By Roel Crabbé
“There is only one medicine for all your ailments and that is you.” – Andy Baggot
In 1980 Michael Harner published his book ‘The Way of the Shaman’, from which, for the first time, Western people were able to learn the basic techniques of what he calls ‘core shamanism’. Harner’s work focuses primarily on working with the shamanic trance journey, regardless of its cultural or religious form.
Just like in many shamanic traditions, the use of the shaman drum or rattle, which serves as a gateway for the practitioner to visit the spiritual worlds, is central to this way of working. In many traditions, the drum is described as ‘the shaman’s horse’ and its use offers shamanic practitioners the opportunity to travel safely to different worlds and to make contact with the helping spirits.
Harner’s work brought a whole new trend to life that led to what we can now call Western or contemporary shamanism. In addition to the basic principles of working with trance, many practitioners of contemporary shamanism are also strongly influenced by customs from other cultures. This created a new movement that has many faces and continues to grow.
Here in the west, where most people do not grow up in a traditional shamanic tradition, working with the trance journey offers the opportunity to open up again to the experience of connectedness, from which every tradition is born. Working with the trance journey offers us the opportunity to deepen our connection with the spirits, ancestors, and the soul with an open mind, without convictions, and to listen to the inspirations they give.
In conversation with a Western teacher of mine, he said how he feels it is a blessing that we did not grow up in a shamanic tradition. This allows us to enter the experience with fewer underlying structures, forms, and dogmas. The direct experience of contact with the dimension of the soul is the teacher.
Today, an enormous amount of information about shamanic traditions is available, and more and more traditional teachers are coming to the West to share their wisdom. There is a lot to learn from every tradition and also from the techniques, rituals, and insights that they have gathered over the centuries.
I believe that the shamanic experience, which is the basis of any original culture, today invites us to share what works and to learn from each other. Many of the traditional medicine people I met also say that it’s time for people to reconcile and share their wisdom.
In the end, the different medicine people and shamanic traditions tell us the same thing. As Hilario Chiriap, a tribal elder of the Shuar ever said to me: “There is only one tradition, only one real path, and that is that of the heart, the stars, the earth, and rivers …”
We live in a wonderful time in which we can learn so much from each other’s experiences and open ourselves up again and again for inspiration, wisdom, and power. It is a time where we are invited to open ourselves and to lift borders. A time in which the greatest power lies in reconciliation, openness, and cooperation. These are lessons that I learn over and over again, whether it is in working with the trance journey or participating in rituals of different traditions. As with many contemporary practitioners, I also see how traditional shamans learn from each other and incorporate elements of other traditions into their way of working. It is a time of renewal and growth.
Working with the trance journey is characterized by direct contact of the practitioner with the spirit world and offers everyone the opportunity to experience by themselves a direct contact with what might be called ‘the broader reality’.
The basis for both the contemporary practitioner of shamanism and the traditional shaman is the personal contact with his or her helping spirits, who support him to transform personal problems, but also often speak for the benefit of the greater whole. This personal contact is experienced by many practitioners as a very profound and moving thing in which wounds can be healed, strength regained and soul can be remembered.
This direct contact enables every practitioner to restore his strength, to receive personal advice and inspiration, and to be embraced by the profound connection that is inherent to this work and allows them to walk new paths, shed old skins and relive the joy of life. Shamanism is a path of direct revelation, without an intermediary, and healing.
However, the key is to consciously handle the information that is received during the journey. It is therefore the personal task of the practitioner to integrate and celebrate this information in his daily life. As a very clear teacher told me years ago: ‘shamanism serves to make you wash your dishes with a smile.’ I have always cherished these words. It is in our daily life that it can be done.
The shamanic work can guide, empower, and inspire us so that we can grow to who we are and share our joy and love.
The practitioner who allows himself to enter this world openly comes into contact, sooner or later, with the experience of connectedness, flow, endless possibilities, and inspiration. Shamanism is a path in which contact with the circle can be restored and life wisdom remembered. A path in which strangers can be brothers and sisters again and the world starts to radiate again with vitality and soul.
Practicing shamanism is essentially a work of “remembering.” Remembering wholeness, remembering wisdom, remembering our radiant core. Nothing has been lost, although it sometimes seems that way. But when we listen, we hear how life invites us to listen again and to remember who we are.
So that we can remember ourselves again as children of the Earth, creating beauty and opening ourselves up, again and again, for inspiration, power, and connectedness. It is a way in which we can open our hands, to experience more and more deeply that love heals all wounds and a beautiful universe endlessly sings to us: “welcome home”.
© Roel Crabbé – 2008