Much of the work we have been offering of late is shamanic in nature, and I wanted to give a definition of the way I am using this term. A shaman (to my understanding) is someone who has passed through an incredibly intense process of self discovery that usually spans many years and includes extended periods (a year, and often longer) in isolation, disconnected from the tribe. This is usually done under the tutelage of someone who has already passed through this process themselves.
I personally do not consider myself a shaman, as while I have been through similar processes to what I mentioned above, it has not been to the length and depth that would be necessary to be given a title beyond apprentice. Titles, such as healer, shaman, psychic etc. are handed out after a long weekend of minor hardship these days, but I feel (and this is only my understanding) that this does not make the title justified.
I am not dimming my light and I do see myself as fully qualified to offer the healing work I do, but there are also levels to this kind of work that I feel need to be recognised by those holding space. My limited understanding is that to hold a healing space, we must first heal ourselves, and then our mode of service will slowly start to reveal itself. This path is a long path, and if we try to force it too early, suffering for ourselves and others is inevitable. The paradox is, it may be necessary for some to learn this suffering through first hand experience, instead of knowing it because someone else said it.
Another distinction is, the root of the word “Shaman” is “Saman” meaning “one who knows”. This is a Siberian word. Often the archetypical indiginous wild man or woman of the jungle comes to mind when this word is spoken, but it was actually spoken by the Manchu-Tungus people of Mongolia and Russia. With this in mind, words become adopted, and the most simple way to explain the ceremonial work we do so people understand is using the word “Shamanic”.
As a side note to this, there is evidence that Indiginous American populations have Siberian roots, and in South America many of the Indiginous people have the same features as the people of Mongolia.
Types of Spirituality
To give a further distinction of the difference between Shamanic spirituality and other forms of spirituality, we will move through 2 other types of spirituality. Using the 2 largest religious groups Christianity and Islam as an example, these are both faith based forms of spirituality. The narrative of these religions is, if you believe in the righteous God, and reject the opposite (the Devil) you will receive “His” blessings and go to Heaven. In some ways it is a giving up of your personal power, to a higher power, or surrendering your will to the divine will. A faith based form of spirituality.
The second example is Buddhism. Buddhism says, if you put in the effort, you will be rewarded. In some ways this is the opposite of Christianity and Islam. Buddhism says if you commit yourself in complete devotion to the mastery of your mind, you will be freed from bondage through effort alone, and this will be your connection to spirituality.
The first is faith based, the second is discipline based. Shamanic work is when we use a third party tool, substance or combination to connect with divinity. This could be through music, plants, dance or similar. One of the keys with the Shamanic work is direct experience, and often this is achieved on the first attempt.
The Christian can wait a lifetime for God to show up, and get to the deathbed with some level of uncertainty. The Buddhist can stay in the monastery for the same period and still not glimpse divinity. However, if you take a large handful of strong psychedelic mushrooms or a cup of Ayahuasca, most people will have an experience to tell the Grandchildren about.
So to break it down, we have -
Faith - Christianity / Islam
Discipline - Buddhism
Direct Experience - Shamanism
This is not to say that there are not aspects of all three present, in the different religions, just their predominant means is as outlined. For example, Christian priests have disciplined practices of prayer and use tools (candles, incense and the cross) to connect. Buddhists also use sound to aid their prayer, and faith that their discipline will lead them to salvation. Both have people report direct experiences with “God”. Those doing shamanic work need faith that they are guided by a divine force and they will return from their journeys psychologically sound. They also must be committed to learning songs and trance inducing methods.
I am an advocate of the last, however, it does not come without risks. For example, some of the experiences you can have with plants, can be too much for the typical person. You can damage yourself psychologically and physically if you have an experience you are not ready for. It is advised that if you are going to have an experience such as a plant medicine journey, that you are prepared mentally and physically, and also willing to make major changes in your life, because the ceremonies can ask this of us.
Thanks for staying with me so far, I shared this extended intro to be able to put into context the shamanic work we are doing.
What I have witnessed in our ceremonies has been nothing short of miraculous. It is culturally common to look for a uniform understanding of something, but shamanic work, (with psychedelics specifically) does not offer this uniformity. It is mysterious!
We have held ceremonies for 3 years, with hundreds of people passing through. Prior to this I had been working with different medicines for a further 6 years. So after close to a decade of experiences and hundreds of ceremonies, the only thing uniform I have found is that every experience is so vastly different. The same set and setting, with the same dosage, a week apart offers a very different experience.
So when we ask what one can heal in a ceremony, a list of symptoms would be a limited explanation. What the psychedelic experience offers (along with other means that help us to have a direct experience with the divine) is a connection to our spirituality, and when we connect to our divine true nature, and come back to totality, even if it is just for a moment, things heal.
We have had people break long term addictions. Overcome physical pain (in the ceremonies and post ceremony). Heal from autoimmune issues. But alongside overcoming challenges, people have connected to a sense of purpose, and been able to connect to why they are here.
There is also something very beautiful about coming together in community for the purpose of healing and connecting directly to spirituality.
With this in mind the medicines work in different ways for different people. It seems that there is a willingness needed, coupled with a strong intention, and a want to integrate the experience. Without this you can turn up to ceremony after ceremony and see no changes in your life, and potentially things can get worse.
The medicines are a tool. But like a hammer can be used to create a home, if used irresponsibly it can also be used to destroy one. A knife can be used to butter bread, or it can be used to kill. Same tools, completely different outcome, depending on the intention.
A major part of mystical experiences, and life in general is intention. If you have a clear intention of where you want to go, you can slowly start to carve out this path. Without this, you have nothing to direct your energy towards and you will live a reactive life to the world around you. This can also be a path, the path of complete surrender, but this would be in no way a “normal” life compared to how most are accustomed to living. So unless you are willing to wander living in reaction to the world around you, a solid intention (combined with some flow) for what you want is very helpful.
The second part of this equation is of course, what is your intention? And asking the right questions to formulate intentions is an art form itself. But getting really quiet, and outside in the natural world and listening is a good starting point. Your body has a tendency to react in different ways to a yes, than to a no, so cultivating the ability to listen to this innate wisdom is a strong guiding point.
I invite you to get still, go outside and ask yourself - if I could do just one thing for the next 3 months, what would it be? This is your target to aim your arrow at!
Thanks for reading, check out our upcoming events HERE, would love to see you there.
About the author
Luke Miller has been working ceremonially with plants since 2014. After a 13 month soul initiation working with Ayahuasca in the Amazonian jungle, he travelled to India to integrate the experience and learn Yoga and Pranayama techniques - eventually landing in the UK and being initiated into a form of Kemetic (Egyptian) yoga called Smai Tawi (which means union of the lands). Luke has recently completed a 30 day diet with the Yawanawa tribe, learning traditional songs and working with Uni (Ayahuasca) and Hape. Luke now combines this life experience alongside intuitive sound healing to create ceremonial events of cross cultural healing modalities. A unique transcendental experience merging plants, movement and sound healing.