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Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and a way of life; most ancient cultures have spiritual practices that are rooted in nature. Shamanism is a method that is used to help humans strengthen their connection with mother nature. Shamans believe that all ailments result from a spiritual sickness, and they work to restore balance. Shamans heal through spiritual and natural methods; they understand things science still can’t prove. The nature of sound gives music the potential to influence the human mind and spiritual wellbeing.
Vilmos Diószegi (2018), explains that “ the essence of shamanism lies not in the general phenomenon but in specific notions, actions, and objects connected with trance”. Shamans are the link between our reality and the spirit world. Vilmos Diószegi (2018), details the tasks expected of a shaman; forsee events, forecast the best places to hunt and fish, be a healer and be a guide to spiritual fulfillment. A shaman fufills his duties by communicating directly with spirits at will or by trance.
There are two types of trance and they dictate the type of communication the shaman has with the spirits. Vilmos Diószegi (2018), explains that a possession trance occus when the shaman is possessed by a spirit, he goes “into an intense mental state and shows superhuman strength and knowledge: he quivers, rages, struggles, and finally falls into a condition similar to unconsciousness”(2018). After the spirit is accepted into the body, the shaman regains some consciousness and becomes the spirits voice.
A wandering trance causes the shamans spirit to depart his body into the spirit realm. During one of these trances the shamans life functions decrease, it almost appears that he is on the brink of death. It is believed that once this state is reached the soul leaves the body and walks in the spirit realm before returning to the body. Vilmos Diószegi (2018), points out that after awakening, the shaman relays his experiences such as, “where he wandered, and with whom he spoke” (2018).
Shamans reenact and narrate their spiritual journeys through music and drama. Vilmos Diószegi (2018),explains that “ the shaman, garbed in regalia, lifts his voice in song to the spirits.” This song is devised from the shamans experience and “contains obligatory images, similes, dialogue, and refrains” (Vilmos Diószegi, 2018). These performances usually take place in the evening, when the sun has set. These performances are similar to most forms of public concert; shamans tell the tales of their journeys through songs, music, scenery, dance, emotions, and lighting.
The spiritual journey reenactment is commonly staged around a fire place; where the spirits can be envoked. The shaman preforms this drama for selected clan members. The shaman’s assistant is not only the stage decorater; he also tends the fire so bizarre shadows are thrown onto the walls. These effects assist the audience in visualizeing the experience narrated by the shaman. A vital feature of this drama is that those who are present are not just an audience but rather devoted believers.
However, Frecska (2016), notes that shamans use various types of stimuli during a ceremony such as light stimulation, and active-alert hypnosis to induce a trance. Psychologocial influences and the shamanic belief in regard to the origins of the universe both impact the onset of a “Shamanic State of Conciousness” . Although highly important a superior state of conciousness is not the ultimulte goal, it is but a mode of contacting the spirit realm.
Vilmos Diószegi (2018) points out that “ an important device of the shaman is the drum, which always has only one membrane”. Frecska (2016), explains that an essential part of shamanic rituals is sustaining a monotonous sensory (mostly acoustic) input with the intention of replacing the ordinary with a nonordinary sensory condition. Replacing the ordinary condition usually results in a ephoric trance state. The drum is not only used to induce a trance, it is also the guiding force during a shaminc journey.
“Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies have revealed that shamanic drumming has an acoustic driving effect, in which the rhythm of drumming entrains neuronal firing rates in the low-frequency, high-amplitude Theta range, and low frequency (7 cycles per second) drumming has mind altering effects” (as cited by Frecska, 2016). Drumming ranges in the theta frequencey range of 4-7 cps are associated with the trance states. According to Frecska (2016), the “unusual behavior observed in drum ceremonies is mainly the result of rhythmic drumming which affects the central nervous system”.
“ Auditory driving” is often used as a way to induce a particular psychological state. Frecska (2016), explains that in the “ Theta state; visionary experiences are easily accessed”, particularly if the two hemisphere of the brain are syncronized. Binaural beats meditation (2018), points out that ancient spiritual practicioners, such as shamans, “were aware of how the brain could be entrained through sound repetition well before modern science was able to prove the process”(2018). Shamans understood that conciousness is generated by electrical activity in the brain and that “consistent, rythmic sound had powerful healing and spiritual benefits” (Binaural beats meditation, 2018). Science refers to these shamanic techniques as “Brainwave entrainment”.
