Intuition: The Key to Shamanic Thinking
We’ve all had that feeling, you know, that feeling in the pit of your stomach when something’s about to go down.
“No stress,” your friend calls, “the ladder will hold fine,” as you tentatively proceed to climb.
If only you had listened to your gut, you wouldn’t be lying in hospital with two broken legs and a fractured skull.
It’s interesting how we ignore our ‘gut’ all the time. Only when it’s too late do we realize the importance of listening to our intuition.
“I wish I’d gone with my initial feeling,” you whine after viewing your cleaned-out bank account online. “There was something dodgy about that guy and the deal was really too good to be true.”
Why do we ignore our gut? I mean! if you see a guy running with a gun in his hand, you’ll immediately take cover. We trust our eyes.
Likewise, if we hear gunshots, we’ll be on the floor or under the kitchen counter in a flash.
If you absent-mindedly lean your hand on the hotplate that you turned on a minute ago, you’ll whip it away immediately and rush over to the freezer for some ice.
Your senses are finely tuned to ensure not only your basic survival but also your general well-being and access to the best opportunities.
Yet you very seldom trust your gut, the only ‘sense’ that often stands between you and disaster.
You’d sooner believe a second-hand story concerning what your colleague said about you than trust your intuition about the person.
Intuition is a ‘knowing;’ a soul consciousness. It’s something that can’t be taught or learned because we all have it within us. It’s something that has to be trusted, like your eyesight. It’s basic behavior to trust what your eyes show you.
Intuition is a power that has no boundaries, save the suppression of it. It’s a power that no one can take away from you. Only you can choose to suppress and ignore it.
With intuition, anything is possible. Time and space are non-existent and impossibility is an illusion.
Intuition requires one to be focused and present. You need to take note of what you're feeling, for it is about feelings, what has been termed the ‘sixth sense, the inner eye.'
It’s not something that can be understood by the rational mind. It’s pointless trying to reason with the feelings and analyze them. The moment you start doing this, you’re off on the wrong track.
You have to trust the feelings. This requires an intimate relationship with yourself.
This is probably why intuition does not feature highly on the list of life skills for most people.
If you would like to explore and exercise your intuition, there’s no better way than engaging with some tools of divination or fortune-telling.
Things like tarot cards and runes are popular ways to look at what is happening in your present, for intuition is about the present and how to move forward.
Take a look at the Mystical Shaman Oracle Cards by Alberto Villoldo, Colette Baron-Reid, and Marcela Lobos. They might help to give you some insight into the present situation in your life.
One of the hardest things for many people is to have faith in themselves, to trust what their soul is telling them.
Social convention has given us the tools and strategies (education, role models, conventional ways to behave) to learn, grow, and progress upwards on the ladder of society.
We trust these tools and strategies because they've been fed to us from a young age. And yes, most of them are useful. We need to make use of them if we wish to climb the ladder.
Problems begin to arise when we apply them in our lives to the exclusion of our intuition, our trust in ourselves.
You were taught to choose a partner who has a similar background and upbringing as you. It’s a given that he should be attractive, dress well, have good manners, and be doing something promising with his life.
So, you go on your first date. He’s quite intriguing, charming, and puts on a good show for you. After a wonderful evening, where you’re thoroughly convinced this could be a good thing, he throws a slight curveball and doesn’t tip the waiter.
As he mutters his excuse that they get paid a ‘salary,’ you convince yourself that the service wasn’t that great anyway.
You suppress the uncomfortable feeling suggesting that his behavior doesn’t sit well with your values. It was a wonderful evening. He’s so charming.
Your subconscious has no chance as it tries to throw up the image of a character that this guy represents in your life, a rather unsavory person.
Why? The fairy tale is so much nicer. Society has given us the skills to manifest these fairy tales and it’s what we want. Who doesn’t want it?
And so, intuition is the loser. Because intuition threatens the fairy tale you're rying to create, the one that society has sold you.
From a young age, you're brain-washed into fulfilling what the community, society, wants…the greater good. The teachings of social convention.
And here is one of the great paradoxes of the human being in the twenty-first century (well I think so anyway).
