by Mariarosa Genitrini


The term shaman comes from shaman, a word of the Tungus of Siberia and refers to a man or woman who has the ability to "travel" in an altered state of consciousness induced by the sound of the drum and, in some cases, from the use of hallucinogenic substances to diagnose diseases, to establish contacts with the spirit world, to enter the realm of the dead , to maintain the fragile social and psychological balance of the community. The function of the shaman as an intermediary between the phenomenal and the supernatural world is based on a belief system according to which the difficulties present at every step of life are representations of the spirit world and can be eliminated with the help of benevolent spirits. The social role of the shaman is emphasized in the concept of disease considered not only in the physical aspect, but above all spiritual. It is his task not to cure the symptoms but to trace the spiritual cause that, by altering a balance, has led to the condition of illness.

Bhola Banstola

It is in the myth that we find the origin of the first shaman, due to a divine anger and an intercession just as divine. When Mahadev, the Great God, decided to create the first man, he modeled some effigies with different materials, gold, silver, and copper. Satisfied with his word, he forced them to speak. But none spoke, causing his anger and destruction. He tried again using a mixture of sandalwood and chicken droppings. The new effigy began to articulate the sounds "ah, ah, uh, uh" but Mahadev, still not satisfied, became enraged and predicted mankind a fate of suffering. Mahadev's wife, moved with compassion for the meager fate reserved for men, tried to reassure his consort by begging him to lighten the burden of human existence. Mahadev then agreed to create an intermediary between him and men, with the task of alleviating suffering and leading them from the darkness of ignorance in the light of knowledge.

What differentiates an ordinary person from a shaman is the ability to enter an altered state of consciousness to perform a "magic flight" in a parallel reality, traveling through an axis mundi that connects the three levels of existence. One source from whom the shaman draws his knowledge are the "allied spirits", generally animals, who protect him in the risky stages of his activity, are his advisers, his fellow travelers. It speaks to the soul of the bear, the gazelle, the wolf with a language once known to ordinary man. In the shamanic myth it is said that in the Golden Age men had the ability to move in the three worlds-underground, intermediate and superior-, to dialogue with the gods, plants, rocks, animals, without a distinction between dream and reality. Because of a sin of arrogance, the bridge that united the three worlds collapsed, and travel between these worlds was granted only to the gods, spirits, and shamans.

It is the drum the shamanic instrument par excellence, the means to enter the altered state of consciousness. The repeated, monotonous sound that activates all the centers of the brain, induces the shaman a state of intense concentration and expansion of consciousness: abandoned every space-time barrier, enters the world of spirits. It is the state of shamanic consciousness that is the essence of shamanism, the lad around which its activity revolves. Faced with a problem to be solved he, instead of using rational thought, turns to inner experiences. Using abstraction and symbolism, he lets himself go to the flow of images of his unconscious, without being trapped by the critical judgment of intellectual activity to address an ancient memory that cannot be known in the normal state of consciousness. During the ritual he perceives objects as real (I see them, therefore they exist), he hears the voices that speak to him, when he dances around the fire imitating the movements of an animal it is the animal itself that dances, not the shaman. A sacred horizon opens up in which the sacredness of the universe takes shape. The shamanic activity is characterized not by the possession by the spirits, but by the control over them: the shaman remains alert, determined and focused in his not easy task, playing the part of the actor, the director, the cosmic dancer, the universal storyteller, the translator of ancient wise things that modern man has forgotten.

DrumIn shamanic culture, the purpose of life is personal spiritual development. The state of health is not only the absence of disease, it is harmony with the environment, it is an intuitive perception of the universe as a texture of a fabric, with interconnected threads, it is to maintain communication with animals, plants, water, stars, it is the awareness that there is no difference between life and death, that we are part of the Whole. The shamans were the first to recognize in man a spiritual nature, an inner space that, if explored, allows to travel to other worlds, to dialogue with spirits, to have answers to questions, to achieve a personal and spiritual transformation. The importance that the shaman gives to the inner world, to the spiritual space of both the healer and the patient, contrasts with the alienating tendency of Western medicine to look at the sick only from the clinical, physical point of view, in an objective approach, while shamanism takes into consideration different planes of reality. He does not perceive the isolation of the patient's body from the Universe, but feels that the breath of the sun flows at all times, he uses the dance of the stars, the voice of plants, the movement of animals, involving the entire Universe in the healing process. It is important to become aware of the presence of spirits: they support our existence by helping us in the process of transformation and therefore healing. It dialogues with spirits and spirits can be a cause of illness.

The disease is seen as something that from the outside fits into a person's body and needs to be removed or eliminated. The main problem is not the external element, but the loss of strength, of personal spiritual power, which, by creating weakness and imbalance, allows intrusion. This conception of disease does not differ from that of allopathic medicine according to which it is the intrusion of a factor external to the body-virus-bacteria or other invisible elements of the environment-which, at a time of weakness of the immune system, causes the disease

Healing is therefore, from a shamanic point of view, a spiritual fact because diseases have a spiritual origin and spirits can be resolved. The loss of the soul, understood as vital energy, is the most serious form of spiritual disease that gives rise to the physical one and the purpose of shamanic practice is to prevent this loss, nourishing the soul and preventing it from "vagabonding". Imagination can influence and direct the processes of the body and therefore also the transition from disease to health status. What is needed is only the transformation of consciousness into a reality where, intuitively and non-intellectually, listening to and translating the messages that come from one's body, mind and spirit. This transformation allows the fusion of our mind with the Universal one, with a power that is within us and gives meaning and substance to our existence, allowing us to become shamans and to share their conception that all parts of creation are interconnected and influence both physically and psychically. The objects that we perceive with our senses are manifestations of a wider network of energies, impregnated with consciousness and therefore alive.

In Western society, aimed at excess technology and intellectualization, we need to recover the constructive role of the shaman and learn ourselves to be shamans, to reappropriate an ancient power that belongs to us, to recover dialogue with the spirits of animals at a time when many feel alien to vital instincts, to regain the freedom to move from one reality to another by choosing the one that satisfies our new needs. nourish our being, to take care of ourselves and others with love and compassion, to feel "at home" in the Universe, to save ourselves and the environment.

Mariarosa Genitrini

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