Historically, females have not been associated with shamanism. Women are often forgotten and shamanism has increasingly become a male-dominated sphere, with little mention of the feminine powers that preceded it. The female spiritual experience has often been sidelined in recent historical times, even though current shamanic practices have many nods to the feminine. And though many try to obfuscate the role of females in developing shamanism and leading it to its current point, the truth is that females have had long roots in these ancient practices. Throughout history and across different cultures, females have played a large part in ancient shamanism, from Europe to Asia and everything in between. This is a little journey across the world to explore the geography of roots of female shamanism, and the cultures that have played an important role in developing the female spiritual experience as discussed in the seminal book, Psychedelic Mysteries of the Feminine: Creativity, Ecstasy, and Healing.
Female shamanism across Europe and Asia
One of the first sources of ancient female shamanism comes from the völur in medieval Scandinavia. Although persecuted as witches, these females practiced many of the shamanic practices such as prophecy and healing. In Indonesia, the belian, wadian, or dukun in Indonesia has been a central point as well in exploring the ancient roots of female shamanism. In other cultures such as Yunnan in China, the Jinuo and Nakhi state the shamans were once female but were ousted by the men.
Exploring female shamanism in Africa and South America
In Africa, the makewana is the highest religious authority in Chewa country. Her title translates to “Mother of Children,” and she is considered the mother of the people. The makewana is descended from a line of women who have been selected by the spirits and posses the ability to call rain and relate prophecies. And across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo, female oracles have played an important role. Called bagirwa, these oracles channel the spirit of their ancestral queen Nyabingh and wield spiritual authority in the region.
And in Chile, the Mapuche people revere the medicine women, called machi. Following their guidance, the machi is able to invoke the Powers, who are in both male and female forms, as well as possessing the ability of prophecy, healing, and weather. A machi is able to enter
sacred consciousness by chanting and drumming on the kultrún. Similarly, ancient Aztec texts show women presiding over the temezcalli, a sweathouse. These are accompanied by invocations to these healing priestesses, recognizing their spiritual presence and authority.
Globally, there is a trend of seeing women acting as healers oracles, diviners, and a multitude of other spiritual roles. Many are priestesses of the ancestors, or medicine women who are guardians of sacredness and are seen as protectors. And women have continued to keep these traditions alive in the face of cultural pressures that are designed to keep females away from these very powers.
Changing the narrative
But the world is changing now, and so these ancient traditions need to come to light. Women have worked tirelessly over the course of history to preserve their ancient powers. And they have also seen their cultures and traditions become subsumed under the dominant power of men, and the refusal to relinquish these traditions back to the originators. Although not discussed often, the first shaman was a woman. This is seen across different cultures and regions. For example, the Puyuma of Taiwan associates it with a woman named Udekaw. The Magyars name Jide and Mupu Shaode as their teachers who showed them how to forage, harvest, and invented weaving. And in southern Siberia, it is said that a shepherd girl was the first udgan.
And this is seen in the art that originates from across regions. Rock art and archaeology have revealed a plethora of works that show women as the originators of shamanic practice. They are the ones who know the art of ecstatic sacred dance, are able to shape-shift or fly, and they are the ones that play the drums that lead to sacred consciousness.
And in the past, shamanic healing practices have been vilified, further burying the practices and traditions, but also reducing the role of women. From witch hunts, to colonialism, shamanism has seen plenty of challenges. And women have often suffered the consequences. Different ideologies have sprung forth that reduce shamanism to crazy superstition, rather than recognizing the deep spiritual power that cultures and traditions have tried to preserve for so long. Shamanism has often been associated with males, the language, the history and the oral traditions all seem to point this way, but it ignores the systemic repression of women and their spirituality over the years.
Women Shaman at the forefront
But these narratives are shifting, as more awareness of the role of women in shamanism comes into focus. Female spiritual power is seeing a resurgence, as females become more confident in themselves, their spirituality, and the movements and actions needed to tap into the sacred consciousness. Ecstatic dance has played an important role and holds so much power when it comes to the female spiritual experience.
The feminine experience has often been subjected to hypersexualization and misnomers, but this reduces female shamanism to little more than male entertainment. But this narrative can change, and should. Women have been the originators of shamanism, and need to be brought back into the forefront to keep these traditions alive for generations to come. Through ecstatic sacred dance, women can strengthen their connection to their culture and ancestors, and preserve this knowledge for generations to come. It is pathways towards releasing old wounds, and establishing new connections. Whether alone or in a group, ecstatic sacred dance is a way of praying with your body. Of uncovering layers of emotion to find the authentic essence, shedding trauma in the body and bringing forth a new way of being. It is a way to break out of the chains of social conditioning and reclaim the feminine power that has been at the heart of shamanism this entire time.