Shamanism in the Age of Reason : Chapter 01
What is Shamanism?
The origins of shamanism are rooted in spirituality and myth, but the power of shamanism is entirely real. It is the goal of this text to explore rational limits and applications of shamanic power beyond the paradigms of mythology and faith healing. The subtitle of this text is “Shamanism in the Age of Reason,” so it seems fitting to provide a good definition for shamanism. There are many definitions that have something to do with tribal healers, witch doctors, ritual plant magic, and/or dealing with the spirit world; these definitions conjure images of pre-industrial folk medicine steeped in superstition. Relegating shamanism to the bin of folk medicine fails to account for the sophistication of shamanic tradecraft, methodology, or the varying levels of shamanic manipulation employed. Traditional shamanism may be cloaked in the veil of superstition, but behind the veil is the real science of programming human belief and behavior with a blend of mysticism, ritual, and psychedelic drugs.
Instead of focusing on the many societal roles and functions a shaman might fill, PIT takes a broader view and starts with this definition: Shamanism is the craft of evoking spontaneous organization of psychedelic information in a subject or group of subjects to promote plasticity, imprinting, and transformation. Psychedelic information implies holistic or meta level manipulation of memory and identity, and so this definition fulfills the functions of therapy, sorcery, mind control, applied psychedelic science, targeted neuroplasticity, behavioral conditioning, and tribal bonding. The technology of evoking and imprinting psychedelic information is inherently neutral, the shaman learns to apply this technology for healing and positive plasticity, the sorcerer succumbs to the temptation to use this technology for black magic and negative plasticity.
Transformational Plasticity and Imprinting
The power of shamanism can be measured by the shamanic ability to transform subjective beliefs and behaviors. A shaman can transform the subject in the literal sense, through diet and chemical manipulation of the brain; or in the figurative sense, by altering the subject’s paradigm and perception of reality. Both of these transformations imply targeted neuroplasticity. The extreme diets and psychedelic medicine catalyze spontaneous stress-based reorganization of neural identity structures, and the shamanic mythology creates the semantic frame through which the subject parses the transformational experience. Although psychedelics have been tested in brainwashing and hostile interrogation, the process of psychedelic imprinting usually works best if the subject is ready and willing to receive the transformation.1
Some aspects of psychedelic imprinting are automatic and spontaneously generated like dreams;2 in this case the shaman’s job is to apply the medicine and essentially look important doing nothing. In other instances the subject may have an adverse reaction to the medicine, or become lost in the psychedelic space; in this case the shaman may intervene with a spirit song, a meditative chant, or a rhythmic breathing exercise to guide the subject through the transition. In traditional or loosely organized shamanic ceremonies, the level of intervention and depth of psychedelic imprinting is controlled by ritual, shamanic intent, and group intuition; in clinical psychedelic therapy the depth of psychedelic imprinting is controlled by protocol.
Shamanic Reputation and Expectant Plasticity
If a shaman gains a reputation for being transformative, subjects will seek them out expecting to be transformed. Similarly, a popular shaman may be the target of a rival shaman seeking to curse them or bring them down with magic darts. Both scenarios are evidence that the shaman has successfully imprinted his own supernatural abilities to the point of viral plasticity. A shaman does not need psychedelic drugs to accomplish this task, any guru with a transformational philosophy and self-promotional streak can achieve this level of influence. The shaman differs from the New Age guru only by having mastery of the plants and the spirit world, which is rudimentary psychopharmacology and ritual transcendence. By offering his or her self as the path to sacred wisdom or healing, or telling tales of supernatural battles with other sorcerers, the shaman implies that he or she is more powerful than the medicine they employ. Shamanic reputation builds subjective expectations, and in many ways this is a very clever set-up and misdirection similar to priming a placebo. If the subject already believes the shaman has supernatural power, the task of transforming them with the medicine is easy.
By crafting a supernatural reputation, the shaman starts the process of bending the subject’s beliefs and expectations long before the medicine is applied. In interrogation and imprinting techniques this process is called “softening up” the subject, or priming their neuroplasticity to be open for imprinting. If the subject does not appear to respect the shaman’s supernatural authority, the shaman may become withholding and demand that the subject follow certain strange rules before applying the medicine. Establishing authority, submissiveness, and strictly enforced rules gives the shaman implicit control over the subject and sets the frame for applying transformation. Even if the subject does not believe the shaman’s mythology, by forcing the subject to follow ritual protocol the shaman sets the power dynamic necessary for controlling the ceremony and imprinting the subject.
Shamanism, Chaos Magic, and Belief as Toolkit
The shaman’s role will always be intertwined with the spiritual belief of the larger tribe or culture. It does not matter what the mythology is, a good shaman can adapt any mythology or belief to transformational ritual. Instead of preaching the mythology, the shaman exploits the mythology as a handle or tool for interfacing with and manipulating the subject’s core identity structures. By adopting a mythology that’s alluring to the patient, the shaman can apply identity transformation within a seamless spiritual context. The process of finding or seeding an emotional handle is a skill that can be learned, but it can also be purely intuitive. The technologies of religion, propaganda, agitprop, and social activism all use negative emotional handles to influence people’s beliefs and behaviors; shamanism employs many of the same techniques with positive emotional handles. The practice of manipulating belief like a tool to produce transformative results has become popularly known as chaos magic.3
A great deal of literature on shamanism focuses on sprits, mythology, and the ways in which the shaman communes with spirits to gain supernatural insights. The allure and power of a drug that allows the user to talk directly with spirits is obvious, but fascination with spirits and transcendence may also be a handle used by the shaman to manipulate and imprint subjects. Western spiritual seekers are quickly enamored with the romanticism of entheogenic spirit communion, this is not something a good shaman would overlook; this is something that can be easily exploited. Whether the subject comes looking for Jesus, God, plant spirits, healing, or transcendence, the spiritual passions of the subject are the most powerful items in the shaman’s entire toolkit.
Shamanic Practice and Seeking Balance
The role of the shaman has always been to apply transformation, typically to restore balance and harmony within tribal units. The shaman works by organizing the flow of energy and information within individuals and tribal structures. The shaman synergizes many layers of transformation in the act of brewing and ingesting psychoactive sacraments, and uses mythology and sacred ritual to navigate through conflict and fine-tune the overall health of his tribe. Since shamanic transformation can be used for both healing and sorcery, it is logical that the larger tribe will only tolerate such power as long as it is more therapeutic than destructive. Because of this dynamic a practicing shaman may be inherently distrusted, and will always walk the line between outcast and savior. The romantic character of shamanism relies heavily on the outcast trope. If the shaman fails at the basic tasks of healing and conflict resolution, or abuses shamanic technology to undermine the well-being of the tribe for personal gain, then the shaman loses power and risks being ostracized by the tribe. Thus, the shaman’s power is limited and ultimately defined by the trust of the larger tribe.
 Groups linked to the weaponized use of psychedelics include the Manson Family, the SLA, Aum Shinrikyo, the CIA, and the United States Department of Defense.
 See “Psychedelic Neuroplasticity”
 WikiPedia.org, 'Chaos Magic'. Internet Reference, 2010.
Citation: Kent, James L. Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, Chapter 01, 'What is Shamanism?'. PIT Press, Seattle, 2010.
Copyright: © James L. Kent, 2010. Some Rights Reserved. Please read copyright information before reproducing.