The Legacy of Archaic Shamanism for Psychical Research
Archaic shamanism represents shamanism in its purest form undiluted by the pervasive nature of contemporary materialism. Shamans of antiquity and throughout the centuries have reported a range of the most profound psycho-spiritual experiences akin to ‘paranormal' ‘transformative' experiences reported in more contemporary times and investigated by psychical researchers. To recap archaic shamanism was geographically extensive in the ancient world. The geographic locations to which these widespread phenomena of ancient times can be particularly associated include North America, Indonesia , Oceania and the expansive wastes of Siberia and Central Asia . Shamanic cultures exist in these regions on a much reduced scale today.
There are fundamental shared psycho-spiritual beliefs amongst shamanic tribal cultures but many regional variations and terminologies peculiar to each tribe exist including each individual shaman's idiosyncratic differences. To provide some understanding as to the extensive nature of shamanism, the detail and depth of their world philosophies and spiritualworld views born of their paranormal experiences a separate study of each archaic shamanic tribal culture would be an encyclopaedic work in itself. Shamanic experiences include descriptions that provide the earliest echoes of experiences known today as out of body and near death experiences which have been given various names in related reports that have spanned the centuries. Shamanic experiences also include examples of telepathy. It was believed that their apparent paranormal abilities empowered them to access knowledge of the past, present, future and of geographically distant locations (remote viewing) including communicating at will with discarnate beings and taking soul-journey excursions to the perceived non-physical realms.
Anthropologists and psychical researchers have reported cases of apparently observing more contemporaneous shamans transmitting healing energiesinto their patients with reportedly remarkable healing effects. They have also documented that they have observed male and female shamans apparently communicating with beings including animal and human who have apparently shed their physical bodies and apparently exist as a discarnate energy. Anthropologists amongst others in more recent centuries have also left considerable documentation reporting their observations of shamans leaving their inert, entranced physical bodies in a lifeless state while they apparently go off on out of body excursions or soul-journey exploits to non-physical simultaneously existent celestial and infernal otherworldly realms and meet the non-physical inhabitants there. At other times the entranced or half dead shamanic body is left behind and the shaman returns to give detailed information of worldly environs geographically distant.
Consequently, the subject of archaic shamanism/shamanism and the vast numbers of historical and more contemporary reports of accompanying paranormal shamanic phenomena can be considered to be of great value because our shamanic ancestors probably represent the earliest human expression of psycho-spiritual experiences. Furthermore, shamanic psycho-spiritual experiences and the spiritual world philosophies that were born of and clothed these transformative spiritual experiences have left a rich legacy for the evolution of many of the worlds spiritual beliefs. An improved understanding of shamanic experiences could make a significant contribution to our contemporary understanding of the realms of experience investigated by psychical researchers and parapsychologists.
Salient shared features, notably of archaic shamanism include the central, highly respected leadership role of the shaman in the tribe. Of necessity they were emotionally well-balanced strong individuals with powerful, wise, quiet and/or charismatic personalities. Shamans held passionate spiritual world views which called for both compassion and respect for the Planet and all other creatures who share the Planet with us. If an animal's life was taken in historic times it would only be due to the fact that there were no alternative food resources, unlike today, hence it was killed for human survival and the animal would be thanked and respected for fear that its spirit would return to do them harm. Common amongst shamanic beliefs is that they learned through their transformative psycho-spiritual paranormal experiences that they must not use their abilities to cultivate personal gain and ego or they would store up trouble for themselves in the non-physical domains later. As they had access to powerful knowledge and abilities a weight rested upon their shoulders to use it selflessly for the public good and for that of the Planet.
These preliterate primal people of antiquity can be understood to be ancient, wise, spiritual seers, prophets, oracles, healers , law givers, leaders and tribal protectors. They were perceived to have either been born with or cultivated extra ordinary abilities that apparently enabled them to transcend mundane time and space in part enabling them to fulfil their many roles for their tribe. The tribe followed their guidance which also involved leading them to new geographic locations in order to find food and/or to avoid the dangerous machinations of neighbouring enemies.
Their role included diagnostic and healing abilities and supporting and empowering an individual's soul to make a peaceful, fearless and contented transition to the non-physical realms when their physical incarnation on earth came to its inevitable end. The tribetherefore had profound trust in the paranormal abilities of the shaman which was tested daily for such things as their precognitive and/or diagnostic knowledge. Acting as psychopomp, the shaman escorted their souls while they made a safe transition to the non-physical, simultaneously co-existent otherworldly realms, due to the fact that the tribes folk believed that they would remain in these otherworldly locales for eternity this gives some indication for the respect and trust placed upon the shaman.
