Shamanism in Europe - 30 years Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe
"And this is the essential point: that the shaman has a social role. That he seeks help for others, and less for himself." (1) – Paul Uccusic
Dedicated to the Preservation, Study, and Teaching of Shamanic Knowledge
When Paul Uccusic in 1981, then an editor for a major Austrian daily newspaper, met for the first time with Michael Harner at a congress in Alpbach in Tyrol, he was impressed by the coherent and reproducable system presented by Harner. After a three-hour workshop, all of the 50 participants had understood the basic principles of shamanism and 47 of them had successfully completed their first shamanic journey. Paul Uccusic then invited Michael Harner to Vienna, where in 1982 the first European Basic Workshop in Core Shamanism took place.
"Vision Dance" was offered in 1985 as the first advanced workshop in Europe, specifically because this workshop allows us to reconnect with long lost knowledge and forgotten rituals. The goal was – and still is today – to create opportunities for us Europeans to perceive our shamanic roots and freshly develop them.
Foundation of the European Faculty
With a mandate from Michael Harner, Paul Uccusic had in 1985 started offering workshops in Europe. Establishing the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe (FSSE) in 1987 was a pragmatic and at the same time essential step in creating a legitimate representation of our work in ordinary reality. After meanwhile 30 years we still proceed according to the same principle: We do not proselytize, but act on demand only. If we are summoned, we are ready to help out and to contribute to establishing and deepening the relations between humans and spirits.
The FSSE does not pursue individual interests or self-interest, but understands itself as working in the service of the community – since community is in fact the primary element. In the workshop "The Power of the Mountains" this becomes apparent in an exceptional way. The whole week of that workshop is spent – like in a spiritual "rope team" – in an atmosphere of mutual trust and support, a community of humans and spirits alike. Since 1987 "The Power of the Mountains" takes place in the Austrian Alps at Kaprun, since 2010 at the base of the Dachstein, from 2018 on also in Bulgaria.
The Power of the Circle
During the second expedition to Tuva (2) in 1994 a first meeting with shamans took place at the shamanic society "Dungur." "When we arrived at the courtyard of 'Dungur,' the place was so full of people looking for help that we could hardly say hello to anyone. We were even more surprised to see how the shamans immediately formed a circle, included the minister of trade (a great supporter of shamanism) and looked at us expectantly. Of course we gladly followed the invitation. It was a true act of bridging when they commenced singing 'I cirlce around'. (3)
The Tuvan shamans enjoyed recalling that experience of building enormous power through that circle in 1993, power not to be summoned by one person alone.
Shamanic Tradition and Transformation
Like life itself, shamanism means constant change, ongoing transformation and evolution. At the "Three Year Programme", which took place for the first time in 2001 and in May 2018 will be starting again for the eleventh time, this time in Portugal, those fundamental initiatory motions of existence are experienced in a highly personal way. The depth of the experiences shows a lasting impact. (4)
Also does the history of an organization contain transformations which have a lasting influence. The faculty of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe – that circle of people working as a community across languages and cultures – is an organism in itself, welcomes ever new members, but also has to bid farewell to some. Siegfried Kätsch, who passed away in 2011, and the founding director of the FSSE, Paul Uccusic, who left us in 2013, stay part of the circle.
Tradition can be recognized when values, stories, tools and rituals, as well as knowledge are passed on from one generation to the next. Tradition is the "red thread" that keeps communities alive and enables them to adapt to changing conditions and to develop further. In this sense also the FSSE can be understood as a young, but lively tradition. It is a special privilege to learn from the pioneers, who keep up the connection with the past, and – together with them – to be shaping the present. Michael and Sandra Harner, Paul and Roswitha Uccusic, Michael Hasslinger and others had to learn from indigenous shamans in order to trace the path of knowledge again for us "western" people and to resume taking that path. Following generations were able to rely on that work and to learn shamanism at home, in their own "native" and natural environment , amidst their own culture and in contact with their local spirits. The founders have laid the foundations; it is now up to the following generations to build upon this and also create new impulses.
In 2016 an international conference on "Shamanism and Science" was held by the FSSE at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. More than 165 participants from more than 10 countries and two continents attended. The book resulting from the conference has reached its second edition, new project collaborations are in preparation. On June 22nd 2018 a conference on "Shamanism and Ecology" will take place in Basel, Switzerland. The goal is to pick up topics at the pulse of time, cast a trans-disciplinary look at them and to contribute to finding solutions for pending problems in a proactive way. (5)
To the Essence of our Work
An anniversary allows you to pause for a moment and make yourself aware of existing responsibilities. This is about reminding oneself of the essential qualities and about consistently implementing those qualities and the power flowing from that core. As the only authorized organization in Europe and key contributor to Core Shamanism, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe sees its duty to give people an understanding of shamanism in a sincere, secure, differentiated and quality-oriented way. Core Shamanism means to get in contact with your own spirits, to consult them and learn from them through immediate experience, and to receive the power and information that is needed.
From this conditio sine qua non follows almost inevitably an approach to education that is defined by promoting maturity, responsibility and self-determination, an approach where external judgements and diplomas seem absurd, and that takes its clear distance from any forms of guru worship. Shamanism is work with the spirits for the well-being of humans. Intermediaries are needed for that, no more, no less.
A Changed Perspective
Our time is characterized by complexity and diversity. This offers opportunities to shape and to design, but contains challenges as well. Many people are longing for relief, for depth, for roots, stability and substance. Climate change reminds us that respect for nature and for life as such is indispensable for survival. One-dimensional ideologies rear up, hopefully for the last time. Simplified solutions seem to be booming without offering real progress.
Shamans temporarily step aside from the dynamics and pull of ordinary reality, seek contact with the spirits and then return to their communities to make the knowledge and the power of the spirits available to the people. There is great need for this broadened horizon, this elegance of solving problems and this timeless perspective. Shamanism is exquisitely apt to make a valuable contribution to the furthering of humans and of nature. This is not about absolute truths, but about plural worldviews, alternatives, true collaboration.
We cordially thank the thousands of people who have in the past attended and today attend our workshops, who follow and support our activities, who practice Core Shamanism at the service of the community, who help make the path a shared one. And we kindly ask them to further go along this path with us. Shamanism is human heritage, the wisdom of which we have to preserve, to study and to teach – to the well-being of today's as well as future generations.
Sources and Comments
(1) Paul Uccusic (2005): personal conversation.
(2) So far a total of five expeditions have been organized (1993, 1995, 1999, 2003), four of them by the FSSE, supplemented by regular visits to Tuva. In 1996 a delegation from Tuva presented their shamanic tradition at the 1st World Congress for Psychotherapy and turned out attracting strong attendance from the public. Resulting from the decade-long connection with Tuva were the German editions of two books, the "Shamans's Stories from Tuva" (2011) and "Shaman's Song from Tuva" (2013), edited by Paul Uccusic.
(3) Roswitha Uccusic (2017): personal note.
(4) In the meantime, the 13th Three-year Programme in Advanced Initiations in Shamanism and Shamanic Healing™ is planned for 2021, which will take place in the north of Germany. Updated: September 2020.
(5) The third conference of the FSSE took place in June 2020, for the first time in a virtual format, on the topic of "Shamanism and Digitalisation". The resulting book is available online for the first time. Updated: September 2020.
Roland Urban, MSc., is Director of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe.