This is obviously the first question –
Shamanism could be considered the ‘oldest’ priesthood or spiritual practice of mankind, it is almost impossible to date, but we do know that it began in the period we call the prehistoric 40,000 years ago. In caves in this area such as Grotte du Pape there are signs that are over 25,000 years old and it’s signs and symbols are found in the oldest works of man such as the Newgrange Passage Tomb in Ireland which structure predates the Pyramids & Stone Henge. At the very heart of this ancient structure lies the Triple Spiral symbol, no-one can say for sure what was the purpose of this mound and the enormous effort that went into its construction, but the midwinter solstice lights the Triple Spiral for a brief moment or two every year! This is considered to be related to the rebirth of the earth in midwinter and the move towards spring. Many different theories have been and, no doubt, will continue to be suggested. The basic belief of rebirth eventually became the beginnings of Buddhism and was actually originally a part of many other religions including Christianity!
The Shaman was the original “one who knows” male or female (in fact some believe that it was more likely to be a female than a male) was a person who carried and kept the secrets of the unknown and unknowable, but also used those powers for the good of others. The Shaman voluntarily ‘journeyed’ into other dimension (worlds) to bring back healing for themselves, other people and their communities dependent upon need. Personally I believe they probably spent most of their time travelling between the remote communities, helping the sick, conducting and organising celebrations and the observance of important rites in the annual cosmic calendar. In the fullness of time their beliefs and secrets would be whispered – not shouted – to the next generation, taught to those who they judged were to be trustworthy, to carry on the work and keep the gifts and powers safe, sometimes no doubt after a long and demanding apprenticeship.
Many times during the history of the human race have such people been outlawed, almost wiped out and destroyed or driven underground by those who have jealously sought to have power over the people for their own ends, imposing their own beliefs on everyone else. This suppressive activity drove the Shaman into hiding and their secrets were nearly lost to us in the northern hemisphere completely surviving only in primitive or less developed communities in the world. However in recent years , there has been a relaxation in control and along with the right to practice any or all religions there has been a natural revival of interest in alternative ways. We now have the right to be pagan, Christian, Jew etc etc according to our own personal beliefs and we can once again look back to our prehistoric past and revive the alternative outlook on life, of seeing, of making sense of this life in the context of other lives. However, it is not necessary to have any particular religious belief to benefit from understanding Shamanism and it’s tools.
During the last two hundred years or so there has been a renewal of interest in Shamanic ways and Shamanic tools in the peoples of the Scandinavia, Germany, Iceland and so on where there is a lot of evidence of Runic inscriptions and other archaeological traces which it is felt relate to the practice of Shamanism in the north. It would seem that at some point early in the period between 500 AD to the middle ages (a date not yet established) a nordic Shaman called Odin had a vision of the Runes which he “Brought Back” as a gift of healing to mankind. A great deal of research has been done in the last 150 – 200 years, some of it with dubious results and mis-application of the power of the Runes which were intended as a ‘gift to all mankind’ not a tool to be used for personal gain. But at last the movement of those interested in taking the Shamanic Path has hopefully prevailed and the Runes are once again being used for their original intent.
Shamanism is therefore a “calling” not a craft and one of the tools of the shaman in the North were the Runes. Anyone with the knowledge can utilise these tools on a solely personal basis to further their own understanding of life and their own evolutionary development or they can also use them to help others to move forward and gain understanding and therefore take the traditional path of Shamanic healing.