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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Repetition & Randomization: Core Seeing In The Dark

IN THE ARCTIC tundra, nearly an invisible speck in a vast terrain, a young adult, sits by a large boulder, leaning into the boulder, grinding another hand-held stone into the boulder in a circle.  Mid-continent, an elderly person walks about, picking up a stone that has attracted this person, then, listens to the stone.  Nearby, small stones are collected—a specific number—to be placed in a rattle.  Deeply south, another person gazes into the randomized surface of a fire-charred board, listening.  The drum beats with a pulse rather than a rhythm.

What is occurring here and how could it have meaning?

Pursued repetition and randomness is a response that aspires to re-open a door that seemed to describe reality.  It was likely provoked by a spontaneous experience that something valuable, even crucial for the long run of human life, was being overlooked.

Such experiences may be akin to toiling over the mathematics of molecules, and then, serendipitously, opening a heretofore, unseen structure that changes everything forever.  Where imagination can be more than fact (as Einstein as admonished us), the “emptiness” of the universe has a form, where, for Einstein, mass might roll like a ball bearing over hill and dale; and (beyond Einstein) this mass, that wears the appearance of being the bones of universe itself, may be nearly next to nothing in a universe of unseen dark matter, that is perhaps lost further in multiverses and/or parallel universes, and terrains yet to be imagined.

The blue sky is not blue.  The hard tabletop is moving at incredible speeds that give it its “hardness.”  The sun, rolling to the West and then settling there, is not rolling to the West, nor is it rising in the East and setting in the West.  Our eyes see the world upside down, but we perceive it as right side up.  The color of nearly anything is the color that it casts off rather than its true color.  Our “individual” acts tend to be rather universal archetypes dressed up in contemporary clothing.  And our most advanced technologies become archaic—still beautiful—yet crude, in next to no time at all.

This is the context that continues to drive shamanism to be vitally present in any era.  Yes, there is a “Romantic shamanism” that aspires to honor traditional expressions of shamanism, much in the manner of reenactments of the American civil war or Japanese samurai tradition.  But shamanism is a living dimension of human experience that challenges an everyday that seems to be distanced from the Earth and the larger landscape.  It says that which our most rational science keeps saying to us in increasingly explicit measures: that we are deeply lost in the universe, young in the Earth, and designed by it.

What if a tree was the sun on Earth, which is what it is?  We imaging the sun to be shining down on us, but we are inside the outer rim of the sun and an expression of its ongoing evolution, where macromolecules have a niche where they can occur.   It is a dream to presume that we are somehow on top of such terrain.

Shamanism gets co-opted into serving our needs.  But authentic shamanism, or authentic human life, is deeply naturalistic, and this changes the questions that we bring.  This is why we continue to be drawn to it, to try to align with a core dynamic that we require to both sustain across the long run and to optimize.

In my city, a child, age 12, remarkably writes in school,
            …. The silver-lined storm clouds
            Gather like old friends
            Then rumble, hesitant
            Water  dripping  from  their
            Then send a crackling
            Bolt of yellow fire
            Towards me

            My white fur freezes
            My body tenses
            Then lightning engulfs me
            My  bones  itch  with  raw
            I am a ball of glinting flames
            Sparks fly from my fur
            The rain does not touch me
            Even it is afraid

Such language is not science, but it evokes a sense of something profoundly real.  It attends to a critical process that we erroneously proscribe from our life in nearly any society, from the primal through the post-industrial.  The critical dynamic in human life is creatural, far more than cultural, social or psychological orientations that are remarkably biased and blind.  Our bicameral brain—young, and still in development—dissects experience more than integrates experience.  The core integration to optimize our perception is enduringly/eternally naturalistic, eco-inseparable, wild, and ongoing creationist. 

A rather rational repetition and randomization, far more than intoxication or hallucination or ecstasy, are the wild first steps to attend to overlooked and intentionally proscribed experiences.   The wildness of the mind, for at least small glints of time can peer into the dark, and become the landscape.  Then perhaps, the key dynamic of all “wildness”—that of remaining alert to the changing conditions of existence in a cosmos that is largely unknown to us—can be activated.   The success that our greatest rational discoveries have had likely comes from the enduring presence of core shamanic methodology that provoked a serendipitous turn in our understanding.   And those great turns always point toward the natural.  While shamanic motifs may be present in culture, authentic shamanism differs in its more intensive step out of culture to deeply taste the creatural [Homo sapiens, “Earth taster”].

Shamanism has been associated with irrationality, but, when authentic, it aspires to look deeply at experience, because of a sense that our view is biased and irrational.  Shamanism is popularly perceived as eccentric/extreme, archaic, and continuing as a set of spiritist beliefs primarily in “Third World/Fourth World” societies.  Shamanic motifs are present in many beliefs systems, but authentic shamanism is a methodology rather than a belief system.  Further, there is a popular association between shamanism and hallucinogens as methodology.  Plants that intoxicate may be functioning to disable organisms rather than “speak” to partakers.   In Shamanism, Mircea Eliade describes the use of intoxicants in shamanism as a late or “derivative” “corrupt” practice.  While intoxicants positively demonstrate that ordinary reality can be altered and that an everyday perspective may be biased that can open a latent spirituality, intoxicants may act more as a universal cultural “escape” or “release” rather than as direct entry into a deeper reality.

