Article

Shamans - Agents of Change and Transformation

Shaman, Mongolia

As facilitators of change, shamans have the special task of translating the knowledge of the transcended spirits into concrete actions in ordinary reality. The following concept of a Core-Shamanic Change Management describes this process, which considering the advancing climate change might be significant for our survival.

“In every decision we make,  we think of the seventh generation after us.” [1] - Saintsegeg, Shaman of the Dhuka, Mongolia

Our world is changing. Our felt securities, our routines, our whole lives have begun to shift. There is no way back to “normal” as we used to know it. Hence, traditional ways are no longer sufficient for successfully and sustainably managing the challenges that lie ahead, such as climate change, pandemics, social tensions, etc.

The time for theoretical debates is over. We need to develop a different perspective, gain new knowledge and power, and identify innovative solutions. We have to proactively facilitate change and transformation. Shamanism, an ancient information technology and way of power, contributes a valuable share, a spiritual perspective. If we want to create a vital survival not only of our species but – following a truly ecological rationale – of all lifeforms involved, we need to move on to a holistic worldview, to interdisciplinary collaboration and to conceiving nature as the prototypical system of evolution.

At the Service of the Community

In contrast to conventional science’s opinion, nature is not mechanistic, linear and materialistic, but biodiverse, cyclical and animated. From a shamanic point of view, everything that is is alive and ensouled: The land is alive; space, sound and the general structures of life, the rocks, the trees, the plants, the animals, including the humans, are alive. The whole universe is resonating as “a responding other”[2], ready to interact – if we are willing to be touched by the natural cosmos.[3]

Nature is characterized by growth and decay, circular processes and experiential learning or evolution. Nature is change and transformation. Shamanism is not only oriented toward nature, but also based on – and impregnated by – it. Shamanism does not represent an intellectual “concept” on how natural phenomena could be understood; rather it is a straightforward, simple and elegant narrative of nature itself – a way of how to perceive, comprehend, participate in and balance the natural interplay of power.

Shamans, as spiritual experts serving their community and involving everything that is, are “seekers of balance”[4] and “agents of transformation.”[5] Their responsibility is not to manipulate the natural ways; rather, “they function to maintain the flow of cosmic processes in the interests of the living.”[6] By means of divination they identify information and knowledge in question; through healing work they remove potentially destructive power and retrieve lost power; through rituals and ceremonies they manifest spiritual power in ordinary reality to manage periods of transition and secure a balanced way of life in the community. Shamans, in this sense, are facilitators of change per se.

Ongoing Change

An Architecture of Transformation – Core Shamanic Change Management [7]

“Transform: To change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character of condition.” [8]

Sustainable change means a paradigm shift that affects several dimensions or levels of the organism involved. It represents qualitative, rather than merely quantitative change – second-order change [9] leading to continuous renewal or radical transformation [10].

Change is often regarded as being difficult, related to hardship and sacrifice. In contrast to that, we could focus and build on ethically sound intentions and visions, on what is already working well, on successes and good practices. [11] This creates a totally different dynamic – and encourages a real drive towards change. The helping spirits are a tremendous resource in this process.

In the legacy of Michael Harner, core shamanism is predestined to serve as a theory and practice of holistic change management – integrating the universal principles of shamanism, Western science and an ethics based on human rights and spiritual ecology.

Integrating knowledge from existing change management approaches [12] and insights from research efforts of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe, the following model of Core Shamanic Change Management is proposed:

Core Shamanic Change Management Concept Graphic
Graphic: Core Shamanic Change Management [13]

All aspects of this compass of change mirror the general rationale of shamanic activity: They do not follow a linear design, but are cyclical in nature. All elements and phases are intertwined and interdependent. The strategies involved do not focus on problems but on solutions and they aim at generating new knowledge and ways of implementing change rather than proving pre-existing assumptions and hypotheses. Core Shamanic Change Management is based on an “attitude of non-interference”, is strictly process-oriented, grounded in ordinary as well as non-ordinary reality, [15] with shamanic practitioners acting as interfaces. As part of the human sphere it is embedded in the field of negotiation, conflict resolution, cooperation and collaboration. It is located at the intersections between the persons and their environments, and it represents a holistic process of adaption to the natural world based on evolutionary cycles. [16]

