Field Guide Friday – Shamanism & Nature

It’s no secret that many of us have felt a little abused by nature lately. Here at Chez Weiser, desks rattled from the earthquake a couple of days ago, and now windows are being boarded up all over town in preparation for Hurricane Irene this weekend.  Other parts of the world are faring much, much worse  – drought, flood, fire, famine.  Some say that the problem with the weather is not Nature, but our relationship to it. So many of us only pay attention to the world outside our climate-controlled homes and offices when things get ugly. We take our physical comforts for granted, forgetting that they come at a cost, both global and personal.

Methinks that this excerpt from the soon-to-be-released The Hollow Bone; A Field Guide to Shamanism (Colleen Deatsman) gives some much-needed perspective on the subject of self and nature. It also opens with one of Ankhie’s all-time favorite lines of poetry:

The Spirit of Nature and the Circle of Life

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – Khalil Gibran


Shamans don’t think about nature with an “us and them” mindset. Shamans know that we, humans, are a part of nature, not exempt nor separate from the powers and effects of its forces.

In the history of humanity and shamanism, the challenges to survival were so difficult that most people were unable to perform any but the most essential life duties. Very few people had the time or penchant to ponder and explore the subtle balance of the spirits and energies of nature, and yet it was necessary that someone understand these forces to ensure survival. Therefore, these forces became the shaman’s territory.

Early people depended on the shamans to understand and mediate the ever-present mysteries of nature. To these people, nature was often an adversary and destroyer, yet also a healer and sustainer of life. And nature was always family, for nature was home. Nature was, and is, omnipotent, and shamans then and now view it as a great force that demands to be addressed and honored.

Nature is the raw, untouched physical and energetic manifestation of the life-force energy and the web of life. Its two aspects, physical and energetic, swirl in tandem and overlap here in physical reality. To shamans, nature is alive, dynamic, and full of living beings—energies and forces that are visible and invisible, known and unknown. The visible and known aspects of nature and the web are the people, things, beings, and objects that most people see and sense as real and tangible. Even though these things appear to be, and are, physical, they are actually energy coalesced into a dense enough form that they have a sense of solidity. By honing their senses, shamans tune into the invisible energies and forces—nature’s subtler energy vibrations.

Honing the senses begins with the basic practice of awareness. ..

Every person can touch and witness the physical aspects of the web here, in this physical plane, by observing nature. Most people don’t realize is that when they observe the physical, they are often sensing the less obvious energetic aspects as well. The physical presence is what a thing is. The energetic nature is what a thing does. Shamans are well aware of both the physical and energetic aspects of things and nature, and they know how to use both aspects to facilitate their work.

An example from plant spirit medicine teaches us that mullein is a tall, slender, attractive plant, with multitudes of tiny yellow blossoms, that grows wild in many parts of the world. Physically and energetically, mullein is a healer. Mullein is used to treat such physical issues as asthma, upper respiratory inflammation, constriction and cough, and diarrhea. The oil of mullein destroys disease-causing germs. It is widely used in teas and tinctures. Shamans may work with these physical aspects of mullein if they are spiritually guided to, but they may also enter into nonordinary reality to connect with the energy. If the spirit of the mullein is willing, it will share some of its energy and healing qualities with the shamans. The shamans gather this energy and direct it …

The shamans understand that this energy is a gift from the plant spirit, so they offer a gift of energy in return. Any spirit and nature energy the shamans accept and use must be balanced with energy given back. The ways shamans offer energy back to nature and spirit can be as grand as a special ceremony or as simple as a song of gratitude and reverence. Knowing that the balance must be maintained is vital to shamans’ success.

Nature’s Helping Spirits

Nature spirits are all of the energies and beings that live as the nonhuman inhabitants of the world, just outside of the ordinary perception of most people. Everything in nature is energy, and therefore, everything in nature is inspirited. Things such as rocks, trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, lakes, flora, fauna, wildlife, crystals, stars, planets, and the aurora borealis are all inspirited, so shamans view them as energies and beings, not just as things. Shamans refer to these energies and beings as nature spirits.

These nature spirits are pure sources of life-force energy that shamans can use to energize and revitalize an ailing client or community. Nature spirits are also teachers. They teach the shaman and the people about the impermanence of earthly life, the forces of creation  and destruction, and the cycle of living, dying, and rebirth. These spirits communicate not only by speaking directly to the shaman, but also through actions. Every movement of the nature spirits is an expression of the character of this physical plane and of the universe, and as such, these movements are signs, omens, and portents containing potential knowledge for the shaman.

The energy found in nature is raw, primal power, and it exists and acts according to its fundamental makeup—not the prevailing social norms or attitudes. Its constant, unchanging nature allows it to be gathered and applied to any purpose.

Elemental Energies

The elements are perfect examples of nature spirits that can be potent shamanic allies, whose powers shamans can harness to foster harmony and balance, health and well-being, creation and destruction.

Shamans have long worked in concert with the elements: air, water, fire, and earth, and perhaps others such as metal, wood, and nature, depending upon the shamans’ culture. All of nature comprises the subtle energies of the elements. Everything and every being, seen and unseen, known and unknown, is an element or, more accurately, a combination of elements in varying  amalgamations.

For example, a thunderous ocean, a trickling waterfall, a babbling brook, and a placid lake are manifestations of the element of the water element, whose energies shamans can tap and use. ..

A rumbling volcano, a bolt of lightning, the tepid summer sun, and a toasty campfire are expressions of the element of fire. A swirling tornado, a brisk breeze, and the soft voice of wind through the great oaks are some of the languages of the element of air. A rugged ice-capped mountain, luminous crystals, and warm, squishy clay are manifestations of the element of earth.

The energies of the elements express themselves in infinite ways and places, but to the shaman, these expressions are not only individual expressions of energy, but also combinations of energies coming together in a dance of the balance and harmony of creation, destruction, and life. The water rolling off the cliff (earth) mixes with air and sun (fire) to form a mist of rainbow prisms. The rugged, ice-capped mountain is a base of earth with fire at its core and frozen water at its peak, constantly being altered by internal shifts and high-altitude air currents. Each combination of elements forms a unique energy and set of circumstances. Ask anyone who has stood under a rainbow waterfall or attempted to climb a mountain 12,000 feet or higher. Shamans can tap into these confluences of elemental nature energies and use the elements’ combined power to help shift stagnant energies …

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