Shamanic practice is perhaps the oldest form of spirituality to exist.
By shamanic what we are really referring to is the interaction between the human and non-human forces. In other words, shamanism of shamanic practice is the cultivation of the relationship between the human and the natural and unseen forces all around us. These forces could be considered “forces of nature”. They are the natural laws and cosmic principles governing our reality.
In early and probably pre-religious society, humans had only the natural world to contend with. There was very little else in the way of philosophy or religious life. These complexities came later in human development as intellectual advances in culture took place, parallel with advances in art, technology, etc. the primal & ancient humans the pre-dated civilizational development were in immediate and direct connection with nature without an excess of concept.
Why this seems important to observe is that these early humans were creating their own direct relationship to the spirits of nature and life. Mother Earth’s spiritual law was perhaps more readily ‘felt’ by our ancient ancestors for the mere fact that they had no other observance. Nothing was getting in the way — least of all were the potentially obstructive philosophical concepts of religious life which came later in our history.
It could be said that Shamanic practice was the beginning of the development of religion. Humans were attempting to create meaning out of the vast mystery of the Universe and develop real relationships to the forces beyond themselves. This led to an early pagan period which probably existed across and within all early culture to some degree. By pagan we mean worship of nature. In a modern context, this may be considered by some as barbaric and primitive, when in fact these early practices were most likely very common sense and down-to-Earth rites and rituals meant to aid our ancestors in their ways of connecting to the life that was within and all around them. An example of this can be found in the extensive practices of fire worship, seen in the Vedas.
It would make sense that primitive humans needing some form of guiding principles to live a harmonious life and lift themselves out of the animalistic existence that threatens each human being. We are no different than our ancient ancestors — we just have more information available to us. However, May we remain humble enough to admit that even “knowing more” might not necessarily translate to wisdom or real intelligence!
The guiding principles of shamanic practice are principles that remain self-evident to each individual. The shaman is the one who interacts with life directly through their own perception, using mind-body tools to cultivate their awareness to a degree that allows them to perceive more clearly. Early yogic practice and Tantra is exactly what I am referring to. It seem valid to suggest or at least theorize that the development of one’s senses and the cultivation of one’s perceptive ability and inner sight has cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary application. What I mean here is that, regardless of where and when on the planet we look, the “shamanic” elements of spiritual development through inner purification is likely present and an important part of whichever path one is on.
In the Himalayas, this was no different. It was probably likely that the sages and masters that we hear about in texts were practicing different forms of shamanism, in the sense that they were venturing into unknown and hidden domains of human consciousness to retrieve important data about life and Reality. The “Great Realizers of Truth”, as I like to call them, include a variety of humans of different backgrounds who all received evidence of a Supreme Reality through their direct experience and attempted to share their findings with their communities. Thankfully, there have been many examples of these beings across time & culture, and the similarities seem to outweigh the discrepancies. Their attempts to point to A Truth have been attempts to bring large numbers of humans into a coherent thought pattern that could lead to a collective advancement in their tribe or culture. This is so because as soon as a group of human beings reaches an agreement about certain things, forward progress is available to them. There no longer is the question and now a new search can begin, which leads to advancement of all types. Ultimately what is suggested by this is that all advancement in humanity begins with spiritual advancement. Furthermore, all spiritual advancement begins with an individual determined to “realize” or awaken to the Greater Reality and thereby receive information from the Great Beyond to bring back to us Earth dwellers. This is a common theme in many different mythologies.
The Hero’s Journey, a term coined by the popular Western psychoanalyst and psychologist Joseph Campbell is the modern thinker’s scientific understanding of what I’m referring to . The path and the map is the same and has been the same across time — a deep dive into the human psyche to recover lost or abandoned information so that healing or transformation of the soul can occur. The names and concepts for this have changed but the result is the same, and we are referring to , in essence, “shamanism”. A search into the hidden and unseen places of life, nature and reality. An interaction with unseen forces. A quest for a regenerative power.
If we take these propositions as true or at least, truth enough to draw some worthwhile conclusions , we may begin to see that shamanic practice, while often conflated in modern culture as something related to feathers, rattles and plant medicine, actually and probably has it origin in every early community as the basis for developing an understanding of life — within and without. The emergence of yogic practice, then, was likely parallel to the “shamanic” methods of our early ancestors. The use & development of the body & mind through activities such as movement, breath, meditation, concentration, ritual, ceremony, etc are all seen in the yogic & Tantric traditions , for sure, as well as in many other forms of spirituality.
What we are suggesting here is that regardless of how we look at it, shamanism has been and perhaps still is an essential part of life in each of our personal histories, as each of us carries the genetic memory of these practices across generations. No matter our history and background, the earliest humans — from which we all share a common root — were likely doing some form of what we might call “shamanism”; each of our early communities and tribes were attempting to find ways to align with life and nature so as to escape the descent into violence and destruction that has threatened our conscience since the beginning of time.
Shamanism, in conclusion, can be seen as an explanation of what is taking place when humans seek their own direct experience of Reality and their own direct relationship with the different elements of life so that harmony and possibility are available to a greater extent that ignorance, chaos and dysfunction. We may call these practices by many names, but they share the same root — an inner spark of courage leading brave individuals across time and culture on the inward quest to attain clarity around the mysteries of life. Those who answer the call are venturing into the unknown as, despite the fact that there may be guidelines which come to us out of tradition, the inner journey of the human soul remains impossible describe with words and therefore can only be discovered by experience. Those who pursue their own authentic experience, beyond the conceptual confines of the mind, might be considered “shamans”, a word that is accurate enough to portray the journey into the unknown. And from the unknown the “shaman” emerges with something of value and worth that is meant for his or her community. The cycle of life enacted through one human life — death, rebirth, and eventually innovation. The process of regeneration... of evolution. Shamanic , sure… and also completely and entirely normal.
Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva