What is a shaman?
Shamanism dates back thousands of years, and across many cultures. The shamanic role is based on one of the oldest religions in the world, and the role of the shaman was integral to the health and functioning of the community. Because the United States and other westernized cultures have largely lost their shamanic lineages, we have become confused and often fearful of what shamanism is. There is no doubt we are living in tumultuous times, and there has been a rapid resurgence of shamanism in answer to the deep call of humanity, as we collectively try to find a way forward. In this sense modern shamans in post-industrialized cultures serve as a bridge with the past, while leading forward into a more soulful and connected way of living.
Sometimes it’s easier to define what something is by defining what it is not. A shaman is not someone inherently more ‘gifted’ or special. The path of the shaman is a path of service and sacrifice. The inherent difference between a shaman and a sorcerer is humility and service- service to humanity. A shaman is motivated by the desire to decrease pain and suffering in the world. A sorcerer is motivated by self interest and will use the techniques and knowledge to manipulate others for their own gain. The differences can be subtle, but discernment can ferret out those with a pure heart.
A shaman is essentially a person who is fulfilling a role in the community that, either because of their life experiences, their personality, and/or spiritual giftings, they have been chosen for. In a true tribal society each person in the community serves a role and all are equal. But for the shaman there is specific training, mentoring, and a universal process that the shaman must pass through to embody the role and become of service.
The role of the shaman is multi-faceted and includes many techniques of enlightening the psychospiritual aspects of the individual’s development and healing. The shaman also helps provide valuable information and services to the community. The modern professional role that is the most similar to that of the shaman is chaplaincy. However, the fundamental aspect of shamanism that distinguishes it from other professional roles (psychotherapy, chaplaincy, social work, personal coaching, midwifery, hospice work, pharmacist, doctor, etc.) is that the shaman intercedes in the spiritual realms, more than in just prayer (sending), but also in altering consciousness to receive information directly from the spiritual realms. People often seek the assistance of a shaman when facing mental health issues (depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, etc.), addictions, physical illness or disease, or to gain clarity or movement in some area of their lives they feel stuck. Sometimes they seek a shaman to provide insight and technique into paranormal activity that is occurring. Shamans also assist with dreams, and with times of transitions (birth, death, marriage, rites of passage, etc.).
Shamans often specialize in specific modalities that translate to services, which are based on the shaman’s own path and development. Part of this development is tied to the culture the shaman is developing within. In this way, shamanic technique and focus varies widely.
According to Andrew Camargo at The School of Modern Soul Science there are distinct facets of the shamanic archetype. If you are interested and want to learn more, I encourage you to explore The School of Modern Soul Science website. I will list and briefly define each of the facets of the shamanic archetype. Keep in mind that no individual will likely embody every one of the facets, and identifying with one or more does not necessarily mean one is a shaman. There is a distinct process one must pass through in order to fully embody the archetype of the shaman.
The Facets of the Shamanic Archetype
This is the central core of the archetype and every shaman will have experienced a death and re-birth in some way. Because this is central to the archetype and to the process of embodying the role of shaman, every shaman will have a narrative of a death and re-birth experience.
The psychopomp is a guide of souls, or a soul tender, and is most akin to the psychotherapist, or hypnotherapist role. The psychopomp will do soul work, assisting with the transition of souls to/from the spirit world, helping souls stuck in the lower realms to move into the higher realms, and bringing back lost soul fragments from the spiritual realms into the incarnate soul in this realm. In addition to soul retrieval, a shaman embodying this facet will do extraction of unwanted entities either possessing or oppression individuals.
Storyteller, Mythmaker, Sacred Historian
The keeper of the sacred history, the storyteller translates cultural and tribal (or community) events into a format that can be passed on. The cosmology and myths of origin come from the shaman who is embodying this facet.
Tender of Dreams
The shaman who embodies this facet is one who works in dreamtime, and can operate lucidly in the dreamspace, receiving information, working with guides, and doing psychopomp work. The tender of dreams can also interpret dreams for individuals and for the community, and can dream dreams for the individual or community. The shaman who embodies this facet often cultivates dreams in ordinary reality, bringing to fruition the aspects of the dream that are needing to manifest.
Explorer/Cartographer of Immaterial Realms
This facet, when embodied by the shaman, produces a pioneering spirit who intentionally maps out and explores the immaterial realms for purposes of gathering information for the benefit of the current and future generations. This is different than psychopomp work, where the shaman is tending souls. The explorer and cartographer is intentionally going into the spiritual realms like a scout, to bring back information about what is going on there. Many who embody this facet are termed ‘psychonauts’ in the neo-shamanic culture.
Visionary Artist, Writer, Poet, Director
This is self-explanatory. Shamans who embody this facet usually embody other facets like Psychopomp or Explorer/Cartographer of Immaterial Realms because they go into the spiritual realms and use their artistic skills to represent in the material what they saw or experienced in the spiritual realms.
Sacred Musician, Dancer, Actor, Performer
Again, this is self-explanatory. The shaman who is embodying this facet acts as a channel or conduit directly to the spiritual realm, through a trance state, in a way that can manifest a sound, a movement, or a performance of some type that represents the connection or message of the spiritual realm, or offers healing, cleansing, or communion to individuals or the community.
Technician of Trance States
One who embodies this facet can move into a trance state fairly easily, and is adept at leading others into trance (or non-ordinary states of consciousness). Hypnotherapists, DJs, exotic dancers, video gamed designers are modern day examples of people who represent this facet- although being any one of these things does not make one a shaman. It is, like all the others, one facet of potential shamanic embodiment.
