Witch doctors, psychics, mediums, spiritualists are but just a few of the many names
associated with Shamans. Many of us have heard these names echoed since childhood, but do
we really know who these people are? In the United States these people are viewed as outcast;
there hasnt been a need for them in a very long time. Science, and modern technology have
exiled the Shaman into the fringe of society. They remain a mystery to most, but beckon the
open-minded. The Shaman is a spiritual wayfarer, that hasnt thrived in the United States since
the arrival of the white man, and his conquest of nature.
There are many definitions for shamanism, but few reveal the true nature of the Shaman.
In simple terms, the Shaman is a person called upon to serve as a herald for the realm of the
dead, but a Shaman is much more. A Shaman is someone who has explored, and gained a great
understanding of their inner being. They can tap into the force that flows throughout the world,
and manipulate it. A Shaman can alter his conscience so that he may travel to other worlds filled
with objects, and various kinds of spirits. In the spirit realm, a Shaman can gain knowledge in
order to help in healing, and other matters at hand. He is a spiritual advisor, and a healer of both
physical and mental ailments.
A destined Shaman is typically clued in to their destiny by various forms of suffering.
The most common clue is an extended illness for which there is no apparent cure. During this
time of suffering, the chosen person has dreams, visions, and journeys to the spirit realms, and
are usually accompanied by a guild spirit. This spiritual guild commonly informs the ill person
of their fate to become a Shaman. There is usually hesitation on the part of the chosen one, but
the suffering breaks down the will of that person. In the end, the destined assumes the role as
Shaman, and his suffering diminishes. With the guidance of an elder Shaman, or sometimes just
their spirit guild, the new shaman is initiated into their new existence. It is a existence between
this earthy realm, and that of the dead.
An initiate of Shamanism goes through an significant transformation. As a result of the
suffering, and rigorous training, the initiate experiences the death of his ego. In western
psychology, the ego is the part of the psyche which experiences the external world, or reality,
through the senses, organizes the thought processes rationally, and governs actions (Websters
434). This death is a way of cleansing the Shamans psyche, and allowing the id to take over.
According to the Websters definition, the id is the part of the psyche that is regarded as the
reservoir for instinctual drives, the source of psychic energy, and irrational wishing (Websters
669). This would make sense because the Shaman taps into the instinctual knowledge, and the
psychic energy. This death is also significant because with this death of the ego all the societal
norms that inhibit the powers of the Shaman are gone as well. The Shaman does dwell on the
fringes of society because society tends to diminish a shamans connection to the life force
which is so vital to their power.
To be a Shaman requires an awareness of nature that is rarely found in our modern
society today. Nature is where a Shamans power comes from. A Shaman is immersed in the
natural world; avoiding the more civilized aspect of society. To be disconnected from nature,
is to be disconnected from their source of power. Modern civilizations have moved away from
nature, and have replaced it with science and technology. One of the shortcomings of our society
today is that we are so seized by our daily routines that we have lost touch with the simple joys
of living on this planet. Instead of sitting outside, and enjoying nature most people in the United
States simply watch television. Therefore modern society contradicts the earthly realm of the
Modern science and technology has an objective; which is to improve, and ultimately
defeat nature. Nature is viewed as the enemy. This is where the contradiction between civilized
society, and the Shaman resides. Modern society fears death, and tries to defy it with the help of
medical technology. Modern science has created an artificial world which relies little on nature,
and more on materialistic vices. In the eyes of a Shaman, modern societies are sick with false
harmony. A Shaman turns away from materialism for it seems trite, and inappropriate to them
(Kalweit 242). A Shaman is knows death, and is comfortable with it. They would be horrified to
walk into a typical hospital in the United States, and see a person being kept alive by machines. I
think it would seem most cruel to a Shaman. Other interesting contradiction is modern societys
fixation on time. Here in the United States we all follow schedules based on time of day, and
have obsessions with past, present, and future events. A Shaman, on the other hand, transcends
both time, and space; their world is without the concept of continuous time. So it would seems
that the Shamans world, and that of modern society have very little in common.
Although a Shaman could not flourish in modern societies like the United States, there
would be lost spirits that could use some guidance. I believe there are many people living in the
United States that have a growing feeling of emptiness. With all the modern conveniences, they
still are unhappy, even depressed. I think a Shaman could help some of these people. A Shaman
could prescribe the simple, but necessary medicine to heal their sick souls. These people need to
feel the connection with nature, and all things. To feel apart of something that they had lost, and
to take their place in this unity of life.
In the United States today, life can be so overwhelming, and chaotic. In order to survive
in this modern society, we must conform to its standards. These standards restrict, and deprive
us in many ways. We must work in order to be self sustained, and our reward is money. Most
people seem content with this because their goal in life is to be wealthy, and to be wealthy is to
have a collection of material possessions. They exist solely in an external world disconnected
from a Shamans reality, and the unity of all things.
The most tragic realities of modern society is the disregard for wildlife. A Shaman shares
their world with animals, and their spirits; gains much power from them. Animal spirits seem to
take a very important role in the Shamans journeys. Here in the United States, I cant drive
anywhere without seeing a dead animal on the side of the road. They have decreasing refuge
because of modern development, and soon they will be driven out of existence just like the
Shaman appears to be. After all animals are needed to maintain a balance within the life force.
They are apart of us all, and would most likely affect our human psyche in a very negative way if
they were to ceased to exist.
The Shaman seems to be a relic of past times in most modern societies today.
Representing the primitive past from which modern science, and technology has saved us from.
Has it really saved us? I think that science, and technology will most likely be the down fall of
humanity. I think were all fools if we look at the Shaman, and see just a relic of the past. I look
at what a Shaman is, and see a wiseman. Someone who might just be hope for an ailing world.
It would be very beneficial for most everyone to experience a little of the Shamans world, and
to be exposed to a sense of belonging in the life force of nature. Maybe then we could
experience true harmony.
Kalweit, Holger. Dreamtime & Inner Space: The World of the Shaman. Boston & London:
Websters New World College Dictionary. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1997.