Shamanism and Creativity, Page 2
By Sandra Harner
© Shamanism, Fall/Winter 1999, Vol. 12, No. 2
The core shamanic journey methods distilled in the 1970s by Michael Harner7 through worldwide cross-cultural study constitute one path by which we can creatively integrate spiritual, cultural, emotional, and physical elements. Although its origins have not been precisely determined, shamanism may be at least as ancient as 30,000 or more years, as evidence from Paleolithic cave paintings indicates.8,9; Moreover, historical and ethnographic evidence reveals its independent practice by indigenous peoples throughout the world, widely separated both geographically and culturally, up to and including the present day. Not unexpectedly, specific cultural practices may differ. The core methods, however, are remarkably similar and suggest repeated discovery of some pan-human, mind-body aspects of spirituality.
The most distinctive characteristic of the shaman is the journey or "soul flight."10 The journey is begun from a place one knows first-hand and is undertaken for a specific purpose to a source of information or healing power. Traditionally, members of the community request help from the shaman for problemsolving, diagnosis and treatment of illness, divination or prophecy, acquisition of power, and psychopomp work. As the journey unfolds, profound experiences, often extending significantly beyond visual imagery, arise spontaneously, and the shaman must remember the details. The return from the journey is accomplished by retracing the sequence of events until arriving where the journey began. Concentration and memory are therefore critical aspects of successful shamanic work. With respect to creativity, it is the problem-solving function which is most pertinent.
The shaman then Interprets the information imparted in the journey. It demands discipline and experience to develop the question and to interpret and integrate the answer. While most people, even today in the United States and Europe, can learn to journey in a few hours, some are more adept than others. Most who learn choose not to pursue it seriously, for it requires discipline and continuous learning. The shaman typically does this work parttime and primarily in service to the community.
Ancient and enduring, yet threatened, shamanism is founded in basic human capabilities and potentialities. It is as relevant in today's world as it has been for millennia. Through research and experience, we are gradually learning how we might benefit from its lessons. Shamanic practice is a creative act which relies on the ability to transcend the bounds of ordinary reality and enter the shaman's world with trust based on direct firsthand experience. In that sense it is thoroughly pragmatic and empirical, not relying on faith. Traditionally, it has been a method for problem-solving. While the specific nature of the problems may have changed over time, the need to solve problems has not.
As a creative psychospiritual process, shamanic journeying is a method known through the ages all over the Planet. By reviving shamanic journeying, contemporary Westerners have adopted a methodology for discovering and rediscovering shamanic experience and content directly, and for tapping into their inherent creative potential. As relevant today as it was in the past, shamanism is our legacy and our responsibility is to pass it on. The knowledge so long acquired, and so generously shared by all our relations, may be spared extinction by our respectful attention.
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