Saturday, November 14, 2015

Carpe Diem Extra #40 Shaman Haiku

Dear Hajin, shaman-haikuists and travellers 

Your Gunner is here again, wth a Carpe Diem Special on a topic I am exploring - and linked to the previous Carpe Diem Kobyz post. Today we are looking at the possible connections and overlaps in shamanism and haiku writing. Shamans are simply messengers, and not prophets, and nor are haiku poets, who are also merely messengers, interpretors, or translators of nature. The word shaman was originally derived from the Tungus language of the Siberian Evenk people, often defined as the one who knows. Shamanism comes from and primarily exists in Siberia, and the republics surrounding Siberia, though the largest official number of shamans per capita are said to be found in Korea. Shamans are to be found as far west as Lappland, among the Sami people, who are also reindeer herders, as many of the peoples of Siberia.

There is looser definition of shamanism in Estonia, a largely paganistic Baltic republic next to Finland, which ascribes focal points in nature as holy, and meditation in these locations, and other chosen spots in nature, as almost of a shamanistic quality. This is most relevant to haiku poets while composing.

The trance state shamans enter is described by the scientific community as the Theta State. If a person is exposed to certain rhythms, especial when also involved in movement, they will normally enter this Theta State. This is why shamans use drums, and the beating of the drum is the usual way a shaman enters a trance, standing and dancing. 

 Here's a song that illustrates this by the stunning Eivør from the Faroe Islands - in a stunning location, too. This can help to help you get into a relaxed state to write your shaman haiku after reading - do watch; it is quite something. Feel your spirit start to soar with the sound and imagery.

Sami shaman drum skin symbols explained.

Sami shaman with drum, circa 1950s

In addition to the shaman’s drum, wooden stringed instrument similar to a zither has been used, called a kantele, which also dates from the Bronze age, to achieve shamanic trance states. 

Kantele being played, by I.K. Inha,1894, Finland

If shamans and haiku poets share the same mystical culture, of being a messenger for nature (I deliberately discount senryu here). Then how do the two fuse in a haiku?

Many of the haiku techniques, the leap, juxtaposition, season words, are all recognisable to the shaman, in the interpretation of nature. A shaman haiku needs that extra ingredient though. A shaman haiku identifies a force in nature, often mystical, and often represented by an element or part of nature. The first step to writing a consciously haiku is to be out in nature. Without taking that step, the haiku risks feeling faked. Native First Nation Indians of some tribes in the United States have an added advantage, with teepees or structures set up as ‘sweats,’ where one meditates as one sweats in closed teepees with hot stones, inducing thought .

Sioux and Aztec sweat lodge, using volcanic stones to heat the air.Credits

Countries with a sauna culture, such as Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia also use time in the day to meditate among wood, in the heat. Ideas pour out with the sweat, and ideas can be channelled, like through a prism, onto paper.

A shaman haiku may also feature a person feeling semi-trance states or feelings in the haiku, such as the three below, then the fourth, a cascading haiku. Notice how the first tgree are about shamans but the fourth is in the first voice.

shaman drop to ground
like the spring cherry blossoms
when faced with stunlock

© Vapid

I have problems with this haiku. Firstly, in the determination to stick to a formulaistic 5-7-5 structure, the writer may have lost some clarity. It seems so to me. Secondly, the terminology used is oblique and jargonised, which again limits understanding.

One from Bjorn now, our colleague at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai, that says more at second glance - do we gain status of healer because we help, or do we help because of our role? Bjorn says the former.

strength is given
only to the helpful hands
-a shaman's song

© Bjorn Rudberg

One just recently spotted on the Meadows prompt by Carol Campbell. Alright, admittedly she mentions a shaman, which lends more sway, but this really is a shaman haiku. I included this haiku for its vision and originality, and it does fulfill the shaman haiku form. A vista or field of remedies ensures he sees the meadows in a different way to us. 

shaman's wonderland
cornucopia of remedies
pleasing the eyes

© Carol Campbell

And how would a Carpe Diem post look without Chèvrefeuille? Not very good. Here is a cascading haiku from the Masutā.

lying down on my back
watching the deep blue night sky -
feeling my spirit

feeling my spirit

wishing to be free forever
like an eagle

like an eagle
free and high in the blue sky
my Inner Path

© Chèvrefeuille

What did Chèvrefeuille do here, with his cascading haiku? He matched his inner path with the freedom high in the blue sky - a Tengriic term, incidently. In fact the progression of his inner path matching the deep blue reaches its Zenith in his third haiku, after first merely 'watching' the blue sky. This progresson is what makes the journey through the cascading haiku so appealing (Check Chèvrefeuille's shaman haiku on yesterday's Kobyz prompt too).

