“The analyst must go on learning endlessly…it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal.” ~ Carl Jung
The shaman is portrayed in media as somewhat of a witch doctor; using voodoo and chicken’s blood to heal one of sickness and ailments. But the shaman is much more than this. The shaman is a wounded healer; having suffered through his own dark times and fought his own inner demons.
He is a seer and a communicator; he has the ability to consort with spirits and animal guides to assist in the endeavours to release others from their pain. More so, he is a healer of the soul, not the body; a common misconception.
Many Native American tribes believe that if a person falls ill; whether in mind, spirit or body, that an evil spirit has entered him. They believe that if bad luck befalls the entire tribe or land, that it is the spirits that control this. They depend on the shaman to communicate with these spirits, to guide them and protect them.
What then are the characteristics of the shaman? Where do his abilities come from?
Carl Jung coined the title “the wounded healer archetype” from the Greek Myth of Chiron. Chiron was a centaur who was wounded by a poison arrow but because he was immortal, he could not die and so spent his days in agony. It was through this agony that he was able to teach others about their own pain.
He was able to identify with them and helped bring about their healing. So too, is the way of the shaman. In order to truly understand suffering, one must also have suffered. Through trials and tribulation, we have the choice to grow and learn. The shaman makes his choice wisely and shares the lessons with those he works with to heal.
One of the ways in which he does this is through ego death. On his path to knowledge, the shaman must confront his ego. It is ego that keeps us wanting for more material things; it is ego that fuels jealousy, and it is ego that kills our self esteem by making us compare ourselves to others. Many equate ego with identity and by losing our sense of self, we are able to see a bigger picture.
Letting go of the belief that we are separate entities and recognizing that we all come from one energy source is necessary in expanding our consciousness. In this unity, we are much more aware of others feelings and shared experiences. By breaking down ego, the shaman is able to put to rest his own selfish desires and focus his energies on others. In doing so, the shaman must die to self and be reborn multiple times.
The shamanic journey begins with an out-of-body experience. This is often achieved through lucid dreaming, deep meditation and psychedelic drugs such as peyote. However, many shamanic initiations begin with a near-death experience. In fact, the correlation of NDE and shamanism is quite high.
Prolong illness can also induce the trance like state that is necessary in entering the spiritual realms. For these reasons, the shaman has usually spent much time suffering physically as well. His connection to sickness and pain propels him in his spiritual quest.
Many wounded healers have experienced trauma in their lives. They have deep mental and emotional scars formed during a painful childhood. It is through these experiences that they develop the intuition for survival. At some point in time, they have gone through a “Dark Night of the Soul” This refers to rock bottom, a critical state of despair.
It is here where internal beliefs crumble and conflict with self arises. In order to recover, the wounded healer retrieves the fragmented parts of their mind, calling back the lost pieces of themselves. In doing so, they are able to transcend their own pain and suffering and realize that there is a choice in healing.
How then, does the broken healer assist others? After his own Dark Night and Ego Death, the shaman is now aware of the unity of pain that connects all living creatures. He has overcome his past, journeyed through his darkness and possesses the skills and knowledge to impart to other wounded souls.
The shaman works in three realms; the upper world; the middle world and the lower world. These three realities are within the psyche and can be travelled at will. He will transverse these inner planes in order to create change and gain knowledge.
The upper world is the domain of the divine, the enlightened and holds the wisdom of all things. The shaman will go here to bring balance, acquire a vision or to influence events in the material world.
The middle world is as though a parallel universe of our own. Here, the spirit of all things living exist and can be interacted with. Similar to astral travel, the shaman uses this realm for locating people and communication over great distances.
The lower world is populated by animal spirits, spirit guides and the dead. It is the place the human soul travels to upon physical death. Work is done here to seek guidance or locate lost spirits.
With courage and internal strength, the wounded healer transform their pain into a well of empathy. Their past personal story can be retold to inspire and heal others in a unique way. Their own spiritual journey can be retraced to help other wounded souls find peace and joy. The shamanic path is not an easy one but the benefits to humanity and the connection to universal healing make it worthwhile.