The ancient healing traditions based on spiritual connections.
New to Firefly's Bible series (Ayurveda Bible, Secret Societies Bible) this guide to shamanism is an evocative and detailed journey from its animistic origins in Europe, North America, Siberia and the Arctic 70,000 years ago, to the contemporary rituals practiced today. Illustrated with cultural images, totems and practicing shamans from all cultural settings, The Shamanism Bible reveals the past and explains how this ancient spirituality can empower modern life.
Shaman John Matthews shares his incomparable breadth of knowledge of shamanism and the significance of power animals:
The book opens with a survey of the roots of shamanism among the Celtic, Siberian, Norse, Sami and Inuit cultures, as well as in Africa, the Americas, the Far East and the Antipodes. The second chapter, The Shaman's Tools, describes the tools a shaman uses:
Part three describes the modern practice of shamanism:
Millions find the ancient origins and visceral spirituality of shamanism empowering. The Shamanism Bible reveals the history of this intricate belief system and explains how to incorporate it into modern life.
John Matthews is the bestselling author of over 100 titles on alternative spirituality, history and mythology as well as children's books. He is recognized as one of the foremost teachers of shamanism in the world. He is a co-founder of FIOS, the Fellowship for Inspirational and Oracular Studies.
The word 'shaman' comes from the Tungusc language of Siberia and its etymology is debated. Some say it means 'to be consumed with fire' [of inspiration]; others suggest that it means 'he or she who knows'. Throughout this book the term 'shamanism' is used generically to apply to all kinds of spiritual transaction, and the non-genderal word 'shaman' to all who practise this discipline, though they have specific titles, names and roles in different cultures.
The Story of Shamanism
Wherever we look across the world we find traces of the ancient tradition called shamanism. Its history is deeply linked to our response as human beings to the world around us, and to the spiritual dimension of that world.
Shamanism is the oldest known spiritual discipline in the world. Its outward symbols have been discovered in Australia, the Americas, Africa, the Far East, Siberia and much of Europe, dating back to the dawn of history. Rock paintings, ancient carved stones, painted shells and antique personal adornments, originating from sites as far apart as Scotland, France, South and North America, the Arctic Circle and the Australian Bush, give us glimpses into the life and practice of the shaman.
In many parts of the world these ancient disciplines are still practiced and taught and through the living carriers of this tradition, we have learned to add dimension to the artifacts. The world thus revealed, for all its constant overlapping with the realms of the spirit, is at times an overwhelmingly substantial one, possessing a universality that enables modern shamans to talk essentially the same language irrespective of background or race, and to practise shamanism in ways that refer back to the distant past and forward towards the future.
Because it is not a religion as such, but rather a spiritual practice, shamanism cuts across all faiths and creeds, reaching the bedrock of ancestral memory. As a primal belief system that precedes religion, it has its own universal symbolism and cosmology, inhabited by beings, gods and spiritual allies that show manifestly similar characteristics though they appear in localized forms depending on their place of origin.
WHAT IS SHAMANISM?
Definitions of shamanism vary from culture to culture and from tradition to tradition, but most agree on common principles such as soul flight (the journey out of the body into different states of being) and the ability to heal sickness in collaboration with spiritual allies. Anthropology terms shamanism 'animistic' -- that is, founded on the belief that all things have spirit -- but practical shamanism is much more: it is a servant of all spiritual traditions, able to draw upon the deep primordial life of the universe, preceding all of our received religions as wisdom inherited by all. It is a transcendent system that puts the practitioner in touch with every level of creation, both inside and outside what is generally accepted as reality. Above all, it is supremely practical and requires a pragmatic, down-to-earth respect for truth, nature and knowledge -- the three candles that no darkness can extinguish.
WHO IS THE SHAMAN?
The shaman has many roles, but not every individual possesses a full range of shamanic skills and individual shamans often specialize in various aspects of spiritual work. The shaman can be a spirit doctor, healer, diviner, seer, prophet, negotiator, ancestral intermediary and ritualist, among other roles. Shamanism itself is the practice of bringing healing, wholeness and harmony to body, mind and soul. Where ancestral laws or environmental boundaries have been violated, the shaman will seek to re-harmonize the relations between people and land, or with tribal ancestors. Where an individual falls into soul sickness, the shaman will journey to that person's spiritual guardians and allies, who can take away illness and restore wholeness. When sickness comes to domestic beasts, the shaman may commune with the spirits to find healing and renewal.
THE SHAMANIC JOURNEY
Shamans continually travel between the otherworld of dream and vision and the everyday world of waking consciousness. These two worlds are seen as comprising a single reality. This unified vision of one world with two dimensions stands in stark contrast to the increasingly prevalent view that the everyday world and the life we live is the only reality. Shamans keep open the ways between the worlds in order to maintain this unified vision, because it is the bedrock of all healing and connection with the infinite. No one and nothing is left out of this unity.
Anthropologist Holger Kalweit, in his book Dreamtime and Inner Space, sums up the most widely accepted aspects of the shamanic way of life as follows:
DREAM TIME AND INNER SPACE, HOLGER KALWEIT, 1984
Shamanic abilities are generally brought on by a personal crisis, such as illness or sudden shock. Where this is not naturally forthcoming, initiations designed to produce the effects of such a state are used to bring about re-birth as a shaman. The shaman sees through everything, dies and is reborn, suffers the pangs of the world, and sees into its darkest corners. The near-death of initiation is common to shamans the world over and a metaphor for their experiences. Afterwards, they are never the same; everything has changed for them. They have known total knowledge and, to a degree according to their skills and strengths, have permanent access to it from that moment on.
Ecstasy is the bliss of experiencing everyday life and the otherworlds as one reality. Mircea Eliade, the greatest contemporary writer on the subject, defines this further:
SHAMANISM: ARCHAIC TECHNIQUES OF ECSTASY, MIRCEA ELIADE, 1964
No one can say where or how shamanism first appeared. It seems to spring naturally from the earth and stones beneath us, the rivers and seas that surround us, the air that we breathe. It seems to dawn with the first stirrings of human awareness that we are not alone, that there is a spiritual dimension to all life, and those who recognize this are called to act as an intermediaries between the world of humans and spirits.
The thread of this ancient path has been broken, restored, and revived again and again throughout history. But shamanism has never left entirely, and in our own time it has undergone an extraordinary revival, with hundreds of practitioners and students across the globe following the precepts of the different shamanic traditions and adapting these ancient skills to life in the 21st century.
One of the reasons this ancient skill is still practised is because it is effective. Just as people may not return to a doctor who brings them no relief, so, too, they will not continue to seek help from ineffective shamans. The healing that may come though this route is real. It touches not just the body but also the soul, where causes of illness often hide. By harmonizing the causes of illness and disquiet, and restoring soul and spirit to its rightful state, shamans restore balance.
In this book I have set out to give a straightforward account of a vast and complex subject. Shamanism cannot be explained, only experienced, and it is often said that shamans are born, not made. Here you will find a taste of what it means to be a shaman and, through the exercises in Part Three, you will have an opportunity to explore some of the experience for yourself.
John Matthews Oxford, 2013