If you want to understand humanity, study shamanism.
When so many isolated cultures throughout history cotton onto the same ideas, the wise folks pay attention.
This is where scientists-in-name-only and religious fundies fail in the exact same way:
They dismiss these as primitive belief systems, maybe a historical curiosity but nothing of… you know, real value.
Even a cursory glance reveals incredible things about the way humans live, think and survive.
Now, shamanism has evolved over thousands of years, flourishing in the Americas, Siberia, and everywhere in between. There are only so many broad statements you can make about these traditions.
What do modern priests do?
They teach their followers the traditions of the faith, offer some moral guidance, organise events to help the community…
All noble things.
What do shamans do?
Just about everything, really.
Sure, they do all of that – although, since their ‘traditions of the faith’ also include knowledge, (like what plants are good for owies,) that also makes them teachers.
And they’re the healers, which makes them doctors too.
Plus, they’re leaders. Sometimes as in ‘spiritual leaders’, sometimes as in advisors and consultants, sometimes as in the actual person in charge.
That makes them theocratic doctor-king lecturers.
How can one person where so many hats?
Trick question – they’re all the same hat.
When a community is in crisis, what do you do? You could form a committee to research the issue to uncover the root causes to inform a task force to…
It’s a slow, expensive approach. And if your team is excellent and with a little luck, you won’t make the problem worse.
A shaman would guide their people – not as a bureaucrat or tyrant, but as a counsellor, therapist or storyteller. Whatever the people needed.
How does a doctor heal someone? They don’t – and the good ones will tell you that. Their job is to stabilise the situation so the body can heal itself.
The bad ones think that because they know about an organ, they understand it and can ‘fix’ it. Their patients tend to have ‘mysterious’ illnesses that defy treatment, or they suffer from crazy side effects from the treatments.
Shamans are like the good doctors. Sure, they have some medicine on hand. The plants aren’t the answer, though – not by themselves. The real healing happens in the organ, the person, the community.
The shaman knows people can heal themselves. Their role is to help them do that.
Moving on from medicine…
How does the modern education teach? With a lot of rote memorisation and standardised testing – because those are easiest to measure.
How do shamans teach? Through stories – one of the few ways to impart wisdom without making someone live through something.
And how do they know what to say to help someone heal, learn or overcome an obstacle?
The details differ, but it all boils down to entering an altered state of consciousness.
Without all the advantages of science and specialisation, all these problems have the same solution:
Tap into your unconscious wisdom, because there are too many variables for your thinking mind to track.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how modern hypnosis works. You use altered states of consciousness to access unconscious wisdom, to help someone overcome their challenges.
There are oh, so many things you could accuse me of here.
Like colonialism – by claiming all shamanism is hypnosis, it’s like I’m putting their whole culture in a Western-friendly box.
If that’s your thinking, I’m happy to reverse it. Maybe all hypnosis is applied shamanism, not the other way round. I’m drawing on a small part of their wisdom, without claiming ownership of it.
And that means science accepts the truth and value of many shamanic traditions. Rather than dismissing them, science sees the wisdom in them.
The more likely complaint you’ll make?
I’m drawing parallels that aren’t there.
Sure, there are some superficial similarities between hypnosis and shamanism… but that doesn’t mean they’re the same.
Allow me to rebut that.
For one thing, these ain’t superficial – the similarities run right to the core of how both practices work.
For another… shamans are incredibly hypnotic. See a great one in action and you will go into a trance.
There are all sort of differences in the culture, conditioning and cosmetics. At their heart, though? Shamanism is hypnosis and hypnosis is shamanism.