Compass of change

The very architecture of Core Shamanic Change Management is expressed through the Change Plan:

In a first step, an in-depth analysis of the system in question is required, including ordinary as well as non-ordinary research, thereby identifying needs for change as well as visions and aims. A steering group shall be established, and the overall design of the change process defined, including milestones, accompanying research and structures for communication and community building. This change design is the essential backbone of the whole endeavor.

Key areas and concrete activities are carved out in a cyclic process of planning, implementation and evaluation. In this regard, the initiation of workgroups, ongoing capacity and community building as well as the successive involvement of diverse groups of people and networks are of essential relevance. A specific focus on information and feedback mechanisms ensures lively as well as efficient change communication.

The implementation of concrete actions is characterized by building on best practices and a spirit of experimentation. Measuring impact and evaluation supports qualified conclusions, eventually resulting in an integration of the most promising approaches into the existing systemic culture, hence successively leading to emergence and transformation.

Finally, dissemination of outcomes fosters visibility. Celebrating successes and progress creates moments of clarity and orientation, community and power – essential ingredients to carry on.

Responsibility means foresight

Responsible Action

Let me say this very clearly: When talking about Core Shamanic Change Management, I am not talking about strategies of conviction, based on ideological reasoning. This would just follow the logic of debates in ordinary reality. What is required instead is a transcendent perspective. It is the task of shamanic practitioners to transfer the knowledge of transcended compassionate spirits into ordinary reality, thereby making it accessible to all those who are open to receive it.

The starting point is the individual: “Transformation always means changing one’s own identity – changing oneself.” [17] At the same time, due to the existing – as well as future – challenges, we must overcome the exclusive focus on individual transformation and include collective, systemic transformation into our rationale of change.

We have to develop resilience – on an individual level, as 20th century psychology has taught us, and on a societal and ecological level, as 21st century ecology has been teaching us. [18] We have to realize that the paradigm of individualism and profit-orientation (focusing on the surplus) is a dead end. We need to recall the primary messages of the spiritual ecology that shamanism is [19]: namely, that we ourselves are nature and our relationships are built on reciprocity. We are embedded in communities and networks that are all intertwined – and one. If we engage in transformative and responsible change, both personally and as communities and networks, then we help re-awaken the memory of this primordial oneness. In other words: The Anthropocene is coming to an end [20] and we are in need of a new era of community. [21]

Such a vision is dependent on sound ethics and responsible action. Otherwise what would look like progress at first sight would end in disaster. The ethical principles involved are based on humanism, human rights and core shamanism.[22] By responsible action, I mean action that is rooted in the ethics mentioned above, whose design is based on consultations with helping spirits and translated into action in ordinary reality, thereby making the power and knowledge involved effective (in the best sense of the word). The approach presented here is yet another facet of “The Way of Compassion.” [23]

Our first and foremost aim in core shamanism is to enable people to get in touch with their own spiritual helpers through firsthand experience – thereby accompanying them to genuine empowerment and independent spirituality. With Core Shamanic Change Management we want to support people in this, through training and shamanic practice. In addition, we want to offer frameworks for kindred spirits to create visions and translate identified solutions into action in ordinary reality. Also, we want to invite others to get inspired and join if they would wish to do so. All this is supported and guided by transcended compassionate spirits, who are the real role models in this process towards transformation. [24]

The Art of Practice

“The future we want must be invented or we will get one we don’t want.” - Joseph Beuys

The natural organism has begun to react. Phenomena such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, etc. could be understood as diseases – as preconditions for progressive development. [25] In shamanism, we can contribute to curing these “diseases” through classic divinatory and healing work, through community building and through the manifestation of spiritual power in ordinary reality, through responsible action. All these are classical tasks of shamans.

