Many of the ancient cultures of the world adhered to one or the other form of Shamanism. This is a tribal healing tradition where a Shaman is said to transcend the boundaries of the conscious world and travel to a world unbeknown to the ordinary man. Here, the Shaman converses with spirits and come back with secrets that allows him to heal others, foretell the future, control the weather and even ward off attacks.
The word ‘Saman’ is defined as a technique of ecstasy. A Shaman is a practitioner who is able to enter an altered state of consciousness where he can communicate with the supernatural. He acts as an intermediary between the world of man and the world of Gods and often has the power to descend to the realm of the dead. He leaves his body when he is in trance. This trance is induced by chanting, beating of the drum or passionate dancing. In the more unsophisticated cultures, Shamans even used to take to fasting, ingesting psychotropic drugs or even undergo torture to achieve the trance.
As seen from the practices, Shamanism is based on the principle that the world is divided into 2 distinct parts – that visible to the ordinary man, and that visible only to the man with powers. In the second part, there is a miraculous world populated by the spirits who influence the world of the living and who are always willing to help. The Shaman acts as a link between the two worlds and works for the benefit of his society. Shamans are therefore experts employed by animistic societies.
Healing is the most important function of the Shaman followed by prophecy. Shamanism, in the larger sense of the word, is thus perhaps the oldest form of healing. It is a form of religious medicine that originated more than 25,000 years ago. The healing practices of most of the ancient cultures stem from a shamanic tradition.
The Shaman is often credited with magical healing powers and is crowned as the religious or spiritual head of a tribe. He is called upon to treat the sick and to drive away demons. It is important to remember that in most ancient cultures, sickness was considered to be the result of demoniac forces acting on the individual. The difference between the ordinary man and the Shaman is that while the man is possessed by spirits, the Shaman controls the spirits.
All this may lead one to believe that Shamanism is an occult practice that is buried in the past and that it has no significance to the modern man. But Shamanism is still practiced all over the world, although it has evolved into different forms. Native Americans are said to perform Soul Flights to heal. In Tibet, the Shamans use a drum to help them in soul retrieval. In Kerala, Shamans are closely tied to the temple and use amulets and music to contact the spirits of the nether world. Shamans in Africa often use hallucinogenic plans to induce trance.
Shamanism has found a place in modern day healing because of the importance it places on the soul, mind and spirit. Shamanic healing includes relief from pain, anxiety, stress and emotional healing. It is believed that there is an inner Shaman in everyone – a force that can be released if one is able o concentrate hard enough. Unleashing the power of this inner Shaman will help cure maladies that afflict us.