Shamanism As An Expression of the Perennial Tradition
Shamanism As An Expression of the Perennial Tradition
Shamanism As An Expression of the Perennial Tradition

  The Perennial Tradition has taken many forms over the centuries such as Hermeticism, Platonic Philosophia, Neo-Platonism, Esoteric Christianity, Illuminism, Alchemy, Cabala, Magic, Gnosticism, Sufism, and Shamanism. This Hidden Tradition is the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the great schools of mysticism.

  Shamanism is an ancient healing and spiritual transformation tradition. The word "shaman" originates from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Western anthropologists coined this term and have used it to refer to the spiritual and ceremonial leaders among indigenous cultures worldwide. The word shamanism has been used to describe the ancient spiritual practices of these indigenous cultures. The word shaman originates from the Evenki word saman, meaning "one who knows," most likely from the southwestern dialect spoken by the Sym Evenki peoples. The Tungusic term was subsequently adopted by the Russian settlers of Siberia who applied it to all indigenous spiritual healers.

  Shamanism can be defined as an ensemble of esoteric magical practices that center around a Shaman - a practitioner who has attained communion with and access to Higher Beings in the supersensible world through achieving a higher state of consciousness. Shamans typically enter a trance, meditative-contemplative state, or Higher noetic state in order to achieve a transcendental voyage and at times, although not in all cases, they do so with the use of psychoactive substances. The knowledge obtained through these "journeys" is meant to bestow divination and healing powers on the shaman. Shamanism is based on, among other concepts, the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits which affect the lives of the living. Many shamans have expert knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs native to their area and elsewhere. Shamans are sometimes said to learn directly from the plants, harnessing their effects and healing properties, after obtaining permission from the indwelling spirits. Shamanic spiritual practices include drumming, trance, chanting, use of entheogens and hallucinogens, spirit communication, divination, inspiration, healing, communing with Higher Beings in the supersensible realm, and Platonic dialectical interchange.

  A Perennialist Adept of my acquaintance employs a number of the manifestions of the Perennial Tradition in her Work, including Platonic Dialectic, Shamanism, and Alchemy. I consider her an expert in herbal healing and life-sustenance. She has published a book on herbal healing. She has written one of the major works on Shamanism, a novel about a practicing female Shaman in the modern world. She also writes poetry about contemporary Shamanism.

Urban Shaman's
Rainmaking Ceremony

I order the soaring machine
Unscrolling a contrail,
A line of tumbleweeds between
Fleecy cotton clouds:
Run a bolt through the billowing vapor;
Transmute it into sheets and sheets of water.

      I invoke eleven croaking crows
      To caw and amplify the waves
      That charge through power lines
      Lashed to tall poles:
      Echo a boom throughout the sky
      To shake down torrents and torrents of water.

I charge a palm sprout
Spearing through a cracked concrete driveway:
Unfurl your allegiance to sun and sky;
Infuse your roots with power
To magnetize jets and jets of water.

    I command you elements, earth, air, and fire
    To channel resurrecting water
    Through our desiccated lives.
    Let us hear the rhythms of raindrops on rooftops.
    Let us inhale the sweet cleansed air.
    Let us revel in the bright reflected light.
    We began as seeds in water.
    Now we foresee forests, fields, valleys, and towns,
    See them rainswept and drenched,
    See them shimmering with rainbows.

  This contemporary female Perennialist experienced her first Shamanic breakthrough when she was at a party and smoked what was described as a "Moroccan cigarette," (she thought it was tobacco) which happened to be a psychotropic substance and she became a deer roaming on a grassy plain. In one of her later Shamanic experiences, while walking outdoors she noticed a sparrow on the branch of a nearby tree and held out her hand in greeting. The sparrow lit on her hand, proceeded to tuck its head under its wing, remained in this position for several minutes, and then flew away. This Perennialist is as interested in science and contemporary social-political-economic trends as she is in mysticism. She considers the essence of all mystical experience to be the realization of Oneness.

  Shamanism is applied in a wide range of spiritual practices. A form of shamanaism is evident in the practices of the medicine man or medicine woman tradition, a healer and spiritual leader who serves a community of indigenous people of the Americas. Shamanism was an important element in the Celtic shamanic traditions. The Japanese Shinto and Ainu religions are also connected to shamanic rituals.

  Shamans have the exceptional ability to recognize persons who are diableros, individuals who are malicious and destructive because they have deliberately or unconsciously allowed evil spirits to infest and control them. 1

Shamanic Work

  Shamanism involves participation in the Work of discarnate Higher Beings in the Supersensible Plenum, which includes both the terestrial and spiritual worlds. This Work is mystical in the sense of having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to common intelligence; it is beyond ordinary understanding. The Divine creates and sustains a world which provides precisely coordinated learning experiences transcendentally matched to our current needs and capabilities. The Divine has the power to take all human actions and use them to assist us in our evolution. All persons receive exactly the experiences they deserve and from which they can best learn what they need for their personal evolution--and at the same time for the evolution of all humankind. The Divine does not create negative elements, those are created by human error and perfidy through the exercise of human freedom.