One who embodies asceticism might abstain from, or completely renounce certain pleasures or sensory experiences. There is a spiritual discipline that can involve rituals, prayers, and devotions. It can also involve the spiritual strength of will to push past ordinary boundaries imposed by the natural instinct or will, such as in fasting, Yoga, Sun Dance ceremonies, vows of silence, etc. The intention of the ascetic is to gain more spiritual purity and insight.
Promethean Scientist, Mathematician, Inventor, Architect
The shaman who embodies this facet of the archetype is like a bridge between the ‘left brain’ and the spiritual realms, understanding the deeper concepts of sacred geometry, the mathematics of creation, and can uphold the original unity between science, art, and religion. This individual, like Prometheus, can envision and invent technologies, or create sacred spaces using principles or architecture. Modern examples of individuals who represent this facet are Tesla and Einstein.
Hermetic Magician, Astrologer, Alchemist, Occultist
This facet represents the innate knowing of the relationship between magic and the world we’re living in. Someone who embodies this facet possesses ‘secret’ knowledge about the mysteries of magic and the occult arts. Many sorcerers embody this facet, but sorcery can manifest in every one of the facets, either consciously, or unconsciously through the Shadow.
As the title implies, the Wounded Healer facet is demonstrated in the shaman who has suffered significant trauma and/or illness and who has healed and overcome. The role of the Wounded Healer is to assist others in transmuting suffering into healing.
Clairvoyant, Psychic, Seer, Remote Viewer
Again, the title is self-revealing. The shaman who embodies this facet can perceive subtle bodies, such as the etheric bodies, the chakras, the astral bodies, auras, emotional projections, and entities such as demons, ghosts, angels, nature spirits, and ancestral spirits. The shaman with this embodiment can often diagnose spiritual intrusions, possessions, illnesses, and things affecting the individual in unwanted ways.
The energy healer is one who, through an altered state of consciousness can perceive subtle energies and disruptions to the energies and can apply technique to bring healing. Some degree of medical intuitiveness can express itself through this facet. Common examples of energy work include Reiki, Qi-Gong, Yoga, Tantra, and Martial Arts. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines both contain a foundation of energy work.
Forms Alliances With Spirits
The shaman who embodies this facet develops a conscious relationship with ‘helper’ spirits, guides, allies, animal spirits, etc. and understands how to communicate with these spirits.
Mystically Connected to Nature
This facet is expressed as an intimate relationship with the Earth as a sentient Divine entity, a Mother. The shaman expressing this facet can communicate with the spirits of nature, and seeks to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the planet and ecosystem. Many of these shamans are herbologists and plant medicine pharmacists. In a modern expression that can be eco-activists, permaculturists, and organic farmers.
Initiated Into the Darkness of the Spiritual World
The shaman who has been initiated into darkness is one who understands the relationship between the dark side of magic, between demons, and human illness and suffering. The person who expresses this facet is usually able to discern the spirits of darkness, or those that have malevolent intent.
The Spiritual Warrior facet is self-evident. The shaman who embodies this facet is the defender against evil, the protector of the community. This individual acts as an intercessor during diabolical attack and helps to resolve cases of possession, and oppression (torments). The shaman can also ward off and help individuals recovery from curses and spells (sorcery and black magic), and opposes macrocosmic influences of evil within the culture.
Culture Hero/Light Bearer
The Culture Hero is one who brings back from the spirit world what the culture needs in the next step of it’s spiritual and cultural evolution of consciousness. The Culture Hero has a spiritual antenna, and acts as a medium and mediator to shape the culture and bring spirit to earth.
Trickster, Sacred Clown, Holy Fool, Shapeshifter
The shaman who embodies this facet demonstrates a complex way of revealing the subconscious and Shadow aspects of individuals and the community. In this way the shaman exposes hidden, uncomfortable, and inconvenient truths. There is a creatively destructive aspect to this facet, and this shaman is often ironically amoral, acting out unethical behaviors intentionally in a way to convey a deeper truth. There can be a certain dramatization in the behavior of the shaman exhibiting this facet.
Adept in Mysteries of Sexuality
One who is adept in the mysteries in sexuality can experience spiritual ecstasy through sex, sexuality, orgasm, and sacred union. The shaman who is embodying this facet uses sexual energy in healing, unblocking, and catalyzing others. He/she has an understanding of the relationship between sexuality, spirituality, illness, morality, sorcery/magic, and healing.
Facilitator/Master of Ceremonies
The Master of Ceremonies is one who can facilitate groups in a variety of activities. The shaman embodying this facet also acts as a priest/priestess, offering rites, blessings, prayers, rituals, and can ‘call a circle’ and lead ceremonial work (fire circles, drum circles, sweat lodges, etc.).
Technician of Entheogenic Ceremony
As the title implies, the shaman who embodies the Technician of Entheogenic Ceremony facet is one who facilitates the entheogenic ceremony. This individual is one who has been deeply initiated into the particular entheogen and knows how to work with it to encourage healing and spiritual evolution.
Traverses the “World Tree”, Bridges and Mediates Opposites
Similar to the Psychopomp and the Explorer/Cartographer of Immaterial Realms, the shaman who embodies this facet enters the spiritual realms as acts as a bridge between the spiritual realms and the material realm. The distinction in this facet is that the shaman holds pairs of opposites and can bridge them, holding together two typically disparate energies in dynamic and creative equilibrium.
The Elder is one who has successfully passed through the various trials, tribulations, temptations, and battles inherent in the shamanic initiation process and is ready to offer insight and wisdom to the aspirants. The Elder is the fully embodied shaman who has actualized their service and can now begin to pass on their wisdom.