Compare and Contrast Eastern and Shamanic Approaches to Altering Consciousness Essay

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Compare and contrast Eastern and shamanic approaches to altering consciousness

This paper focuses on the similarities and differences between eastern Shamanic practices and altered states of consciousness (ASC), and the significance of these practices in the today's urban society. Prior to going deep into the discussion, it is significance to define the terms; Shamanic and altered states of consciousness. As asserted by Oesterreich (1935:295), Shamanic illustrates what the Shamans do, while as Shamanic practices entails an intricate of belief, rituals and traditions huddled around the Shaman practices.

Some of the authors, for instance, Ashvind, (1999) relate Shaman to Siberian, Eurasian or sub-Arctic practitioners, while others extend the term Shaman to other practitioners, for example, any practitioner that interrelates with the spirit world through altered states of consciousness (ASC). Others extend the definition and define Shamans as medicine men or witch doctors. In essence, there is no clear definition of shamanism, and for this essay, I shall use Oesterreich (1935:295), definition. He defines Shaman as an individual (Man or woman) who enters an altered state of consciousness willingly with the purpose of contacting and using an ordinarily concealed reality (ASC) in order to attain knowledge, power and assist other individuals.

An altered state of consciousness (ASC) relates to any condition that differs from the normal state of mind. This state of mind in ASC differs from Shamanism in the sense that, the former may either be accidental. The first section explores the similarities between the two practices within key writings on this subject. The second section shall focus on the differences and briefly discuss the significance of shamanic and altered state of consciousness experiences in the modern society.


Even though, there is a slight difference between shamanism and altered state of consciousness, there is a similarity between them. Through this exploration, the identified key writings indicate a similarity between Shamanism and altered states of consciousness (ASC). The readings explored indicate that using altered states of consciousness (ASC) through shamanic practices is significant both to the welfare of an individual and the society. This is a very significant point to remember in order to avoid any disassociation from nature and strengthen the relationship with the environment. Before going deep into the topic, it is also very vital to identify the definition of the term 'shaman' and altered states of consciousness (ASC).

Shaman means anyone that deliberately seeks out an ASC, in which they intend to mature spiritually by improving their insight of existence away from their normal life. Therefore, Shaman practices are anything that aims at inducing this state. This is similar to altered state of consciousness in that an individual experiences a changed state of consciousness. On the other hand, Shaman practices differ from ASC in the sense that, the term 'altered' illustrates different states of consciousness occurring in the human mind. The implication of such a term causes injustice to the 'heightened' state of consciousness pertinent to shamanic practices.

In essence, the definitions of both Shamanism and altered states of consciousness (ASC) cause various undertones, and in order to provide clarity, an effective shaman experiences 'shamanic state of consciousness' (SSC). Moreover, as confirmed by Ashvind, (1999), an altered state of consciousness (ASC) is capable of causing irreplaceably positive impacts on the human soul and on society's correlation with nature, when utilised with shamanic principles. Shamanist approaches to the positive impacts of altered states of consciousness (ASC), are aspect with great significance to the spiritual world and people's life on this earth, and not aspects of the past or other cultures.

Kallio & Revonsuo, (2005 identifies peoples' universal and biological relation to altered states of consciousness (ASC), and along with Ashvind, (1999).and Dretske, (1995). mention its significance in healing. The healing experienced through effective ASC -- particularly Shamanism -- covers more than the usual consideration of 'healing' in the modern society.

Rather, it truly entails all stages of healing, from spiritual to physical, conscious to unconscious, and personal to societal. As Churchland (2002).asserts, ASC is capable of developing "union with the divine or deeper levels of consciousness." As Fingelkurts, Et al., (2007b) examine the capability of altered states of consciousness (ASC) of enhancing "psychological and physiological welfare in various ways," and develop sensitive awareness of the nature of reality.

