Shamanism is a dimension of human experience that can be found in every culture in any age. It can be observed in a variety of forms, ranging from a fundamental spontaneous experience, derivative culturally shared practices, or as veiled motifs of spiritual, medical, artistic, scientific, and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Paradoxically, as shamanism becomes more culturally shared, it may become less authentic—less culturally challenging—and degenerative. Provoked by an experience of everyday life as a sort of “half-truth,” shamanism is a method that focuses on the erroneous belief in a separation of human life from nature. Shamanism focuses specifically on remaining alert to the creatural dimensions of human life that can be overridden by cultural, socio-psychological dimensions of everyday life.

Shamanism is an expression of an enduring wild state to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence and integrate into the natural world that continues to design and express human life across the long run.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Enduring Ancient Way

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Shaman Prayers For The Earth, 36”x36, 2003

Shamanism may be the oldest human healing art.  This ancient way offers the modern “peopled” Earth a primary healing resource rather than a secondary archaic remnant.  Fundamental shamanism aspires to “heal” by integration with cosmic forces that continue to design human life rather than by manipulation.

1. Fundamental Shamanism

IN THE REAL WORK [p.10], Gary Snyder defines the “modern” timeframe as the last two thousand years rather than by time frames such as “20th Century” or by concepts tied to material development such as “post-industrial” or by ideological concepts such as “post-modern” or “civilized.”  In fact, this paper finds an eternal enduring continuity, and posits an enduring “wild state” that continues rather unchanging from ancient times into the post-modern era that offers a resource for self and society.  This wild state emerges spontaneously as a state of alertness to the conditions of existence so that human life can bring itself into harmony with those conditions.  The “wild state” recognizes that we continue to be designed by and continue to be an expression of the larger Earth ecosystem no matter how distant we feel.  This state recognizes that we are both very young in the history of the Earth and that we are lost deeply in stellar evolution rather than separate.  This wild state is essentially creatural rather than psychological or cultural and involves experiences of events in the landscape, such as water and wind and plants, as being within one’s identity.  The term, “beingness,” describes a larger dimension beyond personality and society that contains the creatural or totemic nature of human life.  

Searching for “shamanism” in both “developed” and indigenous contemporary societies, the visible shamanism is likely to be cultural rather than creatural, and more homocentric than cosmic.  In Shamanism, Mircea Eliade argues that shamanism may “degenerate” or weaken as it becomes more culturally elaborated to serve cultural rather than creatural or cosmic needs.  The practices tend to be shared throughout the culture or subculture when they begin to address personal needs more than when they challenge personal and cultural interests.  In societies where shamanism a visible practice, Eliade notes that the contemporary shamanism may be described by societal members as being less powerful than the original shamanism of that society.

“Shamanic societies” may be more nature-oriented than other societies, but not necessarily nature-sensitive, especially when faced with population pressures and now-global interpenetration by other societies.  Natural events such as forest ecosystems or specific biota take on meaning that is specific to the culture rather than universal, and it often begins to reinforce cultural actions that are anthropocentric, rather than Earth-centric and culturally-challenging.  The odds are strong that cultural support for shamanism in a society that one might describe as shamanic is a measure of cultural manipulation to serve orthodox cultural traditions and personal needs rather than serve the larger Earth ecosystem.  Often, practices that are identified as “shamanism” may describe shamanistic elements that are secondary “motifs” of religious practices and folk healing.  “Shamanic practices” may be reactionary movements that are religious in nature that incorporate shamanic motifs to challenge to the dominant social order within the culture more than they aspire to serve the larger Earth ecosystem.             

Western passion for shamanism due to a sense of something missing in post-modern life can unintentionally contribute to the degeneration of the fundamental shamanic experience by adopting non-Western practices.  Western “shamanism” does typically describe practices that derive from within Western culture, becaue it misses the presence of shamanic experience within Western culture.  Adoption of non-Western practices and Western “shamanic tourism” can be a form of cultural robbery as well as contribute to the degradation of shamanism into a “business.”

The “ancient” shamanism that endures in any age and in any culture is a fundamental, acultural, personal experience that tends to be eventually limited rather than strengthen by cultural elaboration and support.  The enduring shamanism aspires to remain a method of access rather than a belief system, and so it continually critiques itself in order to remain fresh an alert. 

Fundamental shamanism is an action-state, that of shamanizing, and resists becoming a derivative cultural “ism.”   Fundamental shamanism attends to the non-cultural, creatural dimensions of human life–seasons and weathers, the waters, flora and fauna, the landform and stars.  Fundamental shamanism serves the larger Earth ecosystem rather than a personal quest or societal goal.  Fundamental shamanism does aspire to optimize human life by aspiring to inform human life of the primary impact of these dimensions on human life.  Fundamental shamanism experiences [rather than believes in] human health as continuing to be primarily a creatural rather than a cultural process.  From this perspective, optimal human health requires attentiveness to the large conditions of existence both on a personal and societal level.  When this attentiveness is lessened, the quality of human life is degraded.

