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Shamanism and Psychotherapy Integration

2004 Pre-Conference Debate

Tullio Carere-Comes, Editor

Editor's note: An online pre-conference discussion took place from April 28 to June 13, 2004, among presenters of the Symposium "Shamanism As The First Integrative Psychotherapy" at the 2004 SEPI Conference in Amsterdam, plus Hilde Rapp (chair of the Conference), and Geoffrey Samuel (anthropologist). As the reader will see, shamanism is still a controversial word, even among those who think that psychotherapy has a spiritual side in need of a label. The discussion served to reshape the SEPI symposium on shamanism, which took place in Amsterdam on June 25, 2004.The presenters were Tilke Platteel-Deur, Joy Manné, Luca Panseri, and Tullio Carere-Comes.


Tullio Carere, 28 April 2004

Dear all,

I had a fantasy of this group as a shamanic family, at least embryonic, and imagined that this was the main reason why I had organized the whole thing in Amsterdam, without knowing it. This could have been just a case of wishful thinking, of course, but there can be something to it.

So let me try to put my fantasy to reality test. For this group to ever be anything like a shamanic family, the minimal condition is that we all share a common view of what a modern shaman is. That is, there must be a common ground that we share, in our obviously and necessarily different views of modern shamanism. This is my pre-conference proposal, then: let us try to concisely lay out our or ideas on this topic, and let us see if we can discern anything like a common ground. I begin first.

A modern shaman (MS) is first of all a mystic, one who dares venture into the dark night of the soul, only supported by the basic shamanic faith that passion and (symbolic) death give place to a rebirth. In his/her journeys into the unknown, the MS draws upon the source of transpersonal inspiration and healing. But the MS is not a naive new-ager, to the extent that s/he does not take the truth of his/her intuitions for granted. Besides being a mystic, s/he is a scientist, both in the sense of the 'local scientist', who transforms every intuition in a hypothesis to put to test in the laboratory of the therapeutic interaction; and in the sense of a scientist who belongs to the scientific community of his/her time, inasmuch as s/he accepts and applies the basic rules of empirical research (this might be one reason for us to meet in a conference of a scientific association like SEPI).

The MS is a mystic and a scientist, but that is not all. Like his/her forerunners, s/he knows s/he also has to do some more basic psychological job. Namely, s/he has to create a relational environment endowed with a holding, unconditionally accepting, maternal quality on one side, and a confronting, reality-testing, paternal quality on the other side. S/he moves in a field defined by a vertical (philosophical) axis, connecting a mystic and a scientific pole, and a horizontal (psychological) axis, connecting a maternal and a paternal pole. His/her attitude is dialogical, because s/he knows nothing for sure, and dialectical, because s/he shuns all one-sidedness and flows with the contradictory nature of all phenomena.

I described this four-vertex model 15 years ago in a book entitled "Il nuovo sciamano" (The new shaman). In my fantasy-vision I had the intuition that you must be all modern shamans like me, and each of you must have developed his/her original model roughly along the same lines as mine. If it were true, the idea of a modern shamanic family would not be so far-fetched, after all. Please give me your feed-back.

Joy Manné, 29 April 2004

Dear Tullio and all:

I am really sorry that I cannot read Italian, because your book, written all of 15 years ago, is really a path-breaker, a leader in the field. Today, many people are interested in shamanism and consciousness, and my new book sets Breathwork's contribution in this growing field. You wrote before the field was created.

As for my model, what I see is that when consciousness is given the chance to develop, it follows a shamanic pattern. In my thesis, I interested myself in the hypothetical case histories that were in the Buddhist texts. As I mapped out the Buddha's own hypothetical case history, I perceived a pattern which looked to be shamanic. When I did the research, the mapping was one on one: it was a truly shamanic "hypothetical case history," which I then started to call a "life pattern." As the Buddha also used breathwork, I became interested in the features in this pattern as they related to my own experience and that of my clients. There was again a strong mapping. I then realised that what Breathwork does is give consciousness the space to look at itself. When Breathwork is well done, i.e. breathworkers are not imposing their own ideas and agenda, this process is not interfered with and so consciousness can flow its own way. The result is shamanic development.

Another important aspect for me is that each person's shamanic development is unique and individual. The pattern exists, but is interpreted or expressed differently, according to the person's religion, society, etc. I am still exploring this aspect, and will admit now that it is developing into the subject of my next book.

Hilde Rapp, 29 April 2004

Dear Tullio, dear all,

As you know - given our long standing dialogue- we are much on the same page with respect to how we thing about the dialectic- dialogic balance, the mystic- scientific- (vertical) and the maternal- paternal (horizontal) coordinates which define the space in which we operate.

Joy, you also know that we share much, so I just set out my starting position for Catherine, Tilke and Wilfried- to be refined, abandoned, transformed... as this dialogue develops...

I too have been interested in shamanism (since childhood) and breathwork ( since the sixties) for a very long time, because combined they represent a direct path to the experience of the divine, beyond the containment and restrictions provided by religion and any other form of clerical regulation of our communication with the divine and with one another. I have been lucky to have travelled a little and to have sat with shamanic healers from a number of cultures to learn what is important to them...

In psychotherapy (which brings us together in this conference) the tension between the shamanic and the clerical is paralleled by the tension between, on the one hand socially and professionally regulated practice according to a shared understanding of what is tried, tested, effective and ethically acceptable , and, on the other, innovate pathbreaking forays into the unknown by courageous individuals at the cutting edge of knowledge and practice .

Both the shamanic and the 'clerical' paths have advantages and disadvantages, as I have explored in many papers on psychotherapy regulation and integrative practice. The shadow side of the shamanic is that a shaman, in virtue of being human, is also subject to the distortions that the ego will bring to the soul path , and he or she is therefore liable to misperceive and mislead unintentionally or indeed misguide deliberately in order to increase their power. We see this with adepts like Crowley or gurus like Bhagwan...

The shadow of the clerical path is that rules and regulations designed to mark out an arena of safe and productive work can become restrictive, suffocating, stultifying and censorious, preventing the development of open and free enquiry and experimental practice. We see this in the increasing bureaucratisation of the healing arts and sciences.

The underlying tension is defined by an arc which leads from preconventional practices (where certain developments which lead to the formation of a socialised personality have not yet taken place); conventional practices ( where socialisation has led to a formation within a particular cultural, professional or religious formation); and post conventional practices (where we include and transcend the constraints of our socialisation as we recognise it as contingent as we strive to make direct contact with the divine, not without an ego [preconventional], not confined to the ego [conventional] but beyond the ego, that is from the entire volume of the body-mind-soul-spirit space we define as "I").

In practice (unless we are psychotic or enlightened), most of us will be mixtures of pre-con, con and post con organisations, and with luck we might be aware enough both of the bright and of the shadow side of all three - in which case shamanic excursions to the limits of our understanding are likely to be beneficial.

Breath is the vehicle which takes us to the boundary. Breath will however only help to reveal our underlying structure. It will be divine inspiration - if it comes - that can bring healing by creating a dynamic balance between our pre-con, con, and post-con components to make us maximally adapted to the challenges of modern life. A modern shaman needs to be evenly poised between the capacity to belong to a secure social framework and the capacity to let go and take off into an imaginative flight into the divine cosmos...

This means guarding in equal measure against the hijacking of shamanism in the service of quackery and power games on the one hand and the suppression of shamanism in the service of bureaucracy and social control.

