Image from Lankapura.com
The word “shaman” may bring to your mind images of medicine men in colorful outfits, dancing around a fire to the beat of tribal drums, much like the image of Sri Lankan devil mask dancers, above. And you’d be right, though you’d be getting only part of the picture.
The REASON they do all of that is to get past our attachment to the “real” world and connect to our inner workings–to help us travel the landscape of our hearts and souls and make us whole in mind, body and spirit.
Now for you and me, their performance probably would not work. This is because they’re not speaking our cultural or symbolic language. To do that, they’d have to tap into our religious and spiritual beliefs, our cultural upbringing and the images we see in our dreams.
Wikipedia describes shaman as “intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds… Shamans are said to treat illness by mending the soul…[which] restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness.” They also said “Cultural anthropology approaches shamanism as an integral part of the study of culture, belief, and practice.”
So who are the shaman of our modern Western culture? Who guides us through the realm of dreams, symbols, metaphor and stories to help us make choices in our lives? Joseph Campbell said it’s the artists—painters, poets, singers, dancers, actors, directors, comedians, etc. They take inspiration, which is a message from the spirit world, and communicate it in a language we understand. And when they really get it right, it not only entertains, but touches our hearts and inspires us. (Of course, that’s not always their goal.)
Joseph Campbell and Caroline Myss both have said that in today’s world, it is up to us to find our own way through our spiritual landscape. We have to be responsible for the well-being of our own souls. In other words, we need to become our own shaman.