2. Toward a Strategy of Residency

TWO THOUSAND years of modernity and tens of thousands of years of cultural emergence do not override hundreds of thousands of years of emergence as species sapiens.  While contemporary urban life may seem nearly separate and above nature, human life is still young in the life of the Earth, and perhaps even neonatal and far from mature.   Instead of being distinct from nature, our most rational measures reveal that human life remains deeply inside nature so that there is, remarkably, less of a distinction between culture and nature.

This is not to say that modern human life is much the same as ancestral human life.  The contemporary condition of existence might be said to be a “post-natural” one in which human life now modifies all landscapes, and landscapes, in turn, feedback degrading environmental quality on a global scale.  Now, having peopled the Earth with no remaining physical frontiers, our longstanding strategy of pioneering appears to be in need of transformation to a strategy of residency.  The stored capital of vast physical frontiers has allowed us to delude ourselves with as sense of dominion over nature as our way forward.  Now we are beginning to understand that human life remains significantly creatural and requires attention to events beyond culture to meet our most practical interests and not simply our aesthetic interests if we are to optimize the quality of human life for the short run and perhaps to sustain for the long run as a species.  As wild creatures, modern human life needs methods to continue to remain wildly alert to the conditions of existence.

3.   Shamanism as a Method for Accessing a Wild State

FROM A SHAMANIC perspective, there is no distinction between nature and culture.  Like a flower, human life is experienced to be inseparable from wind and water and mineral.  And so, in any age, it is essential to access events beyond culture both for optimal health and basic survival.

In contemporary life, science is very effective at attending to or measuring many aspects of natural phenomena that impact upon everyday life.  Still, a dimension of human experience that comes to be termed shamanism spontaneously arises.  This experience is two-fold.  First, there is an experience of one’s everyday life as an incomplete experience of reality at best.  This experience is explored by many practices other than shamanism, including formal religion, varieties of spiritual expression, psychic and metaphysics, and even our most rational measures of scientific inquiry.  However, shamanism is differentiated by its emphasis upon the experience of being a “creature” or a human “wild state” that attends to acultural events such as trees and wind as primary reaches of self that design human life.  In the experience of shamanizing, the voice of landscape is experienced as inside one’s personal identity.

The self or personality that can emerge from shamanic methods is a “wild” or, more accurately, totemic identity.  That is to say, a person’s working/conscious identity includes elemental events beyond culture as primary facets to be attended to if health is to be optimal.
From a shamanic perspective, the exclusion of acultural events from identity limits rather than optimizes the quality of human life and places long-run sustainability at risk.

In shamanic experiences, human life derives from landscape—from beyond self and culture.   The living, vital shamanism inescapably is a fundamental, uncompromising method that challenges culture.   For example, an early shamanism of a coastal society might challenge the community to reexamine its exploitation of the nearby sea and impose self-limits as a solution to the reduced quality of a fishery.  The “ancient” shamanic way authentically endures as beyond culture, fundamental more than derivative, and creatural.  At its most authentic, shamanic method aspires to bring human life into harmony with its larger, inescapable, inseparable creatural dimensions that are present in any era. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Second Song

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2011

To the drum’s astonishing voice, listening,
We uncover this way that we are starlight.

How then can we say
Our time has been wasted?

Because we listen to this astonishing voice,
We know that ants and owls are inside us.

Because we listen to this astonishing voice,
We know that our everyday is an illusion:

This way that we dismiss Earth as so very less than out heart pulse,
As if we could afford to do so.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Shamanism And Modern Life: An 8/2007 Overview

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Blue Fire II: Shaman's Journey, 20"x24, 2002

MANY PRACTICES AND BELIEFS can be associated with shamanism to the degree that the term “shamanism” becomes nearly meaningless.  Like “spirit” and “soul” and “being-ness,” “shamanism” has become an inclusive, encompassing term rather than a distinguishing term, and sort of a "pop" term.  That is likely because it touches many aspects of human life, especially those naturalist aspects for which we continue to hunger and to connect with, involving aspects of modern life that go unrecognized as having anything to do with “primitive” shamanism.

Shaman’s Grace argues that there is a dimension of human experience that occurs in every society in every era that involves attending to an enduring wild state, wherein human life continues to be primarily creatural rather than cultural or social or psychological.  From the emergence of human life [species sapiensto the most post-industrial cybernetic moment, shamanism has proffered a way to "see in the dark"—a way to touch something deep inside us, which is rock-firm reality, that listens to the changing conditions of existence while we are half-awake in our everyday.  Seemingly primitive and superstitious, shamanism is a core yet effusive aspect of modern medicine, art, psychotherapy, and science.  But to most of the modern world, shamanism describes practices found in Third World developing nations and Fourth World indigenous societies that are superstitious and manipulative.  And to a very real extent, that is true.  They are not stuck in the primal as much as "modern," but utilizing the resources that are available to them.

Shaman’s Grace focuses on an enduring fundamental experience that is quickly co-opted into derivative forms, both explicit traditional and hidden modern expressions, that reinforce culture, that are manipulative and superstitious, rather than that challenge culture.  

This more “fundamental [un-co-opted] shamanism” is increasingly of value in a now peopled Earth with no vast frontiers.  This is co-opting of fundamental experience is common to all experience, including our most rational scientific measures, but is especially present in addressing “spiritual” experience.   Religions continually undergo "reformation," and so science, and our most practical, everyday routines.  Now, each decade--not each century--is radically altered.   

