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Animism & Shamanism

Animism & Shamanism

This month's theme is "Animal Encounters." The emergent world of "new spirituality," whatever that means, i feel, is a very important part of the effort to protect Earth's biosphere and integrate indigenous wisdoms into developed world culture. The following offers a few perspectives on animism / shamanism today. 
-- Chris Searles, editor




#1. Animism & Shamanism (one perspective)

From a longer, 2017 blog by Mary Shutan, 
Spiritual Work vs. Neo-Shamanism Part Two --

What is Shamanism?
While talking about this word I will say that there are different camps. There are those who believe that shamans are only Siberian (Tungus/where the word originated from), there are those who believe that shamanism and the term “shaman” can be represented by a specific set of spiritual practices, and then those who believe that any form of spiritual contact, or anyone who is in the role of being intermediary between the spirit realms and the physical realms, is doing shamanic work (or that all spiritual work emerged from a shamanic past).

The spiritual practices that are considered “shamanic” have to do with being an intermediary between the physical and spiritual realms… but it also has to do with “spirit flight”. Basically this means that the shaman travels (or journeys) to the “other” (the spiritual realms) in order to interact with and heal spiritual difficulties or imbalances. There also is the concept of the “hollow bone” and of trance states (allowing energy and spirit(s) to “ride” or work through the shaman) that are also utilized. This is of course a simplistic, one-paragraph explanation.

By contrast, practices that are more mediumistic (for example, Spiritism) typically work with the understanding that the spiritual is all around us, and that it can be worked with in this reality (basically, not going anywhere). So this would make a lot of folk practices, Native American practices, and Peruvian practices (I mention these both as they have been taken up as “shamanism” by the neo-shamanic movements) technically not shamanic.

Animism and Shamanism
We have been so separated from the natural world that the idea that there are entire cultures that are animistic, or who do not separate the spiritual from the physical, is often missed. To be simple, all spiritual workers are animists… but not all animists are spiritual workers.

Animism is the belief that this world is vitally alive, that everything has spirit, and a sort of flow through it. Anyone can tap into this understanding (if they are ready to, as it requires moving past a materialistic and mechanistic version of “reality” to do so), and can work with spirit.

In cultures that have not separated their folk practices, every day magic, and animistic practices from their physical reality, it is quite common for people to be animists and to work with a variety of household and personal spirits. However, the depth of what can be achieved, and the basic power for working with larger forces, or providing clarity to spiritual situations through developed sight, as well as the trance states, spirit flight/visit to “other” and hollow bone-type qualifications would largely be the realm of the spiritual worker.

The good news about this is that while not everyone is called to the daily practices, training, and rigor that is required to become a spiritual worker, that many people can interact with the spiritual realms as an animistic universe in profound and life-affirming ways.

If more people realized that we are not separate from the Earth, from one another, and that the world and everything in it is vitally alive and filled with spirit, we would stop our unconscious “taking” of things, and learn to live a more harmonious, peaceful life. I do think that neo-shamanism is a good introduction to practices like this. My basic point in all of this series of blogs is that there is a lot more under the surface, and if you are looking for more than surface practices, or are actually called to be of service to your community spiritually, that different training and experiences are necessary. My other point would be for some of you, who are willing, to reconsider your relationship to the spiritual realms and open or expand your beliefs a bit, but I understand that that often only happens with personal readiness.


#2. Medicine Shamans (video below)

Mark Plotkin with a few Amazon shamans. 

Mark Plotkin with a few Amazon shamans. 




#3. New Shamans

From Valerie CloudClearer Ringland's EarthEthos blog -- 
I believe we are all called to serve each other and the greater good as Earth community members. As a medicine woman, I am a facilitator: I hold sacred space, share teaching stories and tools, and you allow healing to emerge in your life. When we are with someone who is holding sacred space for us, we relax in our bodies and feel our nervous system calming down. Physical presence also honours the Earth, and we learn to connect more fully with place and environment. I have worked with individuals of various ages and with groups. Reciprocation is necessary for any relationship to flourish, and money is my preferred method of exchange. To keep the work pure and powerful, reciprocation is discussed with each client in acknowledgement of varied circumstances and needs.

Living in balance means living in our hearts, and allowing our hearts to be purified of blocks to seeing that all is connected. Medicine wheel teachings help us see where life is in and out of balance, and offer tools to help us to live more fully in our hearts and feel more at home in our bodies. 

From Valerie's "about us" page -- 

My name is Valerie CloudClearer Ringland. I am blessed through a lifelong calling to have become a medicine woman able to share tools, space and teaching stories with others needing trauma healing, spiritual support, and inter-connection with the Earth. I have the following formal training:

And I have the following training through life experience:
I am very sensitive and empathic, and have experienced much trauma in my life so far. I am the child of two lineages steeped in trauma and conflict: a German father and a Jewish-American mother whose ancestors fled pogroms in Eastern Europe. From infancy until age 15 I was sexually abused by an uncle. I bonded to my nanny as a mother, but a move at age 5 separated us. I was raised mostly in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., a place with a history of slavery and racial tension for over 300 years; it is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., and home of a Confederate Memorial that is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world and is carved into a mountain in a public park.

Throughout childhood I had problems with my digestive and hormonal systems; from ages 18-33, I endured intense physical health challenges, with my digestive, hormonal and nervous systems dis-functioning and shutting down. My body was so full of trauma, I could not digest what I had experienced, nor be present in my environment. I did not know myself, and did not know better. I had poor boundaries and was in many codependent and abusive relationships, including with my family of origin. Because of an interest in justice I let myself be bribed into law school, though the Western legal system is not my idea of justice at all. Determined to be of service, I spent years doing pro bono and low-paid work in the U.S. and around the world with a focus on child advocacy, community building and conflict resolution. In India I drafted a law to criminalise child sexual abuse; in South Africa I led a small non-profit in community building and conflict resolution for a group of Zulu communities; in Australia I worked with survivors of clergy sexual abuse which helped lead to the country’s first inquiry into the issue.

I met my life partner Luke in Australia in 2011. When my visa ended we decided to travel South America to be together, where I felt safe and distant enough from my family of origin for repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse to emerge. It was like a cork full of chaotic energy popped open challenging so much of what I thought I could count on. Though my life started to make more sense as dissociated and lost soul parts emerged, it was intense and was hard to process. I needed support, stories and space from wise elders. So I learned tools such as sweat lodge, the medicine wheel, altar practice, and shamanic journeying; participated in plant medicine ceremonies in the Amazon; did a silent meditation retreat; danced three healing ceremonies; apprenticed to learn sweat lodge-keeping; studied grounding, movement, music and performance as tools of medicine and healing; and learned wildernessand survival skills. I also earned a Ph.D. in social work on indigenous healing of sexual trauma.

Spiritual gifts have come to me primarily through pain and have taken time to be with. As I healed, every family of origin relationship and many others faded away;, due in part to one 7-month period when my father, nanny and best friend died. My cosmology, sense of identity and placement in the world all changed. For most of my life I was in denial about my value and worth, and healing has involved learning to be more free and authentic, have dignity, and how to live interdependently. It is my mission to turn “shit” into fertiliser and support others to heal, learn and grow. Though it may take time to feel, we can each learn to be safe with ourselves and in the world. If we are on this Earth, we are wanted here and have valuable gifts to share. I believe we are all called to serve each other and the greater good as Earth community members.



A few more resources


Sacred Hindu Animals

Sacred Hindu Animals

Buddhism on Animals

Buddhism on Animals