Throughout time, humans have explored the boundaries of consciousness and beyond, and journeyed between the worlds of energy and form. Shamanism describes this practice, and the many forms it takes throughout the cultures of the world. Though originally a Siberian term describing “one who knows,” in the English language, the term shaman (or shamanic practitioner) is used to describe a spiritual healer/practitioner who works with trance states. The shaman journeys through different realms of consciousness, working with energy on those levels, and returning to ordinary consciousness with information, energy or power.
Many different methods are used to facilitate the work of the shaman, some of which include drumming, rattling, chanting, singing, dancing, fasting, spending time alone in nature, meditating, and dreaming. Shamanism essentially involves mastering the techniques of dream, vision, and trance in order to enter into ecstatic states at will. Ecstasy is defined as reaching an altered state of consciousness in resonance with the energy of rapture. Through this state of oneness, the shaman connects with spirit energies, such as those of plants, stones, and animals, as well as ancestral and other beings, and forms alliances with these energies, sharing information and “power,” or energy with them.
The power itself can be used in many ways, both positive and negative, but is most often used for healing, and bringing wholeness and balance to an individual, family, community, or other entity. The shaman presides over many different life transitions, such as birth, marriage, coming of age, and death. The shaman is also consulted in times of illness, famine, or social unrest. Some of the most common rituals undertaken, aside from cyclic rituals and blessings, are those to find water, to find plants with certain healing properties, to find herds of animals (in hunting cultures), to intercede with the spirits to bring rain for crops, to extract unwanted spirits or energies from a person, and to retrieve parts or all of the soul of a person. In any area of the community where there is an imbalance within the natural order, the shaman is consulted to bring people into resonance with the unseen world because the cause of disease, famine, and other misfortunes is considered to be an imbalance in relationship with the world of spirit.
In an article on shamanism at crystalinks.com, the author writes, “Shamanism is a range of traditional beliefs and practices that involve the ability to diagnose, cure, and sometimes cause human suffering by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistic traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times. Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism and animatism, which any and usually all members of a society practice, shamanism requires specialized knowledge or abilities. Shamans are not, however, organized into full-time ritual or spiritual associations, as are priests.”
There are three basic “worlds,” or levels of consciousness that the shaman explores in trance. These are virtually universal, though called by different names. They are:
The Lower World: A lower world journey will often involve moving through a known hole in the earth, such as a tree trunk, tree roots, a spring, a cave, a burrow, or some other kind of hole in the ground, and emerging into the lower world. This is the world most familiar to many of the shamanic practitioners working today. This world should be quite familiar before one attempts too much in the middle and upper worlds, although one who has done much personal work previously may be able to work easily in the other two worlds. The lower world is a place to meet and connect with power animals and other archetypal spirits who don’t choose to incarnate in a physical body. It is the realm of the past and the unconscious, the oceanic realm, and the home of emotions, as well as the origin of healing earth energy.
The Middle World: The middle world includes the world of form, as well as a parallel world sometimes called the astral plane. The middle world contains the thought forms which create physical reality. A journey into the middle world will often involve seeking answers to questions about life in ordinary reality. This is the place one might journey to find a lost person or object, or to find a water or food source. It is associated with the future, and if one is looking for what the future may hold, this would be the place to go.
The Upper World: The upper world is the realm of ecstasy, the origin of rapture, the home of highly refined and purified energies. This is the home of Buddha, Christ, other ascended masters, angelic beings, and our higher self. It transcends time and space, and experiences of miraculous healing and enlightenment originate here. It can be accessed by climbing a tree, a rainbow, a mountain, or clouds.