The Three Worlds of Shamanism

Within the shamanic cosmology, the world is divided into three levels: the upper, lower, and middle worlds. This is often symbolized by a world tree, with the roots, trunk, and branches corresponding to the lower, middle and upper worlds, respectively. This is the trinity of shamanism. Each level contains within it a certain vibrational quality that holds specific wisdom and healing that is accessible to the shaman by entering a non-ordinary or altered state of consciousness. The ability to enter the other reality is frequently achieved through the use of a drum, rattle, dancing, chanting, and medicine plants or mushrooms. The shaman travels through these three worlds to gather information and medicines that are specific for the person they are working with.

The lower world is commonly misperceived as being the place where evil spirits live, darkness pervades, and in general, not a good place. This is mainly due to our cultural conditioning of hell being “down there”, and heaven being “up there.” The lower world is in fact the place where many spirits of nature reside. It is a place where the essence of a plant, mineral, animal, mountain, lake, or any other aspect of nature can be connected and communed with. In this way, the lower world provides information into nature, and the invisible web of interconnections that it contains. It is often a place where ones power animals reside, as well as plant totems. The lower world could also be considered microcosmically to be our unconscious of subconscious self- those parts of our being which are constantly at play but yet we are unaware of.

The middle world is a our reality as we know it. It is our day to day lives and residing place of our physical bodies and our normal waking consciousness. The middle world reality is full of trials and tribulations, tests and blessings- yet it is only one third of the tree of life. If we are not rooted in the wisdom of the lower world, our trunk will not be able to carry the nourishment that the branches need to reach full flowering. In order for our middle world reality to be understandable, a firm groundedness in the underworld is necessary- that is, entering a communion with the invisible dynamics of nature, the spiritual essences of the natural world. The middle world would be considered our ego, or conscious self.

The upper world is what some call the “heavens.” The is the home of the star nations, our celestial or spirit guides, the angels and archetypes (12 astrological signs), and the planetary beings. Microcosmically, the upper world relates to our higher self, or superconsciousness that permeates across all time and space. The upper world is where we turn for spiritual guidance and wisdom that is of a higher vibrational quality than that of lower world wisdom. It is not better, just a different quality. The upper world reveals the depth of our true essential nature that will allow us to enter into the flowering of our purpose. It is our peak, our summit. It is here that we receive the guidance that will take us closer to being in harmony with the unity.

Each world is an absolutely necessary part of our own being and the universe at large. Neither has teachings or healings that are better or worse than the other- they are just different. This is why the analogy of a tree is so useful; you cannot say that the roots are worse than the flowers. Without those roots, the flowers would not be possible, and there must be a stem to connect the two. Each part has its place in the pattern of the whole, and yet, the whole cannot be recognizable by studying the parts. You cannot understand the whole of the tree by looking at the roots, then looking at the trunk, and then the flowers. You must step back and look at that tree as a whole organic being, only then can the depth of its being be experienced. So it is with our own beings. We must respect and honor all parts of ourselves and not get lost in living in any one of the worlds exclusively. We must become fluid rivers of consciousness that is able to flow between all worlds and states of consciousness with ease and acceptance, but not forgetting to step back and look at the unity.