Shamanism had a strong tradition in the European continent before the rise of monotheism. Shamanism remains a traditional, organized religion with Uralic, Altaic people and Huns; and also in Mari-El and Udmurtia, two semi-autonomous provinces of Russia with large Finno-Ugric minority populations. The word ‘Shaman,’ is actually a Tungus (Siberian) word that means â€œKeeper of the Fireâ€ for a spiritual practice that is as old as mankind, and is still practiced by indigenous people, as well as modern practitioners worldwide. Shamanism is not rooted in any organized religious tradition, but is instead a system of controlled visionary journeys into alternate realities (and back,) in order to contact spirit guides and gain their assistance in divination and healing. When one thinks of traditional shamans and shamanism, it’s easy to envision a Native (American or perhaps Aboriginal) medicine man performing rituals that are deeply rooted in cultural tribal traditions. In shamanic traditions, all people are guarded and watched over by a totem beast, which joins them at the time of their birth. In addition to this totem animal, which can remain with a person throughout their life, the shamanic practitioner acquires additional power animals at different times. These animal spirits serve as guides and spirit helpers. They may come of their own bidding, or may be called specifically because of their innate skills. In some cases the shaman draws upon the strength, the sharpness of the animals senses, the speed, or the intuition of a particular animal. In other situations the animal may tell the shaman things which the shaman cannot see for him or herself.
Shamanic rituals in Scandinavia are represented in shamanic rock art dating to the Neolithic era and were practiced throughout the Iron Age by the various Teutonic tribes and the Fino-Baltic peoples. Noaydde was a shaman of the Sami people in the Nordic countries who led many shamanic gatherings and shamanic retreats.
Finnish Shamanism: Sami Shamanism
Several Sami shamanistic beliefs and practices were similar to those of some Siberian cultures. They had a strong emphasis on ancestor worship and animal spirits, such as the bear cult. Some Sami people had a thunder god called Tiermes, sometimes called Horagalles. Another sky-ruling god was called Radien or Vearalden. The symbol of the world tree or pillar similar in Finnish mythology that reached up to the North Star was marked by a stytto.
The forest-god of the Sami, Laib olmai ruled over all forest animals, which were regarded as his herds, and luck in hunting, or the reverse, depended on his good will. His favor was so important that they made prayers and offerings to him every morning and evening.
Irish Shamanism: Celtic Shamanism
Ancient Celts were also believed to have practiced shamanism, and have left many clues to their rituals and spiritual journeys in the stories of Taliesin, Fionn mac Cumhail, and Amergin. Many Celtic shamans still practice ancient rituals today with shamanic retreats and shamanic trip of place of power.
The Celtic Shaman’s cosmos, like that of other Shamanic universal views, consists of three ‘worlds;’ the Lower world, the Upper world, and the Middle world (where we live in ordinary reality.)
What differentiates the Celtic Shaman’s universal view from that of other Shamanic traditions, is that these worlds are all connected by the great tree of life. Rooted in the Lower realm, its trunk extends upwards, through the middle world and into the Upper world, where its branches hold the stars, the sun and the moon.
The Celtic Shaman traverses the realms by climbing the tree (also seen as a great ladder or pole) into the Upper world. This is the realm of stars, celestial beings, and the dwelling place of many gods and spirits of the air, and of the great Mother Goddess herself
The lower world can be reached by descending the roots of the massive tree into the realm of the spirits of the earth and fire, where sits the stag-headed Lord of the Underworld, the horned one, protector of the animals. Here the Celtic Shaman can meet with helper power animals and spirit guides.
Thus all three worlds are linked by the great tree, and yet the tree itself and all of the universe are believed to be contained within the shell of a single hazelnut, lying next to the Well of Segais (the source of all wisdom.)
The ability to simultaneously be a part of many realities and existences is at the heart of the shamanic experience. The Celtic shaman deliberately seeks to take on the shape of another animal or being in order to call upon the power within the entity for healing or instruction. The ability of the shaman to send his or her own consciousness into the consciousness of another being and then return to one’s own self is integral to the shaman’s journey.
Taliesin was known to have transformed himself (shapshift) into many other forms and guises in his attempt to escape the Goddess Ceridwen after imbibing of the brew of inspiration and wisdom.
A druid was a member of the priestly and learned class in the ancient Celtic societies of Western Europe, Britain and Ireland. They were suppressed by the Roman government and disappeared from the written record by the second century AD. Druids combined the duties of priest, judge, healer, scholar, and teacher. Little contemporary evidence for them exists, and thus little can be said of them with assurance, but they continued to feature prominently in later Irish myth, literature and law.
The earliest record of the name druidae (???????) is reported from a lost work of the Greek doxographer Sotion of Alexandria (early second century BC), who was cited by Diogenes Laertius in the third century AD.
The Celtic communities that Druids served were polytheistic. They also show signs of animism, in their reverence for various aspects of the natural world, such as the land, sea and sky, and their veneration of other aspects of nature, such as sacred trees and groves (the oak and hazel were particularly revered), tops of hills, streams, lakes and plants such as the mistletoe. Fire was regarded as a symbol of several divinities and was associated with cleansing. Purported ritual killing and human sacrifice were aspects of druidic culture that shocked classical writers.
Modern attempts at reconstructing, reinventing or re-imagining the practices of the druids are called Neo-druidism
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