Shamanism has become very popular in the “New Age” world. The roots of shamanism have been around for eons. Almost all cultures can trace their roots back in time to a period when they embraced some form of shamanism. Many indigenous cultures still have practicing shamans.
The idea of core shamanism is all about taking the most common techniques found in all these cultures and learning and using them for healing. This includes both self-healing and the healing of others. People that practice core shamanism are usually referred to as shamanic practitioners as opposed to shamans. There is even a belief that one should never refer to themselves as a shaman. That is a title that can only be given to you by the people you work with and for.
Regardless of if one is talking about traditional shamanism or core shamanism, there is a particular worldview that the individuals who practice have. Today, we are going to take a brief tour of the shamanic worldview. We will be looking at the three “worlds” that shamans and shamanic practitioners believe in as well as a concise introduction to shamanic psychology. Woven into this will be a discussion on spirit animals, spirit teachers, and the shadow.
The Three Worlds
The basic shamanic worldview consists of believing in three worlds that are all connected by a common thread. In most traditions, this thread is a giant tree, which is named the world tree. Some traditions focus on a mountain, and others have their own version of this common thread.
The idea is that this common thread can be used to travel between the worlds. This is very important as shamans are supposed to be walkers between the worlds. It is in this walking between worlds that the shaman does much of his or her work.
A shaman travels between the worlds by a process known as journeying or journey work. The shaman or shamanic practitioner uses some method to enter into an altered state of consciousness to journey. It is while they are in this altered state that they can travel between worlds. Some of the most popular methods of achieving this altered state include drumming, rattling, and dancing.
Though some traditions actually have more than three words, most will all acknowledge the Lower World, the Upper and Middle Worlds. Let’s take a look at each and why they are considered essential.
The Lower World
The Lower World is believed to be below us, deep within the bowels of the earth. There is no hell concept in the shamanic worldview, at least not as Judea-Christians tend to believe. Instead, the Lower World is a very primal place. It is where spirit animals, the faery people, and even our ancestors are most often thought to live.
Many describe it as a jungle or rainforest. Still, it’s essential to understand all types of terrains are found within the Lower World, including deserts, alpine mountains, oceans, and so forth. Water is a fundamental theme in the Lower World, and waterfalls, streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans can all be found within this realm.
In shamanic psychology, the lower self is also associated with this world. It is the part of the self that is intuitive and mostly animalistic. As such, it tends to rely more on instincts as opposed to logic. Its purpose is to help protect us.
In Freudian psychology, it is closely linked to the idea of the ID – that part of the self that wants to survive and whose function is to want instant gratification.
Most all shamans and shamanic practitioners believe in spirit animals.
Most believe that each person has a spirit animal that is the guardian and protector of their life force energy. It is thought that when this spirit animal is captured, abandoned, mistreated, or disrespected, or, worst, never known – then physical health issues tend to occur. These health issues will only be resolved through a power retrieval. This is where the shaman enters the Lower World, seeks out and meets with the spirit animal, and then brings it back to the physical world. The energy of the spirit animal is then merged with the energy of the person in need of healing. This particular spirit animal is often known as the totem animal.
Other spirit animals may come and go from a person’s life as their energy and knowledge are needed. For example, a person may have a bear enter into their lives to teach them to be courageous or to seek out the “honey” of life. These spirit animals are also considered necessary, but the totem animal tends to hold the most significance in a person’s life
Some shamanic traditions believe that ancestors can also be found in the Lower World. Others will place them in the Middle or even Upper World. Regardless of where the ancestors are located, ancestor acknowledgment is considered very important and is a sacred part of many shamanic paths.
In some shamanic cultures, it is believed that curses, bad luck, and even illness will come upon those who disrespect their ancestors or who do not honor them. For healing to occur, a confession must occur. Some type of penance must be paid to restore harmony with the ancestors. Once peace is restored, it’s essential to communicate with the ancestors and provide offerings to them to keep that harmony.
One of the ways ancestors are honored is by speaking kindly of them and telling their stories to others so that their memories never die.
The Fairy Realm
Not all shamanic cultures accept the idea of fairies, those that do tend to place them in the Lower World. The tricksters, however, are more often thought of as being located in the Middle World.
Of course, Fairies are the magical little winged creatures known for bestowing both blessings and curses on people. At least that’s according to one type of lore. The fact is, there are many different viewpoints on what a fairy is. Sometimes they are equated with pixies, elves, dwarves, brownies, gnomes, and a whole host of other creatures.
Many consider these creatures to be nature spirits responsible for taking care of the natural world.
Shamans who work with the fairy realm often find these creatures to be potent allies for both protection and healing.
Note: Most people that work with fairies spell the names faery and faeries to help distinguish the “real thing” from the creatures of fairy tales and myths.
The Upper World
The Upper World is believed to be above us, high into the sky past our atmosphere’s clouds. There is no heaven concept in the shamanic worldview, at least not as Judea-Christians tend to believe. Instead, the Upper World is a mystical and celestial place. It is a place where spirit teachers, our higher selves, and angels are said to reside.
Many describe it as a beautiful city composed of gemstones and crystals. The Upper World is bright and feels light compared to the darker and denser Lower World. Some see it as a city in the clouds and others as a sky island. There are buildings here. It has a much more cosmopolitan feel than the primal feeling associated with the Lower World.
