The shamanic power of art and music works to push us past the bounds of our preconceptions so that we experience new worlds of consciousness. It urges us to experience life in its most primal and passionate state. Without it we might all find ourselves looking out upon a (seemingly) very sterile and gray world, devoid of magic and wonder.
Our minds can grow accustomed to only perceiving and responding to the surface of the living world. Even certain functions of our physical brains work to filter out perceptions and sensations that don’t have anything directly to do with our “biological imperatives”.
But because we are possessed of intuition and connections to the deeper aspects of self-hood (such as dreams), our race has always been aware of other “realms” or dimensions of existence.
We give these magical, dream-like faces of reality various names: the occult, the supernatural, the unconscious, the fairy realm, etc. "Shamanism" is a word that has been given to various traditions throughout the world that aim to access and explore these worlds.
Art as the Medium
One of humanity’s touchstones to these other dimensions has always been music and the other arts. Like dreams, our artistic creations can function as bridges that we can pass over in order to explore altered states of consciousness and non-ordinary perceptions. In ancient times, music played a crucial role in shamanism.
Shamans would journey beyond the confines of the known world in search of wisdom and insights that could benefit their tribes. Drums, rattles, flutes and even stringed instruments were utilized to send them on their way.
Obviously, many people can learn to play musical instruments. It requires a more unusual individual - someone with the particular disposition - to function as a shaman within the context of modern art.
In the third installment of The Edge of the Known series, Humanity's Way Forward, the band's manager, Maureen Connelly, tries to describe the impact that singer/guitarist Brandon Chane has on his audience:
“This thing that you have,” she said, “this spark, fire – the unknown variable that a dozen different writers have given a dozen different names to – it’s really rare. I mean, so many aspects have to somehow magically come together in order for it to work.
Some people are really verbose and yet they don’t have access to those depths, or they’re afraid to go there. Others have the emotional or spiritual openness and yet they can’t articulate it. I think it’s so fitting that your band is Edge of the Known, because you really have found this edge where you stand and you’re in touch with all of it at once, transmitting it… God, I don’t really know how to explain any of this!
“But if something so rare actually has occurred, I would have to say that it’s because – pompous as it may sound, Brandon – it’s because this world needs it.”
Shamanism and the Alpha State
Modern science has drawn parallels between these kinds of rhythms and the human brain's alpha state, which is associated with dreams, non-linear thought, intuition and artistic expression.
The alpha state of mind draws connections between thoughts, impressions and concepts in a different way than the logical faculties do. It is more associative and feeling-oriented.
This kind of consciousness is responsible for the inexplicable quality within certain works of art and/or music that move us in ways that we find very hard to describe. The precepts of shamanism continue to assert themselves in the modern world through such forms of expression.
The Soul of Art
The human soul always seeks to express as much of what it is as it possibly can in physical terms. Our culture has, unfortunately, curtailed much of this expression with its heavy emphasis on logical thinking and an assembly-line approach to living and solving problems.
The kind of psychic one-sidedness that results from this unbalanced emphasis can generate counter-reactions on the "other end". This can be seen in the New Age modes of thought that stress other aspects of the mind (like intuition and extrasensory perception), less healthy ventures such as alcohol and drug addiction, and the modern revival of interest in shamanism.
Music and the arts, if created and responded to with reverence and respect, can serve as a kind of therapy for us in this lopsided cultural climate.
They can remind us of those other dimensions that we've always been aware of but have oftentimes not been able to perceive because of the narrow state of consciousness that we've hypnotized ourselves into.