The Shaman in all of us
The importance of the Shaman figure and Ritual in Meso-American culture according to the Borgian Codex and their significance for contemporary society.
"Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamic of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions sown are directly valid for all mankind” - Joseph Campbell from A Hero with a ThousandFaces.
All recorded cultures in the world are woven by the thread of ritual. From the Lakota Sioux to the Yawanawa in the Brazilian Amazon, rituals take a place of high importance in the everyday life of the original societies. As I have witnessed in my life, the use of smoke to send prayers to higher realms or dispel low vibrations, is part of the cultures previously mentioned and also part of the Catholic tradition, which prevails in contemporary society.
Under the western paradigm, modern society and academia have been successful at categorizing rituals, thus separating cultures and undoing the knots of convergence that ritual represents in cross-cultural time and space. One succinct example is the categorization of smudging (smoldering plant material to cleanse a space or person) as “New Age”, Shamanic /Traditional, or religious depending on who is smudging. Smudging itself, is a solemn act that demonstrates the unification of methods of communication with realms beyond the tangible. However, the successful spread of Judaic traditions in the west has elevated organized (hierarchical-style)religions and underserved the original traditions passing mostly as primitive.
Re-threading the thread : Shamanism
The affordability of travel and the proliferation of the internet have played a crucial role in acknowledging the common thread, and in helping to weave it together again in a way that is relevant to our current understanding the world and our relationship to it and each other.
Lines of thought in various disciplines have come to use the terms “Shaman”, “Shamanic” and “Shamanism” to mean the person, the act, and the practices that take place between the tangible and the intangible realms of existence. Shaman is originally a word from the Tungusic peoples of Siberia that refers to a Doctor, or“The One Who Knows”. But what does he know? This, is also a common theme. The standardization of the term Shaman and its derivatives serves to shed light on the process of contemporary man threading traditions once more in order to serve humanity at large. The Shaman figure has successfully migrated from Siberia and made its way around the world unifying the belief of the existence of multiple realms within human reality.
Who is the Shaman? S/He who is beyond this realm and of this realm all at once. S/he who feels the calling and is brave enough to answer in order to serve as a bridge between worlds from experience.
In Meso-american cosmologies, as recorded in the Borgian Codex, the shaman is s/he who acts as a suture in a split world. S/he acts as an intermediary by crossing the door(s) to worlds beyond the living in order to gather experience and strength, which s/he then shares. The Shaman is considered a living dead , because s/he has gone through death and willfully returned in service of others.
Unifier: The Trail and the Trail Blazer
The Shaman figure functions as an incarnated way to other realms. S/he also, through heir own experiences, is able to uncover truths and teachings that are expressed through this cultural filter, giving the interpretation of these teachings specific socio-cultural relevance.
Although the Shaman holds a position of power over others , s/he must also be humble to let others learn from heir journey, so that those who seek heir may walk the path without fear.
The Shaman figure is the unification of the primordial duality which gives way to the multiplicity of human understandings of the world. As seen in Meso-American petroglyphs, the Shaman is represented as a bicolored figure: black (holy), and red (human). Duality has also been expressed in bicephalous figurines, hermaphrodite figurines, and other ways to signify the active and passive principles, the complementary opposites, co-existing in one body.
The Shaman’s journey : Mythology from the underworld to contemporary society
The authentic shaman in the most familiar context, tends to be a distant figure , usually an other; from another culture, and another time. However, the mythology of the Shaman’s journey acts as a road that leads us to a human condition that has not been given but that must be attained.
The Shaman’s journey is the archetypal quest of the self through the universe to arrive at a primordial state of re-birth. Here, the traditional Shamanic figure undergoes a process of transformation to serve heir society, however, this journey is available and waiting for contemporary society through various methods, including the ritual of entheogenic plants.
The journey to attain oneness, the state beyond duality, begins in our world which seems to be broken. According to the Popol Vuh, humans were created by the Gods three times: The first time, men were made of clay. The clay was soft and disintegrated with the water. On their second attempt, the Gods made humans out of wood but they were too dry and were missing blood. On the third try, the Gods made humans out of Maize (corn). These humans were so wise, they knew the truths of the world and the omnipotence of humankind, so they did not need the Gods anymore.
This outraged and worried the Gods, driving them to find a solution to maintain their relevance. As a way to confuse humans, the Gods produced a haze which descended upon the earth like a veil, clouding the humans vision and limiting their view to short distances. Although reality and possibilities remained attainable and endless for humankind, their shortness of vision brought about doubt and fear.
It is here where The Shaman figure emerges. The Shaman moves through the opaque, hazy world down to the underworld and retrieves truths and visions without fear. Heir duty is to take the hands of fellow humans and guide us to the truth and the light; to serve as a road for us to remember our omnipotence.
Plants and dreams as givers of vision
Dreams and entheogen plants are crucial available tools for both, the traditional shaman and contemporary wo/men who embark of the journey. The understanding of these tools as shamanic portals, effectively validate anyone who is willing to go beyond the limitations of the self as a shaman archetype. This however, does not mean that consuming entheogenic substances is the same as carrying out traditional initiations and practices that a Shamanic figure in a particular culture must undergo in order to be able to be of service to heir community.
The duality of the world, and the human condition is present in all things including the above statement; where the Shaman and the Shamanic archetype possible within all of us, can undergo a journey of self-discovery but are not one of the same.