Neophyte shamans were trained by their shamanic masters, by spirit beings including spirit animals to become adepts at attaining the ‘shamanic state of consciousness.' This alternate trance-state of consciousness facilitated their mental access to and familiarity with the upper, lower and middle regions of the ‘invisible world.' It was in these meta-geographic realms accessed through their finely trained and attuned psycho-spiritual senses, in which they were tutored through communications with the non-physical inhabitants of these regions. Here in these ideo-plastic, (fluid, malleable to thought) non-physical realms it was believed that the shaman gained much of their knowledge and empowerment of their psycho-spiritual senses and abilities. Typically after initiation, they employed extremely rigorous training processes over many years in order to perfect these altered states, which enabled them to soul-journey into the non-physical world of non-linear time and space.
Despite regional and personal idiosyncratic variations in accessing these altered states, an underlying common pattern found amongst archaic and more recent shamanism involved the cultivation of sensory overload. The neophyte shaman had to constantly demonstrate both physical and mental strength in order to endure the years of exhaustive and life-threatening initiatory training. Examples of which, include food and water deprivation, physical pain, sleep deprivation, use of excessive heat or cold temperatures, rhythmic and monotonous drumming or other percussion sounds and rhythmic movements such as dancing for an excessively protracted duration, rhythmic chanting, hyperventilation or isolation such as in a closed cave.Psychedellic drugs were used by some shamans, amongst which were psilocybin mushrooms, datura (jimson weed) and peyote. However, the effects of which are not closely controllable and can produce harmful side effects.
When shamanic abilities seemed to appear spontaneously after alife threatening illness or accident the event was viewed as an ‘initiatory illness or accident' utilised by the individual's spirit guides for their development, transmutation and transformation into a shaman with shamanic abilities. They believed that these various initiatory experiences had taken them to the boundaries or window between the physical realm and the non-physical dimension akin to near death experiencers today, who also apparently return from the fringes of death reporting newly acquired paranormal abilities.
Themes of death and rebirth, of physical and mental fragmentation and reassembly was/is a salient shared feature of archaic/more contemporary shamanism. In other words this represents the breaking down of the existing order of the mind and/or body in order to have it reassembled in a superior fashion, and is found both in the mental and physical examples of shamanic disintegration. This initiatory process, particularly including the subsequent rebirth and reassembly was believed to facilitate the acquisition or heightening of paranormal/spiritual insights and abilities transforming the individual. People throughout time appear to have the opportunity to grow spiritually and possibly psychically after experiencing suffering in some form which frequently develops their sensitivity and compassion, lessens their confidence or ego and helps them restructure their spiritual and material priorities in life.
Despite differences in cultivating the extremities of initiatory suffering, it is an interesting matter for speculation whether these initial experiences of suffering or initiatory illness caused the existing conditioning of the mind to be broken down perhaps in the form of a psychotic experience which extinguishes the rigid ego structures of the personality when it is healed. This new malleability may contribute to the reshaping, integrating and transformation of the personality that is reported after their initiatory experiences and when they first began to shamanise. The shaman's personal experience of intense and frequently protracted personal suffering presumably reduced the personal ego and made a considerable contribution towards cultivating the shaman's spontaneous and insightful empathy, compassion and respect for all creatures and the Planet itself. As already stated it is a known shared feature of shamanism that their newly acquired psycho-spiritual insights taught them that they must not be tempted to use their psycho-spiritual paranormal abilities for their own self-aggrandisement and ego or for the wrongful exploitation of others, or they would reap untold negative karmic repercussions upon themselves.
Holger Kalweit suggests that the experience of physical and mental fragmentation enhances that which might be termed, a person's spiritual nature;
“---psychic dismemberment results in a clear mind, enhanced perception, greater capacity for compassion, and true gentleness toward our fellow beings. It would seem that only self-borne suffering will stimulate true tolerance and genuine compassion.” 1
There were psycho-spiritualnot material rewards for becoming a shaman. Part of the transformation of personality experienced after initiatory suffering included their ability to access the non-physical psycho-spiritual realms apparently beyond the scope of mundane space and time. After developing initial shamanic paranormal insights and abilities, for the neophyte shaman years of arduous training ensued to enable them to become increasingly adept at cultivating the shamanic state of consciousness thereby developing their increasing familiarity with realms most people prefer not to comprehend.
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