Links to the psychotherapies, medicine and religions
We can safely say that modern religions, medicine and psychotherapy are the result of the evolution of ancient shamanistic religions. Here are some of their links naming common areas of research and practice. In addition to these areas of expertise the shaman has always been immersed in the local ecology and related agriculture. He or she could be a politician, economist and indeed anything that might affect the health of the community. All this would traditionally have been provided within a local area, but today our Agent of Change lives and acts in a much broader and more complex global ecology.
The Shamans are the psychotherapists
Amongst the psychotherapies there are several which clearly incorporate a spiritual dimension and admit the use of altered states of consciousness, including: Jungian, Transpersonal, Gestalt, Family Constellations, Process Oriented Therapy (Mindell) and all the Arts Therapies (Drama, Play, Art, Dance). Some aspects in common with shamanism:
- The importance of trust in the relationship between client and therapist
- Both can work deeply through a symbolic language belonging to imaginary kingdoms: projection, transference, dreams, Arts, ..
- Some interpret these symbols and others empower the client to find their own interpretation
- The experience and intentions of the therapist and client are more important than the techniques they use
- They work with the image of the "self in the world", the roots in the culture and ancestors, recognition of and care for the inner child.
- Transformation occurs by facing and incorporating aspects of the shadow self
In this life, in this dimension, we have to engage with, use and sometimes kill or destroy other species in order to live: Plants, animals and minerals are all consumed. How do we do this? With what awareness, responsibility and attitude? We are an integral part of natural life cycles. The important thing in these experiences is that you are in full consciousness of self, even more than usual, allowing you to see yourself without losing any contact with external reality and above all with a sense of self.
The Shamans are the priests
As an ancient and holistic religion, it is possible to combine Shamanism with other religions and spiritual practices. There are shamanistic or gnostic aspects in many current religions such as Sufism, Mystical Christianity, Kaballah, Tantra and Buddhism. A modern and European Shamanism should root itself in European traditions. It is important that we should know and respect our racial, personal and cultural roots. Of course we should also value and learn from other cultures but should be careful not get caught in some kind of spiritual Imperialism. It would show a lack of respect to adopt and pretend to be of these cultures. The key again is in the principles of respect and balance. We know there are Shamans from North and South America that integrate forms of Christianity with their traditional practices but they have grown in a culture which has integrated these traditions over generations, so this would seem an appropriate practice. Our modern European culture does not walk around with stones, drums and feathers, so it would be ridiculous to adopt these as basic aspects in our modern shamanism.
Shamanism is clearly different to many religions which formalise, politicise and institutionalise the spiritual. Many religions manipulate people through guilt and blame. Sometimes they use the symbols and festivals of traditional religions to seduce the people, and at other times they make these traditions illegal and generate conflict. We must be careful not to do the same. Shamanism allows for a more personal variety in celebrating ones beliefs, believing that the greater spirits have their way of manifesting in each person and situation even though we might not understand it in the moment. We trust in the complexity and subjectivity of the moment. This cannot be systematised. Some common points with religions:
- Death and resurrection, festivals, rituals and Rites of Passage,
- Connecting the material & existential life with something more: Gods, energies, spirits,
The Shamans are the doctors and healers of their communities
Shamanism shows us that illness arises out of imbalances between different fields or levels of existence: the physical, psychic, ecological, social and spiritual, which are all interconnected. An illness might appear in any of these areas, whilst the diagnosis and cure might incorporate the same or any other aspects to recover balance in the universal system. In the treatment of disease we see the physical, mental and spiritual, connected with each other, with the environment and with the realms of spirits, and we are looking for a balance between these.
Modern medicine tries to control everything with 'objective scientific analysis". It places the doctor as 'expert' who has the knowledge to heal others. This scientific practice works to eliminate the symptoms, often carrying out an 'autopsy before the illness had a chance to live and explain itself'. Shamanism recognises the natural healing spirit within each person. The symptoms are welcome and healthy messengers to help indicate where the wider imbalance lies in the system. The Shaman and patient might wonder around within or with the spirit of the symptoms, to let them have their voice, indicating the transformation that must take place. We must take great care not to get caught in this medical role of expert healer, which attracts unhealthy projections from the patient, amplifies the neurotic tendencies in the 'doctor' and in the end contributes to more unhealthy imbalances. The subjective, unknown and chaotic have important value.
In the West, modern medicine has taken charge of interpreting body language through science and tries to 'silence it' mainly through chemistry and surgery. However, there are other possible ways of understanding disease, for example, as in shamanistic culture or in the "new medicine" which say, “where there is consciousness, there is no symptom". The pains and diseases are simply indicators and gatekeepers to the different levels of consciousness. Pains, like crises, are opportunities to grow, however we have a natural reaction to escape the pain and find comfort. We must take care of this impulse, to orient it towards an expansion of consciousness and not a return to a neurotic pseudo-comfort.
Some common themes of exploration and work include: use of herbs and minerals, carrying out "operations", diets, treating the nervous system, neurobiology and integrative diagnosis.