(It is for this reason also I have insisted on including these panels in the conference- because only in the light of public scrutiny which is scientifically and spiritually literate can we actually safeguard that our profession stays alive...)

At least this is how I currently see the challenge of modern shamanism as it develops through the practice of breathwork, but I very much hope that together we refine one another's thinking and practice so this is just my starting base for this dialogue...

Tullio Carere, 3 May 2004

Dear Joy and Hilde,

Thank you for your contributions to this inchoate pre-conference discussion. It seems to me that what you say sets the stage for what could be a major thread in our shamanistic meeting: the comparison of a basic shamanic pattern as it is discernible in all cultures of all times (Joy), and a 'modern' shamanic pattern, defined by an arc which leads from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional practices (Hilde). Although we may like to think of ourselves as post-conventional, most of us are in fact "mixtures of pre-con, con and post con organisations". Because the shaman, "in virtue of being human, is also subject to the distortions that the ego will bring to the soul path", s/he always runs the risk of moving in the regressive direction of the pre-conventional, while deluding him/herself and others into believing that s/he is a post-conventional person.

My idea for minimizing this risk lies in the dialectic on the vertical axis of the field, i.e. between mystics and science. Their interdependence protects both science from becoming scientism, and mystics from "quackery and power games". I look forward to reading Tilke's, Catherine's, and Wilfried's views on this topic (and, of course, further comments by Joy and Hilde).

Hilde Rapp. 4 May 2004

Dear Joy, Tullio, Tilke, Wilfried and Catherine,

My sense is that this will not only be a pre conference but also a post conference conversation...

I wonder whether we might want to rename our thread to 'The Shamanic dimension of psychotherapy'- simply because 'shaman-ism' suggests an organised body of beliefs and practices, and I think we are concerned with an attitude ( not a set of beliefs) and a set of experiences (rather than practices) which arise from 'observing' rather than 'controlling' the breath?

In most cultures I know of, the shamanic experience relates to soul travel-our capacity to allow inspiration and intuition to guide our attention to realms in which we experience aspects of reality that are not easily grasped in ordinary waking consciousness.

In this way the shamanic experience might be the opposite of a possession state. Mediumistic experiences, sometimes described as 'channeling' might be examples of such a reaching down of spirit into the plane of human experience. We become the (passive, permissive, receptive) vehicle for spirit beings to convey messages to others such that they can be understood in waking consciousness. Here the thrust is to reconnect people by means of the message with their community in a more balanced and harmonious way...

By contrast, the shamanic flight is our (active, questing, visioning) reaching up into the spirit plane. Here the thrust is emancipatory, liberational- to free us from our social categories in order to make a new development possible both at the personal and at the community level... The outcomes of the shamanic and possession route to transforming our consciousness from one state to another may be the same or similar- forms of rebalancing or healing. However, the process is different- and maybe the social contexts within which the possession process rather than the shamanic process is favoured may also be different...?

What I mean by 'modern' shamanism has firstly to do with how we, in contemporary Europe, revision what we mean by the plane of spirit or spirit beings. The most common terms we seem to use, draw on some notion of 'energy patterns' or 'energy 'fields'. What happens here might be thought of in analogy ( or perhaps even in homology - Wilfried?) to alterations in genetic patterning ( biological engineering) or neurochemical patterning, in that systemic changes take place which we think of in terms of 'healing'. I quite like a musical analogy- nada brahma: the world is sound- energy as vibration and healing as the reconfiguring of a piece of music so that it has a different emotional, spiritual and physical quality)

In any case, something is reconfigured in a dimension to which we gain access by a process we choose to call shamanic, the outcome of which is a rebalancing of the system which we conceive of in terms of an energy change towards greater aliveness and harmony... In most 'traditional' societies the path of the shaman was entered through being chosen by the spirit world or by a hereditary entitlement to the role... Therefore a second strand of 'modern' shamanic processes lies in the social fact that in principle everyone may now engage in a process which results in a shamanic transformation of consciousness which allows a reconfiguring of energy patterns to take place...

Thirdly, this seems to presuppose that we must believe that everyone has the capacity to become enlightened, to engage in vision quests etc , rather than only the 'chosen'. This has implications for professionalism, elitism etc on the one hand and raises issues of responsibility, preparedness, 'safe practice' etc on the other- where, as Tullio also says, science and mysticism are the two guardians which ought to guarantee the integrity of the process, the authenticity of the experience and the usefulness of the outcome...

( What else?)

I wonder whether this way of thinking is shared among us - or how each of you uses the words shaman, shamanic, shamanism...? What views, concepts, understandings do you bring to this field? What do you think happens here? How do you describe it?

Joy Manné, 5 May 2004

Dear Hilde,

I am ever less of an intellectual (for better or for worse), so I look on with respect and awe as you and Tullio juggle concepts, and hope not to get eaten alive at the conference.

What I have observed (and written about in my new book), is that when breathwork is practiced, and neither the breath nor the process are interfered with, shamanic experiences result, and so does the pattern of development of the shaman, up to the person's capacities and gifts. And this intrigues me, as I think we are watching Consciousness, liberated from all theories, allowed to follow its practical route, developing in its own way. Wow! I observe and I marvel as consciousness shows itself to me in the development of my clients. I continue to observe and learn about this unravelling (of unconsciousness), and do intend to write about it in depth when I know more. Right now, I'm only at the pattern-recognition stage.

Now, being practical (and a simple beast, a simple rhino from Africa though connected, of course, to the hairies that once roamed freely across the British Isles), I'm happy to take a group voyaging (here's another workshop offer: shamanic voyaging for psychotherapists! Will have to be late night shamaning, that one!) and do the action stuff. My little Noah, with his transformers and heroes who save others shows the way. Let some do the deep theorising. We wild grannies want to be where the action is and have the fun!!!

Wilfried Ehrmann, 7 May 2004

Dear SEPIs,

sorry for reacting so late. Explanation follows:

Now I realize a part of my not-attraction about coming to the Amsterdam conference which was obviously intended as a partial shamanic meeting (Tullio) had to do with this aspect. Shamanism is not a common context for me as person or for my work. I see it as a widespread cultural practice in premodern societies. My knowledge about this phenomenon does not exceed old Eliade. My experiences are limited to attending a workshop with Serge Kahili King (the Urban Shaman), transcendence, etc. So I do not wear the predicate Shaman. I see myself as spiritual seeker heading towards more stillness inside. The colourful world of the Shamans is not my homeland although I like to visit it at times.

As Non-such I feel freed of contributing to the discussion about the place of shamanism in our world. Now as postconventionalist or postmodernist I am aware that anything can be used as a label and that we can use anything in any context and it will make some sense. Still I ask myself what it adds to therapy in general or breathwork in special when we call it shamanistic. Maybe it has an additional marketing aspect, but to some extend it could also be perceived as limiting the experiences we have when breathing to the realm of spectacularity.

Shamanism has discovered universal patterns in human development. Yet I cannot see that they could possibly describe or enclose all the experiences plus contexts that were created in the evolution of society since the Shamanic ages. One could say that this is all the evolution of Shamanism but that is just a play of words which does not add to clarity. One could say that through techniques like breathwork the deep roots of therapy in Shamanism are regained. This means that breathwork has a shamanistic aspect but calling breathwork a shamanistic method would neglect or exclude all the other maybe less ancient aspects of it. It is interesting for me to find out what in breathwork is shamanic and what not. But for that to find out we have to decide what Shamanism is: an ancient healing technique or a modern umbrella.

