We live in a time when our world needs compassionate healing and wise support. The way we are treating each other and the natural world is just not sustainable, so what can we in the spiritual community do to help?
Why Shamanism … Why Now?
This is a question I sometimes ask the people who contact me for shamanic healing. Recently, I have been exploring this question in a wider context. It was sparked by a conversation with someone who works at an established shamanic retreat who pointed out that “10 years ago, our courses were for 5 or 6 people. Today, we’re fully booked with waiting lists”.
Since the mid-1950s, shamanism has been re-emerging into the awareness of Western culture and growing strongly. So why is this?
Is this because anthropologists began to take part in shamanic ceremony, so rather than being documented from a Western perspective it started to become personal experience and was reported in that way and this in turn spoke to a yearning in our culture’s heart?
Or, as shamanism is driven by the spirits, are the spirits themselves seeing our impact on the Earth and what is happening to humanity and are therefore pushing through to make contact so that disaster for our species – and maybe all life here – can be avoided?
I came to shamanism in 2004 and we fitted like a glove. I now live a very different life to the one I did previously and the best way to accurately describe it is that by practising shamanism as a daily way of life, the outcome is leading me back to the life I am here to live. My own nature is coming through more and this healing process is enabling me to express it out into our world.
This, I feel, is the key to one possible answer to the above question. I was leading a workshop in 2014 on ‘the healing power of community’ and the spirits with this group gave a clear answer to the question ‘what is a functioning community?’
“One that holds and honours the expression of each individual’s gifts as key”, came the answer.
If one of the benefits of practising shamanism is personal empowerment – where each of us is able to express our own unique talents – and if this is key to a functioning community, then maybe this is what is being called for at this time in our history. Could the spirits and shamanic methods be one way of accessing this?
Why Would Spirits Help Us?
Why would the spirits want to help us? Why indeed? Well, shamanism is thought of as the oldest practice of spirituality and some say it has been a method of healing for as long as humanity has walked the earth. So we have been working with the spirits for a long time.
It is a very recent phenomenon that people have even questioned whether there are spirits to work with, as not so long ago this would have been seen as a given and part of everyday life, even in our European culture.
I recently spoke with a woman from Siberia and as I listened to her it was so clear how spirit flowed in all she said and all she did. She was not a practitioner; she ‘merely’ grew up in a culture that lived shamanism.
Here in Europe, we too have our own indigenous healing practice which we may call shamanic and is certainly an animistic world view. My own training felt more like a remembering rather than the learning of something for the first time and as a person with Celtic ancestry my own ancestors would have practised a form of shamanism. Maybe this is why it made so much sense to me.
Rather than thinking of Shamanism as something that is ‘out there’ or a little weird, our history shows it to be a natural process and practice for humanity. And in listening recently to this Siberian woman, fascinated for well over 2 hours, I was so struck by how alive and pragmatic it was for her.
From the worldview of the culture I grew up in I was shown a world that was brutally harsh and one we needed to struggle to get by in. Shamanism offers a different world view; one of a supportive, compassionate and intelligent universe and the more we engage with the spirits the more they will engage with us. So maybe this is the natural way of things and is why when we are prepared to meet the spirits they will willingly meet us.
So why is shamanism emerging at this time in our history? If you watch, listen to and feel what is happening in the world, the way we are treating each other and all life that we share this Earth with – and indeed the Earth itself – how can this be sustainable? How can we carry on in this way?
Shamanism invites us to respect all life and gives us experience of the connections between us all. Through this, we can come to understand how we influence each other and also how much we need each other to survive; for what we do to others we do to ourselves. Our health and wellbeing may well be dependent on our relationship with all that exists in the natural world.
My deep connection to the earth has been with me from my earliest memories. I was traumatised and deeply distressed when I learnt what we were – and still are today – doing to the trees of our rainforests. Yet when I asked “what are we to do about this”, the answer I got back was, “there is nothing we can do!”
