The Shamanist Vision of the Cosmos:
There hardly any longer exists any genuine indigenous culture uncontaminated by “memes” (see note under “ordinary state of consciousness”) from our general culture. Even so, the oldest anthropological studies reveal the nature of the belief system known as “shamanism”.
- In the shamanist world-view, it is believed that the visible world is dominated by supernatural forces. These forces, acting either on their own impulse or often under some sort of guidance, may be good – that is, beneficial – or not.
- Being hidden, these supernatural forces can only be manipulated through altered states of consciousness, of trance. This fact means there have to be specialists capable of penetrating and acting successfully in this hidden world: shamans.
- Success is not guaranteed: the struggle between different shamans leads to a certain degree of hierarchy among them depending on their strength and ability to maintain health and relative success.
- In general, any person – man or woman – can become a shaman, through instruction, or through the acquisition of magical forces and talismans obtained in exchange for gifts or presents.
- ” Shamans who have been prepared and strengthened in this way throw their liquids, influence and magic – in the form of animal spirits, plants, chants or breaths — in the way of their targets in accordance with their intentions, whether to remedy, captivate, protect or enchant.
An analysis of the shamanist vision and its processes reveals various essential elements.
- Empiricism. Part of the doctrine of shamanism is to cultivate direct perception and interaction with mysterious forces through nature.
- Universalism. That all people can become shamans through the passing on of knowledge, education and perception, through apprenticeship and training.
- Realism. The shaman is not a “superman”, or hero; he is a warrior of hidden things, but he is also an ordinary person, who can succeed or fail.
- Paradoxality. The shaman is polar, human; although he lives and relates with mystery, he is an ambivalent being.
- Holism. There exists within the shamanist world a mixture of “sacred” with “natural”, of “spiritual” with “material”, and above all of “subjective” and “objective”.
So what we learn from indigenous culture is how to cultivate a daily relationship with mystery, the outline of a kind of unification in harmony with the ecological vision, and an integration of the “metaphysical” as suggested by modern physics. In the context of our dominant global civilisation, it’s possible to absorb and incorporate some shamanist values through various movements, sociological mechanisms and subcultures. These transform and strengthen certain tendencies:
- A reallocation of the sacred. Although it’s understood as something essentially “supernatural”, the sacred moves from a position of absolute transcendence to one immanence, and it becomes more plural and less hierarchical. The sacred becomes more evident and at hand, more easily manipulated by practical, natural technology. This leads to a reawakening of religious forms which were prevalent before the rise of idealism and imperialism.
- A new messianism. The figure of the ordinary shaman grows in stature and is transformed into a heroic figure. But he is a hero who is near us and to whom one can gain access naturally, through a cup of tea. In this process we see the rebirth of the man-god, the divine messenger, the leader of souls, the guide; new hopes, new churches and new ceremonies.
- A search for oneness. These are essentially humanist, naturalist, pragmatic practices in which broader visions of reality are integrated into the scientific, philosophical, psychological and medical archive of modernity. The “sacred” becomes nature, the universe itself, an idea which implies the search for revelation or mystical experience, an attempt to integrate basic dichotomies into a totality.