The Antiquity of the Shaman

They have inherited the names of their conquerors. It is for this reason that they do not know where they are from or how life began. Very few of their kind can understand our science. Maybe it is the language of nature that befuddles their minds, even though their lives are dependent upon it. In the eyes of the hunter-gatherer, civilization is a form of global teenage rebellion I suppose. What legacy will these people leave for their children other than ignorance? These people make up the world of modern humanity in the eyes of the shaman.

The Antiquity of the Shaman

I am often saddened by the fact that modern society has excluded from discussion its first ruler and teacher, the shaman. The father of civilization is the shaman of the hunter-gatherer culture. The antiquity of the shaman is not a religious belief, but a historical fact. The Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, edited by David A. Leeming, Kathryn Madden, and Stanton Marlan, states:

 “In ancient times, the oral tradition was predominant in both music (poetry) and religion (chant and dance). The figure of the shaman seems to be the oldest to embody the convergence of music and religion. The English word shaman comes from the Tungusic language of Siberia –saman- broadly meaning “mastery over fire,” “magical flight,” and “communion with spirit.” With his ritual of dance, chant, and musical instrument (drums and rattle) the shaman was and still is a healer. Among the 17,000-year-old cave painting at Les Trois Freres in France, we see a shaman playing a resonating musical bow.”

The word shaman is an English translation of the Tungus word saman, which literally means to know. Some researchers have theorized that the word saman may have roots older than its said Tungus origin. For example, samana is an ancient Tibetan term for a Buddhist monk. Although the term shaman originates in the Tungusic language, we can find traces of the legacy, practices, and traditions of this spiritual system seeded in every culture around the world. Among anthropologists, shamanism is the traditional spiritual system of the hunter-gatherer culture, which preceded civilization as we know it.

According to Barbara Tedlock’s book, The Woman in the Shaman’s Body, the earliest burial remains of a shaman dated back some 30,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic era. The Encyclopedia of World Religions, edited by Robert S. Ellwood and Gregory D. Alles, illustrates the depth of influence that shamanism had upon the life of early man:

“Shamanism also had a profound impact on the early development of human culture. One could say that shamans were the first physicians, psychologists, poets, and prophets. Shamanism also had a deep relationship with the beginnings of art and story, for the shamans created or used these in their customs and performances to a greater degree than anyone else. They could also serve as magicians and priests, and custodians of tribal lore.”

Shamanism is a culture of its own. Acting as mediator between humanity and the spiritual world, they are able to interpret signs in nature and develop cures for the sick, and by the use of exorcism, heal society. The shaman is in possession of a particular ethnicity unlike their fellow-man.

Early shamans were able to develop a technology that laid the foundation for many of the arts and sciences used by modern man. Most technological advances find their origin in the occult practices of the shamanic world. What more is a television than the art of gazing into a mirror or crystal? What is the difference between the internet and the astral plane? Was it not in the spirit of telepathy that cell phones were invented?

While modern man may boast about his technological achievements, applied sciences of this sort is something for the handicapped in the eyes of the “primitive” shaman. Modern technology is based on laws that are confined to the five senses. Today, many people adhere to the philosophy that the only thing that is real is what can be observed by the five senses. If we were to take such an opinion as fact, then it would mean that our thoughts and emotions are nothing more than fantasy.

The technology of the hunter-gatherer culture, specifically the shaman, relied heavily upon the development of higher powers, capabilities beyond those of the traditional five senses. It is with this clairvoyant ability that the shaman is able to pierce into the subtle world of nature and appreciate a technology greater than the bravado present by some scholars in the field of modern science.

In ignorance, there are many people who have scoffed at the work of the shaman as one being in league with the Christian devil. Those who “demonize” the work of the shaman would also have to make the same assumption about nature itself. There are many creatures in nature that use what appears to be “magic,” the same technology as the shaman, for the purpose of survival.

The work of the shaman is based on a knowledge of the hidden laws of nature, often referred to as occult science. These invisible principles describe the functions of life-force energy and different stages of consciousness. Within nature is the intelligence of man and there are some things that are more intelligent in nature than man. These magicians of nature use occult science to survive. Let us take a look at a few examples of how other living creatures practice magic.

A parasitoid wasp, known by its scientific name Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga, will use a spider, Plesiometa argyr, as its host. When the female wasp of this species is ready to lay its egg, it will search for a suitable spider to aid in raising her young. When she finds an appropriate spider to serve as a surrogate father, the wasp will paralyze it and lay an egg on the spider’s abdomen. When the egg hatches in its larvae state it will begin feasting on the spider’s blood for food. During this time, the spider will continue as normal, catching insects and spinning webs. When the larvae is ready to move onto its next stage, or pupate, it will inject the spider with a chemical, causing it to create a web, whose design is unlike anything the spider has made before. A spider’s web is a good place for a cocoon, since it is above ground and the webbing provides protection from predators.

After finishing its job, the spider will crawl into the middle of the web and calmly remain seated. The wasp larvae molts, and kills the spider with a poison and drains the body of its victim before discarding it. It then builds a cocoon that hangs from the middle of the web that the spider has just built. The larva transforms into its next stage inside the cocoon and emerges to mate and begin the cycle over again. Isn’t this an act of magic?

