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What is Shamanism?

Editor's message: Ever since people settle on earth, they have been leaving behind footprints of rich traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices. Indigenous cultures differ around the world but they all have provided comfort and guidance to people through the ages. These ancient wisdoms have evolved with time. Many have been adapted into our cultures today. Shamanism is an example of a century-old concept that is still being practiced now. The author interprets shamanism in today's environment.


As a shamanic practitioner I am often asked the question, "What exactly is shamanism?" As I have studied the tradition I have found the teachings to be extremely deep and rich. It is a difficult question for me to sum up in a few words. If I were to describe the teachings I would call them a path; almost an art of living where one seeks to live in balance, or right relationship, through the understanding of our connection to the earth, creation, and all beings. It is a path where one seeks to know what is true; dissecting stories from one's life in order to find healing and balance with the intention to live fully in the present. Through shamanic practices one can appreciate the difference between living a life that is in alignment with truth and one that isn't.  

The roots of what are referred to as shamanism today are found around the world. This is the wisdom of the ancient ones carried by many of the indigenous people who have lived the knowledge across time within their tribes. In comparing these different traditions it becomes apparent that the approaches to the teachings, rituals, and traditions differ. However, despite the variances, there is a very distinct common thread that ties the mysteries of the wisdom teachings of each indigenous culture, nation, and region together in a way that is very reassuring.  The common thread is a distinctive understanding of the concept of truth. The indigenous tribes, though separated physically by significant geographical expansions, all seem to arrive at a common innate understanding of truth; the same truth.

A mythology is a belief in a concept that one understands to be true. In our culture, one of our guiding mythologies or core beliefs is that we were thrown out of "the garden" long ago with original sin. Interestingly it does not matter what our personal religious beliefs may or may not be, the concept of original sin lives within our culture and informs us quite deeply; resulting in a disconnect from the natural order of the earth upon which we live.

In contrast, a shamanic path has no concept of separation. In the indigenous roots without exposure to the civilized world, the connection to the natural order has never been lost. Instead, the relationship is understood and the journey is about living in balance, gratitude and, harmony with the natural order. A shaman's intent then becomes a focus of knowing what truth is in order to co-exist in right relationship. Within the practice of stalking truth, the shaman willingly dies to the old self; meaning they let go of the guiding mythologies and stories that do not support truth.


So what is truth actually? Most people try to live their lives ‘truthfully' with honesty and integrity. What more could there possibly be? A metaphor for truth is the beautiful life cycle of a seed. Within the earth with the blessings of water and light, the seed opens and the sprout emerges. This sprout grows into a plant, flowers, fruits, and once again releases seeds back to the earth to repeat another cycle. In this example the truth is the perfect cycle of creation found in a single seed. It is simple and uncomplicated.

Truth within the human life cycle is a much harder thing to find and define. In each life time, the very fabric of one's being begins to be woven from the moment of conception. Each thread and every detail within the weaving attended to; both consciously and unconsciously, becomes the fabric of who you are. The weaving is intricately created within our relationships between ourselves, our environment, our parents, families, friends, institutions, rituals, and our culture.

In the beginning, in the womb, we learn the energy of the environment in which we are exposed to. It is the beginning of our primal nature and our first experience with the myriad of emotions in the spectrum of human existence. As a growing fetus, we learn responses to these events through the energy of our mothers and we are informed. What we learn may or may not be true but it still becomes part of what we are, our fabric and what we believe. Once born, we learn to engage with the world around us. As we respond to the world, it responds to us and as the world responds to us, we learn. Within this learning our fabric of who we are and what we believe is woven and again, it may or may not be true.

Our evolution through language teaches us to use symbols taught to us by the interactions of the people within our life. Early on we learn to interpret the language of emotional responses of those within our environment that do and do not interact with us. For some, they learn that a smile brings a delightful response and that tears bring nurturing. For others, their smiles and tears may go unnoticed. They may learn that tears are not brave or maybe that they are a sign of weakness and vulnerability. During this same time we learn the symbols of objects through language. We learn what to name the things and people in our life. Eventually our understanding becomes more complex as we learn to interpret along with emotion the symbols of body language, complex human interactions, and unfolding events within our lives and what they mean to us.

All of this learning becomes part of the weaving of the fabric of who we are. For many, the support of those around them comes from a loving approach and the threads are set with good intention. However, even those threads, again may or may not be true. For others that experience abuse and disinterest from the people around them as well as abandonment, the weaving is quite different. The process for everyone, no matter where they come from, is still the same. It is a weaving of who they are and they can only know what they know from what they have learned and been exposed to. These learnings are what teach us what we believe to be true.


Using shamanic practices we can discover where a lack of truth within the fabric of our being informs us. With our understanding of transformational ancient wisdom we learn how to unweave our fabric releasing those mythologies that do not serve us; healing the past and weaving with truth.

In stalking truth, we examine with shamanic perceptual shifts the intricate weavings of our life; reflecting on our stories, our roles and relationships, our beliefs, our ancestors, our connections to the earth, and our culture. Within all of these great teachers we learn how to bring healing to ourselves and the world through living in right relationship; exercising reverence, respect, and gratitude for all the aspects of the natural order in which we live. 

Through our connections to this natural order, we come to understand that everything is living. Everything is creating. Each creation is important and none more important than the other. Each has a perfect purpose. We learn to use these principles of creation within our lives by dreaming into being through our intention. Then through the understanding of how our intentions create, we appreciate the importance of remaining accountable for ourselves at all times and the consequence of living or not living our truth.

Though Shamanism cannot be described as any one thing it can be said that it is a way of living. It is an art, a tradition, and a path that brings one to a threshold of a great journey where we can release the past in order to live within the present. It is a way of unfolding and becoming who we are meant to be.  

Alleson Lansel, RN, Shamanic Practitioner


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