Shaman’s Grace describes a fundamental enduring human response that is present in any society in any era that is distinguished from the popular association of shamanism as a derivative indigenous practice of contacting spirits and strengthening self.  Its methods are the conscious expression of an enduring wild state that aspires to align us with the vast conditions of existence that have designed us, and that continue to design us.

 In this fundamental shamanism, all experiences that optimize human life are envisioned to be, astonishingly, a creatural process—rather than a psychological or cultural process.  And shamanism focuses on the central human characteristic of imagination.  Every second of human life involves a stream of imagination.  Imagination uses momentary experiences to aspire to access billions-years-old experiences that are contained within our eloquent physiological-eco design.  Like scientific inquiry, this fundamental shamanism requires a self-critical approach, with the expectation that layers of cultural bias must be looked for, rather a trust that one’s "shamanic experiences" are somehow exempt from scrutiny, and automatically authentic.  We are anthropocentric, presuming that we have come into the Earth and will leave it in death, and in this sense, we—in our most post-industrial, cybernetic essence--remain “primitive” or perhaps “ignorant,” or perhaps—more-accurately—neonatal [more accurate: neotenic], in our development as a species.  We are "nasty" in our sense of import, killing both the human and the natural world.  For all of our modernity, we remain so very, very young in the history of the Earth, as well as fragile.  We have barely appeared in geo-time, and are at risk of disappearing far to fast.

Shamanism is a method far more than a belief system, a practice of using deep imagination to touch the imaginal—something profoundly deep and authentic rather than something imaginary, in the sense of being fantasy or wished-for-to integrate with the natural process of the Earth and cosmos.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Awakening From A Dream

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Medicine Pouch, Shamanic Relic, 2000

Listening alone to the cricket
To its grinding songs
And to the sound of birds’ walking

The blistering rock in high summer
Seeds finding their wings
Snow curving the slatted fence
The fast dance of hard spring downpours
The clan of stars in deep night

Yes, everything communicates
Says something invaluable to human life
Says nothing is apart
Says everything is our longer reach.

What is this voice?

IN EVERY SOCIETY, from aboriginal through postmodern, there are times when human imagination is experienced as accessing a voice that is no longer exclusively either “inner” or fantasy.  This voice is inherent in the serendipitous breakthroughs of our most rational, objective measures in science—“double helix,” and sub-nuclear “quark” “flavors” of “Strange” and “Charm,” and “leptons” of “Tau,” and “gravitrons” of “W” and “Z” bosons, and 8 “gluons.”  These terms are ways of saying that which we know to be real, but that we also acknowledge that our existing lexicon—our eco-literacy—must  grow into it.

We are young in the Earth, and for all of our advancements, we try to imagine our world with a still-developing tri-cameral brain.  We tend to take our experience apart to sustain.  We are not very good at seeing whole.  We see, for example, ecology; how a tree collects the energy of a star, but we tend to compartmentalize “tree” and “star,” because we can measure “parts” more than processes that interpenerate “parts.”

In the archaic past, in primal societies, wholeness and integration and inseparability were intuitively sensed.  But often these experiences seemed “spiritual,” which was different that “objective” or “rational,” and, therefore, esoteric at best, and, perhaps, delusional and misleading when we believe in them rather than remain self-critical and open.

From archaic times through the present moment, there has always been an enduring sense that everyday life can become a half-life, a dream of reality rather than reality as it is.  And there can be this sense that such a walking dream state can be not only less satisfying, but also dangerously illusive in the way in which it islands and disconnect.  And there have always been a variety of responses including shamanism.

The range of human experiences that come to be termed “shamanism” offer attention to the “creatural” dimension of human life that might be associated in modern life with ecological orientations such as “deep ecology” and “eco-psychology” or “transpersonal ecology.”  But these are still not “shamanism.”  In a cybernetic, electronic age, shamanism is distinguished from these orientations in that it concentrates attention on imaginal methods rather than explicit facts.  And in the post-modern, cybernetic age, to be both creatural and imaginal seemed to be the antithesis of the essence of “modern.”

However, shamanism continues to offer modern life a method to address the dilemmas of human existence through
•      the demolition of perceptual barriers, so that
•      the uncategorizable elements of reality emerge in a mythic language, [not unlike metaphors in science] that may
•      reveal information to optimize a response to the dilemmas of existence,
•      to restore harmony between everyday and vaster, non-sensory dimensions of reality.

What will be needed if shamanism is to contribute to any society is a self-critical attitude, but also, a continuing challenge to culture [as science does challenging its own theories rather than degenerating into a reinforcement of culture]? 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shaman's Song

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Shaman Sings, 24"x30,  2002

Recovering A Creatural State


I fly to the center of the Earth
My voice brimming with migration and wind.

I become my long life.
I know that the dead breathe through me.

I apologize to Earth and sky.
I become a gathering of places.

I close my eyes to see.
I sing to awaken.

I gather my song of unlanguaged sounds
Today from the butterfly and the crow.