Another example of the application of occult science in nature can be found in the African acacias. This tree, when under attack, is able to protect itself from herbivores by filling its leaves with poison. Remarkably, the acacia will also send a signal to other acacia trees in the area. After receiving the signal, other trees will begin to take defensive measures by producing poison in its leaves also. Isn’t this an act of magic?

Of course the layman, much like the modern-day scientist, will assume that the behaviors exhibited by the wasp and the acacia tree are due to chemical reactions within its system. Well, if this is really the case, then we must also apply this very same logic to human beings. In the study of human behavior, as far as physical evidence is concerned, a scientist will only observe the chemical reactions we experience during our transition from one emotion to the next.

In the shaman’s eyes, there are many aspects of nature that possess a level of intelligence similar to man, if not more brilliant than our own. Yet, it is understood that this intelligence maybe hidden from other intelligences existing in the same environment, due to the sensory perception inherited by each organism. Trees have exhibited extremely intelligent behavior. However, trees do not possess the same five senses as man, so how this intelligence is demonstrated in trees will be different from how man displays his intelligence. The human race has made the narcissistic error of assuming that life is only intelligent if it has the same sensory perception as a human being.

It would make sense, literally, that different entities would express their intelligence in a way not seen by other species, as each creature has its own purpose to fulfill. Our senses dictate what foods we eat, how we reproduce, and etc. Our sensory perception determines the nature of our existence in service to a particular cause, one that can never be clearly stated as it would create the possibility of “choice.” Choice, in the case of man’s existence is not an option.

There are many things in nature that possess, at the very least, an intelligence comparable to our own. This intelligence, however, is displayed differently than how human beings exercise their intellectual process because the sensory perception of these creatures is different from ours. Ancient shamans respected this intelligence in other creatures as that of their own. Truly, there is only one consciousness that can be seen in the phenomenal world and that intelligence has manifested itself in numerous ways. Man is only one expression of life. Nonetheless, we can develop a greater sensory perception that will grant us access into a fuller understanding of what life is about.

Modern technology is an example of advanced machinery not awareness. As long as our reality is limited to the five senses, we have not evolved as a species. The five senses will only present a view of life that dictates to us our place in life. Our five senses may reveal an angle of life, but not the whole point of view. So if all the fancy gadgetry used by modern scientists requires us to have faith only in what the five senses reveal to us, then modern science is truly a faith-based religion. True evolution is found in the obtainment of a greater sensory perception than what we are born with.

The state of enlightenment, described by magicians, mystics, poets, and shamans, is called instinct by those who observe animals, birds, and other creatures outside the race of man. Within the human race, this instinct is labeled as a gift by some and a demonic force by the majority of people who are unaware of the embryonic fluid contained in Mother Nature’s womb.

We will now begin to explore the history of religion and the human race through the eyes of a shaman. What we can learn from this experience is as important as the legacies of kings and queens who have taken a sit on a throne after remembering themselves. Perhaps, you too may lay claim to your place among what is yet to be discovered.

Before we begin our journey, the author would like to clarify a few things. First, I must say that I am of the opinion that the use of the term shaman, used in its general definition and to describe the ancient and worldwide spiritual practices of indigenous exorcists, healers, and medicine men, is appropriate. Some readers may not be aware of the debate involving the use of the term shaman. The term “shamanism” was first used by anthropologists to describe the ancient spiritual practices, largely connected with animism and the reverence of nature, utilized by the Turks and Mongols. In later years, anthropologists began using the term to describe the magical-spiritual practices found in the ethnic religions of Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Some people, who are involved in these very same magical-spiritual rites, take offense in their being categorized by the term shaman.

It is understood that many indigenous spiritual traditions have their own set of words, essential in the use of rituals employed by the practitioners of a said paradigm. This also means that the ministers of these paradigms have titles that specifically describe their spiritual practice. However, it should also be noted that the magical-spiritual practices of indigenous people, in the lands described earlier, are remarkably the same. In some cases, there exists only a language barrier that separates them. How is it that I can visit four different continents and find similarities in each indigenous rite, from the Africans, Asians, Greeks, Hindus, Romans and etc.? How is it that in every continent we find seven gods of the upper world, nine gods that rule the lower world, and the priests of ancient spiritual paradigms are defined as having the same function as other priests in other continents? Yes! That’s like discovering a church in every continent with the same style of crucifix on its altar. The only difference between the crucifixes is that they are each patterned after the physical features of the people living in that land. Yet, I’m supposed to convince everyone that each church has an entirely different spiritual belief? I think not!

I will continue to respect the values that many ancient indigenous traditions have preserved. Being a shaman myself, I will address those in public and private, with the honor and title of their own specific practice. However, to keep our study of such a massive history simple, I will use in this work the word shaman to describe the medicine man, the sangoma, the witch-doctor, and etc. The difference is not in the work that they do, but what they think about themselves as being. It is very possible that those who resist the use of the term shaman in conjunction with their own practice, are those who were bruised by colonialism. Vainly, in their efforts to preserve what has already been lost, they fail to remember when the world was one.

Categories: ancient history, Art of Ninzuwu, definition of shaman, history, hunter-gatherer culture, shaman, shamaness, shamanism, Tungus

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