Entheogen means “God-within”. Master plants with entheogen qualities provide energy thresholds where we are able to unify the underworld and the heaven realms; this path is referred to as the intentional path. When consuming and entheogen like Peyote, San Pedro, Mushrooms or Ayahuasca, the spirit of the plant merges with our own and is able to dissipate the clouding veil that limits our perception, as a shaman would. It is important to clarify that although entheogen plants are shamans by their own right, a trained shaman figure should preside over the ceremonial communion of these substances and spirits for protection and spiritual guidance. In ceremony, the truth is shown beyond duality. We experience how the plants act as the portal and the teacher in a unified way, the man is no longer limited by the mind and we remember our God nature.
Although, entheogen plants have gained recognition and their ceremonial and therapeutic uses are on the rise in the western world, access and willingness to participate in this rigorous ceremonies is limited by mental, cultural and economic factors. Fortunately, dreams are another important shamanic portal used by many traditions around the world for millennia and available to everyone. Dreams are referred to as the natural path.
Dreams, as the opening quote of this article states, are one’s personalized myth, a tool to see the limitations of everyday life through a new limitless perspective. The nature of dreams is divided in two: First as fragmented realities, aspirations and memories from the present lifetime rearranged in a different pattern; and second, as a pathway to retrieve information from realms beyond our waking life. In the meso-american tradition, humans are said to have 3 souls :The tonalli, teyolia, and ihiyotl . The tonalli, the caloric force gifted to men by the sun, resides in our heads. The tonalli soul is responsible for human growth and movement. Tonalli is the part of us which detaches itself from the body while we dream, and is able to travel to the underworld and the heavens and the worlds that ancestors inhabit in order to recover forgotten information useful for ourselves and humanity.
Significance of Shamanism for contemporary society
Traditional Shamans mostly fall under the category of recognized beings. Shamans are usually found in traceable lineage that spans many generations. Tibetan buddhists of the Kagyu and Gelugpa traditions, and Taitas, medicine elders from various amazonian traditions share this way of community recognition. These Shamans are born in their role and will not occupy another, under free will, a human duality, they could either use or waste their gift. However they are predetermined to fulling one specific role. It is said that the child will exhibit irrefutable signs of being a shaman sometimes while in the mother’s womb.
However, there are people with important roles like the hail keepers or graniceros, who are not necessarily part of a lineage. Graniceros are instead called by nature to serve the purpose of calling the rain and keeping hail at bay through a natural sign. In Meso-american traditions, these beings are stricken by lighting and upon surviving, spirits reveal their new role in society and tools like song and dance to carry out their work in the community.
As covered in this article, the Shamanic journey and contemporary society are in a way, currently walking towards each other, shamans are not always necessarily part of a traditional lineage, and the journey is finding its way in contemporary society through various avenues.
The initiation journey of the shaman, and the shamanic journey of contemporary wo/men, happen in the same place. The vessel, the stomach of the world, is in charge of facilitating a sort of cosmic digestion where shaman and common human undergo a series of changes in the dark. Both are to cross the threshold from this world to the underworld, fully alone. Wo/man and Shaman are to consciously kill the mundane self in other for the divine self to shine and guide their actions for the benefit of the world at large. Through the journey, both must confront fears and limitations in order to retrieve the untainted truths waiting to be remembered. When wo/man and Shaman reach the final place in their descent towards the center of existence, a sort of Atman is reached. Atman in the Hindu tradition refers to the first principle, true self and innermost essence. It is here, in the utmost depths of the underworld and the self, that wo/men and Shaman can connect the underworld and the highest heavens.
Both Shaman and the contemporary wo/man, are able to plant the seed of change and nurture the visions of oneness that have now been revealed and remembered through the journey.
Contemporary wo/men have the advantage of accessing a great deal of traditional knowledge that if treated with reverence is able to enlighten the current human condition and point the way toward the inner journey that is able to bring about a resurgence thought and behavior based on shamanic practices. These serve to unify duality, space and time and elevate the human current condition through the weaving of various shamanic threads that had been unwoven until recently.
Contemporary wo/men have the opportunity to see themselves not as modern dilutions of the Gods, but instead as the embodiment of wisdom germinated from the enriched mix of shamanic sediment that covers the earth. Migration, and the internet are two of the most influential forces that allow the resurgence of shamanism across the world.
In the words of Eduardo Menache, Meso-American tradition is not of dead Gods in temples, it is of living, breathing Gods a that inhabit an everyday world. Contemporary wo/men carry the ancestral memory within the flesh. Our ancestors have deposited their knowledge in our blood, in our bones, and in our tissues in order to help guide us to that pilgrimage towards our inner self, to the true homeland, which is a place not confined by human understanding.
He reminds us that in indigenous cosmologies, humans plant the world, and humans are also planted in the world. This sacrifice provokes the dismemberment of the Gods in order to form what we call existence, and it does not come without a price. Now humans must measure up to this sacrifice with one of their own: Humans must undergo a journey to become sacred again, return home to the unified field of underworld and heavens, through the route of ritual as is the Shamanic journey. Shamanism spread all over the planet for millennia since neolithic times, contemporary society considers the evidence of the spread of these practices asa sort of living sediment from where the seeds of the various religions and beliefs are able to germinate.
Contemporary wo/men have the opportunity to see beyond separation of religious interpretations, to recognize the shamanic tools and the teachings spread across the world. Powers like that of smoke, which penetrates the veil that seemingly separate our world and beyond, carrying our intentions back to the ancestors.
*cover photo by Catori Life