We all come from a shamanic past. The majority of the world’s population is in the process of emerging from it right now. They're grappling with the integration of the highly attractive, yet so foreign, ways of Western culture.
It's a painful and traumatic process.
Shamanic culture is about the community. You're nothing without it. You're a person only by virtue of the community from which you come. The South African word ‘Ubuntu’ captures this.
Now, this worldview has its advantages. It promotes a strong ethic of unity and togetherness, caring, and empathy; (yes! the individuality of Western culture can be a cold, lonely place).
Mungi Ngomane’s book, Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way, will give you some insight into the concept of ‘the shamanic community.’
However, what the ‘community’ world view tends to do is disempower one as an individual, particularly in the context of Western culture. Individuality is frowned upon as its generally seen as a threat to the security of the community.
Within a traditional shamanic context, the shaman is seen as the sacred keeper, the custodian of the community’s well-being.
The deeper knowledge and understanding of the world and the fortunes of the people and the community lie with the shaman. And individuals are discouraged from seeking clarity outside of this.
Now, this can work in certain circumstances. But is not very compatible with the prevailing, and forcibly prescribed, world view: Western culture.
Industrialization, colonization, globalization, and technological advancement have infiltrated the minds of almost everyone on the planet who has access to a television or mobile phone. It's the new lifestyle to aspire to and it prescribes individualism and personal enrichment.
And the hearts of the youth are captured.
So what am I trying to say?
What I’m getting at is from the perspective of Western culture, the traditional shaman is a hindrance, an outdated, unreliable, and somewhat dubious and restrictive force of oppression.
And in many cases, communities can be shackled and held back by their traditional beliefs and the guidance of the shaman. In some cases, the shaman may even have his own modified, individualistic agendas for personal enrichment.
Thus, holding onto a traditional shamanic system can be detrimental to one’s career and personal growth. From a Western point of view.
And likewise, prescribing to the Western way of doing things can harm one’s relationship with their traditional community, elders, and the other shamanic attendants such as the ancestors.
It's a confusing and often painful place for people to be stuck in. A double-edged sword.
Acquiring the money to enjoy the good things in life that come with modernization is inevitably at the cost of losing your roots, your sense of belonging, all that you’ve come to know from childhood: the teachings of social convention.
Makes one wonder what are the ‘good things in life?
What I advocate is questioning any social convention, no matter what culture it comes from.
True, unbridled intuition is the freedom to question whatever you're presented with. Take for example the following scenario:
As a child, you accidentally ate some salmon, and salmon is your family’s totem animal. It has been since time immemorial. Now the shaman in her wisdom is forcing you to drink all sorts of disgusting concoctions and crouch under a bush while she hits it with a stick and shouts incantations.
Shouldn’t this be questioned? What is the intention? Could eating your family’s totem really cause the evil spirits to inhabit you and curse the community?
I don’t know. I’m not qualified to answer those questions. What I can talk about is the intention.
My intuition tells me that the intention of the shaman in this scenario is to restore order; to maintain the social norm.
The shaman knows that you have gone beyond the boundaries of social convention. You've disobeyed the rules that the community has taught you.
Reasons for the unpleasant rituals you now have to undergo could be to maintain control, to make a spectacle so that anyone else who could be tempted to push the boundaries thinks twice. After all, the threat of curses and evil spirits needs to be reinforced to keep people in line.
There also could be other reasons. The shaman knows that resources are precious. They're also limited.
If everyone was free to eat their totem animals it may put pressure on the environment and upset the ecological balance. This would be a threat to the community.
Ecology is a concept that has always shamans understood very well. They just didn’t call it ecology.
Whatever the intention, intuition should indicate that your behavior has threatened the social norms of the community. The ringing bells of change strike terror in the hearts of most people. The status quo must be maintained.
The questions need to be asked, “is the shaman’s response valid and relevant to the current system that you prescribe to?” Does it serve you and your aspirations for a ‘good life?’
Within this age of ‘intellectual enlightenment,’ is the concept of curses and evil spirits still appropriate in our lives? Is environmental conservation still necessary? Do they promote or inhibit our purpose?
