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The social function of the Shaman was oracle, healer and spiritual guide all in one. Their job it was to maintain a connection with the spirit world. 

The modern concept of a shaman is based on early stereotypes and Victorian values. Shaman were able to communicate through the Earth-spirit. They were often associated to an animal, or familiar.

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   What is Shamanism.?

The word shaman originated among the Siberian Tungus (Evenks) and literally means he (or she) who knows. The concept of a shaman was almost lost in the 20th century, but it is making a slow revival in 'new-age' cultures.  In essence, shamanism is a belief system, similar to many religions today, it is often spoke of as one of the first 'religions' practiced by people.

There is a growing belief that a high percentage of rock art is of a shamanic origin.

10-15,000 year engraving is said to be a depiction of a shaman. (From Les Troise Freres cave, France).


In his book 'Supernatural', Graham Hancock makes the case that shamanic experiences led to the sudden development of art, symbolic thinking, and early civilization (pp. 29-31).

Whether we find its traces in Australia, Asia Africa, or Europe, it is simply impossible to overstate the uniqueness and peculiarity of the evolutionary event by which we were drawn into fully modern consciousness and the fully modern capacity for symbolism and culture, religion, and art. No ancestor in the human lineage had ever made use of any form of symbolism before, and needless to say, no other animal species had ever done so either. But the switching-on of humanity's symbol-making capacity between approximately 100,000 and 40,000 years ago was the change that changed everything.


The idea that most cave-art originated from the shamanic experience is not one to be lightly ignored. The connection of the shaman to the mother-earth through imaginative and magical symbols is a serious proposition and should be considered with the greatest care. Although interpreting cave art is undoubtedly a matter of opinion, there are several recognised pieces which appear to show shamanic images.

(More about Prehistoric Cave-art)

Generally, the shaman enters the spirit world by effecting a transition of consciousness, entering into an dream state, ecstatic trance, either auto-hypnotically or through the use of intoxicants. The methods employed were diverse, and are often used together. Some of the methods for effecting such trances are as follows: Fasting, drumming, dancing, and psychedelic drugs.


One of the defining characteristics of a shaman is their ability to see beyond three-dimensions.


The oldest Shaman in the world

Article: National Geographic (Nov 2008):

Archaeologists in northern Israel say they have discovered the world's oldest known grave of a shaman. The 12,000-year-old grave holds an elderly female of the mysterious Natufian culture, animal parts, and a human foot. Hundreds of Natufian graves have been excavated in Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. But only the one uncovered by Grosman contains a woman believed to have been a shaman.

The 1.5-meter-tall (nearly 5-foot-tall), 45-year-old woman was relatively old for her time. After her death, she was placed in a mud-plastered and rock-lined pit in a cave and was buried beneath a large stone slab. She was not buried with everyday items and tools, as hunters, warriors, or political leaders were. Instead, her grave contained 50 arranged turtle shells and parts of wild pigs, eagles, cows, leopards, martens, and a human foot,

(Click here for full article)


Eliade (3), argues that vestiges of shamanic activity 'remain among all the European peoples'.  He believed that its persistence and spread across Europe and Asia resulted from a 'systematic reorganisation of magico-religious life' that was basically accomplished at a period when the proto-Indo-Europeans had not yet separated'. He continues by saying that traces of Shamanism can be found in ancient Greece where the 'few figures of Greek legend who can be compared to Shamanism are related to Apollo'. These legendary figures are said to have come 'from the north', from the land of the Hypoboreans. (1)




   Drug-Use and Shamanics:

In 1988, David Lewis-Williams of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, launched one of archaeology's longest-running controversies when he proposed that the vivid cave paintings of Upper Palaeolithic Europe were produced by shamans whose consciousness had been altered by drugs or self-induced trances.



Psychedelic mushrooms were called 'Holy Children' by the Mazatec shamen.



Terrence Mckenna - It is well known fact that psychotropic drugs induce altered states of consciousness. It was argued by Terrence McKenna that they were a leading stimulant in the evolution of the human brain, and the origin of language and religion. This theory did not originate with Mckenna. In 1986, shortly before his passing, Gordon Wasson put forth his own theory on the origin of religion from hallucinogenic mushrooms, specifically Amanita muscaria, with examples from several cultures that he had previously described, in details. In addition, Wasson also believed that Soma was responsible for:

"A prodigious expansion in Man's memory must have been the gift that differentiated mankind from his predecessors, and I surmise that this expansion in memory led to a simultaneous growth in the gift of language, these two powers generating in man that self-consciousness which is the third of the triune traits that alone make man unique. Those three gifts - memory, language and self-consciousness - so interlock that they seem inseparable, the aspects of a quality that permitted us to achieve all the wonders we now know." (2)

