The are numerous myths around the world in every indigenous culture. For several hundred years there have been scholarly debates about the meaning held within these myths. Are they mere morality tales, lessons about past events, symbols for something long forgotten or just the fantasies of earlier peoples who just didn’t understand the world around them?
Let us first define the terms we will be using to bring clarity to this matter.
Archetypes are the original patterns or models from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype. That is the generalized definition that can be found within most dictionaries. However, I think the definition found in Jungian psychology serves us far better. An archetype is a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches. Of which I would further add, is tied to the very myths held within our ancestral DNA make-up.
Symbolism is the practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships. This is more of a tribal or culturally broader view. For example, a crow can be viewed as a symbolic messenger, a symbol of ancestral memory or intellect, a symbol of death, etc… A symbol often has many meanings which must be taken within the context of usage.
A sign has a more specific meaning to bring clarity. For example, a sign, maybe the loud call of a crow from deep in the wood as one approaches the wood-line about to enter. Is this a warning to not enter at this time or a sign to come in there is something very important for you here. Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign processes, which are any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something, usually called a meaning, to the sign’s interpreter. This is a very profound practice within shamanism. As it was taught to me and I relay it to you in this way. ‘Some of the times you look to the sky to see a hawk. Most of the time it is just a hawk being a hawk. Some of the times it is a hawk being something else. Knowing the difference is animism. Working as an integral part within that difference is being a shaman!’
Archetypes are very much a source of power within shamanism. The shaman embodies an archetype during certain workings for the purpose of harnessing those energies to achieve a certain outcome. Take for example the God myth of Thor. One who harnesses the power of thunder, a God of storms that chases the lightning, the power of the thunder to awaken the seed in the ground, the God who is also the embodiment of the spermatozoa who meets the egg, the one who wields the hammer which rests over the very hearts of our ancestors in the grave, all of these and more are the powers of the Thor archetype.
So to harness the power of Thor would be for the shaman to embody the aforementioned powers during ceremonies, rituals and rites. To cultivate power to call the rains for crops planted in fields, or to bless a couple to be fertile, or to even awaken the spirits of the ancestors for advice, etc… The people of whom the shaman serves know of the symbolism which adds to the synergism. These energies are harnessed by the shaman to “move” ancestral and Nature spirits in a favorable direction. To further reveal and-or remove any blockages or obstacles.
Remember, a shaman is like a conduit through which the energies and messages flow. He or she is speaking on behalf of both sides. He or she now becomes that God or Goddess. Those energies move to speak through the shaman. This is the true power behind what it means in the tales of old when there is mention of how, “The Gods and Goddesses walked among us.”
Yes, yes, I can hear someone saying now, “But, we are the Gods and Goddesses!” Yes, this is true as well but we are talking about harnessing the power of one archetype for a specific outcome. Not just the collective understanding that Odin represents our ancestors, we are our ancestors and thus we are all Odin and are all Gods. Yes, of course, these are correct interpretations but, again, we are undertaking a shamanic perspective here. How these archetypes, and symbols are relevant within a shamanic working perspective. How the earliest of Firekeepers utilized the powers to help and heal within the tribes.
Utilizing the archetype while adding to it the symbolism which is a part of that archetype reaches deep within the ancestral memory. A crescent shape is easily recognized by nearly every person on Earth as a symbol of the moon. Recognized mostly as a feminine archetype, these moon energies can be utilized to time ceremonies, rituals and rites as did our ancestors. To gather the fertile feminine energies of the Earth, the rising waters, a pulling upward from the depths which exposes that which has been hidden, the egg to be impregnated and time of new life possibilities. This is yet just another example.
Learning the myths of the tribes is extremely important. Within these myths will be found the elements to use in order to bring help and healing. There are commonalities across all of the European peoples. There are Sky Gods, Earth Goddesses and various others of the Great Spirit found in the area in between most call Nature. In later posts, we will cover the commonalities so as to be able to serve the various peoples from the far eastern Slavic lands of Russia to the most Western Celtic lands of the Irish. For now we will continue with our current topic.
How a shaman incorporates the elements of archetype and symbolism is usually done as part of their costume. Certain birds are associated with the Sun. Such as the hawk and eagle. Having feathers from such birds or wearing woven headbands depicting the imagery of such birds evokes those energies. Like a signal going outward which invokes and invites. Using certain stones that are of a yellow or bright color to symbolize the light from the Sun. Lighting of fires, candles or lights to further draw those energies. These are but a few brief examples but they are also very commonly used by shamans all around the world.
Again, the importance of learning and understanding mythology will guide you towards a greater understanding of archetypes. Learn the symbols that go with those archetypes as they appear in those myths. Later, as you are further moved along the shamanic path, you will learn more of how to apply this knowledge.
Your deeper understanding will come over time with much effort having been put forth. Which in turn will lead you to becoming wise in the usage so as to perform your duties. Allow me to clarify this one point as I close out this section.
It is not about “faking” or making people “believe.” These are real energies that have existed well before our ancestors. Our ancestors learned of these energies having the benefit of being far more closer to them than we are today. They had such great reverence for them, so much so, as to put their working sciences of such into our mythologies.
These mythologies were passed down millennia upon millennia. They are within our very DNA. Unlocking those mythologies will unlock secrets from deep within you. This and I do mean THIS, is a very large part of shamanism. A deep secret of knowing and understanding along the path of wisdom. This writing is but a small part of my efforts to help you unlock those secrets. To help you recover what has been hidden. In doing so, it is my sincerest hope to restore our connection with the world around us. A connection like that of our ancestors and their forebears.