‘Ecopsychology’ and its roots in various forms of shamanism

Aztec Figurehead C.1300

This brief report looks at a cluster of related activities that might or might not be scientific in nature but which all seek to realign the natural human with the surroundings through some kind of scientific justification.

There are many antecedent belief systems whose effect can be seen when looking at EcoPschology and EcoTherapy.

Perhaps all Psychiatric roles in society were once undertaken by the Wise Elder, Witch, Medicine Doctor or Shaman character from the group. In the last few hundred years the rules of credibility have shifted and scientific proof seeks to underpin all of our efforts, and so faith in vision that springs from the non-human environment fell to the back, until very recently when it is experiencing a resurgence under the umbrella of ‘eco’.

Illustration of Siberian Shaman. Nicholaes Witsen C.1692

EcoTherapy is basically the idea that there is a benefit to reconnecting with the natural ‘total’ environment (planetary ecosystem). By putting your body into a green place, and by moving your mind into a state of awareness from within this place, you are able to detoxify subtle areas of both your psychology and physical existence, and return to a less corrupted form of sanity. EcoPsychology is the study of this area and the assumption of the synergistic connection between the two scales of ecosystem – planetary and individual.

A person who refuses to make efficient use of time, who is not practical, who does not actively pursue some concrete goal is somehow disturbing to the modern psyche.

Thomas Merton

By understanding the destruction we reap upon the planet as the product of an addiction to materialism, and in turn by understanding that this addiction springs from an emptiness and a feeling of inadequacy that perhaps stems from childhood, the therapist knows that using shame as the pivot to change the equilibrium cannot work – something positive is needed to break the cycle. And so, the theory goes, immersing the patient in the natural environment and showing them a place of joy and solace can provide enough of a kick to wake up  and turn things around.

In devastating the natural environment, we may be undermining a basic requirement of sanity: our sense of moral reciprocity with the nonhuman environment. Yet ecopsychology also offers hope. As ecocidal as our behavior may have become, our bond with the planet endures; something within us voices a warning.

Theodore Roszak, writing in ‘Psychology Today

Mircea Eliade‘s description of the role of the shaken for an individual and for the group psyche

[The shaman] is believed to cure, like all doctors, and to perform miracles of the fakir type, like all magicians […] But beyond this, he is a psychopomp, and he may also be a priest, mystic, and poet […]

[…] Shamanism, betrays the Nostalgia for Paradise, the desire to recover the state of freedom and beatitude before ‘the Fall’.

The role of the Shaman is essentially to provide knowledge and wisdom from the outer edge – the hardest-to-experience –  subtleties of our existence. And from this subtle-place to reveal knowledge about the nature of death, birth, deities and foresight.

In order to arrive at a state of awareness sensitive enough to observe these things, it is important to be pure and connected – and this is where the bridge between the Shaman and the School of EcoTherapy exists.  Natural wilderness is the gateway to everything that gives birth to us, and so its direction to head towards in order to reconnect for sanity and also for forsight.


Leave a Reply