I don’t know the answers. There will be thousands of different ‘truths’ that can answer them. And they will all be true…
As a thought slightly aside, but not unrelated to this article, I would just like to touch on an interesting observation.
Have you ever noticed how people from a traditional, shamanic community background tend to have a different take on forgiveness? They often appear to the Westerner to forgive people their crimes more easily?
Let’s not beat around the bush, forgiveness is hard. Western culture is relentless in its endeavor to hold people accountable, to make wrong-doers pay for their crimes.
The Western Viewpoint
After all, if you’ve looted public money or destroyed valuable property you have caused grievous harm to the system. A system that values efficiency, self-enrichment, individual freedom, equal opportunities, material comfort, and development above all else.
A system that puts the ego on a pedestal to the point that making certain mistakes and poor judgments labels you a villain of society.
Forgiveness tends to be a long, painful and complex process in Western culture that is seldom ever resolved.
In traditional cultures, crimes are seen in a slightly different light. If a person is found guilty, they have to make it up to the community through certain rituals, ceremonies, and offerings.
They've done damage to the system. But rather than a set of democratic and capitalist ideals, the system here is community; that of unity and sharing.
No doubt, certain actions of repentance need to take place. But the retribution is more on an emotional level, as opposed to a physical and pragmatic level in Western culture; and often the consequences of the crime are not the ultimate focus.
This is because the crime has harmed the community and the community needs to heal. Political and spiritual leaders in the community have more sway to mediate the process of healing and ensure a compromised, but relatively favorable outcome for all involved.
The needs of the community are greater than the needs of the individual, even if the rights of that individual have been violated. The community is a living, breathing creature; it's both volatile and fragile.
In Western culture, it's seen as only the victim of the crime who needs to heal, and the ‘mediation’ process is impartial, transparent, factual, and unbiased (I heard your snort of derision there...).
Traditional shamanic communities tend to place value on things such as unity, sharing, and care for the vulnerable. If an individual breaks the rules, he or she has threatened these values. Everyone is affected by the crime, not only the victim. Healing needs to take place on a community level.
Having said this, certain crimes in traditional, shamanic cultures, particularly against the will of the ancestors and spirits, have uncompromising punishments i.e. banishment or death.
However, this, I believe, has less to do with the persecution and punishment of the perpetrator, and more to do with the protection of the fragile community against the ‘evil’ of individualistic ideas; ideas that attract ill-fortune and evil spirits.
The Western concept of justice is for the perpetrator to ‘burn in hell.’
Which is Better?
You tell me. The modern concept of forgiveness or the traditional, shamanic one?
Can traditional shamanic concepts be applied to modern systems, and vice versa?
As an interested reader who predominantly follows the Western way of doing things (forgive my assumption), it'll be very useful for you to see yourself in the same predicament as someone coming from a traditional, shamanic upbringing who is trying to integrate into Western culture.
You're just moving the other way. Western culture is causing you much pain and trauma. You're trying to integrate aspects of shamanic thinking into your Western way of life. Neither way is better.
The only direction shamanism knows is the growth towards love.
The way I see it, both cultures display some seriously debilitating and destructive beliefs. However, both have their virtues and advantages as well.
The majority of people tend to have the same purpose: to enjoy the physical comforts of the modern world with the inner peace and simplicity of the old ways. The important thing is to be true to yourself.
Is it possible? Let me know when you get there.
As the Western reader, I urge you to see things such as evil spirits and curses as real, because if people believe in them, they are real, they are the ‘truths’ of those believers.
Each and every one of the billions of truths are real. Belief and truth are shamanic cornerstones that anyone following a shamanic way of thinking needs to honor unconditionally…
OK, I know, we went pretty much off track and largely abandoned our practical discussion on Intuition.
Not entirely, though. The art of questioning, of critically analyzing, requires a healthy amount of intuition...and courage.
Next time we’ll continue to look at the importance of intuition as key to shamanic thinking, I promise.
Please join me for my next article.
This article was originally published on February 12th. 2021 and updated on March 28th, 2022.
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