WHAT IS CORE SHAMANISM?
Norman W Wilson, PhD
Core Shamanism is a term introduced by world-famous anthropologist, Michael Harner in the mid-1980s. The word core means the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience. Basic and fundamental as identifying terms also are applicable. Simply put, core shamanism takes the best from traditional shamanic practices and brings them into the modern world.
Appealing to people who are on quests for transcendence and healing, core shamanism offers the opportunity for direct contact with the spirit world. What do transcendence and healing mean? Transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence, and by some definitions, has become independent of it. It is journeying to another realm; perhaps to a parallel universe. Healing implies and incorporates both physical and psychological conditions of the human being.
A word of caution is appropriate at this point. When making contact with the spirit world never do so in a frivolous or light-hearted manner. It does not exist for your entertainment! Don’t approach the spirit world with a litany of requests.
What does core shamanism advocate? First and foremost is the concept of journeying into alternate realities. Using hallucinogens such as datura, yopo, peyote, or ayahuasa creates an altered state of consciousness conducive to traveling to different realms. These mind altering drugs are not the preferred method of journeying and one must be extremely careful in using them. The recommended and most widely used method for journeying is drumming. In addition to traveling to different realms, core shamanism has seven major principles.
1. Sentience and interconnectedness exist throughout the cosmos. Humankind has long believed there is a living universe; that all things are alive. Animism is the label. Sentience goes further than this. Within sentience, there is the belief that all things are connected much as in the old song, “the hip bone connected to the knee bone.’ After all, we are made of the dust of the stars. Probably, the best illustration of this is the story of the butterfly that flaps its wings in China, and the repercussion flows throughout the world. It’s the classic example of the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in a deterministic nonlinear system. Despite science’s claim to having found the “God Particle,” they have not determined that which created it. In shamanism, there is no need for that because, for them, the cosmos is a living, creating entity.
2. There are two realities: ordinary material reality, that is waking life, and non-ordinary reality, populated by spirits, souls of the dead, deities, and transcendent powers. Do not assume non-ordinary reality is not real or that one is not fully aware of activity. Spirits generally appear during darkness. Some, however, do make themselves visible during daylight hours. Souls of the dead create some concern here because there are those who believe we do not die, but simply move on to a new life. . . born again, so to speak. Look at it this way, when one is born, he or she comes out of the dark, warm, comfortable world of the womb into a new bright, often chilly and uncertain new world. Some come without struggle. Others have a difficult time. What we ordinarily call death is leaving this earth womb for another world. This other world is the Akasha Record or Akasha Field, the place to which all energy returns to await future need and use.
3. Reality is composed of three layers: Middle World (where we are now), Lower World, and the Upper World where spirit-teachers and animal spirits exist. Philosophers arguing for hundreds of years have not provided any clearer concept of reality than that found in core shamanism. Middle World, our current existence, does have spirits. They come into this world to help, to protect, and to heal. They remain here as long as their assigned tasks are not completed. The Lower World is the home of power animals and these may be the normal animals such as birds, fish, bears, wolves or they may be mythological animals such as the unicorn. Most shamans have a power animal that serves as a guide and guardian.
4. Reality is dualistic in that it views spirit and matter as distinct. The issue of dualism has long plagued westerners. The shaman doesn’t bog down in the issue. Spirit is and matter is. Man is dualistic being composed of spirit and matter. This does not imply that they are diametrically opposed to one another. Opposite yes; opposed, no.
5. It emphasizes helping and protecting others as well as one’s self. The major function of the shaman is to help others get well physically and spiritually. For those of you who might seek the help of a shaman don’t ask him or her to help your favorite team win a game. In so doing, you are also asking a loser to be created as well. That’s counterproductive.
6. Alternate reality can affect material reality. Because this is near the end of the list, it does not lessen its importance. Journeying into alternate realities affects a change in the material reality. It is here that future events may be changed.
7. Knowledge and direction come from the spirits. Knowledge about healing, and the direction that healing is to take comes from the spirit world. As the shaman journeys to another reality, dimension, parallel universe, he goes with one specific goal in mind: what is he to do to help his patient. Knowledge about the workings of the universe and humankind’s relationship to that universe comes from the spirit world.
In core shamanism, the shaman travels to these other realities in an altered state of consciousness. The spirit world quest is focused. To help him or her achieve this altered state of consciousness, drumming is used rather than hallucinogens. Its methodical, steady beat (slightly over 200 beats per minutes) changes the brain’s theta, alpha waves, that is, the telencephalic neurons are stimulated, and with 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses in the brain, it can create any world it desires.