When you, Tullio, say that modern shamanism is scientific, then it seems to me like stretching a concept so wide that everything finds its place in it, and the concept becomes wishy-washy.

Even associating shamanism and mysticism is misleading as there are many aspects of mysticism which exceed the (old) shamanistic world.

Tullio Carere, 8 May 2004

Dear Wilfried,

First of all, let me tell you how much I appreciate your straight and frank approach. It is compelling, in the sense that it compels us to face the core questions about shamanism: is it "an ancient healing technique or a modern umbrella"? Is it a useful concept for contemporary breathworkers and psychotherapists, or just a wishy-washy new-ageist fashionable word? Let me try to answer these questions.

Firstly, the meaning of shamanism is highlighted in the comparison with priesthood. The shaman is a direct mediator with the world of the spirits, while the priest is just an official in a church: the shaman relies on his/her direct experience, whereas the priest is a believer. The priest is functional to the social order which is essential in agricultural and industrial societies, strongly identified with a conventional spirituality, whereas the traditional shaman is basically preconventional. The problem, in postindustrial societies, is to found a postconventional spirituality in order to avoid the dangers of secularization (scientism, individualism, hedonism, consumerism). It has been observed that secularization has freed the sacred from the religious. We are faced with the task of re-connecting with the sacred without the protection (and the oppression) of clerical institutions and dogmas. If we engage in this task without taking into account what our forerunners did when facing the same task, we run the risk of being in the position of those who start to re-invent the wheel.

Secondly, the old shaman was a really integrative therapist, a combination of spiritual healer, scientist (shaman means originally "he who knows"), psychologist, physician, educator. Of course, the knowledge of "he who knows" was the knowledge of a primitive culture. Nonetheless, the basic inspiration was holistic and integrative, the same that many of us have begun to re-discover in the last decades of the past century.

Thirdly, the main function of the shaman was the mediation with the spirit world. In order to connect with that world, the old shaman got into an altered state of consciousness (ASC), induced through a variety of means. Paradigmatically, a "new shaman" like Stanislav Grof started with LSD-induced ASC, and arrived at the conclusion that breathwork can profitably substitute for any chemically induced ASC. The fact that in most ancient languages spirit and breath are named with the same world is a clue for the strict relatedness between breathwork and the "spirit world", and therefore between breathworkers and old shamans.

This is not to say that "breathwork is a shamanistic practice", or that breathwork and shamanism are one and the same thing. This would be confusing and misleading. What I mean is that we (breathworkers or therapists doing breathwork) can find a common root and a common ground in shamanism. We have left out much of what belongs to shamanism (homosexuality, for instance, as far as I am concerned), and added much that did not belong to it (transference and countertransference analysis, as far as I am concerned again). But the three points made above-shamans vs priests, holistic and integrative therapy, breathwork as a royal or imperial way to the spirit-form a solid basis for me to identify myself as a modern shaman, more than anything else. (If they ask me: what kind of medicine doctor are you?, I say a psychiatrist; and if they ask: what kind of psychiatrist?, I say a psychotherapist; and if they further ask: what kind of psychotherapist?, I don't' say a psychoanalyst-which I could say-but a shaman).

In conclusion, I see shamanism as a possible common ground for therapists with a great investment in breathwork, if they ever want to find one-and this is the reason why I proposed a panel on shamanism in the first place, after proposing one on breathwork. But may be the problem is that I am a diehard searcher for common grounds, in a post-modern epoch of pluralism in which people don't seem to feel a special need for such things. Maybe in the end I will be convinced that they don't feel that need, simply because such things are not needed. But for the time being I still suspect that we do need common grounds (how can we ever communicate, if we don't share a common ground?--in fact, we usually do not communicate much). Or, maybe, you will argue that we can share a common ground, but this is not shamanism (I had a long and passionate discussion with some distinguished Italian SEPI colleagues, who held that the only possible common ground among us is science, and wanted me to join them over there). Hence I ask you Wilfried, and I ask you all dear breathworkers: do you think that the search for a common ground is a superfluous or even politically incorrect activity, or on the contrary it is an useful or even necessary enterprise? And in the second option, which could be in your view that ground?

Wilfried Ehrmann, 10 May 2004

Dear Tullio, dear SEPIs,

thank you for your feedback, Tullio and Hilde.

Tullio, thank you for your explanation about your shamanism, this is very clear, respectable and understandable. About your question of a common ground for breathworkers and therapists, I think it is not the world of spirits but spirit itself which only could work as a common denominator, and I think, this IS the common denominator for any therapeutic work, if not for everything that happens. The work would be to specify what spirit means for psychotherapy and what spirit means for breathwork in special.

Shamanism does not work as a common ground for me because Shamanism does not only lack modern insights and techniques like the therapeutic relationship etc. but that it lacks the connection to spirit and tends to get caught up in the world of spirits. According to (or interpreting) Karl Jaspers, spirit was reflected and conceptualized around 500 BC (maybe there are forerunners like Echnaton) with Lao Tsu, Buddha, Socrates, etc. This new level came into existence by transcending the world of spirits (myths), but as you can see with e.g. Plato integrated mythology in the new paradigm. Another example was the Buddhist monk (I do not remember the name) who brought Buddhism to Tibet. He conquered the Bon priests (the shamans) on their field and so he was accepted in bringing a superior idea. Still, Tibetan Buddhism contains a lot of elements of the Bon religion. But would it be fruitful to look for a common ground in religion (or in Buddhism) in the Bon practices? The story tells that the age of Shamanism is over like the way of medieval economy was over when capitalism came. Recalling and reviving the medieval society is called Romantic remythologization. It has no future perspective and is basically conservative. What do I mean by spirit? Maybe it is better to call it Philosophia perennis (Ken Wilber). For me personally, it is best described in the Advaita teaching, but it can be found in the scriptures of many mystics and spiritual seekers, saints and holy persons. They basically say the same when they speak about "the truth".

The world of spirits and ghosts on the path of growth is a intermediate realm which at least to me is not necessary for everyone to pass and which has to be left behind when walking on. So in my view healing does not necessary require to enter the Shamanistic "playgrounds" and cannot be the ultimate step. This again seems to disqualify Shamanism as a basic common ground.

Another reason why I do not think that Shamanism is a strong fundament for modern therapy comes from the debate about whether there is something like a universal shamanism or rather various quite different practices among the preconventional tribes. Maybe the idea of a universal Shamanism is an intervention of some ethnologists? Then the foundation would not be more than a doubtable scientific concept.

Hilde Rapp, 11 May 2004

Dear Wilfried,

again I agree with much of what you say- and I think this also marks the difference between the 'modern' shaman and the 'traditional shaman'- that we live in a post modern world and not a medieval one, and that our understanding of the supernatural or divine is expressed in terms of spirit or energy rather than ancestral spirits, ghosts or other spirit beings.

Of course we could dispense with the term shamanic altogether if it creates confusion rather than open new debate- but now that we have in our discourse- and I think the distinction between the 'wild' (unconditioned) and the contingent (tame) aspect of ourselves is a useful one, we might as well use it as the 'address' in logical space for experiences and concepts which are collectively seeking to describe and define... thanks you for the dialogue

Tullio Carere, 11 May 2004

Dear Wilfried and all,

Thank you for defining your theoretical position as rooted in Advaita Vedanta. Let me try to explain why I still prefer shamanism to that venerable tradition. The most renown Advaita master, Shankara, was unambiguous in saying that the phenomenal world is not the true reality: it is illusion, maya. Symmetrically, mainstream modern science locates reality on this side of the line, in phenomenal world, and declares that all form of spiritualism is illusion. The two types of monism, spiritualistic and materialistic, deny each other. They reflect the spiritualistic and materialistic biases of the East and the West, respectively.

