REVIEW – CONFERENCE ´SHAMANISM AND DIGITALISATION´

Digital technologies are omnipresent already and fill rooms where we did not expect them to be. Digitalisation is not a megatrend, but rather a phenomenon of a new age, which involves transcending the boundaries between man and machine.

Shamanism, as an ancient information technology, has a fundamental openness towards change and the uncharted. Shamanic work aims to improve the lives of the world´s communities. When unknown problems or questions arise, shamans have always turned to the spirits to gain new knowledge and proactively develop effective solutions and approaches.

In this sense, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe (FSSE) is facing the complex questions of our time and has begun to explore a scientifically not yet mapped area – the interplay between “Shamanism and Digitalisation”. The interdisciplinary online conference of the same name took place on June 26th 2020.

“Do spirits also exist in the Internet?” a participant of a workshop in Berlin had asked a few years earlier and thus set the ball rolling, as Roland Urban, Director of FSSE, explains. Nearly 200 people from all over the world now attended the conference. Speakers from science, technology, philosophy, shamanism and arts contributed inputs and impulses – with the aim of deepening our understanding of the complex interrelationships between spiritual and digital realities.

Roland Urban initiated the first part of the conference and stated in his opening speech that we are already in a post-digital age. It is necessary to develop differentiated answers to the related questions. Hence this conference.

Digital technologies have become a formative factor for our societies. Media artist and researcher Horst Hörtner gave a comprehensive introduction to the state of the art of digitalisation, with a specific focus on so-called Artificial Intelligence. Machines are neither good nor bad. It is up to us to find ethical ways and rules for their use so that they work for the benefit of all living beings. Just because we will depend on these technologies for our survival.

The philosopher Prof. Dr. Yvonne Förster then thought about a radical phenomenology of technology. Rather than remaining stuck in the Enlightenment thinking of subject and object, of the animate and inanimate, she proposed to examine how technology changes our perception and experience.

In the second part of the event Susan Mokelke, President of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, conveyed in a practical way how shamanic experiences can be communicated and experienced even through digital channels. Just as shamanic practitioners journey in the non-material worlds of non-ordinary reality digital technologies connect the circle of participants in a non-material space. This is how it became possible to develop selected online offers for shamanic work when the Corona crisis made in-person workshops temporarily impossible.

Thereafter Roland Urban presented the preliminary research results on “Shamanism and Digitalisation”. Based on shamanic divinatory journeys of more than 400 people since March 2019, a first modelling was attempted: Spirits are real and can also be found in the digital realities of the Middle World. Furthermore, differentiated insights into the nature of these spirits are available. Now it is important to continue the research and gain deeper insights for a safe cooperation with these powers.

Finally, Karin Valisova and Jakub Fiala, “Creative Technologists” and “Digital Natives” from Berlin, conducted a practical live experiment with the participants of the conference. The aim was a shamanic journey into a digital network to observe how shamanic practice and digital reality interact measurably.

All these contributions were framed by several artistic performances that combined digital installations, photography, singing and music in a fascinating way. Sarah Elizabeth Martinus, Andrea Familiari, Roberta Perzolla, Minka von Kries and Desmond Leung provided complementary perspectives using the means of art. In addition, the software used in the conference made it possible for the many participants to exchange what they had discussed in small groups throughout the day.

With the results presented at the online conference, the research work has by no means reached its end. Rather, they have prepared the ground for further activities. The insights already gained confirm that the time-tested shamanic methods can help to work with digital realities and technologies in a constructive way, too. It is up to us, says Horst Hörtner, to proactively shape our future.

We sincerely thank all participants and contributors! You have made this event an inspiring and powerful experience.

The papers presented at the conference, together with other previously unpublished contributions, are summarized in English in the online book “Shamanism and Digitalisation”. A printed version and a translation into German will follow in due course.

The book is available here: https://issuu.com/fsse/docs/tagungsbuch_2020_en.