by Alver Hviti
The word “Shamanism” conjures, in the minds of most of the so called “civilized” world, the image of a small, unkempt man jumping around with a staff decorated with feathers around a campfire, and riding high on drugs. In sum, a misunderstood image coming from ages past.
In Neolithic times, our ancestors worshiped spirits of the wild and the unseen. Life was taken at the pace of nature, rising with the sun and resting with it (except in some notable exceptions). Everyone who has ever been creative knows that trance is an effective problem solver, with the further specialization of labour which commonly comes with the evolution of societies. With such evolution, there naturally comes into existence the “professional problem solver”, someone who can interact with the spirits and bring solutions for the “tribe”. And who else is the shaman than someone excelling at entering in such states?
Animism evolved from such beliefs, the belief that everything has a tutelary spirit, and this was most likely the origin of the discovery of the Vanir, and later of the Aesir, which are described by some sources as the original tribes of Scandinavia, the Vanir-Aesir war being supposedly the mystification of a conflict between the original, agricultural settlers and a secondary, patriarchal, war-driven tribe. Clearly, what ended up by happening was a system that valued equality and peaceful co-habitation, but all that would disappear with Christianity and the forced conversion of the vikings.
Amongst ancient pagan religions, and that includes Heathenism, there’s a clear animistic stream underlying the mythological system, from myths referring to the passing of seasons (Balder’s murder at the hands of Hod and his consequent rebirth after Hod is killed according to some divergent versions of the tale. More on that later) to personifications of natural phenomena and elements (Thor being Lightning, Ullr and Skadi being Snow, Sutturn being Fire, amongst other clear examples).
Whatever it was, the Fon Sið reputably still had their own itinerant shamans, the Seidrkonner or Völver in it’s twilight years at the turning of the second millennium of the Common Era, and some of their rites have remained written in sagas such as the Saga of Erik the Red and this is to mention only the Norse. Remarkably, some of their techniques have survived, either by descriptions or passed down though the generations until today, despite the efforts of the dominating patriarchal “faith” to suppress the animistic nature and knowledge of the cultures it “defaced”.
The dawn of the digital age came as a double edged sword in this context. On one side, one can now easily explore several shamanic traditions from the comfort of one’s own home, getting in touch with other shamanic practitioners and learning how to walk the way, finding out about the latest books in the area amongst other things. It simplified one’s search in societies on which such “relics of the past” are frowned upon and suspected, allowing it to blossom despite adversity.
On the other side, by opening Shamanism to the world, it also made it prey for some “new age” groups to self-appropriate themselves and claim what they do to be shamanism, when in fact is a syncretic practice, mixing some traces of shamanism with new age spirituality drawn from several sources.
In the ages of old, such knowledge was transmitted by the knowledgeable elders to selected people, who would practice and teach to others they would select, perpetrating the chain and the knowledge. This was also how the original version of the Abrahamic Faiths used to persist, in a time before Dualism became Patriarchal Monotheism. When any non-patriarchal belief is written down “for posterity”, we see the rise of a sacerdotal class that uses writing as a means of power over belief, and returns the original beliefs into a version that demonizes the side that did not use writing, but used oral transmission instead. One example is the mystery of the Jewish Temple of Elefantine and the Jewish Temple at Leontopolis. In Deuteronomy, Jews are commanded not to sacrifice to their God outside of Jerusalem….then these two temples were built. And in Elefantine, there are remnants of a cult to both Yahweh and to a female deity known as Anet-El or Anet-Yahu. Nobody knows for sure if Moses really wrote Deuteronomy, but if he didn’t, Anet-El was most likely erased by then, leading to the Abrahamic religions as we know today.
By opening shamanism to the world, we take the risk that those who come seeking for the real deal end up with watered down, adulterated mock up of what the ancient ones knew.
In sum, shamanism can be a key to keep humanity’s connection to the planet who brought them to life. In today’s society, in which most of the active moments in one’s day are spent in front of a computer screen, we’ve reached a point in which most people have lost their connection to Earth, and often feel empty and depressed. It is known that an animistic perspective of life prevents clinical grade depression. Shamanism can be a tool to bring Mankind back to Earth, and for that, we can use the very tool that is pushing Mankind away from it. Now how things will go….I suppose only time will tell.
Magee, Michael “Robin Hood and the Wiches” (2003)
Haugen, Andrea “The Ancient Fires of Midgard” (2008 reprint)
Rysdyk, Evelyn C. “The Norse Shaman” (2016)