To contribute our share, in summer 2020 – amidst the Covid-19 pandemic – we initiated a process of change and transformation in Europe. This process is based on the principles of Core Shamanic Change Management as described above and includes – among others – the following aspects:

  • Fundamental and applied research, i.e. transformative research – carried out in the Core Shamanic Research Laboratory. [26]
  • Identification, acquisition and transmission of new knowledge, power and skills – e.g. through training within the framework of the Core Shamanic One-Year Online Training Program “Change and Transformation”. [27]
  • Initiation of a change process on “Shamanism and Future” – including community and network building, mainstreaming efforts as well as practical shamanic work on change issues. Diverse groups of people will be involved through various formats, in-person as well as online, such as Online Community Meetings, Drum Circles, Practice Days, etc.
  • Several milestone events will indicate important markers along the process to make successes visible, celebrate moments of community and raise questions to proceed with. One of the major events of this kind will be the conference on “Shamanism and Future” in Berlin, Germany, on June 10, 2022.

Envisioning Future

The foundations of our current way of life are not to be taken for granted. It does not go without saying that nature nurtures us or that we live in safety, wellbeing, freedom and peace. Tragically, in many places on planet Earth, this is not the case anyway. Hence, to talk about change is not enough. We must protect our lands and secure habitat for all lifeforms involved. We need to lastingly take care of our communities. And we have to empower everyone involved, build democracy and peace – not tomorrow, but starting now.

What I am proposing here is Holistic Transformative Research [28] and Practice. It aims at developing and implementing an image of a sustainable future for all lifeforms involved. The concrete image of this kind of future is difficult to grasp because inter-individual, societal and spiritual processes of negotiation are required to carve it out. However, in ordinary reality we might find some models for orientation already, such as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations [29] or the Planetary Boundaries Framework.[30] As for non-ordinary reality, it is primarily up to the shamanic practitioners to take over responsibility, commune with the spirits, identify the image(s) of a beneficial future and put them into action.

The voices of the shamans have gone unheard long enough. It is time to raise those voices again. It is time to act. This is not only recommendable, but – given the responsibility for future generations – mandatory.

 

Sources

[1] Halla, Natalie (2020): Shamans. Trailer to the documentary. 00:01:59 – 00:02:05. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/schamanen/shamans-documentary-film; 15.10.2020.

[2] See Rosa, Hartmut (2016): Resonanz – Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung. Berlin: Suhrkamp. pp. 281ff.; Buber, Martin (1999): Das dialogische Prinzip: Ich und Du. Zwiesprache. Die Frage an den Einzelnen. Elemente des Zwischenmenschlichen. Zur Geschichte des dialogischen Prinzips. 13th ed. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus.

[3] This principle of reciprocity between all lifeforms is at the very core of the concept of “indigeniousness” (Weber, Andreas (2019): Indigenialität. 3rd ed. Berlin: Nicolai Publishing and Intelligence).

[4] Gonçalves Louro, Luís (2020): Seekers of Balance. In: Urban, Roland (ed.) (2020): Shamanism and Digitalisation; 15.10.2020.

[5] Stephen, Michele (1995): A’aisa’s Gifts: A Study of Magic and the Self. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. p. 306.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The rationale presented here has been carved out through a practice-oriented research strategy, implemented in various groups such as the European Faculty of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies or the Core Shamanic Research Laboratory. It is influenced by the Experiential Learning model (see Kolb, David (1984): Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall), recent project and change management approaches as well as Mokelke, Susan (2017): Shamanic Divination as Spiritual Problem Solving. Shamanism Annual. Issue 30, pp. 27-31. The latter can be understood as a corresponding vessel, representing a microcosmic view of the same process perspective as Core Shamanic Change Management does on a rather mesocosmic level.

