The Shaman's Journey and Why it Matters
The Shaman's Journey shares quite bit of overlap with the Hero's Journey. The important difference is that the Shaman's Journey is inherently spiritual, and it is directly tied to our lost indigenous worldview.
Again, I will keep reiterating that our own native spirituality was never truly lost, it just went undercover and was encoded.
By studying the folk tradition that has been with us right along, we can open our eyes to insight that has been with us on a subconscious level and bring it forward into our aware consciousness.
And, by doing so, we can realize the deep insight of our ancestors and harness it to elicit a more holistic sense of psychological well-being.
Rewind: European Shamanism Was a Thing?
By "primitive" I mean people still living closely with nature, often with less reliance on technology, in smaller social groups, and who still believe in animistic spirituality.
However, there is another reason the word "shaman" has been problematic when looking at our own European cultural history. It has long been asserted in academia that most European cultures were not shamanistic. Some scholars vehemently stick to this assertion, while others have more recently challenged it.
What I mean by that is that we shifted from hunter gatherer nomads to stationary farmers which allowed us to build stable communities which in turn had the ability to grow in size. This means instead of a small tribal group, we moved into civilizations. Of course, this happened even earlier in the Mediterranean regions where temperate climate makes settled farming life much easier.
So, therefore, my best assessment is that as European culture evolved, as we gained greater technological advancement, larger settled communities that grew into civilizations, that the role of the shaman evolved with the community. The tricky part is that by the time we started recording history, we had already moved out of the quintessential shamanic phase. In other words, our historical records begin recording after our shamans had already evolved into other figures, though they still carried with them some shamanic elements and techniques.
As mentioned above, every culture will have their own term for the role of the shaman. We now use the term "shaman" as a universal title for the role of this figure, like doctor, or lawyer. African shamans will have their own titles from their own respective languages, and so on in any given culture.
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The Shaman in Context of Shamanistic Cultures
In tribal warrior societies, it is common for boys on the cusp of manhood to go through a warrior initiation ceremony. Very often similar rites of passage existed for girls who cross into the sphere of womanhood. Usually these rituals are gender specific, so all the men or all the women gather together to initiate the young person in their symbolic passage to adulthood.
Where shaman figures are still present in the culture, a shaman is often there to lead the ceremony, especially when a spiritual component is involved.
Shamanistic cultures are also typically animistic spiritually. So, while the shaman may have the special training and spiritual gifts to negotiate with the spiritual realm, the belief in the spiritual realm and some level of purposeful interacting with it will be universal throughout the society.
An analogy would be that today if a child scrapes his knee, it is nearly universally understood that the parent would clean the wound, usually keeping rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or some other disinfectant on hand, perhaps smear on an antibiotic or antiseptic ointment, and then cover with a bandage.
One does not need to be a doctor to have a basic understanding of hygienic medical treatment of a surface wound. However, if the cut is excessive and it is beyond the skills and understanding of the parent to tend to it, then they will bring their child to a physician for treatment.
As we live in the Scientific Age, and in societies ruled by rational reason, we have certain basic scientific knowledge and understandings even when we are not trained scientists or medical doctors ourselves.
So, as we can see, while the shaman themselves is a distinct figure within the society, shamanism is also intertwined within the community on an intrinsic level.
What is a Shamanic Journey?
I propose that the "Shaman's Journey" is a process that not only the shaman his or herself undertakes, but it had symbolic meaning for all individuals who lived within a shamanistic society.
The steps are very close to Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey,"outlined in his masterpiece, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."
The difference is that the Hero's Journey functions almost more like a literary formula repeated over and over again in stories both ancient and modern.
Of course, Campbell also pointed out that this formula can be used as a metaphor us in our own lives.
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I haven't worked out an entire intricate pattern like Campbell's, but I have noticed some recurring elements that turn up in shamanic figures. These are found both in real living shamans as well as shamanic figures in myth and religion. And these are only slight variations upon the original Hero's Journey that seem specific to the shaman archetype.
The Call of Spirit
In this case, they themselves seek out the help of a shaman who then tells the individual that they, too, have been called to this path. This is not the only way someone is called to the life of a shaman, but it is one common way.
In some cultures and instances, a shaman is identified at birth and then raised up in his or her pathway.
When the shamanic figure is identified in infancy, often the "call of Spirit" is some supernatural element pertaining to their conception or birth.
In the case of Christianity, it was the Virgin birth. Sometimes it might be a birthmark on the infant's body that symbolizes their special status.
