An Introduction to 21st Century Shamanism
Every person on this planet can develop a great relationship with their own Spirit. In fact, one can find the connection with their inner healer and heal oneself spiritually and emotionally. It is not an easy thing to do but the road to this discovery is full of surprises.
For almost two years I lived in a shamanic centre in Spain. Afterwards, I went to Peru and stayed there as an apprentice. I lived in the jungles of Amazon and kept to a very specific diet under the watch of local shamans – vegetalistas.
To start learning about Shamanism, it’s important to understand that it is not a religion but a spiritual practice that emphasizes the connection of everything in the nature, both animate and inanimate. It might be the oldest of all healing practices being 40,000 years old according to archaeologists and anthropologists. Interestingly, the evidence of this practice is found on every continent – there are rock paintings, carvings and relics. The oldest artefacts were found in Altai and Ural Mountains of Russia and Mongolia. Shamanism then was a way of living which is described in detail in the book of Mircea Eliade Shamanism: The Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.
Today, the term ‘shaman’ means a person able to receive information and the power to heal not ordinarily available. In Peru, healers use different words to name themselves depending on the herbs they use. The choice of herb is typically based on the region and its traditions. These people hold ceremonies with psychotropic plants and then recommend you a diet based on 1-2 plants out of almost a hundred thousand growing in Amazon.
The Path of the Shamans
Sometimes people who have very vivid visions come to shamans who can suggest that the person connected with the spirits that chose them to be a healer. This is one of the ways how one can become a shaman. Shamans use plants to treat ailments and help people see themselves from a new perspective to gain a fresh outlook on life. Psychedelic experiences in a safe environment with an experienced teach are beneficial as they open up your consciousness and connect you with nature. Assisting people with their healing, shamans are an integral part of maintaining a connection between two worlds – natural and spiritual.
Like some other healers, shamans believe that all ailments have spiritual origin and are caused by psychological, emotional or spiritual factors. Anthropologists say that a shaman is an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world. Being in trance, they move from one world to another. In the spiritual world, shamans connect with spirits to heal the society as they have a very strong interest in the environment and people.
Becoming a shaman is not an easy path. No one can join or support you as it is a long personal journey. It includes fasting with every plant you plan to work with. More experienced shamans usually give advice and recommendations. Once you start working with the practice, a lot of door open to you. You can’t become a healer unless you listen to your own intuition and forget everything you learned before. In the process, you become a channel for the plants and get a mental reset that opens your mind to completely new life. Only being ready and open to accept the healing will allow the plant to know what needs to be done and open the healer within you.
If you feel you need to become a shaman, you will start your path by isolating yourself for a long period of time somewhere deep in the jungle or in the mountains. This is how the spiritual world can be accessed to learn about healing. Unlike other practices, shamanism does not require another healer guiding you – it’s a very personal path. I believe that to become a shaman, you don’t have to be born and raised in shamanic traditions – you just have to feel the calling inside you.
However, for a starting shaman, help from experienced ones at least in the beginning of the path is beneficial. When looking for guidance from an experienced shaman, make sure you find references – listen to people who worked with them before and ensure this shaman is driven by the urge to heal.
The Energy of the Sacred Icaros
I cannot end my first brief story about the Shamans without mentioning the amazing “icaros” songs used during healing ceremonies. Icaros are either whistled or vocalised in words and vocals. If I were to associate them with anything you are more familiar then it would be the special Christian prayers priests use when performing religious services. There’s a similar powerful healing energy. Actually, the power of an icaro is similar to an Indian mantra. Through the icaros the Shamans bring the spirit of the plants he dieted with to help the person in need.
I warmly recommend you to listen to these Shipibo icaros. The Shipibos is the name of some indigenous minority tribes from the Amazonian rainforest very well-known for their Shamanic practices. These icaros were recorded in the Amazonian Jungle almost 50 km away from Iquitos during Ayahuasca or Sage ceremonies. Believed to derive from the Quechua verb “ikaray”, which means "to blow smoke in order to heal", the icaros are used for various purposes: to protect the space and those present at the ceremony, to enhance or to subdue the effects of plant medicines, to evoke the spirits of the plants, to invite the spirits of healers, to dispel dark spirits etc.
It is said that the icaros are revealed to the Shamans by the plants themselves after special diets. The longer the relationship between the Shaman and the plant, the more powerful the icaro is. The icaros are a gift from the spirits of the plants the Shaman dieted with and the way of healing through each icaro is different. Experienced shamans can learn over the years hundreds of icaros which can be used during ceremonies for very specific healing purposes such as snake bites, communication with the world of the spirits, clairvoyance during the ceremonies, for calling the help of the healing crystals etc:
Icaro del tabaco — icaro for evoking the tobacco sacred plant;
Huarmi icaros — for winning the love of a woman;
Icaro del viento — icaro for evoking the wind;
Ayaruna — for evoking the help of the spirits of the healers that passed away;
Accompanied by the sound of the chapaka which is composed by a small bunch of plants with elongated leaves, who helps to connect with the jungle, who helps the shaman to clean the space and the persons from the ceremonies from the energies they don't use anymore giving it back to the mother nature being helpful for a discharge of energy. One cannot overlook the unmistakeable wonderful smell of the Holly Wood (“Palo Santo” in Spanish), similar with Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. The Palo Santo is part of the citrus tree family and has sweet notes of pine, mint and lemon and is used for energetic cleansing of the space before and during the ceremonies. The Palo Santo has similar healing properties as the Sage or the Cedar wood, enhancing a deeper connection to the Source of all creation. The tobacco, another powerful teaching plant, is used for cleansing and protecting the space. All of these plants I've mentioned you about are tools for the Shamans only to create a protected space and to make it possible the healing process by opening the gate between the two worlds—our world and the spiritual one, by channelling the plant spirit through his body and by icaros making possible the contact the world of the spirits and this way the healing takes place. In other words, the diet given by the Shaman and the strong desire of the person looking for healing produces a switch consciousness that makes possible the disease to vanish away.
Despite of the fact that tens of thousands of years ago, shaman healing and other such practices were widely spread, the economic and scientific developments not only alienated people from such practices but made us lose the contact with mother nature. The good news is that in the past 20-30 years more and more people are open to rediscover these ancient ways of healing.