Masters of Reality: The Trances and Healing Powers of Shamans


From Aeon: “Shamanism is a form of exploratory divination. But this doesn’t yet explain the full extent of its power. The final step towards understanding shamanism’s adaptive contribution also makes it clear why shamanism is such an effective social organiser, why it might offer an extra-strength placebo effect in psychosomatic healing, and why it can capture the tribe’s collective capacity for fear.

Shamans do this by accessing a particular part of the mind. Through purposeful and yet exploratory investigation, shamans make lucid the mental associations that lurk quietly underneath our understanding of reality. As what the US ethnobotanist Terence McKenna in the 1980s called ‘astronauts of inner space’, shamans help to make explicit a part of our mind that is thousands, if not millions, of years old. […]

In his memoir Black Elk Speaks (1961), the spiritual leader and sacred clown (heyoka) of the Oglala Sioux put it like this:

When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunderstorm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier… You have noticed truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping … as lightning illuminates the dark, for it is the power of lightning that heyokas have.”

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