🧐 ROTA #1: Shamanism
Hi all! And by “all” I mean my two wonderful subscribers who were so kind as to take a chance on this newsletter. I can’t tell you how excited I am to start writing about these topics that I have loved and researched for so long. So, thank you for joining me on this journey.
Now, onward into the first issue of Rhythm of the Ancients.
🧐 Feature: Intro to Shamanism
Before we start visiting specific mysteries, legends, sites, and cultures around the world, I want to create a foundation. To that end, we'll start with a brief introduction to shamanism. Why? Because it was important to the ancients. It informed their worldviews. And it has survived the ages. Yes, much has been lost, but the core — traveling to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness — remains the same. Practitioners today seem to have very similar experiences to shamans 30,000 years ago. And that, my friends, makes it an invaluable lens into the world of the ancients.
Now, I personally believe that humans are capable of entering non-ordinary realities. And I believe that what (and who) we encounter there is real. That is my belief, but you might disagree. There are many who argue that these experiences are manifestations of the subconscious, meaningless hallucinations, or any number of other things. And that's completely fine for our purposes — this doesn't require your belief. Learning about the ancients through the lens of shamanism is helpful because they believed.
So, what is shamanism? It is a spiritual practice whereby people enter altered states of consciousness to, among other things, interact with what they believe to be the beings of other realities. It has existed for at least 30,000 years, and many would argue much longer. The term comes from the word samān in the tongue of the Tungus tribe of Siberia. Shamanism is practiced by indigenous peoples all around the world, and more recently, it has been taken up by a non-indigenous "neo-shamanic" movement. I think it's important to note here that it is critical to approach shamanism with care, and with reverence for the cultures that practice it. It is all too common for practitioners to culturally appropriate specific rituals and practices. I know I've done it. But there are certain practices that transcend any one culture. And we can use those practices to fill in the blanks of our own individual ancestral practices. That's what I try to do, anyway. Because we all have shamanism in our ancestry. Every last one of us.
Shamans were important members of ancient communities, and they still are today. They are healers, advisors, prophets, wisdom keepers, and storytellers. They warn of coming dangers and bring back important technologies (yes, technologies). They find water and locate the herds. And much, much more. They are people of the liminal spaces. They straddle two worlds. They often live on the outside of a community, living a life apart. But they are integral to the well-being of the community.
Shamanic practices tend to center around journeys into other worlds. Practitioners go into an altered state of consciousness. While in this trance state, they commune with their familiars, power animals, spirit guides, and other entities. They are given power, protection, knowledge, and much more by these beings. And their primary role is to bring these things back with them to their communities.
As to how they do this, there are many vehicles. We know that shamans have used plant medicines for millennia, but these substances are not the only method. Dancing, sleep deprivation, extreme physical distress, fasting, chanting, and drumming have been used as well. My favorite, as someone who has been drumming for over 30 years, is the latter (hence the name of this newsletter). And then, of course, there is the small percentage of humans who are able to enter trances spontaneously.
As I mentioned above, the heart of shamanism is similar the world over. But interestingly, many highly specific rituals, practices, and beliefs transcend time and space too. Researchers have long wondered how tribes in places as distant from each other as Asia and South America, for example, could have such strikingly similar practices. Even the legends, the structure of the other worlds, and the characteristic features of the beings encountered there can be nearly identical. Take therianthropes (one of my favorite topics), for example — human-animal hybrids are represented just about everywhere in the ancient world. From the famous minotaur of ancient Greece to the ancient Egyptian pantheon of hybrid gods, and all the way back to the 32,000 year old buffalo-man cave painting at Chauvet and the 40,000 year old Löwenmensch figurine — why have so many cultures incorporated such similar beings into their religions and mythologies?
Some explain the many similarities in the shamanic worldview as hard-wired manifestations of the human subconscious. Others believe there was an advanced civilization that handed a legacy down through time. My take? I don't discount either of those theories – in fact, I believe both have some truth in them. But when you understand what these shamans are doing, I don't think those explanations are necessary. I believe that shamans, regardless of where or when, have been interacting with the same beings, in the same realities.
In other words, the person who spontaneously falls into a trance today and the stone age shaman who ceremonially consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms a world away could potentially speak with the same being. And if that's the case, then the similarities between cultures would no longer be enigmas; they would be matters of course.
I'll leave it there for this week. I hope this serves as a primer for anyone new to the topic. In the coming issues, we will go much deeper into specific topics that I hope you will find as fascinating as I do.
🗞 Ancient Beat
“Archaeologists find a 9,000-year-old shrine in the desert in Jordan” — Notable due to the age and state of preservation. It includes anthropomorphic figures and “sheds an entire new light on the symbolism, artistic expression as well as spiritual culture of these hitherto unknown Neolithic populations” according to the researchers.
“Archaeologists Uncover Exciting 'Time Capsule' of Iron Age Artifacts in England” — Notable because it is “the best preserved picture of late prehistoric life ever found in [North West England].” And it captures thousands of years of life. Finds include a (probable) dog sacrifice, stone anvil, pottery, and garbage ditches (which are a trove of info).
“Archaeologists uncover ancient burial mound at Oxford Uni’s ‘lost college’” — Notable because earthworks are a worldwide ancient practice, and this one was found underneath the ruins of St. Mary’s College. Building on top of ancient sacred sites has been common practices for millennia. It is thought to be a burial mound and they are now searching for the ditch that they believe will surround it.
❤️ Recommended Content
Here’s a video on the modified human skulls found at Göbekli Tepe, courtesy of Ancient Architects. I didn’t know anything about these remains until watching this.
Here’s an interesting article on the Trundholm Sun Chariot, courtesy of DHTWY via Ancient Origins.
Here’s a fascinating video on the Cappadocia Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities, courtesy of Megalithomania.
That’ll do it for the first issue. Please reply to this email (or comment via Substack) with any questions, suggestions, or just to say hello. This newsletter is very much a work-in-progress, so I’d appreciate your input!
Until next time, thank you for your time and attention.
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