or partially (Clottes and Lewis-Williams, 1998, cited in Krippner (2), 2000).

There are three commonalties among changed or Altered States of Consciousness entered by Shamans (Peters and Price-Williams, 1980):
  1. voluntary control of trance entrance and duration of the altered state
  2. memory of the experience at the conclusion of the altered state
  3. ability to communicate with others during the altered state
An ASC (trance) is frequently imagined as flight of the soul out of the body. Here the transformation of the Shaman takes place e.g. into a flying bird, or possession by spirits who rend the Shaman from ordinary human existence (Canda, 1982). In ASC and thus in the different levels of reality the Shaman contacts supernatural forces and spirits. Those are called different dependent on the culture like power animals, spirit helpers, guardian spirits (totem, animal guides, etc.). In many shamanic societies the bird, the deer or the bear is the central totem (e.g. Ripinsky-Naxon, 1993; Wilber, 1981; both cited in Krippner (2), 2000). Power animals are special helping spirits who assist the Shaman in learning various methods of curing illnesses, disorders or diseases (Green, 1998). Spirit teachers act as teachers during the Shaman’s journeys. These supernatural powers are contacted by the Shaman in order to obtain knowledge, help, advice, tools, techniques, wisdom and protection. He then brings the information back into the middle world / normal reality / ordinary state of consciousness and communicates the results to members of the community (Flaherty, 1992, cited in Krippner, (2), 2000) in order to help a person, community and/or the world. The purpose of contacting the spirits can be different. Examples are economic success, fruitful hunting or planting, healing, and increase of social status (Canda, 1982). Besides specific ASC to contact spirits, dreams are also considered as another option to get in contact with spirits (“guardian spirit” or “power animal”, Harner, 1990, p. 99; Charles, 1953).

3.9 Myth

Myth is a basic shamanic element. Freud characterized mythology as “nothing but psychology projected into the external world” (Freud, 1901), which does not interfere with Munn defining myths as permanently distal (from the living in time and sometimes space) actions and events that take place in a world culturally defined as real (Munn, 1973). Mythic action needs to be symbolically mediated to the living actors, for example, by verbal narration or dramatic enactment (Munn, 1973). In this sense e.g. a narrative myth constitutes one type of message system for communicating cultural meanings (Munn, 1973). The definition of myth [mythos (gr.) = a word, a fable, a legend] is “a fable or legend embodying the convictions of a people as to their gods or other divine personages, their own origin and early history and the heroes connected with it, or the origin of the world; in a looser sense, any invented story [...]” (The Living Webster, 1977).

3.9.1 Development of Myths

Before myths in the described form (chapter 3.9.2) occurred at least 600 years ago, there was a secret tradition of earlier tales based on shamanic visions. The old myths were memorized without the aid of written notes by the Shaman although they contain up to 10,000 lines. In early societies myths were rather cultural than personal, since the individual as a separate entity did not exist (Krippner, 1987). “Cultural myths moved societies along – or held them back by setting the parameters for what was permitted and what was possible” (Krippner, 1987, p. 23). Due to conquest and contact, cultural myths have often changed dramatically (Krippner, 1987). The old cultural myths also have lost much of their efficacy and waned over centuries because societies became more pluralistic and too complex for a single world-view to be acceptable to all its members. Although the functions the myths served are still viable, people have become increasingly self-reflective and therefore more aware of their individual identities (Krippner, 1987). Today, personal myths have often taken over the function of cultural myths. This is why in the following I will use personal and cultural myths synonymously within the shamanic work, although traditionally mainly cultural myths were used in shamanic societies. The term ‘personal myth’ was first introduced into psychotherapeutic literature by Kris in 1956 (Kris, 1956, cited in Krippner, 1987). He intended to describe certain dimensions of the human personality that psychoanalysts needed to consider in his view in order to bring about change in an effective and lasting way (Krippner, 1987). In this sense, certain memorable human experiences may become personal myths, fulfilling on a personal level functions that cultural myths have historically performed for entire societies (Warmoth, 1965, cited in Krippner, 1987). The concept of personal mythology as a central dimension of personality, has close relations to both pervasive myths of one’s culture and the inner psychodynamics of the individual psyche (Krippner, 1987). The development of the personal myth within an individual can be influenced e.g. by dreams and other means, which expose and puncture dysfunctional myths while illuminating self-deceptive strategies one uses to avoid initiating a more functional pattern of behavior (Ullman and Zimmerman, 1979, cited in Krippner, 1987).

3.9.2 Features and Themes of Myths

The following attributes of myths are listed by Krippner:
(1) can be coded verbally or pictorially; (2) may or may not be within the individual’s conscious awareness; (3) may be influenced by heredity and experience; (4) may operate at various levels of human life; and (5) may change according to patterns that are to some degree predictable” (Krippner, 1987, p. 24). Basic themes in cultural as well as in personal myths (revealing in dreams, free association, and reflection) are their dialectic nature and the conflict between intimacy and separation. Further themes with some common overlapping are: creation vs. destruction, nurturance vs. deprivation, achievement vs. failure, completion vs. fragmentation, acceptance vs. rejection, empowerment vs. debilitation, inspiritedness vs. nihilism, reconciliation vs. polarization, wisdom vs. ignorance, birth or rebirth vs. death and questing vs. passivity (Krippner, 1987). Myths often become conscious to the individual when an internal change is occurring (Krippner, 1987).

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