My book Heracles – A Psychopath’s Tale takes place in a time steeped in ancient shamanism. For example, Heracles meets an oracle – a woman shaman – twice in this life. Shamanism has been common among northern peoples in an area stretching from Scandinavia, over Siberia, and to Central Asia. Shamanism is also found in many other parts of the world and can be traced very far back in human history.

Characteristic of shamanism is that the shaman acquires knowledge by achieving a state of alternate consciousness. This is accomplished by for example sleep deficiency, monotonous drumming, exhaustive dancing (trance dance), or through the intake of psychedelic substances. It can be compared to a scientific method where the exploration takes place from within one’s consciousness rather than by exploring external factors.

Photo by the author.

We know very little about what happens in an alternate state of consciousness. It is rather a state that modern science looks down upon. However, the ability to travel in our consciousness forms the basis of our symbolic thinking, our art, our culture, and various religious beliefs.

A few decades ago, the archeologist David Lewis-Williams presented a theory about cave paintings that has become groundbreaking in our understanding of early man, who lived about 40,000 years ago[1]. Far from being only hunting motives, Lewis-Williams showed that many of the cave paintings found around the world depict the different impressions that the consciousness experiences when in trance. Thus, man’s first imagery did not illustrate the outer world, but our inner world, and therefrom our ability to abstraction and symbolic thinking may have arisen.

In both the Odyssey and Argonautica, where I have found a lot of information about Heracles, there are shaman rites and references. Among other things, the heroes take on animal form and fight for example as wolves and bears. Our Nordic pre-Christian faith has many elements of shamanism. Oden, the foremost god, undergoes typical shaman initiation rites when he hangs from the Yggdrasil tree for nine days to gain knowledge of the runes and sacrifices his eye to see into the nine worlds. Female shamans seem to have been common in the Nordic region. We have, for example, Völuspá – Prophecy of the Seeress in the Poetic Edda, as well as vǫlur in the kingdom of death that Oden visits to gain knowledge. The vǫlur were probably deceased female shamans.

© Malena

Heracles – A Psychopath’s Tale

[1] The Mind in the Cave, David Lewis-Williams, Thames & Hudson 2002