The Re-emergence of the Shaman in Our Time

I often mention that in the Western world, when we hear the word "shaman," most of us tend to conjure up an image of a masked and costumed indigenous tribal person, dancing around a fire in the dark, involved in some sort of mysterious ritual, accompanied by singing and drum beats. But inside that cultural shell of mask, costume and ritual, there is a woman or a man with a set of very real skills. The shaman is the master of the trance experience.

First of all, trance, in this sense is not an unconscious state. To the contrary, all true shamans are able to achieve expanded states of awareness in which they can direct the focus of their consciousness away from our everyday physical reality and re-geography it into the inner worlds of the dreamtime while very much awake.

Secondly, the first thing shamanic initiates discover is that these inner worlds are inhabited, for there they encounter spirits—the spirits of nature, the spirits of the elementals, the spirits of the ancestors, the spirits of the dead, and the higher, compassionate transpersonal forces, many of whom serve humanity as spirit helpers and guardians, teachers and guides. This is why these inner dimensional experiences are universally called the Spirit Worlds.

It is this extraordinary visionary ability that sets shamans apart from all other religious practitioners. And it is through their relationship with these archetypal beings that shamans are able to do various things, initially on behalf of themselves and then increasingly on behalf of others. These abilities are of great interest to modern mystics in our own time, and especially those who are detaching themselves from our organized religious traditions in order to explore the inner worlds of spirit.

In creating our visionary training workshops more than 20 years ago, my wife Jill and I were always aware that the first goal of the indigenous shamanic initiate is to make contact with a guardian spirit complex—to gain a glimpse of it—to establish contact with it—and this is the initial goal in our Visionseeker workshops as well. When we begin to walk the spiritual path, the inception is always about getting in touch with our personal spirit helpers, those entities who will provide us with teaching, those who are guiding us, caring for us, protecting us and supporting us whether we are in full awareness of their presence in our lives or not. This is why our Visionseeker workshops represent a kind of vision quest—a new form of this ancient tradition that has arisen in response to our need for it.

Sometimes people ask us ‘how do you know if a person is an authentic shaman?’

The Three Features of an Authentic Shamanic Practitioner

Three main abilities distinguish the shamanic practitioner. First: they learn how to achieve expanded states of awareness in which they journey to other worlds—into the worlds of ‘things hidden.’

Second: All true shamans establish relationships with one or more transpersonal forces that traditional people call spirits. And what are these spirits? Indigenous shamans often call them power animals because they are often perceived as animals or as combinations of animal-human form. Yet others perceive them as spirit teachers or guides—light beings who reside among the higher organizing intelligences.

Third: All true shamans are able to perform miracles through their relationship with these transpersonal forces. Healing miracles are the most well-known. These are the verifiable, yet still poorly documented in which the practitioner, working in tandem with their helping spirits, is able to restore harmony and balance to the body-mind-spirit complex of a sufferer, in the process restoring the fabric of their soul to an undistorted state and enhancing their personal power. These healing rituals often result in serious, life-threatening illness simply ‘going away’ or easing into death with a harmonious soul.

This reveals that the ability to experience visions through imbibing hallucinogens does not necessarily make the experiencer a shaman. Anyone can do that. The authentic shaman is a trained and self-disciplined public servant with well-defined and well-developed visionary abilities who is in service both to their communities as well to the world soul that supports and dreams us into existence.

In fact it has been our direct experience, based on more than 30 years of private practice as well as participating in shamanic training workshops, that those higher organizing intelligences that some anthropomorphize as winged super humans called angels, are more kindly disposed to come into relationship with humans who are in service… in service to groups—to their families and friends and community members… and especially those who are in service to the world soul—the same transpersonal planetary force that the Greeks called Gaia and the Gnostics knew as The Sophia (pronounced so-fai-yah.)

The powers or spirits or imaginal guides who come into relationship with us are in fact ancient human experiences who have appeared to help us for tens of thousands of years before the rise of our organized religions. We know this from the rich legacy of the rock art and mobilary (portable) objects revealed through archeology—those made by our ancestors that date back to more than 77,000 years before the present providing us with a record of the transpersonal experiences of shamans that are the legacy of all human beings in every society known to us.

For tens of millennia, humankind has consulted with these extramundane entities for expanded knowledge, for empowerment, for wisdom, and for healing. And it is through our relationships with these spirit guardians that each of us can tap into the great net of power, often called “The Force,” through which everything everywhere is connected to everything else.

It is also through connection with The Force that we may connect with the collective and enduring repository of the wisdom of our species Homo sapiens.

Some are inclined to call these spirits ‘imaginary,’ yet in our opinion this is not an accurate description because the word ‘imaginary’ implies that these beings are not real, that they are mental constructs or fantasies or ‘make believe.’

A more accurate description would be to call them ‘imaginal’—a word that implies that they exist in a realm of experience and awareness in which they inhabit a reality of their own—an ‘imaginal world’ or mundus imaginalis which is co-existant with the mundane experiential world of ordinary reality that we all take so much for granted. This is the world of ‘things hidden’ interwoven with our world of ‘things seen.’

For us, on the heels of three decades of direct experience with these worlds, with the spirits, as well as with this ancient spiritual tradition, it is well known that you don’t have to be a master shaman to have such imaginal experiences with imaginal beings, although it is helpful to have some guidance as we begin…

The first goal is simply to make contact with our spirit guardians…

Nice to see you continue your valuable work. I have been reading all your essays over the years as a "silent observer".

I took some of your various workshops on shaminism in 2001-2002.