Being born with the caul was sometimes seen as the child being marked supernaturally.
Crossing the Threshold of Nature
Like some Native American shamanic (medicine man) training ordeals, we are told that Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness where he wrestled with temptation and supernatural forces.
The Ordeal - A Suffering
Once a shaman begins their journey, they often undergo some kind of personal suffering which must be endured so that their spiritual gifts can be realized.
These ordeals are also present in shamanic societies in rites of passage undertaken by members of the culture group. The "Vision Quest" is one such ordeal that is found in some Native American cultures, and similar rites are found in warrior-tribal societies throughout history.
While the shaman may engage in an ordeal to obtain his own shamanic gifts, his role is then to guide the community in such cultural rites of passage that they may engage in.
Shamanic figures in mythology are seen to suffer to obtain gifts that they then pass on to adherents of the faith that venerates them.
Symbolic Death & Rebirth
This also serves as an initiation ritual as the individual is being initiated into their faith.
While some sects initiate infants into their religion, other Christian sects couple the rite of baptism with a rite of passage into adulthood.
In some Christian traditions, an individual is not baptised until they have reached "the age of reasoning." This is meant to say that the person is no longer in the "innocence" (or obliviousness) of childhood, but has reached a maturity level of psychological understanding and responsibility.
When they have reached this maturity level, then they have the ability to make choices and understand consequences.
Heroic & Shamanic Journey Elements in Fairy Tales
Other shamanic elements were discussed in the booklet "Thomas the Rhymer." Thomas' character can also be seen as engaging in a Shamanic Journey.
He was "called" by a spiritual "guide" to go on a journey. The steps along his journey can be seen as symbolic of death and rebirth, as he went through a desolate desert (death) through a dark cavern tunnel resulting in his arrival in Elf-land (which can be seen as a metaphor for a paradise or afterlife), and then journeyed back again through the tunnel (birth canal) and ultimately arrived back to Middle Earth.
While in Elf-land, Thomas had to go through an ordeal. This particular example seems a bit mild compared to others at first glance, but there are some strong parallels to other shamanic/spiritual/religious traditions.
The other part of Thomas' ordeal was that he was told he must remain silent while in Elf-land.
While this seems simple, it was implied that there would be negative consequences if he did not, so there was an element of danger involved.
Silence is more difficult than it seems, and for this reason it is part of the religious experience of only the most serious devotees of certain paths.
Silence is used in various Christian traditions, most well known with Catholic monks who take a vow to remain silent for a certain period or even their entire lives.
It can also be found among Buddhist monks. And, the practice of silence is key to yoga and transcendental meditation of the Hindu tradition.
Shamanic Cultural Worldview Evidenced in Fairy Tales
We explored animism in Grimms' "Aschenputtel." This story is a great representation of how Europeans absolutely were immersed in a "shamanic" cultural worldview.
The archetype of the shaman exists within the broader cultural paradigm. I would argue that even when the "profession" of shaman is no longer present, that the archetype of the shaman may still appear in the mythos of a given society wherein the profession had once previously existed.
And, that society will hold a worldview that is inherently spiritual, animistic, and which views the Earth as "magical" in nature. This worldview is evidenced quite strongly in the European fairy tale tradition.
While death is symbolized in those tales just mentioned through a deep sleep, or a sleep that mimics death, it sometimes appears in more veiled ways (as described above in Thomas the Rhymer), or more overt and gruesome ways. For instance, I have seen beheading used as a mode to elicit transformation in several tales.
Most of you will be familiar with "The Frog Prince," wherein the girl must kiss the frog in order to break his curse. Other variants of this tale, such as an English version called "The Well at the World's End," require the girl to chop off the frog's head in order to break his enchantment and return him to his original form.
I have seen this motif in other tales, and I plan on exploring this more in future Fairy Tales Series volumes.
A Treasure Trove of Deep Spirituality
Every day I delve deeper into our indigenous European spirituality and discover that our spiritual inheritance runs deeper than I ever imagined.
We're only beginning to scratch the surface. The Fairy Tales Series is allowing me to study elements of European folk religion methodically, and share my research with you as it is uncovered.
Ultimately, my plan is to bring all of this research together in a full length book that uncovers our deep indigenous spiritual roots and how they lived on in our culture right along.
More than that, the higher tiers are supporting this ongoing research so that I may keep unearthing important insight from our shared heritage and share it with you. Subscribers at all levels are very much appreciated!