One of the most notable spiritual quests among Westerners is to explore more ancient forms of spirituality that honor the Earth as a living, conscious entity. There seems to be a deep yearning in the soul to rediscover older spiritual traditions that incorporate visionary techniques which allow us to participate with the spirits of nature and higher spiritual beings. One such spiritual methodology is known as shamanism, which is the oldest healing methodology on Earth and is based on the belief that body/mind illnesses are set on a spiritual foundation.
Shamanism can be described as an intent to develop close relationships with spiritual helpers who guide and direct us to the answers and healing we seek for ourselves, our community, our clients and for our planet.
Dr. Michael Harner, Founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies describes shamanism in the following way:
Over tens of thousands of years, our ancient ancestors all over the world discovered how to maximize human abilities of mind and spirit for healing and problem-solving. The remarkable system of methods they developed is today known as “shamanism,” a term that comes from a Siberian tribal word for its practitioners: “shaman” (pronounced SHAH-mahn). Shamans are a type of medicine man or woman especially distinguished by the use of journeys to hidden worlds otherwise mainly known through myth, dream, and near-death experiences.
Is Shamanism a Religion?
In her book “Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet,” Jeannette M. Gagan, PhD writes the following:
Religious Historian Mircea Eliade, no doubt would answer yes to this question. From outward appearances, however, shamanism does not look like a religion. Devoid of conventional trappings of religion as we know it, shamanism has no catalog of doctrines or index of moral declarations, no buildings honoring its deities, no prayer assignments for congregants, and no hierarchy of power. Nor does it impart devotion to a messianic cause.”
She goes on to quote Hungarian researcher Mihaly Hoppal:
“Shamanism is an overtly altruistic ideology which, in our egoistic and materialist times, contains a decisively positive program for life.”
Hence, it appears that shamanism both is and is not a religion. It stands apart from institutionalized religion, yet participates in an ancient mystical tradition that author John Lash describes as “perhaps the oldest form of practical spirituality in the world.”