Four modern shamans explain how to bring messages from spirit into a post-pandemic world
Words: Hiyah Zaidi
It’s undeniable that 2020 and 2021 have been two unsettling years. As we slowly, hopefully, come back to pre-pandemic normality, shamanism and shamanic practices offer us some much-needed spiritual solace.
Deepen your connection
Shamanism could be described as a ‘religious’ practice – it’s a way of life with the belief that everything in the Universe has a spirit. It’s also about deepening your relationship with nature and connecting to yourself and your spirit while caring for the wider community. Traditionally, shamanism is centred around one main practitioner, who, over the years, has been given the name ‘shaman’. They have the ability to interact with the spiritual realm through altered states of consciousness to bring about a sense of wellbeing in the physical realm.
Go to your roots
This way of life is thought to have originated in Siberia over 30,000 years ago and its school of thought stretched across the globe. Shamanism grew in popularity, and soon was adopted and adapted to fit Western cultures. Through modification and modernisation, neoshamanism was produced. Neoshamanism is considered to be a contemporary form of shamanism developed to merge indigenous shamanic traditions within today’s society.
Pull at the cultural fabric
Angela Puca is a lecturer on philosophy and religious studies at Leeds Trinity University, and completed her PhD thesis on “Indigenous and Trans-Cultural Shamanism in Italy”. Dr Puca says, “As a scholar I prefer to use the term trans-cultural shamanism instead of neoshamanism. Trans-cultural shamanism is cross-cultural and it’s not context dependent. For instance, you may have a form of Siberian shamanism, practised by Italians in an Italian context resulting in different practice because of the cultural fabric.” With trans-cultural shamanism, she says, “Anyone can practise it regardless of their bloodlines, their cultural belonging or whether they are initiated or not. You can learn it by following workshops – it’s a very different way of articulating shamanism.” She also says, “Scholars observe phenomenon, and we are very respectful of what we study and the people we observe.” She adds, “I’m not trying to undermine those kinds of practices.” Dr Puca takes to YouTube to discuss the academic side of religion and shamanism further.
Feel at peace
But as time passes, the amount of people turning to neoshamanism is increasing. I spoke to the chief high priest, Mr H. of the Neo Shamanic Temple of Higher Awareness over Skype. He has been a practitioner of shamanism for over 40 years and founded the Neo Shamanic Temple just over three years ago. He says, “There was no name for what I was doing and I wanted a temple where, for people coming in for sessions, there would be an atmosphere of peace and safety.”
The chief has an unconventional and fluid ability to reach in and remove anything bothering a person by treating ailments as attachments. “I can manipulate and delve into what’s going on in a person’s energy and their consciousness. I can remove negativity by treating them like consciousness. It’s like having a bad guest in your house, I remove these bad guests who have no basic reason or right to be in your space and in your energy.
“I use my energy and use a healing process – it’s a holistic procedure. Its physicality also has to do with how a person thinks. My process is universally energetic, I don’t need beads or drums to get the effects that I get.”
For the chief, traditional forms of shamanism are not prerequisite for him to interact with the spiritual realm and bring about a sense of connectedness and wellbeing to the physical realm. But for other shamanic practitioners, it’s about finding a meeting point between modernity and indigenous or authentic practices.
“Find a meeting point between modernity and indigenous practice”
Meet between realms
David Tompson is a shamanic practitioner who completed his training with The Sacred Trust in 2018. He aims to incorporate shamanic practices into his work, through the knowledge that “we are all looking into the same pool of water,” and an inherent understanding of the spiritual partnership we have with the collective Universe.
Tompson believes that “neoshamanism is the transformation from classic indigenous shamanism into Western shamanism. Neoshamanism creates an understanding that fits with us and our culture and allows us to experience what indigenous cultures were experiencing.”
The pandemic has given us the ability to start to involve these changes into our lives. He says, “[The pandemic] is the great collapse of society. Everything has changed. So we’re now at a point where we can choose how we walk out the other side. And we can either go back to what we were doing before, and just carry on and throw sand, hoping that it snows, or we can use this as the great opportunity it is – to shift the collective and to make the world better for everyone.”
Bring in a shamanic practice
Tompson recommends to start incorporating shamanic practices into everyday life, by using grounding techniques and focusing on breathing. He brings shamanic practice into his everyday routine in a way we all can. “I try and drop [into a deeper level of consciousness] with every step I take. I don’t believe in sitting and meditating for an hour, I try to make my day a meditation. I try to walk slowly. I try to breathe slowly, I try and eat well. I try to incorporate those aspects to help me to drop into that level of consciousness and that connection with the spirits.
“Anyone can practise shamanism regardless of their bloodlines or culture”
Connect with each other
The last year was a huge turning point for People of Colour too, and recognising that is Aisha Amarfio, a shamanic practitioner with 10 years of experience. She trained in classical shamanism but recognises that “we’re operating within modernity”. She says she has adapted her practice to meet modern needs by integrating psychological frameworks, like Jungian psychology and post-psychotherapy. “That creates a grounded, more culturally relevant approach,” she says.
Amarfio understands the importance of having other POC practitioners to create “a safe space to be in, with someone who understands what it means to be POC in today’s society.” As the pandemic continues to unfold, no one can know what will happen next. Amarfio says it’s been a collective trauma. “Shamanism is a healing practice, used for addressing trauma, intergenerational trauma and personal trauma. The more we understand about the spiritual psychology of shamanism will enable us to look at how we’ve been affected by collected trauma in a new way. “Shamanism can provide tools to help us with self-reflection, getting more in touch with our soul, getting more in touch with things that are important to us and how we can connect with nature and of course with each other.”
The pandemic has changed the way we address our spirituality and ourselves. But shamanism, in all its shapes and forms, is a hopeful method to help us reconnect to our lives and the lives of others. It’s been here all along and will be around for longer than us all.