History Of Shamanism

By Viola Woolcott

Shamanism is deeply connected to nature as well as the abundance of our Earth’s teachings. It is the oldest form in which humanity has sought connection with creation. It is the oldest way of healing the individual, dating back as far as to the Stone Age.

Aspects of shamanism were encountered in later, organised religions, generally in their mystic and symbolic practices. Greek paganism was influenced by shamanism, as reflected in the stories of Tantalus, Prometheus, Medea, Calypso among others, as well as in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other mysteries. Some of the shamanic practices of the Greek religion were later adopted into the Roman religion.

There is a strong shamanistic influence in the Bön religion of central Asia, and in Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism became popular with shamanic peoples such as the Tibetans, Mongols and Manchu beginning with the eighth century. Forms of shamanistic ritual combined with Tibetan Buddhism became institutionalised as the state religion under the Chinese Yuan dynasty and Qing dynasty. One common element of shamanism and Buddhism is the attainment of spiritual realisation, at times mediated by entheogenic (psychedelic) substances.

The shamanic practices of many cultures were virtually wiped out with the spread of Christianity.

In Europe, starting around 400 CE, the Christian church was instrumental in the collapse of the Greek and Roman religions. Temples were systematically destroyed and key ceremonies were outlawed. Beginning with the middle ages and continuing into the Renaissance, remnants of European shamanism were wiped out by campaigns against witches. These campaigns were often orchestrated by the Catholic Inquisition.

The repression of shamanism continued as Christian influence spread with Spanish colonisation. In the Caribbean, and Central and South America, Catholic priests followed in the footsteps of the Conquistadors and were instrumental in the destruction of the local traditions, denouncing practitioners as “devil worshippers” and having them executed.

In North America, the English Puritans conducted periodic campaigns against individuals perceived as witches. More recently, attacks on shamanic practitioners have been carried out at the hands of Christian missionaries to third world countries. As recently as the nineteen seventies, historic petroglyphs (prehistoric rock drawing) were being defaced by missionaries in the Amazon.

It has been postulated that modern state campaigns against the use of psychedelic substances are the offshoot of previous religious campaigns against shamanism. Today, shamanism, once universal, survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic practice continues today in the tundra’s, jungles, deserts, and other rural areas, and also in cities, towns, suburbs and shantytowns all over the world. This is especially widespread in Africa as well as South America, where “mestizo shamanism” ( combined ancestry) is widespread.

Many recent efforts have been made trying to link shamanic practice and knowledge with Western, scientific beliefs. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby has proposed that shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level, working with DNA and viruses that they see as the twin serpents or malicious “darts”. The holomovement theory proposed by David Bohm is often seen as an approach to create a scientific foundation for concepts such as parallel worlds and alternative ways to traverse time and space.

10 thoughts on “History Of Shamanism”

  1. Hi! love this, very informative and interesting, would love to know what your sources are so i can do some more reading myself! thanks so much

  2. The very first paragraph talks about Shaman being connected to nature as we all need to be, caused wants us to worship Him in beauty of His holiness. He created beauty to declare the existence of His holy being. How precious are the children who are awed by nature’s beauty. We can learn from the Shaman, but as a child of God I shall only worship Him. We should not dismiss them because of their practices. At the time of the Shaman they did not have the teachings of the Bible. I love nature.

    1. I love nature myself. It seems as though I am very attuned with earth itself. Fortunately for me I find it not only beautiful but somehow or someway it speaks through me from my mind to my senses. The vibrations and the humming and breathing of the earth is incredible.

  3. Can a person have shamanic gifts and not be completely aware of this gift? Some have termed my gift as to a gate keeper, or in Nordic lore a Valkyrie.

    1. YES.

      It is quite possible that many are unaware of their “gifts” – until they awaken from a traumatic experience and begin to find that they are more connected with things and Nature than they previously thought.

      Most who eventually became shamanic, did not previously believe they “would be chosen” before suffering what many now refer to as “shamanic sickness” (IE: “Where they feel like they are dying”), only to become “reborn” through the experience, and begin to grow more spiritually aware of their own part of the Universe.

      In other words,

      THIS can happen to just about anyone, at any time.

      This is where you continue your journey in the direction that is revealed to you (or, that you discover on your own).

      Hope this helps, even though this answer may be a bit late in your journey.

  4. I found the information in this article to be very interesting and plan to incorporate into a workshop on shamanism, shamanic drumming, and history/roles of Two Spirit people, for a drumming circle that includes Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning men.

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