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Why Do We Still Need Shamans?

By Kenn Day

Standing at the firelight’s periphery, the shaman has, through eons of time, served as both shield and intermediary between the community huddled around the fire and the vastness of the unknown. Today’s shaman still holds this position, but the nature of both community and the unknown have changed beyond recognition. Almost no one reading this lives in a tribal culture as a cohesive whole, and the unknown is defined as that which cannot be measured by science.

But we still peer into the darkness together, searching for connections between ourselves and our ancestors, the Earth, and each other. These same connections have defined more than 70,000 years of human existence, where the most important unit was the tribe, the clan, the whole — rather than the individual. It is only in the past few hundred years that this structure has broken down so far that those of us born into today’s Western cultures no longer know what it means to belong in the same way our ancestors did.

This shift from tribal consciousness — identifying as the group before the individual — to post-tribal culture has left us with an invisible wound, a deep yearning for connection, for union, for the immediate and palpable presence of our ancestors and the spirits that populate the world. This wound is invisible, because it rests beneath our conscious mind, out of sight of our experience of everyday life. Yet it manifests in every part of our lives, from parental/child disconnections to addiction and abusive relationships. We only sense an undefined hunger that drives us to seek solace in alcohol, drugs, or anything else that seems like it might be that for which we are starving. But nothing we reach for in this way can fill the void.

These are the needs that today call to the shaman. The need for connection; to know where we belong; to know where we come from; to feel we are a part of something larger than ourselves; the need of all these parts to realize themselves as one complete whole. When these universal human needs are not met, when we find ourselves instead feeding our hunger with addictions and self-abusive choices, we lose something of our humanity.

Years ago, I coined the term Post-Tribal Shamanism to define the shaman’s altered role in modern culture. Many traditional shamanic tools, like soul retrieval and energetic healing, still play an important role in the work of the post-tribal shaman. The focus of the work itself, however, has shifted…

In tribal cultures, the shaman maintains the health and cohesion of the tribe as a whole. Individuals are treated in service to the good of the community in addition to their personal wellbeing. The post-tribal shaman’s community consists of those individuals to whom they are in service. It is now the individual who needs to be supported, empowered, and healed, with the goal of restoring community as our wounds are addressed.

In soul retrieval, for example, the tribal shaman generally performs the retrieval for the client, journeying to the location of the fragment, capturing it, and “blowing” it back into the client’s body. In our current culture of extreme individuation, it can be much more effective for the shaman to engage the client in the process, to bring them on the journey and have them experience directly the return of missing soul fragments. It is also important for the client to recognize they have done the work and are responsible for integrating the retrieved parts of the soul back into the self.

The post-tribal shaman still stands at the edge of the light, though now it is cast by computer screens, mobile phones, and LED lights. The darkness has also changed. Becoming deeper and less easily navigated, even by the light of day. As long as our need for wholeness exists, there will be shamans who call us into the sacred space where we all feel a profound link with each other, the Earth, the Divine, and our ancestors — and where we rediscover the healing power of deep connection with the self.

Kenn Day is a nationally recognized lecturer, educator, and author with over 25 years’ experience exploring the mysteries of the human spirit. He founded the Foundation for Post-Tribal Shamanic Studies and the practice of Post-Tribal Shamanism, developing the essential teachings of shamanic practice for those who grew up in the highly individualized culture of the West. Post-Tribal Shamanic Studies espouse that the reality models and techniques of traditional shamanism can be effectively adapted for use in our post-technological society.

Kenn’s books, Dance of Stones: A Shamanic Road Trip and Post-Tribal Shamanism: A New Look at the Old Ways have been foundational in the development and popularization of Post-Tribal Shamanism as a path of personal development for adherents of neo-shamanism.

A founding member of the Institute for Human Development, Kenn began alternative healing studies with hypnosis, NLP, and creative visualization techniques. He has studied Indigenous forms of shamanic practice, as well as shiatsu, movement technique, traditional massage therapy, jin shin do, and other body-centered therapies. He was a member of the founding faculty of the Academy of Chinese Acupuncture in Lebanon, Ohio, teaching medical qi gong and tai chi.

He is a massage therapist certified since 1981 by the Ohio State Medical Board. He is a Certified Systemic Constellation Facilitator trained in Systemic Constellation Work pioneered by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger. Kenn has taught over 3,200 workshops worldwide, including Canyon Ranch-Tucson, Atlantis Bookshop- London, and the PhysioPhysical Institute- Chicago, among many others.

To visit Kenn’s website, click here.

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This article appears in:
2018 Catalyst, Issue 18: Qigong Global Summit

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