Shaman: A practitioner of shamanism.
Shamanism recognizes the Unity of all things;
a shaman serves the Unity of all things.
The purpose of this paper is to review the concept of what consciousness is, how consciousness is altered, and how the shaman uses the shift.
What Is Consciousness?
For purposes of this discussion, consciousness can be loosely defined as:
The waking perception of objects, events, and time.
Contrasted with consciousness is the subconscious. Our subconscious is a hidden mind just as perceptive of things. Our awaking mind struggles for a language to share information. This gap is bridged during dreams, hypnosis and meditation and other methods of achieving altered consciousness.
Altered consciousness is very much awake and real. The altered perception is shifted from the “norm”. This is an interesting thought. When the new and unusual becomes a normal day of life, it becomes part of the everyday reality of the consciousness. So, it would be beneficial to further explore the definition of altered consciousness. However, at its root, altered consciousness defies fixed definition. It is instead something that is experienced. The triggers for this experience are what we will explore further.
Altered consciousness is very strong when the conscious and subconscious minds communicate with each other. Their dialogue forms the basis of this shifted perception. The reality of the moment is derived from the conscious and the alternate reality from the subconscious. The combination is like the Temperance card in the Tarot as a new, real reality is formed.
The Nature of Reality
What is reality? If consciousness – both waking and subconscious – are viewing reality, what are they viewing? The answer lies in the thought that the world of the shaman is very much like the world of the child. In the child’s world everything is alive and everything responds to their desires. They are connected to all things, or at the least, they desire to be connected. The mythology of childhood, the stories and entertainment, support this way of thinking through everything in the world talking and interacting. Journeys to other realities and communication with the inhabitants of those realities are common. Magic is the norm when the hero or heroine of the story is in danger. This is the waking world of the child. This world is later transformed to a more practical world. A world of predictable mechanics is introduced, and believing is seeing. A thing must be demonstrated as “real” before it can be believed and integrated as part of the consciousness.
The world of the child and shaman works in an opposite way from the mechanistic predictive world. They see what they believe. The world is the outcome of what the conscious wishes to perceive. Instead of a dead world that is measured, the shaman has a live world that responds to the desired measurements. Here magic is possible and will happen. This is the magic of the shaman and that of modern quantum physics in juxtaposition.
We in the Western cultures live in a world that unknowingly straddles the adult’s and the child’s thinking. We want to believe everything is cause and effect, but at the same time life continuously manifests through our conscious thoughts and subconscious thoughts. People and events work out how we perceive them to be. A happy outlook results in a happy day. A sad outlook results in a sad day. We loose track of this and measure the outcome, unaware that we had a hand in creating it. When we measure the outcome, and ignore the triggers, we become victims and loose power. The manifestation of events in our lives become the pawns of outside forces. A viscous cycle begins as we believe in a destiny directed by things “outside” of ourselves. The reality of the situation is directed by our thoughts and the perception is rewarded with a matching outcome to those thoughts. This reinforces the perception of victimhood, and the cycle builds until we are seemingly powerless. The magic of the child’s thinking is subverted by the adult’s thinking.
Why does this happen? It happens because we are not aware of the power that our thoughts have. We are not aware that the world responds to us. The ego, that part of us that builds a “safe” reality, builds a box that our intellect and emotions are trapped. Does this mean that the magic is gone? No. The true, alive, and responsive reality is outside the box and has never left. It only waits for we, as adults, to rediscover it.
The Magic of Reality
What does it mean to rediscover the magic in life? How does one rediscover the magic? The answer is through altered consciousness. We have glimpses of the magic even as we are in our boxes, but our ego moves us away from the windows and directs us to be safe in our victimhood. The subconscious mind is put in a dark corner of the box, or more likely, it is locked outside. The shifting into altered consciousness reunites the waking and asleep minds. The secret to the reunion is that the boxes of our ego and victimhood build are merely illusions. They are unknowing, sleeping application of the magic of life. The box of ego is melted away when we grasp the altered consciousness. We don’t have to walk out the door because the box was never really there. The box and its door were only present when we chose it to be present.
The combined conscious knows that it sees what it believes. Our realities are only limited by belief. Belief is only limited by imagination. Magical imagination lives outside of fear and embraces all that is known to be possible. Is the limitation of imagination what we know? This is where the subconscious mind gives a hand. The subconscious mind easily taps into ancient archetypes, channeled material, spirit guides, and all other forms of energy, form, and communication that are just out of sight from the conscious mind. The subconscious mind provides or augments the knowledge of the conscious mind.