Shamanism originates in a time that predates the East-West splitting, and the two metaphysics it has brought about. I like shamanism because it does not choose spirit to the detriment of matter, or vice versa, or heaven to the detriment of earth, or vice versa. It does not choose, it mediates. It is basically dialectic. It constantly moves from O (the noumenon) to K (the phenomenon) and vice versa. [I borrowed these letters from the psychoanalyst Bion, who spoke of transformations of O in K, and vice versa (someone called Bion a shaman)].

The shamans are not monistic: they do not practice the "reductio ad unum". Their many spirits, instead of the one spirit, reflect their dialectical Weltanschauung. The caduceus, still today the symbol of medical art and science, is perfectly shamanic--a winged staff entwined with two serpents, to represent the basic aim of therapy: to harmonize opposite forces, or energies, or spirits. Besides, the caduceus is a realistic representation of a core movement in breathwork. As you must have observed many times, a pattern is often generated in deep breathing in which two energetic currents flow along the spine in opposite directions. The energy of love, flowing bottom-up, and the energy of mastery and control, flowing top-down, have been represented as two well-known serpent-spirits in different traditions. The spirits are but symbolic representations of the opposite forces that govern human life, and are specially elicited in deep breathing (hence their names).

When all is said and done, Wilfried, you remain an Advaita seeker, and I a shaman. Does it mean that we should give up the very idea of a common ground? I don't think so. This is what happens everywhere among therapists: there cannot be any theoretical integration. Theories are different, incompatible and incommensurable, just like (my idea of) shamanism and Advaita Vedanta. But I guess that our practices are much more similar than our theories. The only common ground I can conceive of between us is made up of common factors, i.e. the factors that are common to our practices. Shall we try to identify them, and describe them in a language that is as experience-near and theory-neutral as possible?

Hilde Rapp, 12 May 2004

Dear Tullio, dear Wilfried, dear all,

Tullio, as always I enjoy and admire your clarity.

I know far too little about it as I am not an Indologist, but it seems to me from the little that I do know, that both within the Hindu and the Buddhist tradition, also Jaina, there are an extraordinary variety of interpretations of a multiplicity of myths and stories about. For instance I believe that just looking at the many different myths surrounding the birth of Ganesa ( the remover of obstacles) I can discern both a shamanic thread, path or underground river where practice is left to the intuition of the individual practitioner- however much ritualised and embedded in tradition, and a non shamanic clerical approach, tied to observances that are regulated by a (usually) hierarchical set of clerical power structures. Both lead to understanding and healing.

I am in correspondence with Geoffrey Samuel (you may want to have a look at his website) who is an internationally renowned scholar and who has looked into this subject matter deeply. He would be interested, in principle, with your permission, to be copied into these exchanges, and he would be, in principle, willing to give feedback. In practice he is busy moving from Australia to the UK- so he does not have much time in the immediate future.

Please let me know if you would welcome this.

Personally I find that I learn much from all the different traditions and perspectives in this manifold of meanings and practices- and I agree with Tullio that we might do well to look for common ground at the level of "direct ( unmediated) experience", which you may be surprised to learn is the dictionary definition of "reality".

Joy Manné, 14 May 2004

Dear All,

Geoffrey Samuel's book on Tibetan shamanism was a great inspiration in my research on shamanic elements in the Buddha's life history. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting him in Leiden, Holland. I welcome him to this discussion.

Geoffrey Samuel, 16 May 2004

Dear Joy, Tullio, Tilke, Wilfried and Catherine

Hilde has copied a couple of your messages on to me and suggested that I might join the conversation. I'm a social/cultural anthropologist, working on Tibetan Buddhism, shamanism and mind-body processes among other things, currently based in Australia, moving to Wales next January. Some of you will have received a message from Joy a few weeks ago about a workshop on healing processes in the unified mind-body field which I am hoping to hold at Cardiff next July.

I'm wary these days about shamanic as a general term, and even more about "shamanism". As Wilfried commented, it's not at all clear how far universal "shamanism" is, if "shamanism" means the kind of thing Mircea Eliade described - in fact, Eliade's model seems in some ways not even very accurate for the Siberian cultures it was supposedly based on. In particular, the shamanic flight versus spirit possession distinction seems far from universal, with practitioners in many cultures (including some of the "classic" Siberian cultures and also Nepal) using elements of both - the same person can both go on a journey to find the cause of an illness, and invite a helping spirit into his/her body to help deal with it. (The difference between "positive" mediumistic states, where helping spirits are invited in, and "negative" possession, where harmful spirits have taken over and need to be removed, is maybe more widespread, but that is not really universal either.)

I am also unconvinced (despite Karl Jaspers etc) about the big change around 500 BCE, and about the implied idea (which is quite widespread) that shamans are primitive low-grade practitioners as opposed to the Buddhist monks or lamas (etc) who are working on some much more exalted plane . . . I think there are "tribal" shamans (of many different types) who work with "spirits," but others whose experience has taken them well beyond that level. I think the same is also true of Tibetan lamas. Tibetan Buddhist training doesn't guarantee that everybody who (e.g.) does a three-year retreat and so can call themselves "lama" (in the non-Gelugpa orders) has reached any very high level of insight into the workings of spirit (or whatever you want to call it). The idea that lamas are superior to shamans, Brahmins to village spirit-mediums etc is much more to do with politics than anything else.

Specifically on Tibetan Buddhism, by the way, though it's something of a side issue, modern scholarship has long dropped the idea that Bon is some kind of "shamanic" predecessor to Buddhism (although some Tibetans now repeat this line themselves). Yet for all my doubts about shamanic and shamanism, there is somethingthere which needs a label, and so far "shamanic" seems to be the best and most ge neral word we have (it's the one I have used myself, with intermittent misgivings when it gets misunderstood as it often does). When Hilde says (about modern Western shamanism) "something is reconfigured in a dimension to which we gain access by a process we choose to call shamanic, the outcome of which is a rebalancing of the system which we conceive of in terms of an energy change towards greater aliveness and harmony..." this sounds to me to be essentially right about both modern Western shamanic practice and many pre-modern and modern non-Western "shamanisms" (given that the "system" may be the wider social group, or even an entire society, as much as an individual).

On whether "everyone has the capacity to become enlightened, to engage in vision quests etc , rather than only the 'chosen'" (Hilde) -- many cultures seem to think so, especially the small-scale and less hierarchical societies, though this doesn't exclude some people being more talented than others. Again, there is a political point here, and I think it is an important one.

Tullio Carere, 17 May 2004

Hi Geoffrey!

Welcome into our conversation, and thank you for the precious remarks you make in your introductory comment. I see your contribution as organized around two main points:

I'm wary these days about shamanic as a general term, and even more about "shamanism".


Yet for all my doubts about shamanic and shamanism, there is something there which needs a label, and so far "shamanic" seems to be the best and most general word we have

The question of the legitimacy of using the terms "shaman" and "shamanism" for a universal anthropological category is an old one, as you know. It is paralleled by a similar question in our field: how legitimate is the use of the term "psychotherapy" for such disparate, incompatible and incommensurable practices like, say, psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy? Let me grapple with the two questions together, because in both cases "there is something that needs a label".