I never believed that and this concern has never left me. Through the ways of shamanism, I feel and am seeing there is a way I can do something, both locally and globally. I have been developing ceremonies that I have come to call Sacred Activism events, in which we are looking to manifest ways to ethically and compassionately bring through spiritual solutions to our everyday problems in a co-creative relationship with spirit.
Many of us come to a healing or spiritual path because something is ‘just not right’ with us or with how we are living our lives and we need some help. As our own healing unfolds, we may move to a deeper concern for life around us and want to find a way to make a difference … but how? In my lifetime, the spiritual and healing practices available have expanded immensely. This may seem overwhelming at times, but as we say in Scotland “what’s for yee while na pass you by” (what’s for you will come to you) and if we use our discernment well, our own path will unfold for us both personally and collectively.
Healing is a process and as we deepen into our own journey with our individual process a growing concern for life around us may grow. We each will have our own passions and skills we can bring to this to make a difference and impact in the world.
I believe that the speed at which humans are impacting life in a negative way is accelerating. So how do we take action that is both ethical and conscious as a counter to this? For some, this may be in political or other more widely thought of ways; however, we in the spiritual community are also able to respond and use our skills to offer support and compassion.
I see that working with shamanism can give us answers that we as humans are not able to find; our own task is to ask the right questions in order to seek these answers. Maybe it is due to the acceleration of destruction that shamanism is here now so strongly; so we can bring to the spirits our questions and concerns and act from a spirit-guided and co-creative place?
This way of Earth-centred consciousness is closer to my own natural way of being and has been both a blessing and also a deep challenge, as with this sensitivity I feel deeply the impact of what we are doing to each other and the earth.
Having this awareness and feeling disempowered to act brought me real challenges and in this my own life story led me close to death as it all became too overwhelming. With dedication and a commitment to my own healing, my life before 1999 with all its pain, confusion and trauma has now become the source of my strength. Living with a spiritual life and shamanism in particular, I found an antidote to this both in my own healing process as well as in becoming empowered to act and trusting it to make a difference even if this is not always tangible.
Often, solutions to the issues we are facing are presented from a human perspective and addressed as finding human solutions. This way negates the interconnected truth of how life is, even if well-intentioned; if you do one thing here it will have an impact there. We see examples of this when one species is introduced to an area; it effects the ecosystem in that area and if it’s not thought through, this will be in a negative way.
Recently my wife and I converted a garage on our property into a space for ceremonies and healing. This was done in consultation with the local spirits of the house, land and place as well as with my own healing spirits that will work with the healing work and ceremonies that will take place in the space. The whole process was undertaken in a ceremonial and co-creative way with spirit, as well as of course the practicalities of dealing with the builders, solicitors and our local council. Did it all go according to plan and smoothly? Well, no, not to my plan anyway but it was an incredible experience and now, with hindsight, the challenges we faced were perfect and so much was learnt. As the garage expanded, so too did my own growth and learning about working with spirit in a ceremonial way on a practical project. Now that it’s finished, it’s quite beautiful and feels a part of the land. When people come for sessions the space leaves a positive impression and many people comment how beautiful it is and it is a mirror for the work we are here to do and bring through.
This way of approaching a practical project is what I call an ‘Earth centred consciousness’; the way in which we approach finding ways to work with the land and spirits and which can be applied to all aspects of life, from where we live and shop to how we relate to our family and communities.
A few years ago I worked, guided by spirit, over a number of months in a ceremony of healing over an area of land where a battle had taken place in the 13th century and which was holding the memory of trauma. To my amazement and delight, once completed, almost immediately animals and birds I had never seen soon returned. Then, a number of opportunities arose in the village for the community to grow; businesses even started opening which were just perfect for the village and the park received a grant for development. Maybe it was coincidence, or perhaps this was an effect of the work I had been a part of.
Maybe shamanism is inviting us towards this way of being; towards a ‘returning to’ or an ‘evolution’ and it may well be what is needed for our continuation here on Earth. And if so, how realistic is this for the modern world?