  In the modern world two major works concerning Shamanism have appeared:

Carlos Castaneda's Sorcery Description of the World

     The Great Doing involves the three states contained within the Shaman way of life:
  1. Becoming a Man of Knowledge: SEEING

    • "Stopping the world" - first step toward seeing

    • Final accomplishment of man of knowledge: stopping the world by not-doing

    • "What stopped inside you yesterday was what people have been telling you the world is like. You see, people tell us from the time we are born that the world is such and such and so and so, and naturally we have no choice but to see the world the way people have been telling us it is." don Juan

    • "Responding to the perceptual solicitations of a world outside the description we have learned to call reality."

  2. Becoming a Warrior: STOPPING THE WORLD

    • "'Stopping the world' was indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow in interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to that flow. In my case the set of circumstances alien to my normal flow of interpretations was the sorcery description of the world."

    • Condition for stopping the world: had to learn a new description in a total sense and pit it against the old description and break the dogmatic certainty we all share that our description is the only description

  3. Becoming a Hunter: NOT-DOING

    • Doing is a rock or a man

    • To look is doing; to see is not-doing

    • "That rock is a rock because of all the things you know how to do to it."

    • "The world is the world because you know the doing involved in making it so . . .  If you didn't know its doing, the world would be different."

    • To stop the world, you must stop doing.

    • To stop the world, enlarge something by not-doing.

    • Not-doing: proceed with something as if it were something far beyond an ordinary object or event; this can change it into a power object or a power event

    • Talking is doing for some, working for others


Shaman's Apprentice

"Tell me, Kimberly, did your first experience with Orenda tea provide you with any insights?"

"You could say that. I've had some mild altered states before, when I smoked marijuana in college, but the Orenda was different."

"In what way?"

"I seemed to be absorbing the inner reality of things, another dimension, even. Something happened to time. It slowed, or speeded up, or was non-existent, I can't say which. And--I can't think of the word--my sense impressions fused. I was hearing colors, seeing sounds."


"That's it."

"Were you upset by the experience?"

"At the beginning, yes. I wasn't sure I could handle it. I've heard that sometimes people who experience altered states are terrified by their loss of control. They feel they've been invaded by alien beings or else think they have become someone other than themselves and their dearest wish is to get back into their own skins with their own identities."

"Is that how you reacted?"

"No. After the strange sensations wore off, it seemed to me that I had been blown away by a hurricane of more information than I could process."

"Where do you think the information comes from?"

"Either the dimension I'm in right now, only without the usual filters, or else an altogether different dimension. Hmm. Maybe that's the wrong answer. Is this a test question in shaman school?"

Moon's low-throated laughter reassured her. "The shamans I knew never concern themselves with such questions. They believe another dimension exists, and they work hard to inhabit it. They drum, they dance, they fast, they go without sleep, they re-pattern their breathing, they visualize, they contemplate, they study mandalas, they undertake every kind of exercise that helps them enter the other dimension."

"That's just it. They work at it. All I did was drink some tea. Isn't that cheating?"

"Who is being cheated, you? Are the piss police going to ask you for a urine sample? Would you prefer isolation, starvation, and pain? Actually, shamans are quite fond of mind-altering substances. Unfortunately, many of them become drunks."

Kim's frustration edged her voice. "I always thought shaking rattles and drumming, and dancing and making funny noises was a lot of mumbo jumbo shamans use to impress the tribe. Which brings me to another question. What were we doing back there? What was I doing smashing that inoffensive porcelain bird into smithereens? Was it some kind of ritual?"

"Yes, Moon answered. "It was some kind of ritual."

"Is it magic, then?"

"If you want to call it that. I do not."

-The tea is having its effect, but it's different this time. Words are more important now. They resonate differently.- "Help me out, here. These are new concepts. I'm floundering. But please don't ask me any test questions."

"All right. Let us jump right into the middle of the muddle. Your physics teacher in college taught you that the universe is no longer thought to consist of hard, indestructible pellets of matter. Physicists now believe the universe consists of fields and energy. Energy and mass are interchangeable, can be converted into each other. Nature is energy organized by fields."


"The universal field of gravitation, which contains electromagnetic fields, vector fields, morphological fields, et cetera."

"What is a morphological field?"

"It is the organizing field that underlies the acorn that, under the right conditions, processes itself into an oak that produces acorns that contain the pattern for making an oak."

"You told me that spirit could best be translated in English as subtle body. Is the subtle body a field?"

"Yes, an organizing field. Have you heard of amputees who have sensations in a limb that is no longer there?"

"I have."

"Have you heard about patients who receive organ transplants and begin to experience new impulses that seem to come from another personality?"

"Yes, I've read about such things."

"How do you explain these anomalies?"

