Shamanism As Art

Anthropological and contemporary definitions of shamans have usually focused upon altered consciousness, healing, magic,vision quests, etc.  I know of no work describing shamans as artists primarily. However, if we examine shamanism as art, we find two important aspects: images which move us to memories of power, and music. Both work from the material level to the psychic level and can assume different forms. We are all familiar with the images of shamanism and the power they remind us of: vibrant, line-rendered suns, cave scrawled beasts in Lascaux, the violent, primitive urge of clay fertility figures.When we see these, we are forced to forget the momentary, the unimportant, to breathe deeply because we synchronize our breaths with the eternal well of these replications. It is as though, for a moment, we dawn the vivid mask of the ceremonial tribesman and experience his world.

What we know to be true and real. Why is it?  Why do we forget these things so easily? That question is the central problem for the artist who envisions the coming new world order in which we do continually remember.

Music is perhaps even more powerful. For there is a part of our minds–also reflecting the truth–that hears. The essence of music is rhythm.

Start any rhythm in your mind and it’s very easy then to fill in the melody. Melody is hung on a rhythm. In truth, then, the music that human beings make is merely a representation of the real. I call this “real” the Natural Rhythm of the Universe. We can, if we are fortunate, or gifted, or taught, hear this Natural Rhythm of the Universe in our minds. But, there is no way to make a viable recording of it–what we hear in our minds–in the external material world. We try because it is important to us, and therefore we make music. And if you listen to music, really good music, and you listen really well, you will hear something just implied. Above the music, above the rhythm of the music itself, there is ANOTHER rhythm.  And it is partly in the musicians and instruments making the music but it is really a feeling that you know.

And that other rhythm will makeyou so sad and joyful you will want to cry. And that is the Natural Rhythm of the Universe–that shamans want to dance to. To hear it is a most powerful form of the Religious Feeling State.   Now all that I will have to say here about art’s new forms willuse these two aspects of the shamanic.

Visual art will use its imagery; music, its rhythm. And poetry is both imagery and “voice”–for good poetry, like music, has another implied rhythm contained in the”voice” of the poet, which is the Natural Rhythm of the Universe made into language. These two work on many levels. Images are what we have traditionally called “archetypes and symbols” but they are as well the mental vision that we form when we meditate, or the mental image a group may form in a ceremony that it can psychically project into the minds of other people.

Shamanism is associated with drums and drumming. Drumming, which is rhythm, is the driving power of any ceremony that turns a group into a single, unitary being that I would call a Primordial Group Consciousness.

Individually rhythm can be used to induce an altered state of consciousness. The best way to do this is directly through the nervous organs of our ears with headphones and certain kinds of high energy music.

And dance is a most natural form of transformation and healing, for rhythm then unifies body, mind and spirit. The electronicmedia that we know, our televisions, computers, Walkmans on one level are information but, on another level that we may also perceive if we are psychically tuned–just the way we hear the Natural Rhythm of the Universe–they are electrical impulse–and that is rhythm. It is, so to speak, the power behind the information. You can hear, or feel, the electronics of your stereo or TV.

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