What is the something of psychotherapy, to begin with? My answer is that it is the relationship that develops between a patient and a therapist who meet regularly and interact both verbally and non verbally to the aim of curing disorders and/or promoting personal (interpersonal, transpersonal) growth. I have observed, like many others, that this relationship develops according to an inner logic of its own, i.e. some regularities or common factors tend to occur and recur independently of the theory and the technique of the therapist (psychoanalysis, CB, etc). It is as though the relationship were shaped, beyond the conscious intentions of both patient and therapist, by some basic features of human nature.

And what is the something of shamanism? As you say, "the shamanic flight versus spirit possession distinction seems far from universal, with practitioners in many cultures using elements of both". Then why do we tend to unify such apparently disparate phenomena like shamanic flight and spirit possession under the same label of shamanism? My answer is that the shaman is an intermediary between the actual (phenomenal) and the potential (noumenal) worlds. S/he can both get out of the phenomenal and take the ecstatic flight into the unknown, and let the unknown get into his/her own body in the form of some 'spirit'. I don't see a contradiction, but a complementarity between these two modes. In both cases the shaman acts as an intermediary to draw upon the healing, inspirational, and regenerative power of the noumenal (spiritual) dimension.

And finally, what do these two somethings have in common? I.L. Lewis once wrote that the shaman is no less, but more then a psychiatrist. Indeed, many psychiatrists or psychotherapists move today inside a strictly secular horizon and seem to have no interest at all beyond that. Other therapists seem to have some intuition of an "unconscious" that is not just a repository of repressed materials, but also a source of inspiration and healing; however, they don't seem to have a personal and direct access to such dimension, as the access is allowed and regulated by the laws and rituals of to school to which they belong. In other words, they are more priests than shamans. On the other hand, most contemporary psychotherapists avail of sophisticated tools to explore, regulate and correct interpersonal relationships, whereas shamans have at most an unsophisticated knowledge of this dimension. In conclusion, I would say firstly that a contemporary psychotherapist is both less and more than a shaman, and secondly that there are therapists of the shamanic type, and others of the clerical type (plus some that are a mixture of the two types, and some that have no connection at all to a spiritual dimension). I know that my view is similar to Hilde's in this regard, whereas I suspect that Wilfried would object to it. What about the others?

Thank you again Geoffrey for reminding us that there is something there in need of a label, and suggesting that "so far "shamanic" seems to be the best and most general word we have"--unless or until someone suggests a better one.

Geoffrey Samuel, 18 May 2004

Dear Tullio

Many thanks for this and for your comments. I am in Bangkok briefly at present, on my way back to Australia, will perhaps respond at more length later when I have had a chance to read through the conversation so far properly.

My feeling at present is that I probably have much more to learn than to give in this exchange. I don't have any in depth experience of psychotherapy (which as you say is in its way as problematic a term as 'shamanism'), though like many people these days I have been to the occasional workshop or group on the edge of the therapy scene.

The relationship between actual and potential worlds is surely a key issue for the "shamanic," though maybe we need something more to specify anything useful - is a religious tradition such as Christianity or Judaism not also about the relationship between actual and potential worlds, for example? Or is the difference that Christianity and Judaism have already decided what their potential worlds should be like, whereas the shamanic approach leaves it open for creative reshaping?

For me the social and cultural dimension is also important: the shamanic approach, at least in pre-modern societies, is about the group, not just the individual. Though perhaps rather than "the shamanic approach" I would feel happier to speak of a variety of approaches which have some common features.

One thing though, you say that "most contemporary psychotherapists avail of sophisticated tools to explore, regulate and correct interpersonal relationships, whereas shamans have at most an unsophisticated knowledge of this dimension". What do we really mean here by "sophisticated"? I am not saying it does not have meaning, just asking the question.

Tullio Carere, 18 May 2004

On 18-05-2004, Geoffrey wrote:

The relationship between actual and potential worlds is surely a key issue for the "shamanic," though maybe we need something more to specify anything useful - is a religious tradition such as Christianity or Judaism not also about the relationship between actual and potential worlds, for example? Or is the difference that Christianity and Judaism have already decided what their potential worlds should be like, whereas the shamanic approach leaves it open for creative reshaping?

Yes, this is what I mean. The shamanic approach leaves the potential world constantly open for creative reshaping (in Bion's terms: "O" should be left unsaturated, wheras all religions saturate it with their positive theologies, reified symbols, institutional dogmas). Nothing is wrong in symbols and myths, provided that one is aware of their symbolical/mythical nature and do not reify them. Of course one can find shamans who do reify their myths: but then, I would hardly call them shamans, if I choose to use this word to signify an "Idealtypus": the person, in all epoch and culture, who does not need dogmas because his/her identity is not defined by any institutional allegiance (as, for instance, "psychoanalyst"), and does not need to reify his/her experience, because s/he knows how to always return to the source (the "thing in itself") to reshape it. As you said, we need a word for a something (is my something more or less the same as yours?), and I, like you, cannot find a better word than shaman. "Mystic", or "spiritual seeker", are possible alternatives that don't satisfy me, because my Idealtypus is an intermediary between spirit and matter, or noumenon and phenomenon, or mystics and science.

For me the social and cultural dimension is also important: the shamanic approach, at least in pre-modern societies, is about the group, not just the individual.

The individual is nothing without a group (and vice versa), in the shamanic view and in my own. An individualistic society like ours would greatly benefit, I think, from a shamanic injection. Besides, I started this pre-conference discussion with the fantasy of a "shamanic family"--a network of "shamanically oriented" persons (breathworkers, psychotherapists, anthropologists...)--and have not yet given it up.

One thing though, you say that "most contemporary psychotherapists avail of sophisticated tools to explore, regulate and correct interpersonal relationships, whereas shamans have at most an unsophisticated knowledge of this dimension". What do we really mean here by "sophisticated"? I am not saying it does not have meaning, just asking the question.

Sophisticated I call the competence in the management of interpersonal relationships that has been developed mainly in the psychoanalytic tradition (analysis of transference and countertransference) and in the cognitive, starting with Piaget. A groundbreaking paper that connects and integrates the two traditions is "Transference, Schema, and Assimilation: The Relevance of Piaget to the Psychoanalytic Theory of Transference", by Paul Wachtel, one of the fathers founders of SEPI ( ).

Wilfried Ehrmann, 19 May 2004

Dear Tullio, dear SEPIs,

this is my comment to the concept of dialectic vs. monism, Shamanism as dialectic concept and Advaita as monistic concept.

I agree that the dialectic connection of the mundane and the sacral world is an essential concept. Yet the nature of dialectic is not limited to thesis and antithesis but both require a synthesis, at least according to Hegel and not following Adorno's skepticism. What then is the synthesis of the two worlds? This cannot be the Shaman as a person or the Shamanism as a doctrine, as you describe Shamanism in between the two worlds. It must be something different in quality, a quality jump. And this I see in the perennial concept of Spirit as e.g. seen in the teaching of Advaita.

The description of the two worlds as Maya in Advaita and other Indian teachings does not mean (in my understanding), that they are irrelevant or meaningless. On the contrary, they are the realms of our lives. Still they are not of ultimate truth because they are caught in the polarizing structure of our mind. When we enter the void which can happen in meditation, it is neither from one world or the other but is of a different quality of reality which incorporates the contents of the worlds and still is not of these worlds.