"I don't. They puzzle me, that's all. Is it possible that a subtle body organizes our bodies before birth and during life? I don't know anything about subtle bodies, but I'm guessing you'd say the amputee and the organ recipient are feeling disturbances in their subtle bodies."

"Very good."

"But what does this have to do with rituals?" Kim was conscious that the edge had returned to her voice.

"Organizing fields, be they of oak trees, crystals, or humans, transfer information, not energy. Morphic resonance is the influence of like upon like, undiminished by space and time. Rituals are a way of communicating with ritualists of the past."

"I don't think I can remember this."

"You will remember it, and you will also remember what I am going to instruct you in next--out of body travel."

"It seems to the student ever more and more as though the solution of the riddles over which he ponders is whispered to him in tones and words out of a higher world. And he is able to connect with ordinary life whatever comes to him from a higher world. What was formerly only accessible to his thought now becomes actual experience, just as living and substantial as an experience in this physical world can be. The things and beings of this physical world are by no means only what they appear to be for physical perception. They are the expression and effluence of a spiritual world. This spiritual world, hitherto concealed from the student, now resounds for him out of his whole environment. . .

"By concentration [contemplation] and meditation the student works upon his soul and develops within it the soul-organs of perception. While thus applying himself to the task of concentration and meditation his soul grows within his body, just as the embryo child grows in the body of the mother. When the isolated experiences during sleep begin, as described, the moment of birth is approaching for the liberated soul; for she has literally become a new being, developed by the individual within himself, from seed to fruit. The effort required for concentration [contemplation] and meditation must therefore be carefully and accurately maintained, for it contains the laws governing the germination and fruition of the higher human soul-being. The latter must appear at its birth as a harmonious, well-proportioned organism. . .

The initiate is "in a position to carry over his awakened higher soul into waking consciousness as well. The acquisition of this faculty will enable him to perceive the spiritual world in its own character, among and within the experiences of the day; that is, the hidden secrets of his environment will be conveyed to his soul as tones and words [and meanings]. . .

"The unconsciousness of sleep-life is transformed into complete consciousness. . . The student learns--indeed he must learn if he is to retain a firm footing in the physical world and not become a visionary--to connect the higher experiences of sleep with his physical environment. . .

"During sleep no impressions are conveyed to the human soul through the instrumentality of the physical sense-organs. The impressions from the ordinary outer world do not find their way to the soul when in that condition. In certain respects the soul is actually outside the part of the human being--the so-called physical body--which in waking life is the medium for sense perceptions and thought. The soul is then only connected with the finer bodies (the etheric body and the astral body), which are beyond the scope of physical sense observation. But the activity of these finer bodies does not cease during sleep. Just as the physical body is connected and lives with the things and beings of the physical world, affecting them and being affected by them, so, too, does the soul live in a higher world; only, this life of the soul continues also during sleep. The soul is in full activity during sleep, but we can know nothing of this activity so long as we have no spiritual organs of perception through which to observe what is going on around us and see what we ourselves are doing during sleep, as we observe our daily physical environment with our ordinary senses. The preceding chapters have shown that esoteric training consists in the development of such spiritual sense organs. . .

"The soul lives in uninterrupted activity in the higher worlds, even gathering from them the impulse to act upon the physical body. Ordinarily unconscious of his higher life, the esoteric student renders himself conscious of it, and thereby his whole life becomes transformed. As long as the soul remains unseeing in the higher sense it is guided by superior cosmic beings. And just as the life of a person born blind is changed, through a successful operation, from its previous dependence on a guide, so too is the life of a person changed through esoteric training. . .

"What the senses perceive is only part of the [Supersensible Plenum], and it is in the spirit world that the beings dwell who express themselves in the facts of the physical world. Man must become a partaker of the spirit in order to carry its revelations into the physical world. He transforms the earth by implanting in it what he has ascertained in the spiritual world. That is his task. . .

"Now a new era is to begin, in which thy liberated powers must be applied to further work in the world of the senses. Hitherto thou hast sought only thine own release, but now, having thyself become free, thou canst go forth as a liberator of thy fellows. Until today thou hast striven as an individual, but now seek to coordinate thyself with the whole, so that thou mayst bring into the supersensible world not thyself alone, but all things else existing in the world of the senses. . . Ye all did perforce descend into the sense-world to gather powers needed for a higher world. To separate thyself from thy fellows would mean to abuse those very powers which thou couldst not have developed save in their company. . ."

Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, 1904


Emily Dickinson and Shamanism

4/12/2007: The Dark Legacy of Carlos Castaneda

Alice Kehoe, (2000), Shamans and Religion: An Anthropological Exploration in Critical Thinking

Mircea Eliade, (1989), Shamanism

Ronald Hutton, (2001), Shamans: Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination

Fred Alan Wolf: The Nature of Shamanism

Michael Harner: The Way of the Shaman


1 The subject of diableros is spiritually dangerous, as these entities (infested persons) are controlled by evil zombies. If you are interested in knowing more about diableros, contact the author.