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Shamanic Symbols

This article was written by Amber Wolfe on May 31, 2002
posted under Shamanism

Functioning as a priest(ess), healer and channel between the worlds, the shaman calls on a very unique abilities—that of divination. Divination is the ability to use perception and attunement to interpret signs and symbols. Shamanic divination is most closely related to the modern processes of diagnosis as used by doctors and analysis as used by psychologists. Just as doctors use physical symptoms to identify an illness and psychologists use behaviors to identify a disordered state of mind, the shaman uses signs from all aspects of Body/Mind/Spirit and Nature to identify surrounding conditions for people. The healing process of modern medicine and psychology involves a period of diagnosis before treatment. In much the same way, the work of the shaman requires the process of divination in order to deal with the energies of Nature and the realms of Spirit.

Many modern forms of divination have evolved into complicated and intricate systems, such as Tarot decks and astrology. These divination systems, like many others, can trace their origins to shamanic roots. However, their symbolic complexities have carried them somewhat away from the upper and lower worlds of the shaman, and have left them more in the middle world realm of Humankind. The unique form of shamanic divination is based on interpreting Nature aspects. The Plant, Animal, Mineral, and Human worlds are interpreted directly by the shaman. Their natural attributes symbolize similar qualities in the shaman and in the people.

For example: An eagle seen circling the community, then flying toward a distant mountain may be interpreted by the shaman to mean a time of spiritual healing is needed. This interpretation, or divination, from Nature signs is based on the shaman’s observance of the event and on his wisdom of what each aspect symbolized. The eagle, because it flies higher than any other bird, is thought to represent the highest forms of power. The eagle flies closest to the upper world of Spirit, so its power is spiritual. That which is closest to Spirit is most healing, therefore the eagle represents spiritual healing. Because the eagle circled the community, it may be interpreted that the need is for group spiritual healing. That the eagle flew off toward a distant mountain may be interpreted as a need for the shaman to go to the mountain and bring back spiritual healing to the community. Or it may be interpreted as symbolizing the need for the community to climb higher into spiritual awareness through ceremony or ritual.

Shamanic divination is not like an exact science with predictable causes and effects. The task of the shaman, in interpreting symbols from Nature, is to be flexible and continually open to new signs and information.

Because of the shamanic view of the living, vibrational interrelationships of all aspects of life, symbols from Nature can speak clearly to those who are attuned to it. As we in modern times begin to reclaim our connections to Nature, we are able to hear the messages it brings us. In the days when Humankind felt itself somehow separate from Nature, those who "watched for signs" were often ridiculed. Now, however, more and more of us are realizing that our relationship to Nature is deeply personal and significant in our lives. Whether we feel a strong connection to a part of Nature, or whether something from Nature appears to us in dreams or from an unusual source, we have begun to seek its meaning for us. This is the heart of shamanic divination.

Although many signs and events in Nature have come to have traditional symbolic meanings, it is our personal interpretation that we learn to look for first. All of the significant signs and events in Self, Nature, and Spirit are there to help the follower of the shamanic path If what we divine, or interpret, has meaning for another, it is because their path led them to it.

Like the shaman of old, we may be a catalyst to growth and knowledge, so long as we don’t seek to force our meanings or our paths on others. The shaman shares knowledge but does not seek to own it. For knowledge is power, and power is a gift.

Shamanism is an ancient art, a creative craft, and a way of wisdom arising from the ages past to align us with the transformative energies of Nature. To follow the path of the shaman, we need only open our minds and our hearts to the wisdom surrounding us. Shamanism helps us explore, and connect without superstition but with sincerity, to Self, Nature, and Spirit.

"She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night…" —The Book of Wisdom 7:29-30 When we speak of the darkness of our nature we immediately turn our mind towards the shadow of our being—that is, all those emotional states... read this article
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