Tullio Carere, 19 May 2004

Dear Wilfried and all,

I would hardly say that spirit is a synthesis between matter and spirit (I would say the same of matter, for that matter). But, as we all know all too well, a doctrinal dispute would lead us nowhere. Let us try to return, instead, to our very common ground: breathwork. Let me quote from Tilke's biographical sketch:

The Spirit of Breath has the power to connect us with real strength. In an atmosphere of acceptance, respect and love, a human being may become more conscious of his true nature, his essence, and with that of the deeper meaning of his life.

These things--our real strength, our true nature, our essence--are what we usually call our potential world, the noumenon, the spirit. Then Tilke goes on to say:

Integrating spirituality into normal daily life has always been of great interest to her (Tilke).

Through breathwork, says Tilke, we get in touch with, we become aware of our spiritual nature. Then we can integrate our spirituality in our daily life (the matter, the material conditions of our everyday life). Could we agree that this integration is the synthesis we look for? If we do, the next step would be to recognize that this integration is far from complete or perfect. It is not that we "become spirit". We might feel at one with the universe in some ecstatic moments during breathwork or in meditation, but for most of the time we struggle in contradictions. When one is resolved, two more open very soon. Vast portions of psychological matter, inside and around us, stubbornly refuse to be enlightened. If my aim were synthesis, I would feel very frustrated. But it is not. My aim is to grow in the capacity of flowing in life with all its contradictions: solving some, if I can; letting the others as they are, if I cannot; greeting all new contradictions that come to life every moment; and trying not to be too spiritual, nor too material, as a being who lives at the interface between earth and heaven.

Ok, this is my Weltanschauung. But can we discuss of breathwork, or psychotherapy, or shamanism, or advaita, without exposing and confronting our Weltanschauungen? (I like it, by the way).

Joy Manné, 23 May 2004

Dear Hilde,

My approach to this subject is in my paper, attached for those who have not read it. The bibliography shows what I've been reading. You will see that mine is a psychological approach and not an anthropological approach. It is a minimalist approach - looking at the larger picture, or the essence, as I am not interested in the details. I think they muddy the waters. I'm more likely to talk about something as being "shamanic" rather than about "shamanism." The essence, for me, is that when consciousness is given a chance to look at itself, which it receives in Breathwork (and other therapies, Jungian analysis, for example), its natural pattern of development is shamanic. For example: for me it is irrelevant which school of thought any shaman belongs to; the essence is that there is a tradition, the shaman forms part of the tradition, and as s/he develops her/his shamanic gifts, begins to make the transit from student to teacher. All Breathwork group leaders that I know are also spiritual teachers. It goes with the job. I can give endless examples of how this pattern manifests as consciousness develops, and will give many during my presentation.

How does theory really help? What really is the discussion on theory? I wonder whether it is not a sort of magic competition - shamans do compete and there is often a hierarchy. Also, competing is a sort of game, a sharpening of wits, etc. Do the details matter here? I don't think so, but then I do not want to convert anyone - never have! Now, looking at the pattern that shows itself - well, there I think theory helps to serve better practice in Breathwork or in any other method that deals with psyche. Theory where it is minimal and practical. The client will fill in the details, according to her/his tendencies, and need to believe one way or another.

More about competing. It risks getting into "my school is better than your school" positions, which I find meaningless. There's always the danger of drawing prestige from "my guru", "my teacher" etc. Why is one person drawn to one school rather than another? That is the interesting question for me, not the contents of the school's teaching.

I'm very interested in Integrative Psychotherapy and integrating models. I think these must leave the details for clients to fill in, according to their needs and developments, and not impose structures. The more simple and basic the structure, the less danger of imposing the therapists own picture on the client. Of course we are chosen because our Weltanschauung is compatible with that of our clients; we are not characterless. And if we are developing sufficiently, we are shamans who belong to schools and are teaching…

Tilke Platteel-Deur, 27 May, 2004

Dear Tullio and other SEPI's

Reading what you have been sharing so far makes me feel like the little girl from that small province town in the Dutch backwaters. I am definitely not the kind of intellectual you are and I am in a state of admiration about the way you explore this whole shamanic issue.

I have resonated with Wilfried in his first answer and then I was pleased with Tullio's remarks about shamans being integrative therapists.

I don't think I want to be a mediator between the spirit world and another world. All I can do sometimes is assist a person to clear himself in such a way that the spiritual world becomes more accessible to him, that he becomes capable of making his own inner connection with God in a tangible way. I do -like Joy in her last letter- not especially like the idea of a competition in ideas about shamanism. It is so extremely personal and as hard to describe as what someone feels while having an orgasm. Whereas theory in breathwork is practical, reproducible and tangible I have never called myself a shaman.

I have never called myself a healer. I have called myself a trainer and a therapist who uses breathwork a lot. People consider me to be a very good trainer and a very good (breathwork) therapist. Sometimes I agree with that and other times I just don't know and I don't think a lot about it.

I do my work, which is what I feel I have to do and that's that. I am a very practical person. Some years ago Joy has finally coaxed me into writing (something my children had tried to do for years!) I wrote some articles and I wrote handouts for our training and now I am working on a book that will be a very practical piece of work.

I do this work because in me is a part that wants to add to spreading consciousness on this planet. I feel moved by people when they go through their steps of development, when consciousness develops and grows. It sometimes makes me cry for joy. This is what gives me the most satisfaction, often more than the money could do. Don't worry. I like money! There are days where I still find myself being amazed about the power of breath and the simplicity of it. I adore breathing and I am good at guiding the breath and initiating the moment where spirit comes in. Breathing took most of my fears away. It made my body -with me in it- feel safe with strong energy and strong emotions, not always with pain.

I have never worked with a shaman and I have never had an initiation whatsoever. I do not work with, nor do I have a certain personal animal spirit who is helping or guiding me.

What I do have is a -sometimes better and sometimes less good- connection with God or, like I often say, with "what is bigger than me". This connection is my true help and inspiration. I am questioning it constantly so that I don't take it for granted. It makes me feel humble and at the same time special. What I also have is, that over the last 28 years I have done a lot of self-exploration and I have had loads of insights, which of course is a still ongoing process.

My own process together with my inner connection to God, my love for people and my life and work experience is the basis of what I do in therapy.

When I work I sit in front of my client and I connect myself with him. I let myself be guided by what I perceive, by everything I ever learned, by my experience and by my love. Like you all do, I guess. When I get a new client with whom I do not get to this basic feeling of "universal love" in a relatively short time, I used to refer him to another therapist. I realize that this did hasn't happened anymore during the last 9 years.

What I mean with integrating spirituality into daily life is enjoying my tasks, no matter what. It's being friendly to the lady in the supermarket, having a really good relationship with my children and grandchildren. It's enjoying myself looking back on my day before going to sleep that I was just 57 times judgmental during the day instead of 100 times. It's being glad when the cleaning lady tells me that she thinks I am an inspiration for her because of the fact that she sees me as a content person. Simple little things that make life good and better for others and myself. Little things that spread light.