The theme and concept of the deep blue sky, is one mirrored in a famous French film, Le Grand Bleu, a story about a desire to plunge ever deeper into the deep blue sea, physically, instead of through meditation.

So what are we looking for, in a shaman haiku? We can take certain aspects from the concept of shamanism, the drum beat of various native peoples, certainly a contact with nature, that may be ethereal, and may point towards possible mystical sub-meanings. There should be a deliberate attempt to write outside of your comfort zone. If you enjoy writing haiku about flowers, move perspective. 

But we can also read haiku in this manner as well, finding a certain spirituality. Let's take at random, Basho's famous Old Pond. We are told through Jane Reichhold that it took a while to compete this haiku, with the first version including yellow roses. When Basho gave the haiku to the world, he did not do so with an exact, specific message in mind, rather he left each reader, including us, attach our own personal relevant interpretation. Let's now look at this haiku as a shaman might, interpreting. 

old pond
frog jumps in
sound of water

Is this the moment the shaman connects with nature (as well as a haiku moment)? What does this splash of water mean, that it is time to act, and get wet, but reach the goal, or some other reasoning, of which I can think of a few? It strikes me that one of the best ways a shaman can heal and help is by getting her or his 'patient' to write or choose a haiku. I am convinced that subconsciously we will choose, or perhaps write a haiku that illustrates an issue we have on our minds. It is left to the shaman to interpret the haiku, and reason for the choice.

Here is a haiku of mine, which previously appeared some time back. I would suggest that anyone who wants to interpret a personal meaning behind it as a shaman might can do so in comments, and could do perhaps for other haiku they read linked below. 

scent of falling leaves
-sense of fading dreams
suddenly, a ladybug!

What would you advise, the beat of the soft drum behind us, reminiscent of the First Nation American Indian soothing drum, or African drum, or Irish bochran, or Sami shaman drum? Seize the moment, I would say to myself, interpreting my own haiku. It will come. Notice it. And here's another. 

the liquid sunset
touches the sea
I touch the sea, too

Ah, here my reflection on my own haiku is simple: reach out! I would say. Don't hold back. Do not seek isolation in thought.

So here, you can see the two basic elements of shaman haiku, the first in content, using nature, infused with a touch of mystique or spirituality, and the second, in interpretation. This is only one suggested variant of haiku, labelled shaman haiku, and does not, nor cannot apply to all haiku.

Over to you now! Write your shaman haiku for us to interpret. I strongly suggest listening to the beautiful Eivør's video above for inspiration. This episode is NOW OPEN, and 'Carpe Diem Throat Singing of the Steppes' should be published later today.


  1. Hamish, So wish I could step out into nature. Confined to a wheelchair, the best I can do is sit in front of an open window. Not quite the immersion I was used to. From one who knows it is too late: make the most of it all. Bathe in it. If only.....

  2. I really love this challenging form of Haiku! I am learning so much here. Thank you for featuring one of mine. On to reading!

  3. luv the aspect of the drumbeat, resounding, communicating, stirring

    much love...

  4. I really enjoyed reading your stimulating post here Hamish. My response isn't perhaps what you had in mind but your challenge has helped me put into words some of my experience with contemporary shamanism. I haven't been online much recently but now that I have found this month long challenge I will join in when I can. Thank you for the inspiration. Suzanne

  5. Love the shamanic theme and your 'outreach' approach to haiku! Thank you for inspiring prompts, Hamish!

  6. Shamanism is an amazing and highly evolved ancient nature based set of beliefs, practice's and rituals and so wonderfully prevalent and widespread in geographically disparate ends of earth. Tied intricately to rhythm, dance, drums and movements in trance state..I come from a place called Kannur (North Malabar) state of Kerala , India also called Gods own country in tourism parlance. The region is laced with western ghats (mountains) rich with a variety of tropical fauna and flora and rolling down to golden beaches and blue seas. There every few kilometre one will find small 'kavu' open temples open to nature and the surrounding environment. Comprehension and acceptance of existence of soul, God and higher consciousness is a given. I am particularly impressed by the connections and parallelism I see in the practice of 'Theyyam' elaborate dance rituals with elaborate colorful costumes made from natural material like coconut fronds and plant dye, elaborate body paintings, variety of drums beating out deep vibrations enacted in each temple, kavu at homes and the western, European, Russian, japanese and Korean concepts of shamanism . typping from my mobile hence pardon the typos and I will upload photos later but please do Google and check for yourself. 'Theyyam'estern festivals run into several days and weeks with repeated performance of simple dance steps by the theyyams honoring various gods and nature spirits. Though city bred its a feast to watch and absorb these rituals so full of life and colour, no wonder I have started writing Haiku's so deeply inspired. My apologies for the long writeup but felt strong urge to share.