A modified version of this theory was later developed by McKenna, in the late 1980's. His theory differed from Wasson in that Mckenna believed that mushrooms containing the entheogen psilocybin, and he specifically says Stropharia cubensis, was responsible for the origin of religion and development of memory, language and self-consciousness. According to Mckenna, both events occurred in Africa, and began during the prehistoric, nomadic, hunting/gathering period of man's existence. The conclusion that Stropharia cubensis was "The Tree of Knowledge" was based on the elimination of plants containing entheogens that are available in Africa. Mckenna further restricted the plants considered to those having entheogens with indole compounds, which are characteristically strong visionary entheogens. With these prerequisites, the list of hallucinogenic plants was short:Tabernanthe iboga and Peganum harmala (Syrian Rue). Although both are known to be used by religious cults, these species were eliminated from consideration. The roots of Tabernanthe iboga contain the the alkaloid ibogaine, the entheogen, is required in far greater amounts than would normally be consumed in a meal by early man. In addition, its usage is only traced as far back as the 19th. While Peganum harmala may be found through the arid part of Mediterranean North Africa, there is no history of its usage here and it, again, must be too highly concentrated or must at least be combined with dimethyltryptamine (DMT) before it will produce an hallucinogenic effect. With the elimination of these two species, McKenna was left only with psilocybin mushrooms. These mushrooms could be found abundantly growing on the dung of the hooved animals that grazed in the grassland areas where they were being hunted. Stropharia cubensis was singled out because it was the only species thought to produce psilocybin in concentrated amounts and to be free of other compounds that may produce side-affects. It was the addition of the Stropharia to the diet of early man that led to better eyesight (an advantage for hunters), sex, language, and ritual activity (religion among them), when eaten. McKenna suggested that the mushroom augmented the above traits by changing the behaviour of individuals. These changes in behaviors favored increased usage of language, leading to an increase in vocabulary to communicate when hunting and gathering. Although evolution was occurring on the genetic level, due to increase in mutations from the change in diet that had occurred, according to McKenna, social evolution, due to the mushroom consumption was responsible for the above changes.

At the same time that language was developing, religion also began. When taken at levels that cause intoxication, a feeling of ecstasy occurs, with hallucination and access to what the user would perceive as the realm of the supernatural. This led to the origin of the shaman whose duty is to communicate with the unseen mind of nature.


 Samples from the cache of ten mushroom figurines discovered in Guatemala city and dated at around 100 - 300 BC


Article: The Lycaeum. (1992)

The idea that the use of hallucinogens should be a source of inspiration for some forms of prehistoric rock art is not a new one. After a brief examination of instances of such art, this article intends to focus its attention on a group of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert, the works of pre-neolithic Early Gatherers, in which mushrooms effigies are represented repeatedly. The polychromic scenes of harvest, adoration and the offering of mushrooms, and large masked "gods" covered with mushrooms, not to mention other significant details, lead us to suppose we are dealing with an ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cult. What is remarkable about these ethnomycological works, produced 7,000 - 9,000 years ago, is that they could indeed reflect the most ancient human culture as yet documented in which the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms is explicitly represented. As the Fathers of modern ethno-mycology (and in particular R. Gordon Wasson) imagined, this Saharian testimony shows that the use of hallucinogens goes back to the Paleolithic Period and that their use always takes place within contexts and rituals of a mysfico-religious nature.

(Click here for full article)

(More about the use of Drugs in Prehistory)



The She-Shaman.

One of the burials at Dolni Vestonice, Czech revealed a human female skeleton, ritualistically placed beneath a pair of mammoth scapulae, one leaning against the other. The bones and the earth surrounding it contained traces of red ochre, a flint spearhead had been placed near the skull and one hand held the body of a fox. This evidence has led to suggestions that this was the burial site of a shaman. This is the oldest site not only of ceramic figurines and artistic portraiture, but also of evidence of female shaman.

(More about Dolni Vestonice)



Article: (14 Jan,. 2013).

'4,000-year-old shaman's stones discovered near Boquete, Panama'

'Archaeologists working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama have discovered a cluster of 12 unusual stones in the back of a small, prehistoric rock-shelter near the town of Boquete. The cache represents the earliest material evidence of shamanistic practice in lower Central America. Based on the placement and the unusual composition of the stones in the cache, Richard Cooke, STRI staff scientist, suggested they were used by a shaman or healer. Consulting geologist Stewart Redwood determined that the cache consists of a small dacite stone fashioned into a cylindrical tool; a small flake of white, translucent quartz; a bladed quartz and jarosite aggregate; a quartz crystal aggregate; several pyrite nodules that showed evidence of use; a small, worn and abraded piece of chalcedony; a magnetic andesite flake; a large chalcedony vein stone; and a small magnetic kaolinite stone naturally eroded into an unusual shape, similar to a flower'.

(Link to Full Article)




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1). Trevor Garnham. Lines on the Landscape, Circles from the Sky. Tempus Publ. 2004.
2). R. Gordon Wasson, Persephone's Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press, New Haven MA.
3). Eliade, M. Patterns in Comparative Religion. Sheed and Ward. London. 1958.

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