I still think that my place is not in this shamanic panel.
I feel very good about the breathwork panel like I told you before.
I am a breathworker. That's my interest. In breathwork, I see that we have a common ground with a teachable and reproducible technique.
I see our panel on breathwork as an enjoyable and probably very useful addition to therapists in a conference for psychotherapists. It adds a dimension that I have never found in any other psychotherapeutic technique, which is the possibility of opening up to a much bigger context than the human psyche is able to create; a spiritual context that we need if we want to be able to integrate our real life's problems; a godly context that will hold and carry us even when our world collapses, when our loved ones or we get ill or die.
To give this dimension the title shamanism makes it unclear to me. We might call it just as well religion because it emphasizes the true "religare" that human beings are capable of; on a horizontal level the reconnection between living beings and on a vertical level the reconnection between heaven and earth and…

Hilde Rapp, 28 May 2004

Dear Tilke, dear all,

I warm to your approach as you say very deep things very simply. We should do more of this in psychotherapy and perhaps your way of aligning yourself with humbleness and human openness is more than anything a message we need to spread.

At the same time we ( SEPI) or, perhaps I should say, I personally, have always attempted to build bridges between the knowing we might align with intuition, wisdom and gnosis and which comes from 'being with' and communion on the one hand and the knowledge about things which comes from reflecting about things through experiment, observation and interpersonal communication on the other.

Because psychotherapy has become embedded in health care systems rather than remained a personal or spiritual quest, more allied to mystical enlightenment and religion, we do need to be able to talk about what we do in terms which people can understand who are involved in regulating our practice within the health care sector.

I can see that the term 'shamanic' may jar, and I personally have accepted this label because it denotes something which has been researched by anthropologists who sit on the bridge between communion and communication perhaps more than any other discipline.

Geoffrey's books ( and to an extent my own writings) are arguing for a new language, a new paradigm for understanding what we know about ourselves as embodied spiritual beings. I believe fervently that psychotherapists also need this new language and new way of understanding ourselves.

Our exploration of 'shamanic' experiences and practices might be a good beginning for this wider enquiry and it may well turn out that we will abandon the term in due course.

Currently it serves as a place holder, a conceptual marker for something we intuitively apprehend but don't yet know quite how to describe... I think of this new way as being embedded in an understanding of ourselves and our world as interdependent living systems... So, dear Tilke, please bear with us, and share what you know in the way that is true to you! Trust those of us who endeavour to be bilingual between science and wisdom do the struggling with finding words which can just about be understood by both sides...

Tullio Carere, 29 May 2004

Dear Tilke and all:

Thank you for your precious contribution. You say that breathwork offers

the possibility of opening up to a much bigger context than the human psyche is able to create; a spiritual context that we need if we want to be able to integrate our real life's problems; a godly context that will hold and carry us even when our world collapses, when our loved ones or we get ill or die.

Then you go on to say that

To give this dimension the title shamanism makes it unclear to me. We might call it just as well religion because it emphasizes the true "religare" that human beings are capable of; on a horizontal level the reconnection between living beings and on a vertical level the reconnection between heaven and earth

I proposed the shamanism panel in the first place because of that "bigger context" that opens up in breathwork. More precisely, because I saw that Joy used the word shamanism in connection with that bigger context, and I (mistakenly) thought that her choice were more shared in the breathworking milieu-and, of course, because I myself like this word. But above all, for the reasons that Hilde beautifully points out in her last contribution:

I can see that the term 'shamanic' may jar, and I personally have accepted this label because it denotes something which has been researched by anthropologists who sit on the bridge between communion and communication perhaps more than any other discipline.

Geoffrey's books (and to an extent my own writings) are arguing for a new language, a new paradigm for understanding what we know about ourselves as embodied spiritual beings. I believe fervently that psychotherapists also need this new language and new way of understanding ourselves.

Our exploration of 'shamanic' experiences and practices might be a good beginning for this wider enquiry and it may well turn out that we will abandon the term in due course.

Currently it serves as a place holder, a conceptual marker for something we intuitively apprehend but don't yet know quite how to describe... I think of this new way as being embedded in an understanding of ourselves and our world as interdependent living systems...

Our conversation made me realize that the term 'shamanic' is more controversial in the breathworking milieu than I imagined. If I had known that before, I might have chosen another title for the panel. But the title is not a problem. More importantly, we could try now to clarify our points of agreement and of disagreement. It seems to me that we all agree that breathwork opens up to a "bigger context". I also believe that we agree on the use of the word "spiritual" for that context, given the special kinship between "breath" (in Italian: respiro) and "spirit". But then we disagree on how to conceptualize this spiritual dimension. Let me list some options that have emerged: 1. We should not conceptualize at all; we should remain at a very pragmatical level, giving up any attempt at theorizing on this domain of experience. 2. We could draw on a shamanic "ideal type" as a pattern that we can discern in many and disparate cultures, and then see how this pattern is modified in the case of the modern or urban shaman. 3. We could draw on the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and on some forms of contemporary transpersonal therapies inspired by that tradition. 4. We could call this dimension "religion", and then maybe we will want to specify how we locate this one inside "The Varieties of Religious Experience".

Each of the presenters at the shamanism panel in Amsterdam could choose and develop one of these options (or a different one, if none of the above suits them). I hope that this way no one will feel conditioned or obliged by the term "shamanism".

Tilke Platteel-Deur, 30 May, 2004

Dear All,

Thanks for your kind words Hilde.
And a thought about what you said.
I have a student in the moment who is taking our training for trainer year. He is extremely intelligent and the paper he wrote after his basic 3 year training was brilliant and nevertheless easy to read. I see him struggle to have the "inner spark" when he is working with someone. Sometimes it's there very briefly and then he is caught up in personality and cleverness and he does not reach the people. There I see it happening again this magic stuff that goes beyond words and has to do with some inner quality that we all try to put into words that will get the inner message across. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes not. We keep searching and finding.

Catherine Dowling, 30 May, 2004

Dear All

I'm afraid I still don't know what I can contribute that Tilke has not already said. I find the word 'shamanism' along with 'love' and 'spirituality' very difficult. In my experience people use those words so freely and with such expanded definitions that they have lost their meaning for me. What exactly is a shaman? Some of the qualities, skills, etc. that Tullio (April 28) Hilde and Joy (April 29), etc. have been talking about I have experienced in myself and others, most others who have done breathwork or other forms of therapy or who have a strong spiritual (faith, god, etc.) life. And this includes people who express this spiritual connection through organised religion. So shamanism must be something more specific.

If it is "mediation with the spirit world" as Tullio puts it (entities, spirits, ghosts, etc.????) then that is a bit more specific. I have had contact with entities myself and found it frightening and don't particularly have a desire to operate on that level. But I am not sure I would call that 'spiritual'. For me it is an expansion of awareness into a different dimension of existence and breathwork, among a lot of other things, facilitates this. (I think, but am not quite sure, that this is the same thing that Wilfried said more eloquently on May 10.) It's healing for the people for whom it is healing. Spirituality for me is something other than this, a connection with the divine, god, great spirit, Jesus, Allah whatever people want to call the experience. And this is something that is not the exclusive prerogative of the shaman, priest, healer, etc. It's something far more democratic and it's also very real and very ordinary. I would call it religion if that word did not now have connotations of institutionalism, repression, dogma, etc. Here, Tullio, I would disagree with you when you say that a priest is just an official in a church and a believer while a shaman relies on direct experience and is a direct mediator with the world of spirits. I think priests are often far more than officials of the church and can have very strong spiritual connection. A recent family bereavement has shown me the role of a good priest. Of course, others are as dry as toast. I was brought up a Catholic but have not practiced for many years. However, modern shamanism smacks of religion under another name (I have also found this in Rebirthing) and if I were to choose a religion for myself I would return to Catholicism rather than rebirthing or shamanism etc.. This is rambling. I will try to get to a relevant point.

