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"The Universe is created of Four Elements—Fire, Earth, Water, and Air." —5th Century Buddhist Master
From the steppes of the Himalaya to the jungles of Guatemala, shamanism is a ritual belief system that has been practiced for over 27,000 years. From cave paintings in France to aboriginal art in Australia, shamans have recorded what they experience during altered states of consciousness and journeys into non-ordinary realms of reality. These remarkable drawings show flight, communication with anthropomorphic spirit guides, and arcane knowledge of the universe. By understanding how shamanic beliefs correspond to the four elements, we can gain a unique understanding of this enigmatic spiritual tradition.
Shamanism is the set of rituals and beliefs that are used by indigenous societies to effectuate change in our world. Shamanism is characterized by its practitioners entering Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) to journey into Non-Ordinary Realms (NORs) of Reality. At the molecular level, the quantum level, a shaman will change their energy field to interact with the energy field of living and non-living objects. Shamans can be both female and male, and are found in many different cultures from around the world. Vajrayana Buddhist monks in Bhutan and Tibet, as well as Maya A'j r'ijs from Central America and Cherokee Spiritwalkers from North America understand the connection between shamanic rites and the Four Elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. The shamanic journey first begins with the Fire element.
Through fire, an initiate will discard their former identity, and may even die. A catastrophic illness is one way that communities find new shamans. Many shamans have undergone bouts with near-fatal diseases, and many have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs). The NDEs provide the shaman a gateway. By hovering between the realms of life and death, flesh and spirit, the shaman learns to communicate with spirit guides. The shaman is then offered a choice by the spirit guides—to accept the new destiny as a shamanic healer and practitioner or become a permanent resident of the spirit world. Thankfully for us, many initiates choose to continue along the shamanic path.
A shaman's journey to understand the Earth element is the voyage to comprehend the connection with animal guides, plant guides, and humanity's collective unconscious. It is these symbols of the collective subconscious, hard-wired into DNA and cellular memory, that provide the shaman with the vocabulary of Jungian archetypes. Cross-culturally, humans communicate with a common set of symbols passed down from our genetic past. These symbols, or archetypes, include the maiden, the wizard, the Nature spirit (such as the Pan or Trickster), the hero and heroine, the crone, the baby, and the tree.
The Earth element provides this shamanic language for use in dreams, metaphysics, and healing. The Earth element is the connection to more than one million years of evolution, the collective subconscious, archetypes, and the realm of nature spirits. After a shaman connects to the wisdom of the Earth element and the collective past, the shaman must develop an understanding of the Water element.
The greatest shamans of the last two thousand years ascended into the Air element after their teaching missions were complete. Jesus, Mohammed, and Padmashambhava all descended into the clouds once they finished their earthly journey. For the shaman, the Air element is the connection to land of Spirit and the Upper Realms from which gods and deities communicate their most important messages for humanity. It is into the Air element, that the most powerful shamans ascend once their missions are complete.
The journey of the shaman is the symbolic journey of creation, the metaphor for the evolution of the human machine. The journey first begins with the destruction of the self and ego through the ritual initiation of the Fire Element. The next step on the shaman's journey is the voyage to understand the Earth element. By developing a connection with all living things, a shaman can understand that all life on Earth is linked together. By exposure to the symbols of the collective past, and the Jungian archetypes of the collective subconscious, a shaman develops and perfects her or his psychic abilities with the help of the Earth.
The shaman then journeys to the land of the Water element to learn compassion. By shedding tears of love and compassion for all living beings, the shaman begins to use her healing abilities to heal the planet. The final journey of the shaman is the voyage the land of the Air Element. Amongst the clouds, skies, and further into the cosmos, a shaman journeys to develop a relationship with deities. After the final realization and a complete mastery of all the elements in the universe—Fire, Earth, Water, and Air, a shaman will journey into the cosmos to permanently reside in the Upper Realms and live amongst the gods.