Since this essay was prefaced in your email by the "hositle brothers" bombing in Boston I thought that I would mention the Jungian point of view on what looms for humanity in the time ahead in the quote below. Certainly shaminism is an intimate connection with the Eros Self - the feminine principle and like this an antitode to the overly one-sided Logos Self - the masculine principle development that dominates our times with its cold-hearted technology and hybris.

The ordeal of the Apocalypse – beginning now and to which all of humanity is being subjected – corresponds to Job’s ordeal in the Bible yet even more pertinently to Christ’s ordeal. Christ was the first attempt of the God-image to incarnate and transform itself. Now, the second time around, humanity as a whole and not just one person is going to be the subject of that process. God is going to incarnate in humanity as a whole and in that incarnated form offer himself as a self-sacrifice to bring about his own transformation – just as he did with the individual Christ. The matter is put clearly if densely by Jung in his letter to Elinid Kotschnig in June of 1956:
Christ… was up against an unpredictable and lawless God who would need a most drastic sacrifice to appease His wrath, viz. the slaughter of His own son. Curiously enough, as on the one hand his self-sacrifice means admission of the Father’s amoral nature, he taught on the other hand a new image of God, namely that of a Loving Father in whom there is no darkness. This enormous antinomy needs some explanation. It needed the assertion that he was the Son of the Father, i.e., the incarnation of the Deity in man. As a consequence the sacrifice was a self-destruction of the amoral God, incarnated in a mortal body. Jung, Letters, vol 2, p. 213.

This passage can be applied precisely to Yahweh’s second act of incarnation in humanity as a whole. Humanity is now in the role of the “son of God.” And God is bringing about his own transformation by another self-destruction while incarnated in the “mortal body” of humankind. There will follow necessarily, archetypally, the same sequence of events as occurred in the life of a single individual but now in a larger arena. And this second act of incarnation likewise will bring about the same goal, a transformation of the God-image. The image of a totally good God – albeit pestered by a dissociated evil Satan – is no longer viable. Instead, the new God-image coming into conscious realization is that of a paradoxical union of opposites; and with it comes a healing of the metaphysical split that has characterized the entire Christian aeon.
This is what can happen potentially. But the process of transforming the God-image can take place only if its human participants are conscious of what is happening, because consciousness is the agency of transformation for God and man. There is, of course, no transformation of the God-image if we end up with nothing but a heap of ruins and a group of savages having to make the laborious climb to civilization all over again. But the God-image can incarnate in a way that averts massive destruction if there are enough individuals aware (GJS: a critical mass) of the unfolding archetypal drama that is before us.
I do have to share with the reader that it is my view that the transformation of the God-image is ultimately certain: because one person, Jung, has already realized what is going on. I believe that is all it takes in principle to bring about eventually a positive outcome (but then, “eventually” can be a long time). My hypothesis remains, however, that the extent of the destructive collective process will depend on how many other individuals can achieve Jung’s level of consciousness. How many will it take to reach this critical mass that will make the difference? The Book of Revelation hints at the number “144,000” – but what that symbolic number means literally cannot be known. Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse, pp. 176-177.

This quest can also be discussed from the point of view of the "hostile brothers" - starting with Cain & Able, Jacob & Esau. Cain identified with the Logos like Christanity and Able with Eros like Islam. How to bring those opposites together in an integrated manner in the individual psyche is the quest.
A further quote may be of interest.
The "coming of the Self' is imminent; and the process of collective "individuation" is living itself out in human history. One way or another, the world is going to be made a single whole entity. But it will be unified either in mutual mass destruction or by means of mutual human consciousness. If a sufficient number of individuals can have the experience of the coming of the Self as an individual, inner experience, we may just possibly be spared the worst features of its external manifestation. I cannot state that possibility with certainty but merely as a hypothesis for which we do have, as already noted, some psychological data. Yet this is how we might lessen the dynamic urge in the collective psyche to manifest the "Apocalypse" collectively and concretely in its most extreme form.
When the Self comes, it necessarily brings the "opposites," since they are its essential content. As long as the Self is unconscious, however, these opposites lie side by side peacefully - the "lion lies down with the lamb" - because there is no consciousness of their distinction or separateness. But once this essential content touches the area of consciousness, the opposites split apart: and the individual ego is confronted with "conflict." Then, there arises the crucial question whether or not the ego is able to contain the conflict of opposites as a psychological problem to be met with consciousness. Unfortunately, that task is very difficult. Jung writes:
All opposites are of God, therefore man must bend to this burden; and in so doing he finds that God in his "oppositeness" has taken possession of him, incarnated himself in him. He becomes a vessel filled with divine conflict. (CW 11, § 659)

What usually happens is that the individual is not able to contain this "warring" within one's own self, and the conflict of opposites spills out into the outer world by way of projection. And it is then that the constellated opposites live themselves out not in the vessel of the individual psyche, but in the vessel of society as a whole. This is precisely what is happening today. The God-image is living out its oppositeness in the bitter factional disputes breaking out all over the world: at this writing, among warring clans in Somalia; between Tutsis and Hutus in Rawanda; Serbs and Bosnians in Yugoslavia; Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East; not to mention our own fanatical political-action groups at war with each other on the American political scene. The list could go on and the names might change from year to year. But this troubling short list of "conflicts," which is so easy to compile, reminds us of Heraclitus's remark, "War is the father of all." These many factions are what Jung refers to as the wretched "isms"-and yet all are part of the phenomenology of the Apocalypse. Edinger, Archetype of the Apocalypse, pp. 174-175

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