Tempo © Alexandre Segrégio - www.alexandresegregio.art.br
With the rise of Western medicine, indigenous shamanism has been seen simply as an antiquated mode of dealing with sickness, environmental problems, & social issues. The practice of shamans and medicine men & women was seen to be mostly suggestive ritual for show, to cause a placebo effect on the subject's mind.
Although Western medicine is good at dealing with the mechanical & chemical aspects of human physiology, it is very short-sighted in many areas. For instance, modern medicine has no real working approach to the energetic aspects of the body. It is a simple fact that there are interactions & imbalances of energy throughout the body. These are interconnected with the physical biology of a lifeform, but are also a set of systems unto themselves. This includes the mind and also the subtle energies that our bodies contain & transmit.
By getting past cultural & cognitive biases, Western researches are beginning to understand the efficacy of the shaman's practice.
For instance, pharmacology is benefiting from knowledge gained from shamans about plant medicines. Pharmaceutical companies usually look to take a plant with beneficial properties and break them down into compounds and chemicals that can be manufactured in pill form. The problem with this approach is that there could be interactions of many different compounds in a particular plant that interact to effect the patient. However, it is a positive development that modern medicine is recognizing the information that native cultures possess as useful.
When shamans or healers in the Amazon were asked how they figured out the effective plant combinations they use, they claim that the plants told the people, directly. Although information about the plants and animals of a particular location must be passed down from generation to generation, maybe it's also possible to gain the initial inspiration from consuming or interacting with plant life. This might sound absurd, but it leads to another characteristic of shamanism that is being investigated with more scrutiny- the experience of altered states.
As a professional artist and generally creative person, I have often found myself generating ideas or visions while in trance-like states. It's called being "in the zone" and it is a state of mind that many people engage in, whether they realize it or not. Even scientists have made great discoveries while in various degrees of altered consciousness. This can be done through meditation, fasting, enduring extreme conditions, mind-altering substances, rhythmic drumming, ecstatic dance, and any other technique that gets the brain out of its normal mode of operation.
As humanity progresses & continues to discover its roots, shamanism and other indigenous practices will continue to be rediscovered and integrated with our ever-expanding knowledge base. Perhaps one day soon, this ancient wisdom will be commonly used to heal body, mind, & spirit as a integrated whole. This is the essential purpose of the shaman, and it is vitally needed in our world.