Fundamentally, shamanism is not about knowledge of the landscape being utilized for curing, healing, finding, or empowering, all of which are key elements in derivative practices that are popularly associated with shamanism.   Rather than being co-opted into practices as either an obscure or very explicit motif, shamanism sustains when it is totemic, serving the landscape rather than using the landscape, and this changes all of the questions and demands that people bring to shamanism.  Paradoxically, by serving the landscape and becoming fitted with it, human life is optimized.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Door Of Magic

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 20”x25, mixed media on stainless steel, 2006

For one who has long felt caged
I have been called to freedom.

I have found a door of magic at every turn in Earth.
There are gateways where there once were only walls.

Now I am free to put on my prancing shoes.
Now I will go about as a deer.

Today I will visit my relation mouse
Who tonight will become my relation owl.

I will become Yesterday where I quivered in wind—a grass blade.
I will become Tomorrow where I will dance as down-streaming water.

Now instead of nouns I will sing dune-shaped downy-soft verbs
So delicate    so luminous    and inexhaustible.

Now and then I will stop and sing alive the myriad voices of place
That the living and dead intone through me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2011

PERHAPS ON some occasion when we have some moments to give over, we decide to press a little further into landscape. 

Perhaps we bundle up and sit down into the landform, letting all of our senses be taken. 

Perhaps we stay up a little later and go out into the dark to gaze into the night sky that slo-turns worlds above us.

Perhaps we meander in some very common place, paying special attention to the small details—ants, pebbles, or to the eloquent rivering in the surface of leaves.

Perhaps we go further in our intention, and give up some food.  Perhaps we work muscles that we seldom use. 

Perhaps we lie down on our backs in wild grasses, walled by the tall culms. Disappearing, with the sky overhead opening up.  After a time, perhaps, grasshoppers begin to encircle us, and when we don’t move, the come down and bite us, and our sense of dominance is taken.

Perhaps we lie on our bellies on the front of a sandbar with eyes forward—level with the water—into the down streaming river that is coming toward us.   Our eyes dance with the flow of water and, in the summer, with the arabesques of swallows skimming the surface of the river.

Perhaps we amble about on the river’s edge, with eyes cast down into the cobble cast up by spring floods, looking for a particular stone—perhaps on this day, finding a blackened elk tooth—that seems to call out to us.

Perhaps we gaze into a small fire, its smoke shifting to wash over us as the wind shifts.

In these small things, we find our larger, enduring life, and perhaps sense that we have been spending too much of the currency of our time in routine on the fringe of the aliveness of the Earth.

And because of this, despite all the captivation of civility, perhaps we awaken and go farther, becoming shamanic:

Without nourishment
Listen to the wind, to the tree branches, to the birds.
Listen to the little herbs in the under story of the forest and to the ants.

Become a crow
Borrowing its wings and eyes.

Disrupt routine.
Have no explanation.
Apologize to plants.

Speak in the dark to animals.
Go to your heaven.
Sense the terror and wonder of being human.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Trees In Their Humanness

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2011

…the fathomless gaze of all animals when they acknowledge us
 as being at one with them.
James Cowan, Letters From A Wild State

THE GAZE OF ANIMALS toward us acknowledges us as other animals rather than as something separate and above.  But when we return the gaze, the humanness, for example, of trees can seem to be such a disparate view for us, as if humanness is ours alone.  A phrase, such as Trees in their humanness [Lisel Mueller, from “Necessities,” Alive Together] may read as an oxymoron, as impossible.

Far more disparate than finding our humanness in trees, going even deeper, there is this very real way that

We walk about in the footsteps of birds. 
We sit down as pools of rain
And we stand up as uncoiling seeds.

There is within you and I this moon. 
There is within us a field of grass in wind. 
There is within us the walking of ants.

There is this way that, for example, we might rationally understand that we have been contrived from stone—star matter.  But going even further, there is more perplexing way in which
All the stones have been us
[W. S. Merwin, from “Eyes of Summer,”
Writings To An Unfinished Accompaniment].

How could this be, when stone predates us; we, who are so very young in the history of the Earth?  While such views can appear to be esoteric poetic musings, the writers intended them to be descriptive of an unseen reality.  Ultimately, such statements are offered because they are felt to be deeply practical and to have something important to say to us.  Our inability to envision events in such a manner might be lamentable as a measure of our limits, and perhaps even dangerous for survival across the long run of things.

The effusive body of the shaman is self-as-landscape.

Humanness is more than human beings. Events that can appear to be very distanced from us, such as rain and seed are, in fact, most intimate, even more intimate that we are to each other. 

The holy water that is rain and the seed that is grain—the dominant forces that continue to buoy up the most advanced post-industrial, cybernetic culture—are present daily, and are the core of our immanent survival.  Every inhalation is also flora’s exhalation.  And across the long run of things, the flora and waters out of which grain and drink and breath emerge continue to speak “humanely” to us with a wisdom that offers us an optimal way forward were we to awaken to it and listen.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Apprentice: A Possible First Gate

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

I will set before you the following:
Lightning-struck oak,
Three feathers-eagle, owl, gull—
A smooth stone and a rough stone,
A drilled deer bone.

Your reactions to each,
Especially their meaningfulness, please;


Your hands held over my forearms:
Your intuitive sensations, please;


Your recollections of a favorite dream;


Your interface with a small cluster of stones,
Asking a yes/no question.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Becoming Rain: Seeing In The Dark

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Becoming Rain, 24"x30, 2002

My two arms are lightning bolts.
My legs outspread to down-flowing torrents of rain.

My eyes are sun and moon
My head is star-filled cobalt blue.

Today "Becoming Rain" will be my one of my true names.
Today, to say “I” will be to say “Earth.”
Today, to say “I” will open a gateway rather than build a wall.