Whenever the word shaman is mentioned people conjure up an image of a half-naked wild aboriginal dancing around an open fire. That’s as wrong as is the movie version of Native Americans who say “ugh” and “Me want wampum.” There’s so much more.
Images of drugged up glazed eyed hallucinating chanting figures calling up spirits from the nether world are just as illusionary as the late Jeff Chandler playing Cochise. Then, what is this more?
Some anthropologists have classified Shamanism as an archaic magical-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the great master of ecstasy. Ecstasy needs definition if we are to come to an understanding of what a shaman does. We are talking about a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion not a drug.
It is known that some shamans do use drugs to induce a state of ecstasy. When this is the case, it is generally for the purpose of experiencing the subconscious. This writer does not advocate the use of drugs. There are safer ways of arriving at an altered state. Those who use meditation also generally frown upon the use of drugs.
The shaman creates emotional ecstasy in a patient, besides through the use of drugs, by the use of music. In aboriginal terms this might be flute or the repetitive resonating beat of a drum. It can also be created by the voice of the shaman when he makes a high-pitched sound.
Unfortunately, many westerners have turned to the aboriginals in the jungles of South America and the mountains of Tibet for the experience of enlightenment by taking hallucinate drugs. A healing shaman does not necessarily pursue this approach despite the fact he is primarily a holistic thinker.
The shaman uses various herbs and plants from the natural world to help his patient. Poultices, steam with an infusion of herbs, and rich broths are standard. Many have the function of cleansing the human system.
The use of music, sounds, and the dance is more for effect and show. Yet, one may not discount the psychological affect they produce in the patient. Evidence suggests the human body can heal itself. The shaman’s goal is to increase that potential.