Shamanism is a topic that is still more prevalent in anthropologic studies than in mainstream discussions of culture and society. For the western psyche, shamanism is a thing of the past, some type of sorcery used in relatively ‘primitive’ societies and cultures. The lack of understanding inherent in this cultural bias or stereotype prevents us from appreciating what shamanism is all about and more interestingly, how it is relevant to today’s society and to our future more than ever before.
Shamanic wisdom has been partly transmitted down through the eons and fragments of it still survives in certain cultures that preserve and honor their ancient heritage. Interestingly, there are also individuals coming outside this cultural lineage who have learned and are practicing shamanism in 21st century society. These are the modern day shamans who are contributing to what Terence McKenna called the archaic revival.
I decided to find out more about what shamanism can tell us today about ourselves and about our future. I talked to Franco Santoro, holistic counselor at the Findhorn Foundation Community in Scotland and author of the book series Astroshamanism. I asked Franco a few questions in my quest to dig deeper about the role of the shaman and shamanism in our present day world. What I learned was astonishing and revealing. I am quoting Franco’s own words ad verbatim below whenever I use the quote marks and his initials F.S.
The Role of the 21st Century Shaman is Open to Everyone:
F.S: “The role of a contemporary shaman, as I see it, is to be a living testimony of the experiential awareness of the unity of all aspects of life. This implies contributing to the release of separation, and promoting our human sense of purpose through the acknowledgment of the wider reality in which we exist. This reality also includes death and whatever lies beyond our ordinary perception, which and can ultimately provide the authentic understanding of who we truly are…
…In some way it is easy to play the shaman in nature or feel great power by emulating the ritual practices of native shamanic cultures. What is difficult is to keep this attitude in ordinary social life and the contemporary settings, and these are the places that need it most.
The world needs shamans able to function on the roads, among the electronic equipment and engines, in the squares and markets of our contemporary society.
Being a shaman, as I see it, is not about being a “shaman”. It is being whoever and whatever can serve for the purpose of healing, no matter how contradictory or incompatible it seems to be for narrow minded folks. Each identity is provisional, taken for the purpose of connecting with other identities, healing fragmentation and separation.
A shaman can shift from a “shaman” to a business man, an artist, a devoted Catholic, Hindu, or Muslim, a doctor, an architect, a gardener, you name it. Yet once a shaman becomes only a “shaman” you can be sure there is no shaman anymore.”
Direct Experience is key to Recovering our Original Unity:
The primacy of experience lies at the heart of shamanism. This means that direct experience should come prior to dogma, culturally transmitted beliefs, preconceptions and institutionalized knowledge. It is mostly the direct experience of ourselves as multidimensional beings connected to an original unity or source. Our path is to use, Stan Grof’s term ‘Holotropic’, that is, moving towards the whole – towards unity.
F.S: “I believe what most people on a quest seek today are not mere formalities, doctrines or creeds, but paths of direct experience. They search for a first-hand knowledge of their true self, their life purpose and ultimately a direct encounter and communion with God. This implies recovering our original unity, becoming whole and at one with God, which is ultimately, as I see it, the authentic essence of what shamanism pursues….”
We Need to Bust the Myth of Separation
The shaman sees the malaise and dysfunction of the modern world as arising from the disconnection from ourselves and the spiritual dimension and the disenchantment with our world. We have reinforced a perceived sense of separateness between ourselves, others, nature and between things in this world. This schism or sense of separation inherent in our psyche, is according to the shaman, the source of physical or mental imbalance that manifests both on an individual or collective level. The shamanic healing practice, for instance, addresses this energetic and psychic imbalance.
F.S: “…One of the basic experiential assumptions of shamanism is that I am not a separated physical being: I am an energy field or I am part of the whole. Actually, from a more genuine shamanic perspective, the entire notion of I, seen as separate from you and them, does not make any sense at all.
Contemporary human beings have confined themselves almost exclusively to the identification with the physical body and the idea of being a fragmented unit. Shamanic experience is one way in which it is possible to perceive others, the world and ourselves in their original united forms again.