According to Sussman (2015), “ Brainwave entrainment is matching of an external vibration to the same frequency as the electrical impulses in the brain”. When two sound frequencies are combined the difference in frequencies causes a subtle pulse. Sussman(2015), continues to explain that a “The listener’s dominant brainwave state will sync with this pulsation in a frequency-following response”. Entrainment can be used to gain some control over the electrical activity in the brain.
“Scientist Melinda Maxfield, PhD, conducted research on the drumbeats used during rituals of ancient cultures and found that they generally beat at a steady rate of 4.5 beats per second” (Binaural beats meditation, 2018). This beat induces a trance state because the brains electrical activity shifts into a 4.5 frequency, which induces a theta state. The theta state is a dream like state that is usually only experienced during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Arousing a theta state takes about 15 minutes of concsistent drumming at the 4.5 frequency rate.
Some shamans also perform healing songs known as Icaros. Vierra (2018), points out that Icaros “ are consider to be a Shaman’s greatest tool”. All shaman’s have their own Icaros that was taught to them by the plants they work with. The purpose of singing an Icaros is to bring harmony and balance to the universe. Another form of vocal music shamans use is meditative chanting. For shaman’s the words of a song don’t matter as much as the tone and frequency of their voice. Psychedelic Times Staff (2017), explains that the structure of Icaros fits the theory that certain rhythms and frequencies produce theta waves.
Suttie (2015), explains that neuroscientists conducted a study where they introduced different genres of music to people and monitored their brain activity. The results showed that music impacts multiple ares of the brain simultaneously and every style of music made a unique pattern. Suttie (2015) points out that uptempo songs, slower songs, lyrical songs, and other varietys all influence a unique pattern of brain activity. Music is similar to language because it can be used to “impart a certain understanding in the listener” (Suttie, 2015).
Frank Fitzpatrick (2013) explains, that “Music is, at its essence, the sound of spirit. When created from the heart and with truth and pure intention, music is a spiritual expression of the most universal nature and the highest order”. Music is powerful because sound is natural; it can induce psychological reactions such as changing brainwave states, and causing the brain to release chemicals such as dopamine. All over the world people are compelled by and drawn to music. The words of a song may speak to our conciouss mind but the sounds of a song speak to our spirit; to our soul. The spiritual nature of music cannot be defined by religion, culture, or genre. Music precedes and exceeds all of those.
- Binaural beats meditation. (2018). How Our Special Music Works. Retrieved from Binaural beats meditation: https://www.binauralbeatsmeditation.com/the-science/
- Copernicus Science Center. (2018). Music in shamanic rituals. Retrieved from Copernicus science center: http://www.kopernik.org.pl/en/exhibitions/archiwum-wystaw/wszystko-gra/muzyka-w-rytualach-szamanskich/
- Frank Fitzpatrick, C. (2013, July 3). Why Music, Part 9: Music and Spirituality. Retrieved from Life: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/music-spirituality_b_3203309
- Frecska, E. H. (2016). Nonlocality and the shamanic state of consciousness. NeuroQuantology, 14(2. Retrieved from ProQuest psychology journals: doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14704/nq.2016.14.2.934
- Psychedelic Times Staff. (2017, Feb 15). The Spiritual and Therapeutic Benefits of Icaros Songs in an Ayahuasca Ceremony. Retrieved from Psychedelic Times: https://psychedelictimes.com/ayahuasca/the-spiritual-and-therapeutic-benefits-of-icaros-songs-in-an-ayahuasca-ceremony/
- Sussman, T. (2015, December 27). How Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural Beats Can Effect Your State of Consciousness. Retrieved from Didge project: https://didgeproject.com/therapeutics/states-of-consciousness-and-brainwave-entrainment/
- Suttie, J. (2015). Why we love music. Retrieved from Spirituality and Health: https://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2015/02/03/why-we-love-music#
- Vierra, S. (2018). Icaros: The Power of Song. Retrieved from Center for shamanic education and exchange: https://shamaniceducation.org/icaros-the-power-of-song/
- Vilmos Diószegi, M. E. (2018). Shamanism . Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/shamanism
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