If ‘consciousness’ is an evolutionarily advanced brain state, then why do individual humans persist in demolishing that state by means of mind-altering rituals, drugs, alcohol, poison plants and acts of extreme danger? The need to at least temporarily be rid of domination by words has, and is, fulfilled by psychoactive substances, starvation and physical hardship (stress) in modern civilized people as well as primitive man.
These journeys into altered states seem to have as their object the retrieval of visual knowledge, often in symbolic form, an experience usually indescribable in words, even after the person returns to ‘normal’ perception. These experiences can be so profound, that ‘guides’ warn participants that frivolous intent is dangerous. The journey is considered to be “spiritual’ although western translations of this state may miss the mark in translation. In contrast, the high rate of addiction in the U.S. to a bewildering array of substances lacks this ‘depth’ and probably reflects a desire to treat emotional pain created by a culture that worships material wealth at the expense of human worth.
This verbal / visual situation indicates that there is something wrong with communication between our verbal language process and our ‘animal’ functions. The two radically different types of processing are not fully integrated: an almost impregnable barrier exists between visual thinking and word thinking, despite neurological evidence of mutual influence. It’s as if word thinking is a very recent accident of evolution, which has overwhelmed visual processing, resulting in a reduction of specific detailed information in favor of existence in a generalized social world.
I suspect that “Shamans” are visual thinkers who can “access” a collective image-symbolic “storehouse” of human memory (an image reality) and “bring back” information that will be translated culturally, and applied to individual and community needs via traditional songs, visions, plants and animal symbols – This visual universe would be of particular meaning to people who inhabit a nomadic domain; visual “mapping” of the environment would be essential to survival.
I clearly identify with this visual “embedded-in-nature” reality.
“Oh, great blue sky, which is my blanket, come to me.” – Siberian Shaman
Quote is from a National Geographic article, “Shamans Masters of Ecstasy” by David Stern on Shamans, 2013. (can’t get link to work)
Also – from: http://www.williamjames.com/History/SHAMANS.htm
“The shaman’s power essentially lies in mastering the ecstatic techniques of dreams, visions, and trances. Ecstasy in its original sense meant an altered state of consciousness with an awareness of the single emotion rapture. The shaman also mastered the traditional mythology, genealogy, belief system and secret language of the tribe as well as its healing methods. The youth who are called to be a shaman attracts attention through their love for solitude, desire to roam in the woods or in unfrequented places, visions, and spontaneous song-making. Sometimes they enter trance-like states which make them unconscious. These signs are regarded with pleasure and awe by the tribespeople who generally believe that their soul is being carried away by spirits to a place where they are instructed, sometimes by his shaman ancestors, in the secrets of the profession.”
“In some cultures the behavior of the prospective shaman is described in terms that seem to indicate psychopathology. However it is precisely because they succeed in curing themselves that these individuals become shamans. Often a crisis bordering on madness is provoked in the future shamans by the sudden announcement to others in the tribe that they have been chosen by the spirits for this profession. In other cases this initiatory sickness is induced by the use of drugs or fasting and other austerities. Regardless of the means, the symbolic pattern of death and rebirth common to all initiation rites will be reenacted.”