Well, it may well require a change of heart and mind and for us to stay clearly in our own truth and centre and in partnership with spirit and ourselves. It may also require us to hold a vision of a radical change for our society. We first have to see it and once we do then it can exist in our physical world.
I am doing some work at present with spirit to see and honour the wolf and bear here on the land in Scotland. The reintroduction of wolves is a controversial issue for humans but not for the land which is precisely what I am hearing it asking for. In doing this work it’s become clear over time that we are not ready to share the land with wolves and a deep change in consciousness is needed in us before this happens. I have been shown that this work is like building Stonehenge; you play your part but may well not see the outcomes, yet you carry on anyhow.
It may well be that this is how it is for us all with our own passions and concerns. Working with spirit brings a wider perspective power and creativity that is needed for effective and ethical solutions that support all life.
The wolf and bear ceremonies I work with as part of the sacred activism events are evolving into a re-wilding of humans, something that I feel is needed to open up to the natural world and our own natures in a more integrated way. This work came to me while sitting with a waterfall watching salmon jump when I became aware of both the presence and absence of the bear. I did some shamanic journey work with this soon afterwards; this calling of the land spoke to my own nature and then the ceremonies began.
As we and spirit are always evolving, while we draw on ancient wisdom it needs to be practical for our time. The ceremonies with the spirit of Bear and Wolf have brought through a move towards a re-wilding; as we re-wild ourselves a more natural way of life becomes possible. And from this who knows what can happen?
This is my hope for humanity; that we move to a more integrated and Earth-centred view in all we do as we come to think and feel with and for the planet. With the spirits and our own courage to work with, I feel that much can and is already being done towards this by practitioners around the world. As a part of the spiritual community we are part of the whole of humanity and with the methods available we can bring about a compassionate and ethical change. This, I feel, is mine – and our – responsibility and contribution to our society.
So, this is something of my understanding of the question, “Why shamanism, why now?” and why we are able to contact and communicate with the spirits once more. This growing power here in our Western society must be here for a reason and globally we can help both in our own lives and also by coming to work together in healing circles. My way is with shamanism but maybe this could be for the growing spiritual movement also.
I recently asked myself “Do I really care what’s happening?” Then, “Do I really care enough to act?” Beyond the cynical mind that has grown from 51 years living in this society, that heartfelt wisdom I held as a child was still there, the one that cared about the rain forests, powerfully innocent and more than willing to take risks and act. Shamanism has enabled this to come through and respond.
Here in rural Scotland, with the absence of any apex predators, the solution to managing the population of deer is with the gun, the rationale being that too many of them cause too much damage. Can you think of another being on earth we could apply this rationality too? Can you imagine the response if this was offered as a solution for human overpopulation (which, let me be clear, I am not suggesting)? However, there are other ways in which we can find spiritual solutions to critical problems by working with spirit; our task is to find the questions to unlock the wisdom of spirit and be willing to act on the guidance even if we do not live to see the outcome. We gift our own healing to the service of all and the ancestors to come.
So “why shamanism … why now”? Maybe because it is needed and has the ability to heal and bring an ethical, compassionate and new vision to manifest here on the earth. Our own healing is fundamental to this vision and as we heal, new possibilities emerge from within that feed the whole in turn, as all change starts with us.
Brian sees shamanism offering a new hope and vision for individuals as well as our society as a whole. He offers shamanic healing for individuals and regular workshops as well as free sacred activism events. Brian has over 30 years’ experience in the helping professions and since 2004 has been working with individuals and groups with shamanic methods. He trained with the Sacred Trust, Foundation for Shamanic Studies and Sandra Ingermann as well as indigenous shamans from the Americas and his heart’s home Ireland. He lives and practices in Perth, Scotland and is currently researching and learning about traditional healing practices of this land. Website: www.oakenleaf.co.uk.
This article first appeared in Issue 39 of Indie Shaman magazine.