The conscious mind does take many cues from the physical surroundings. The society around a person has much to say about how things work, when they work, and where they work. This is both very powerful and it can also be a detriment. A culture that is rich in a magical mythology can give a very healthy and vibrant frame for the subconscious to fill in. The restrictive culture stunts the subconscious, providing little room for it to blossom and grow.
There are also layers to a society. Society is parents, authority figures, and teachers. Society is what we learn through our own studies and those directed by others. How does self-taught knowledge relate to the layers of society? The materials used are a product of the society. If the subconscious mind is not providing information, all we can know is what has been already recorded. The subconscious mind provides new fuel for learning. The subconscious mind transcends the layers of society.
The Path to Altered Consciousness
If a state of altered consciousness is active when the subconscious and conscious minds are working together, how do we arrive that that state? The first step is very easy: believe that it is possible. Believe that information can come from unseen places. Believe in divination, channeling, spirit guides, omens, prophecies, time travel, astral projection, and all other manner of subconscious things. Believe in the magical and those things of the altered conscious. You will then see what you believe and the cycle will be upward instead of downward.
Belief is reinforced by tools that are part mundane and part real. The tarot is a good example. The cards are only pieces of card stock. However, they provide a tool to connect to the synchronicity of the universe. The cards provide a means of looking through the veil that separates worlds and energies. The printed card stock becomes a magical tool as it taps into the intuitive energies and archetypes that are ever present and waiting to be contacted.
Knowledge can do the same thing. Knowing color associations, names of angels, rituals of invocation, and so on, gives the user tools to connect to the altered consciousness. The shaman is taught a potentially complex system of beliefs which includes the knowledge and belief in the names of the helping spirits in the shamanic pantheon, the memory of certain texts (sermons, shaman-songs, legends and myths), the rules for activities (rituals, sacrifices, the techniques of ecstasy) and the objects, tools and paraphernalia used by shamans (drum, stick, bow, mirror, costumes, etc.). The expression of all of these elements are determined by the tribe/group that the shaman operates in. The student of shamanism will be exposed and taught according to the tribe/group they instructed through. We have our own metaphysical belief structures that are just as complex. While these are not are traditionally “shamanic”, they do have a tremendous power because they are OURS and they are there for us to use as we alter our consciousness.
Tools and knowledge are just parts of the path of altered consciousness. They should not be thought to be the journey or even the destination. There is a danger here for the growing shaman or anybody on a spiritual journey. There is a trap here. When the tools and rituals of the shaman are seen as dogma, that is, a fixed set of rules, the shamanic path becomes a dead-end. . A person who says, “I am a Master”, has come to their dead-end. This trap is laid by the teacher. Custom, tradition, and ceremony are just tools for a spiritual path. Once the basics are learned, a person must walk their own path. The teacher who holds a properly prepared student to fixed ways is holding them to a dead thing. Anyone who has the tools and only follows the path of others will not discover the living expression of the altered consciousness.
There is a trap that the student sets for themselves. In this modern world everyone wants things too fast without taking their time to learn the tools before setting out on his or her journey. There is a danger for those who do not learn the tools of their group fully and try to walk a spiritual path. They will be thrashing aimlessly in the dark and will eventually hurt themselves and others. Tools have power, and there is responsibility in their power. Teaching will follow a set pattern not because it is dogma, but instead because of consideration to the maturity of spirit and knowledge of the student.
The trap of the teacher and the student are shared by all mystical schools. However, the teaching and learning of shamanism is more endangered because of the uniquely individual path and experience of the practicing shaman.
Shamanism, or any practice of altered consciousness, is ultimately a method, not a religion with a fixed set of dogmas. People arrive at their own experience, deriving conclusions about what is going on in the universe, a place that is “just the way things are”.
There is the following writing from an ancient Chinese parable:
“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek instead what they sought.”
In summary, to achieve a state of altered consciousness one must first believes it can be done, finds tools (cultural and self) and then uses the tools instead of being used by them.
Altered consciousness is the connection of conscious and subconscious. Interestingly, this connection itself can be subconscious and the results can box a person into victimhood relative to the world. The shamanic student or the student of life recognizes this and dissolves the boxes of the ego. They live in a growing state of awareness. In this awareness the world responds to their wishes. The synchronicity of the inner and outer working together in harmony is recognized. Power is aided by tools and knowledge that link worlds and energies. The tools and energies are not the destination, and outcome for the shaman is a topic for another paper. Be content with knowing that there is a process and the process is very flexible. The process of altered consciousness only asks for one thing: Believe.