Not a Fixed Belief System
Core shamanism does not hold a fixed belief system, but instead focuses on the practice of shamanic journeying. Specific practices include the use of rapid drumming (about 220 beats per minute) or rattling to attain the Shamanic State of Consciousness. In this altered state of consciousness, much like being conscious while dreaming, the shamanic practitioner goes on a shamanic journey to one of the spirit worlds in order to encounter and interact with the spirits, and effect healing and practice divination.
Interview with Michael Harner about Core Shamanism
The following is taken from an interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan that is published on the Foundation for Shamanic Studies website.
The word “shaman” in the original Tungus language refers to a person who makes journeys to nonordinary reality in an altered state of consciousness. Adopting the term in the West was useful because people didn’t know what it meant. Terms like “wizard,” “witch,” “sorcerer,” and “witch doctor” have their own connotations, ambiguities, and preconceptions associated with them. Although the term is from Siberia, the practice of shamanism existed on all inhabited continents.
After years of extensive research, Mircea Eliade, in his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, concluded that:
shamanism underlays all the other spiritual traditions on the planet, and that the most distinctive feature of shamanism—but by no means the only one—was the journey to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness.
“…in our culture many consider it avant-garde if a person talks about the mind-body connection, but the fact that the brain is connected to the rest of the body is not the most exciting news. It’s been known for hundreds and thousands of years. What’s really important about shamanism, in my opinion, is that the shaman knows that we are not alone. By that I mean, when one human being compassionately works to relieve the suffering of another, the helping spirits are interested and become involved.”
Shamans are often called “see-ers” (seers), or “people who know” in their tribal languages, because they are involved in a system of knowledge based on firsthand experience. Shamanism is not a belief system. It’s based on personal experiments conducted to heal, to get information, or do other things. In fact, if shamans don’t get results, they will no longer be used by people in their tribe. People ask me, “How do you know if somebody’s a shaman?” I say, “It’s simple. Do they journey to other worlds? And do they perform miracles?”