The following is an excerpt from S's book Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner's Guide

Shamanism: The Path of Direct Revelation

Shamanism is the earliest spiritual practice known to humankind, dating back tens of thousands of years. Although the word “shaman” is a Siberian word for a spiritual healer, shamanism has also been practiced in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland, and native North and South America throughout history. The fact that the practice has survived and thrived for tens of thousands of years speaks to the potency of the work.

One of the beautiful aspects of the shamanic journey is the principle of direct revelation. The practice of shamanic journeying helps us to part the veils between the seen and unseen worlds and access information and energies that can help awaken us and restore us to wholeness. A shaman is a man or woman who interacts directly with spirits to address the spiritual aspects of illness, perform soul retrievals, divine information, help the spirits of deceased people cross over, and perform a variety of ceremonies for the community. Shamans have taken on many roles in tribal communities. They have acted as healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.

Traditionally, the practice of shamanism has focused on practical results achieved by the shaman. In a traditional shamanic culture, there was either a single individual or a few people in the community acting in the role of shaman. The shaman would be consulted by hunters and gatherers in the tribe to identify food sources. If the shaman were unable to accurately divine the location of food, the tribe would not survive. Shamans were also expected to perform healings for members of the community. Once again, the survival of the tribe was largely dependent on the shaman’s spiritual abilities.

Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit, and that we are joined with the earth and all of life via our spiritual interconnectedness. Just as quantum physics describes a field of energy that connects all of life, shamans also speak of a web of life that connects everything. In modern culture, many of us feel a deep longing to experience our unity with this web of life and to heal our sense of isolation. When we travel to non-ordinary reality in our shamanic journeys, we learn how to communicate with the spirit of the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, fish, reptiles, and rocks, as well as the spirit of the elements of the earth, air, water, and fire. We directly experience the web of life.

As we are a part of nature, we have a deep need to reconnect with nature’s cycles and rhythms. Imagine how exhausting it would be to walk against the flow of a river every day of your life. In truth, we have disconnected from the cycles and rhythms of the moon and the seasons, and often we do walk against the flow of the river of life. I believe this is partly the cause of such ailments as chronic fatigue, depression, and a host of other illnesses, both psychological and physical, that are so common today. The helping spirits have a great deal to teach us about restoring balance and harmony into our lives by reconnecting with nature’s cycles and by living in unity with the natural world.

Within the practice of shamanism, there are a variety of ceremonies performed for honoring and working with the cycles of nature and the cycles in our own lives, as well as for reading omens and interpreting dreams—all of which provide insight, healing, and empowerment. Shamanism can also teach us the value of having a regular spiritual practice and the value of being in service to others, which brings a genuine sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. Finally, shamanism enables us to access powerful forces to help us create the world we want to live in—for ourselves and for others.

Shamans heal emotional and physical illness by working with the spiritual aspect of illness. The traditional role of the shaman has been to perform ceremonies. After tens of thousands of years, traditional shamans are still a part of community life and practice in Siberia, Asia, Australia, Africa, and North and South America. The technique of shamanic journeying [taught] in this book is just one of the ceremonies shamans use to establish communication with the spirit world.

There are three common causes of illness in the shaman’s view. First, a person may have lost his or her power, causing depression, chronic illness, or a series of misfortunes. In this case, the shaman journeys to restore that person’s lost power. Or a person may have lost part of their soul or essence, causing soul loss, which sometimes occurs during an emotional or physical trauma, such as accidents, surgery, abuse, the trauma of war, being in a natural disaster, or other traumatic circumstances. This soul loss results in dissociation, post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, illness, immune deficiency problems, addictions, unending grief, or coma. It is the role of the shaman to track down the parts that have fled and been lost due to trauma by performing a soul retrieval ceremony. The third cause of illness from a shaman’s perspective would be any spiritual blockages or negative energies that a client has taken on due to the loss of his or her power or soul. These spiritual blockages also cause illness, usually in a localized area of the body. It is the role of the shaman to extract and remove these harmful energies from the body.

Other ceremonies performed by shamans include welcoming children into the world, performing marriages, and helping people at the time of death transition from body to spirit. Shamans also work to encourage the growth of crops, help people interpret dreams, and advise people who are experiencing trouble. Shamans are in charge of initiation ceremonies conducted around transitions from one phase of life into another, such as initiating children into adulthood. Shamans tell stories about the meaning of life and show us how the spirits can help us find our way when we feel lost in our life circumstances. They can remove spells or dark energies, and read the tenor of the community, picking up disharmony and imbalance. They create ceremonies to mourn the loss of a member of the community. Shamans also read signs and omens to choose auspicious times to undertake activities such as hunting and celebrations.

Shamans understand the cycles of nature – the cycles of the seasons and moons, and how the starts move across the sky. They read the signs that come with these changes and movements. They communicate with the weather spirits and maintain harmony and balance in their communities.

Typically, there would be more than one shaman in a community. Different shamans would be known for their spiritual areas of expertise. For instance, some shamans would be known for their great successes in particular healing ceremonies such as soul retrievals, while others were known for their divination abilities.

Over time, the practice of shamanism has adapted in response to different cultural needs and the changing needs of the times. Currently, there is a dramatic revival of shamanism in the West, with a wide range of people integrating shamanic practices into their lives, including students, housewives, teachers, psychotherapists, lawyers, nurses, doctors, politicians, and scientist. I believe that one of the main reasons for this revival is that people want to be able to access their own spiritual guidance. We want to stop giving away our power to socially acceptable authority figures. We know that we are the only ones who truly have the power to change our own lives.