[8] Merriam-Webster (2021): https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transform; 15.10.2020.

[9] See Watzlawick, Paul, Weakland, John H., Fisch, Richard (2001): Lösungen: Zur Theorie und Praxis menschlichen Wandels. 6. ed. Bern: Hans Huber.

[10] See Gergs, Hans-Joachim (2016): Die Kunst der kontinuierlichen Selbsterneuerung: Acht Prinzipien für ein neues Change Management. Weinheim und Basel: Beltz. pp. 32-36.

[11] See also solution-focused counseling and therapy – e.g. de Shazer, Steve, Dolan, Yvonne, Korman, Harry (ed.) (2007): More than Miracles: The State of the Art of Solution-focused Brief Therapy. New York: The Harworth Press; de Jong, Berg, Insoo Kim (2013): Interviewing for Solutions. 4th ed. Belmont: Brooks/Cole. By the way, the same principles are represented in classical shamanic approaches.

[12] E.g. Heitger, Barbara, Doujak, Alexander (2013): Managing Cuts and New Growth: An Innovative Approach to Change Management. 2nd ed. Wien: Goldegg; Cameron, Esther, Green, Mike (2020): Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools, and Techniques of Organizational Change. 5th ed. London, New York, New Delhi: Kogan Page).

[13] The graphic is based on University of Virginia (2020): Change Management. https://organizationalexcellence.virginia.edu/change-management; 15.10.2020.

[14] Harner, Michael (1988): Shamanic Counseling. Newsletter of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Vol. 1, No. 1. p. 4.

[15] Equivalent to “a dance between the two realities” leading to concrete actions to be carried out in ordinary reality (Mokelke, 2017:29).

[16] See also the principles of experiential learning (Kolb, 1984).

[17] Heitger, Doujak (2013:100).

[18] See Braden, Gregg (2014): The Turning Point: Creating Resilience in a Time of Extremes. Chapter 5. Carlsbad, CA, New York, London, Sydney, New Delhi: Hay House. pp. 137-174.

[19] Harner, Michael (1990): The Way of the Shaman. Preface to the Third Edition. 3rd ed. New York: Harper One. p. xiii.

[20] See also Dahm, Daniel J. (2019): Sustainability Zeroline: Das Maß für eine zukunftsfähige Ökonomie. Bielefeld: transcript. pp. 63-75.

[21] With “community” I define here the communal space that we feel we belong to, as ideally empowered individuals with an independent identity and spirituality, serving the greater whole of the community – of humans, spirits, and all lifeforms involved – by contributing individual knowledge, skills and power to fulfill the tasks and duties in question. For in-depth work on community, in theory as well as practice, see the new in-person workshop of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe “The Power of Community”, coming up in spring 2021.

[22] Cf. Mokelke, Susan (2008): Ethical Considerations in Shamanic Healing. Shamanism Annual. Issue 21. pp. 34-36.

[23] Mokelke (2017:31).

[24] Mokelke (2018): personal note.

[25] See the concept of “plus healing” (Kraft, Hartmut (1995): Über innere Grenzen: Initiation in Schamanismus, Kunst, Religion und Psychoanalyse. München: Diederichs. p. 253).

[26] See Core Shamanic Research Laboratory

[27] See Change and Transformation

[28] See Mertens, Donna M. (2017): Transformative Research: Personal and Societal. International Journal for Transformative Research. Vol. 4, Issue 1; pp. 18-24; NASEM – The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2019): What is Transformative Research? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/read/21881/chapter/3; 15.10.2020.

[29] UN – United Nations (2020): The 17 Goals. https://sdgs.un.org/goals; 15.10.2020.

[30] SRC – Stockholm Resilience Centre (2020): Planetary boundaries research. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html; 15.10.2020.

 

Roland Urban, MSc., is Director of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe.

Image credits: Bertrand Carlier, Minka von Kries