In a similar vein, Chalmers (1996) also highlights the ability of ASC in understanding the earth and life within it, and expand knowledge that supersedes knowledge attained through the normal state of consciousness. When altered states of consciousness (ASC) is utilized for these positive impacts and attains shamanic state of consciousness' (SSC), it arouses an individual's senses and forms an environment through which a person can truly experience the world.

For instance, Oesterreich (1935:295) asserts on the capability of Shamanism to develop the shaman's aspect of realization and given them, the ability of seeing with eyes closed. As (Kallio & Revonsuo, 2005), Johanson, Revonsuo, & Wedlund (2008) and Ashvind, (1999) asserts, through altered states of consciousness as well Eastern shamanic approaches, an individual is able to attain a states of pure 'ecstasy'. Similar to the blind persons when they learn to strap up their other senses to 'see' in their own special way, Shamanic approaches arouses all the senses and elevates them to their potential. A shaman does not 'alter' his consciousness in the negative aspect, but utilizes his consciousness in totality. In addition, another link between Shamanism and ASC, in that, Shamanism uses two basic techniques in their shamanic approaches; that is, magical flight and spirit possession. The later entails the identification, as the Shaman would assert becoming a power animal or a spiritual ally.

Spirit possession and overshadowing

Literally, the Shaman has powers of transforming to a Great being, for example, changing into an eagle, and having powers that are unavailable to normal human beings. In shamanic approaches, such transformation is known as spiritual transformation, and a similar phenomenon happens in altered states of consciousness (ASC) referred as overshadowing. In broader terms, Shamanism and altered states of consciousness (ASC) shares similar purposes in terms of Spirit possession and overshadowing; that is, the rituals performed assists in healing processes, transformation and in evolution of consciousness of humanity, people and other beings on earth.

Moreover, both eastern shamanism and altered states of consciousness (ASC) entails creative and healing meditations used to get in touch with energies in the spiritual world and utilizes them for healing purposes in the physical world on daily life. Expanding this point further, Farthing (1992) asserts that the sufferings that Shamans encounters in the process of enhancing their healing abilities is similar to the eternal commitment and sacrifice experienced by Mahayana Buddhism in offering community services. When fully embraced, both, Shamanism and ASC are ways of life engraved with transforming potentials. Finally, in both, there is a form of dual consciousness and ASC helps in maintaining the dual awareness.


However, as much as shamanism shares similarities with altered states of consciousness in various ways, it appears evident to me that if a shaman is capable of searching and retrieving a soul, then he/she must be in contact with that soul. In a very special way, the soul feels connected, as does the Shaman. This is different from the altered state of consciousness since the later does not require any contacts with the soul. Furthermore, if shamans are in absolute accord that their power does not have any impact on an individual, rather they cause an impact through the influence of the spirits; there must be the presence of a trialogue. In this respect, the major difference observed between shamanism and altered state of consciousness is the aspect of explicitness of the trialogue structure.

Trialogue structure

Reverie and trance

In the research conducted by Block, (1995; 2001), the trialogue takes up the central aspect of consciousness for shamanism and altered state of consciousness. However, in shamanism the trialogue structure remains out of sight in the background. Another difference between shamanism and altered state of conscious is in respect of reverie and trance states of consciousness. In defining these two terms, I rely on Dretske, (1995). According to Dretske, trance is state of involuntary belief. While individual are in the state of trance, they are unable of doubting the truth and realism of the visions they encounter. Such persons believe in everything without putting any doubts. In essence, in shamanism approaches, an individual should not doubt. Disbelief should only occur after an individual returns to the ordinary state of consciousness and recall the events in the trance.

On the other hand, Reverie is different altogether. In reverie, individual's doubts about the imaginable world they encounter, yet they cannot abolish the doubts. In altered state of consciousness, an individual voluntarily chooses to accept the visions. In a different perspective, some authors define Shamanism in terms of religious perspective (Kallio & Revonsuo, 2005), Johanson, Revonsuo & Wedlund (2008) and Ashvind, (1999).

According to Kallio and others, definition of religion is unclear in terms…

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