What is Core Shamanism? by Jan Engels-Smith
When we study shamanism’s core values, we don’t get confused or side-tracked by specific traditions or dogmas that a particular belief system might hold. For example, I was adopted into a Lakota family many years ago, and in those particular indigenous ways of living, there is a set protocol on how you connect to spirits, and which spirits they are. You have certain songs that connect you to them, and certain ceremonies that connect you to them. They would not be accepting of a core shamanic way of doing things, because they have a specific protocol and way of doing it. As a matter of fact, the Lakota people would say, “You are wrong.” They are very, very strict in their ceremonies and methodologies, as are most native traditions. In core shamanism, we are asking you to develop your own personal relationships, with your own personal spirit guides. You are not asked to follow a particular dogma or set of standards.
You are setting your own standards as to whom and what is important to you, and who comes to you in your journeys.
If you were to follow one particular tradition, there are definite right and wrong ways and methods. There are specific ways to do things, ways to believe, and dogmas. You can follow a path that has been defined by history, and by a group of people doing certain things a certain way. What we are doing is not following a particular path, it is not about that. It is about you becoming empowered within yourself. It is you finding your own path, the one that works for you, and using some core concepts that are from indigenous cultures around the world. I am extremely eclectic. I work with the Egyptian mystery schools, as well as the Native Americans, Celtic, South Americans, and others. If you were interested in a more traditional way, you would pick one of those things and follow it precisely.
Another interesting concept introduced in the range of possibilities in 21st Century Shamanism comes from the fact that we live in a time of global awareness. For example, indigenous people didn’t have any way of knowing what type of animals existed outside of a very small range of territory. So, if you lived in North America, you had no clue what an elephant or a giraffe was. If you lived in Africa, you would have no idea what a mountain lion looked like. Now we have a diverse awareness of animals globally, so the type and variety of power animals coming into our journeys is much greater. It opens many more possibilities for people. So, I have found this way of being extremely empowering because if you get a particular animal that is not seen as some other tradition, you still claim it.
In shamanism, everything is seen as alive and intelligent. The clouds are alive, they have intelligence, they have wisdom, and you can communicate with them.
Everything is respected and honored in its life force, in its life existence. A stone or a rock is seen as a wisdom keeper. They have been around for millions of years, and they have recorded all of this information in them. Stones carry vast amounts of wisdom. They are the bones of the earth. You can tap into this wisdom by learning to communicate, to journey with the rock. They are incredible spirit allies that can provide all kinds of information. In a sweat lodge, they heat the rocks really hot, and then pour water on them, like a sauna. The idea is that you are releasing the energy in the rock so that it can speak to you and give you information. These things have spirits, they have families.
All things are seen as having a vast amount of intelligence and kinship. You are in relationship to everything. We are sharing life together. We are all on this planet, breathing the same air. The elements play a key role in core shamanism. For example, the spirit of the air is a vast spirit. It is the first spirit you meet when you are born, and is necessary for maintaining life. It is the last spirit that leaves your body when you die. It has an incredibly intimate relationship with you. Have any of you thanked the air lately, for this amazing act of love? It greets you, it sustains you.
In shamanism, all things are looked at as beings you can communicate with and honor. They can be in service to you; they can guide and inform you.
Believe me, the elements are amazing helpers.
The term, Mitakuye Oyasin, means we are related to each other, we are related to the clouds, the standing ones, the winged ones, the creepy-crawlers, the finned ones, all the different animals in the world. We are in relationship with them. We are in relationship with the elements. We carry the elements in our bodies; our bodies are made up of the elements. There is nothing we are not in relationship with. You are in relationship with the stars. You are communicating to them and they are communicating back to you. The question is: How do you open up these lines of communication?
With every action and every word, you are affecting everything else. Everything you do is affecting everything else.
There is an incredible web of life, in which all life is interacting, and you are a major player in it. The more you understand and accept that the things you do have an effect on everything else, the more you bring that healing component into everything that you are doing. Everything has intelligence. Things we may not think of as being alive, having a heartbeat and a pulse, are alive.
When we are working in journeys, things are alive, things are magical, and things in a journey do not follow our physical laws. Animals, like elephants, can swim under water and they can fly. There are no physical limitations to them like there are on the planet. It is the same with us, we can do all those things, we can fly, and we can breathe underwater. So, it’s fun to journey. The realms that we journey can be found in the range of concepts we refer to as core shamanism.
My book, Through the Rabbit Hole: Explore and Experience the Shamanic Journey and Energy Medicine is a wonderful starter text to begin your journey into core shamanism and energy medicine.