Almost all shamanic traditions recognize the importance of spirit teachers. Spirit teachers are instructors that reside in the Upper World. They align with the shaman to work through him or her and provide teachings, insight, and information.
Spirit teachers are so important that for most shamanic cultures, there comes the point and time when the spirit teacher takes over for the physical world teacher. From that point moving forward, the material world teacher only helps facilitate the spirit teacher’s insights and understandings.
Eventually, the need for a physical world teacher stops, and the spirit teacher entirely takes over.
Unlike traditional New Ageism, shamanic practitioners don’t tend to break teachers up into categories. There is no life guide, protector guide, play guide, etc. There is only “my spirit teacher.”
Spirit teachers are respected and honored, and they usually assign homework and evaluate the student/shaman’s progress. Some are male and some female. All can shapeshift into animals and other forms.
A spirit teacher is ALWAYS consulted before and often times during any healing work that is to be performed. Their insight and advice are frequently followed to a T by the shaman and shamanic practitioner.
The Higher Self
In shamanic psychology, the Higher Self is also believed to be connected to the Upper World.
The Higher Self is a part of you that represents the best of who you are capable of being. It is considered to have a close connection with the Highest Power (by whatever name you call it) and be intimately connected with the Upper World spirit teacher.
It can act as a mirror to show you what is possible, and it can also merge with you for a while so you can realize and feel what it’s like to be at your best.
All people’s Higher Selves are located in the Upper World. Sometimes, a shaman will travel to the Upper World and hold a meeting with others’ Higher Selves to gather information and help facilitate healing.
At other times, a shaman will travel to the Upper World to talk with their own Higher Self to find their opinion on life circumstances and situations. They then return to deal with those problems from a new and different perspective.
In Freudian psychology, the higher self would most closely align with the Super Ego or Super Consciousness. That part of the self that is wise, moral, and wants what is best for the self and others.
Like the fairy folk, not all shamanic cultures acknowledge Angels. Those that do, or any variation of a creature that could be described as being like an Angel, will typically place them within the Upper World.
Angels and those creatures which resemble them are believed to be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Universe. They are responsible for holding the Universe together. They are sometimes also seen as intermediaries or messengers between the worlds. It’s essential to understand that it is also usually believed that spirit teachers can travel between the worlds.
As with the fairy folk, those shamans who do work with Angels and become allies will find they have extra help and guidance in their work.
The Middle World
Many know the Middle World as the astral planes. For many, the Middle World is not considered a safe place unless you are an advanced practitioner. Of course, it’s important to understand there are two Middle Worlds.
The first refers simply to our physical world. In some traditions, this is called ordinary reality instead of the Middle World. It is where life as we know it happens. It is the regular day to day events and affairs that we physically participate in.
The second version of the Middle World is considered the shadow side of the physical world. It exists in what is termed non-ordinary reality. Likewise, the Upper World and Lower World also exist in non-ordinary reality – because they are not “physically” happening here in our earthly world.
This shadow world is a place of darkness, deceit, trickery, intense emotions, and even fears. It appears “hidden” from others. It often resembles our physical world, but it is not our physical world. It is here that souls often get lost, and we are poisoned by harmful thought forms or zapped by toxic “vibes.” Some of these thought-forms and vibes we create ourselves, and sometimes they are made by other people. Trauma is mostly responsible for the soul’s fragmentation, and thus parts of the soul getting lost.
Some of the most intense healing work that a shaman or shamanic practitioner will perform will be within the Middle World. Soul retrieval, shadow warfare, and removing toxins all typically occur in the non-ordinary Middle World.
Of particular importance is the concept of the shadow self. All people have a shadow self, and this shadow self is said to reside within the non-ordinary Middle World. It is the part of the self that Freudian psychologists would most closely term the ego. However, I will argue that there is a big difference between our ego self and the shadow self.
It’s important to understand that the ego serves a crucial function in psychology. Many New Age Philosophies these days are about the removal and destruction of the ego. While this is a great help to the beginner learning the ropes – it is not practical for long term pursuit.
The reason is that it is the ego that mitigates the ID and Super Consciousness. The ID and Super Consciousness are often in conflict with each other. The ego is responsible for resolving that conflict. We must all develop a healthy ego to function effectively here in the physical world.
Note that the Upper World is not our super consciousness but is closely linked to. The Lower World is not our Id but closely related to it. The Middle World is not our ego but closely linked to it. While these parts of ourselves may reside within these worlds, they are not the same AS the worlds.
Additionally, the shadow should not be seen as “bad” or “evil” or even our “enemy.” It is the part of the self that others sometimes may consider to be these things. In reality, we all have fears, we all have things we are angry about, we all have things we would usually be ashamed to share with others. There is great transformative power in accepting and facing your shadow self. There is great power in transparency and honesty.
Hopefully, this quick overview of the shamanic worldview has provided insights into the belief system that shamans tend to hold. It certainly doesn’t cover everything. Most anything in this can be researched to uncover an even greater wealth of information. As with most earth-based religions, it’s essential to understand that not every shaman or even shamanic practitioner will believe the same things. While most will understand all concepts presented here, some will have their own experiences that help them relate to the concepts differently from what is shown. As always, it’s essential to speak with each individual and find out what their personal beliefs are before jumping to any conclusions.