“The shaman’s experience of sickness, torture, death and regeneration implies, at a higher level, the idea of being made whole through sacrifice, of being changed by transubstantiation and exalted to the pneumatic man – in a word, apotheosis – elevated from an ordinary person to a God”
The word Shaman came to us from the Russian, who called the saman priest of the Siberian Tungus people a sha’man. It possibly derived earlier from the Pali word samana, meaning ascetic.
We became better dressed, better groomed, got better with words and explanations and then, sometimes, with sophistry. We abandoned the womb of the cave. Left firelight and earth, the sun and the vault of the stars behind us and we moved indoors. We made ourselves comfortable, developed rituals and habits and called ourselves civilised. We latched onto the gods of science. Fancied ourselves as sophisticated, named and described the unknown and unknowable in a thousand complex ways, populated the shelves of vast libraries and set forth a thousand colourful paths.
We became stiff automatons, shadows of our former wildness. We built walls, and decorated them, making our prisons more pretty. We learned to chant the acceptable words, kneel at the acceptable time, and cross our hearts by habit. But all meaningful paths deal with mastering infinite, awesome energy, unleashing invisible powers so that we might be One with God, which was the essential occupation of our shamanic forefathers. Whatever path one lays claim to, we are all staring down the barrel of an audacious spirit flight. Those bare-footed, dirty, gritty, wild, bold, brave, whirling, intoxicated priests and priestesses communed naturally with the very unseen forces which our modern, elegant philosophy seeks to unearth and explain. And then hopelessly to contain.
They were no-holds-barred beings, our ancestral Shamans, who cared not a whit for social niceties, or respect, or boundaries, knowing experientially that the underlying Force is unconcerned with petty sensibilities, or neatness, or hygiene, or formalities. Out there are no scriptures, no prayers, no anchors. It is too vast, too infinite, too wild to answer to chiming bells or hymns. It knows no fettered decorum, for where the Shamans dance there are no rules.
Before we named God we knew it. We knew it in our bellies.For millennia all over the planet Shamans in different places had the same experiences. These are our primordial wayfarers. Their shocking experiences thrum in our DNA. Our ability to be the witnessing consciousness was evolved by our grandparent Shamans who flew fearlessly through space.
‘‘As long as you have not grasped that you have to die to grow, you are a troubled guest on the dark earth.”
~ Mircea Eliade
The neat monk. The robed priest. The sage philosopher. The gnostic mage. The Buddhist lama. The cloistered nun. The debauched ascetic. The whirling dervish. The advaitic yogi. All descended from Shamans; we just got more hygienic.
Our Shamans crossed the divide, stormed the barricades, burst beyond the veils. Illness or psychological crises or extraordinary accident or unyielding intent pushed the limited daily consciousness of the Shaman out past the temporary boundary of the skin. They were catapulted into regions of utter darkness where they had to wander as first explorers, discoverers of hidden truth in realms unknown.
They were without choice, flung out into an unknowable space in a sudden inexplicable rush, into planes no human eyes had ever seen. There they underwent dismemberment, gutted of all they had once thought they were, reduced to ashes in supernatural fires. Nothing remained of their mundane lives. Now they were dreamers and seers.
In these wildernesses they learned by going. Were they inorganic, organic, animal, human, unconscious, conscious? In the ashes they were compelled to rebuild, sending out filaments into an unknowable Void. Who am I? Where is this place? Is there meaning? Testing. Testing. Retrieving the Soul, atom by atom, with Death their only teacher whispering benignly in their ear, reassuring, scolding, revealing, holding out the divining rod of Truth.
“The …shaman is …above all, a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself.”
~ Mircea Eliade