One of the most basic beliefs of shamanism is the belief in the web of power that runs through all things. Shamans believe that everything is alive and is connected in a mutually supportive way to everything else in the world. It is this web of power that brings sense to the world. The web has an unlimited amount of potential and power to send to the physical world. Understanding this web of power, this spirit world, is necessary to understanding and learning shamanism.
All objects in the physical world have "spirit." It is the spirit that is the source of power. Shamans communicate with the spirit of both living and (what most would consider) non-living things. Through this communication they gain an understanding of the world around them and the more you learn the more power you have to draw from.
As a general rule, shamans believe that unlike natural objects, plants and animals, each human has his or her own unique spirit body. (I believe all things do, but that's my twist on it.) This spirit body can be see surrounding people like brightly colored flames or heat waves. The spirit body normally extends around people anywhere from eighteen inches to about three feet and responds to how people feel and what they are thinking. Brighter colors have higher vibrations and darker, duller ones have lower vibrations. Some believe that the size of a spirit body equates to how much power a person has. Basically it is aura by another name.
Since shamans deal so closely with the spirit world it is easy to become "lost" between the real and the spirit worlds. People who are always daydreaming or are said to have their heads in the clouds are such unattached people. Shamanic presence is the ability to live with a foot in the real world and a foot in the spirit world and not forget who and where you are. This is done by keeping balanced, grounded and 'present,' or mentally aware of your physical presence. Shamans must know where they are at all times. This is one of the reasons shamans seem powerful to others, they always know where they are. People very familiar with Shamanic techniques and very aware of their presence can do a quick iinner journey while walking down the street.
One way shamans stay organized and focused as to where they are is through use of certain images. One is the Tree of Life. Its roots are in the Lower World, also known as the underworld or world of the dead, where shamans go to talk with ancestors, to find lost information, or to find information about diseases and other things to do with the physical body. Travel to the land of the dead should not be attempted without a guide. The trunk of the tree is known as the Middle World. Often the trunk is seen as square, one side for each of the four directions and their corresponding season. It is the magickal version of our reality and shamans visit it to solve everyday problems. The branches of the tree are in the Upper World. It is a place of the future, creativity and flight. No one world is viewed as better or more important than any other and most shamans from around the world have used similar guides.
Another such image is the medicine wheel, also known as a mandala. It is a circle that is divided into four sections (or sometimes subdivided down to eight) that symbolize the four directions. The circle of the wheel symbolizes the Middle World, the sky above it, the Upper World, and the earth below it the Lower World. the center of the circle is the center of the universe and the entire circle, including the Upper and Lower worlds are spiraling to the center. Every person has a place on this wheel which symbolizes where they are in relationship to their spirit center at the center of the circle. The better you know your center the more power you will have.
Here is a simple exercise to help you find out where you are on the medicine wheel.
Center yourself and relax. Close your eyes. Create a medicine wheel in your mind. Divide it into the four quarters with two lines intersecting in the middle. Decide which line stands for which direction. Make a dot in the center and then color the quadrants however you wish. Let a spirit animal come to symbolize each quadrant. Don't think about it, they'll come if you should be doing this. If not stop and try again at another time. Ask your spirit animal to show you where you are in the wheel. Remember the quadrant, the color, the spirit animal for that section, and how close you are to the center. Feel free to ask your spirit guide what this means for you at this time. Thank the spirits for their help and come back to where you are (in other words, feel your body and what you are sitting on etc...) Then open your eyes. Write and/or draw what you saw. You should do this every so often to see where you are in relation to your center.