Is shamanism a possible entry point/connection point for psychotherapists and the spiritual dimension that is missing from many forms of psychotherapy but is a recognised element of others? I think it is one way that will attract some people at a psychotherapy conference and repel others. For me the development, or rather the uncovering, of a latent spiritual connection is often part of breathwork and is one end of a continuum that begins often with deep unhappiness and psychological dysfunction. But it is often present very strongly before a person begins any form of therapy and often people achieve their goals in breathwork therapy without any real experience of or even thinking about spirituality. I think there are probably many happy, contented, ethical and loving atheists, some of them working as psychotherapists.

However there seems to be some sort of reverence for the modern shaman among new agers - a preciousness, a spiritual hierarchy, a spiritual materialism as Joy has called such things. I think Hilde referred to shamans being human and subject to egotism. My reaction to this reverence is scepticism, and distrust and possibly this is one of the reasons I have never been interested in the subject.

I am, like Tilke, a therapists who uses breathwork and a trainer. Not a shaman, a healer, a teacher. As a rebirther I know breathwork brings people to shamanic (if I get the meaning) and spiritual experiences. And as a rebirther my job is to facilitate the breathwork, nothing more - or nothing less.

Reading over this I don't quite know what I'm trying to say and have said nothing that someone has not already said before in a different way. So I shall bow out of the dialogue on Shamanism and leave it to the people on the panel. I'd appreciate it if you would continue copying the e-mails to me as I find the way you are teasing out things fascinating even if the subject does not resonate with me.

Tullio Carere, 2 June 2004

Dear Catherine,

I appreciate the effort you have done to contribute to this dialogue. It seems to me that your position is well represented in these lines:

As a rebirther I know breathwork brings people to shamanic (if I get the meaning) and spiritual experiences. And as a rebirther my job is to facilitate the breathwork, nothing more - or nothing less.

Yes, this is a very respectable position of many therapists: they know that something spiritual happens in, or is facilitated by, therapy (breathwork or else), but they don't feel the need of addressing this dimension directly. Some therapists even state that a therapist should completely avoid to deal with spiritual matters while doing their job. So we have the whole spectrum, from explicit involvement to complete refusal to get involved in a spiritual dimension. The study of this spectrum could be the object of another panel in its own right.

Joy Manné, 6 June 2004

Dear Tullio,

How well you put it, and I thank you.

The argument should not be about words, I totally agree. For me, it is about what experiences breathwork clients have, and what behaviours breathworkers do, and whether there is a pattern to them. If there is no pattern or structure, how can clients and breathworkers integrate their experiences? How can breathworkers guide their clients if there is no pattern or structure? These are the questions I asked from the beginning of my experience in Breathwork, and which I believe I have answered in the article I attached to a previous email, and in my new book Conscious Breathing: How Shamanic Breathing Can Transform Your Life. I certainly do not maintain that these are the only answers or that this is the only model possible. It is a beginning for Breathwork where the only model I know of is that all experiences fall into the different phases of the birth trauma (Grof). It is also a model for the working of consciousness, and I am not alone in putting it forward. I also want to say that I am not attached to the term "shamanic." It is simply the best description I can find at present.

I also want to say that I am talking about "shamanic behaviour" and "being shamanic" - i.e. like a shaman - and not saying that any one breathworker is a "shaman." As I said, I am not attached to the term "shamanic". I am only trying to find a coherent pattern to behaviours that all breathworkers I know do and experiences that most breathwork clients have. I am talking about shamanic behaviours and experiences. We can get lost in the details in anthropological studies of shamanism. We find one shaman does this, the other does that. My approach is psychological. What is the essence of what they are doing: that is shamanic behaviour.

Now here are some examples of shamanic behaviours that all breathworkers do:

1. One behaviour that shamans have in common is that they induce altered states of consciousness We all agree, I think, as Breathworkers, that breathing rhythms affect the client's state of consciousness. All Breathworkers induce altered states of consciousness, just through working with the breath, helping the client to more productive and adapted breathing rhythms, etc. Breathworkers also work with images - the title of Tilke's paper. Imagework also induces altered states of consciousness - shaman's work!

2. Another example: Breathworkers who work in Bert Hellinger's Family Constellation method should read Daan van Kampenhout's Images of the Soul:The Workings of the Soul in Shamanic Rituals and Family Constellations. (arl-Auer-Systeme Varlag) Van Kampenhout maintains there is an overlap between Family Constellations and shamanic behaviour. Now, Tilke and Wilfried - you and I too work in this method. If we are not being shamanic in doing this work, how do we account for what we are doing? We are certainly working or mediating between the worlds of the living and the dead?

3. What about the rituals that take place during Breathwork groups? One that comes to mind from my own study of Breathwork- and 15 years later I still feel grateful to Tilke and Hans for the quality of their teaching - is that Hans would have us all singing to start the day, until he felt we were all ready to work - that too is inducing an altered state of consciousness. Other rituals include having sacred stones and burning candles in the group room, often upon an altar.

4. Tilke, you say you have never had an initiation. You do say, however, in your description of yourself for the conference, that you are an Avatar master. In the little knowledge I have of what happens in Avatar, certainly the first lessons and principles are initiations, and in agreeing to become a "master," one agrees to initiate others. Further, Avatar insists that its teachings are kept secret - and this is an essential part of some initiations - that there are secret elements. This is one way of accounting for what happens in Avatar and systems like it.
The term "initiation" can also be applied to everything we do for the first time - a usage I think is important. I find it a useful term. Life is full of initiations: many first experiences are considered to be initiations.

5. A final point. Working with guidance is also what shamans do. It is a shamanic activity. Many breathworkers work with guidance, and encourage their clients to develop their own capacity to be guided (through teaching grounding, awareness, discernment, how to recognise one's projections and take them back, etc.). We may or may not call our guides spirits or animals - this is a detail.

6. To address some of what Wilfried says: "the age of Shamanism is over" on two levels.
a. Now, about 20-50 years ago, people were so excited about modern medicine that they imagined magic bullets - pills that would resolve particular problems easily. Look at the language the scientists used then: "magic" bullets. For a while, society tried to get rid of what was magic and replace it with science. It failed. The magic is coming back - witches are back, rituals are back, etc. Why is this? Because consciousness requires magic. It is part of its processes, part of what it integrally is and how it functions.
b. Let's look at what kind of behaviour attempts to explain the world are. I maintain that they are shamanic behaviours, and competing explanations can be compared to shaman competitions, especially when these attempts are "spiritual" or "religious." Then, if I am to go all the way, what could a "spirit" be if we remove all the details (as I do to come to my shamanic model) and look at it as an abstract idea? Why not "the spirit of an idea." Just putting forward an idea can be regarded as an act of magic. It is very much a part of magic to attempt to get power over what is involved by naming it, i.e. by calling the name of the spirit. So, saying "the age of spirits", etc., …

7. And I agree that at the core - for those who ever arrive there - there are no ideas, just a void, or emptiness, or God, or Nirvana, or whatever one wants to call it as it is ineffable. Now is that shamanic? Or is that going beyond the shamanic? … I'll let you know when I get there!!! Fully enjoying the spirit of our discussion - now that my period of dismemberment is over, and I've surely been found to have the right number of bones,

Tullio Carere, 13 June 2004

Dear all,

Joy's questions have remained unanswered in this forum, but they will be a starting point in our panels in Amsterdam. Many thanks to all for your participation. See you, or most of you, in Amsterdam



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