It has been postulated that modern state campaigns against the use of psychedelic substances are theoffshoot of previous religious campaigns against shamanism.Today, shamanism, once universal, survives primarily among indigenous peoples. Shamanic practice continues today in the tundras, jungles, deserts,and other rural areas, and also in cities, towns, suburbs and shantytowns all over the world. This isespecially widespread in Africa as well as South America, where "mestizo shamanism" is widespread.Many recent efforts have been made trying to link shamanic practice and knowledge with Western,scientific beliefs. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby has proposed that shamans take their consciousness downto the molecular level, working with DNA and viruses that they see as the twin serpents or malicious"darts". The holomovement theory proposed by David Bohm is often seen as an approach to create ascientific foundation for concepts such as parallel worlds and alternative ways to traverse time and space.
Aspects of the Practice
Different forms of shamanism are found around the world, and practitioners are also known as medicinemen or women, as well as witch doctors.
Initiation and Learning
In Shamanic cultures, the shaman plays a priest like role; however, there is an essential difference betweenthe two, as Joseph Campbell describes:The priest is the socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized religiousorganization, where he holds a certain rank and functions as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him, while the shaman is one who, as a consequence of a personal psychologicalcrisis, has gained a certain power of his own.A shaman may be initiated via a serious illness, by being struck by lightning, or by a near-death experience(e.g. the shaman Black Elk), and there usually is a set of cultural imagery expected to be experiencedduring shamanic initiation regardless of method.According to Mircea Eliade, such imagery often includes being transported to the spirit world andinteracting with beings inhabiting it, meeting a spiritual guide, being devoured by some being and emergingtransformed, and/or being "dismantled" and "reassembled" again, often with implanted amulets such asmagical crystals. The imagery of initiation generally speaks of transformation and granting powers, andoften entails themes of death and rebirth.In some societies shamanic powers are considered to be inherited whereas in others shamans are consideredto have been "called" - Among the Siberian Chukchis one may behave in ways that Western clinicianswould characterize as psychotic, but which Siberian culture interprets as possession by a spirit whodemands that one assume the shamanic vocation. Among the South American Tapirape shamans are calledin their dreams. In other societies shamans choose their career: First Nations would seek communion withspirits through a "vision quest"; South American Shuar, seeking the power to defend their family againstenemies, apprentice themselves to accomplished shamans.
Practice and method
The shaman plays the role of healer in shamanic societies; shamans gain knowledge and power bytraversing the axis mundi and bringing back knowledge from the heavens. Even in western society, thisancient practice of healing is referenced by the use of the caduceus as the symbol of medicine.Oftentimes the shaman has, or acquires, one or more familiar helping entities in the spirit world; these areoften spirits in animal form, spirits of healing plants, or (sometimes) those of departed shamans. In many