An unexpected “religion” is growing in popularity in England and Wales, according to the latest census: Shamanism. In 2011, only 650 people said they were members of the belief system, but that number has increased more than tenfold over the past decade to reach 8,000 by 2022. This makes Shamanism the fastest growing religion of the countries. So what exactly is it?
Although not an organized religion, shamanism has been around for thousands of years. We don’t know exactly when shamanism entered human consciousness, but we do know that it inspired our art, technology, and medicine.
It has been found in Australia, Siberia, Korea and the Americas and is claimed to be the root of some religions, such as the Bon form of Buddhism found in Tibet.
While this phenomenon is known by many different names and origin stories depending on where in the world you encounter it, what remains the same is the human desire to connect with the earth, the stars, and ultimately “the one greater than us”.
And while shamanism lives in the realm of religious experience, it also challenges being an organized religion thanks to the uniqueness of the experiences of the individuals who practice it.
What is shamanism?
To understand shamanism, it is important to first understand the world view that underlies it. The shamanic worldview is divided into different but equal parts: the earth or the physical world, the human world and the stars or the cosmic world.
Each of these worlds is considered to have its own spirit, and a shaman or shaman practitioner is said to communicate with these spirits. As this worldview is passed down from generation to generation, the way each practitioner expresses it in their work makes the way they practice unique.
The only consistent feature of shamanism is that the shaman or shamanic practitioner uses movement, singing, chanting, drumming, prayer, music, and sometimes local indigenous herbs such as ayahuasca to temporarily step into an alternate state of consciousness. This is known as a shamanic trance similar to being in a psychedelic state.
While in trance, the practitioner’s role is to find information believed to reside in the psyche of the client, who is often looking for a solution to why something is wrong with their health or life. The practitioner will then explain to the client what they saw while in a trance state so that the client can use this information to bring their life or health back into balance.
Why become a shaman?
Historically, the role of a shaman has been to serve a community. Many contemporary western practitioners have received training in fields such as psychology, nursing, or complementary and alternative medicine before pursuing shamanic training to expand their expertise.
They will use and integrate what author and scholar Ruth-Inge Heinze refers to as shamanistic practices. These are techniques such as meditative trance work, applied healing, or ritual work.
Practitioners themselves are seeking a broader framework of health that can help explain any personal or professional experience that normally involves the human psyche and does not typically fit the models they have learned in their training – such as those linked to spirituality.
Who uses it and is it safe?
My own research on shamanism and patient safety has found many reasons for a contemporary western person to seek shamanism, including self-help and self-help. They may be interested in experiencing connection, finding meaning or purpose in their life, or they may feel dissatisfied with traditional medical treatments.
Shamanism is not a unified field of study. Nor is it organized under any regulatory agency. The title “shaman” is not preserved, or even well defined. As a participant, you should carefully consider who you approach to work with, as standards from origin cultures may not have been transferred.
Western practitioners do not always fully embrace the shamanic ethics required to practice safely. This can mean that customers are left with information and experiences that they do not fully understand or know how to work with.
Evgenia Fotiou, an academic who studies the globalization of shamanism and the erasure of local practices, warns:
Westerners do not see any contradiction in the ownership of indigenous knowledge. They believe it is universal and everyone has the right to it… It is rare for Westerners to make the necessary sacrifices and adjustments in their lifestyles to fully follow this path.
Contemporary practitioners must examine their motivation to work in this way and get rid of the exploitative and romantic views of indigenous peoples. It can take a long time to train and develop your work before you step into cultural ownership.
There is also a risk that people with possible mental health problems such as substance use disorder or psychosis may view shamanism as a way to explain and justify their behavior or symptoms (such as drug taking, delusions, or dissociative states) as psychic experiences. seek traditional treatment.
However, shamanism has been associated with both empowerment and a greater sense of community, as well as a stronger connection with the Earth. Given where we are now in terms of the climate crisis, a greater appreciation of nature would certainly be welcome.
This article has been republished under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation. Read the original article.
Alexander Alich works for the FoxFire Foundation in Berlin, Germany.