Latest Writings

James Arthur Ray and the Sauna

James Arthur Ray, the notorious New Age Guru, was released from prison in 2013, after just a short sentence.  He is back to his old schemes already, going on tv and smoothing his image.  Many pagans and New-Agers alike do not want to be associated with him.  Besides negligence, he is also accused of appropriation and misrepresentation by many in the greater pagan community. Many believe if he had not removed the sweat lodge from its original cultural context, then no one would have died.  I feel this raises more questions.

Who is to say that a charismatic native person blinded by money could not have done the same thing?  All people can be bad.  Being connected to a ceremony’s original culture does not exempt anyone from potential wrongdoing.   People do die in ceremonies done by native people.  Sometimes the victims are children.  Sometimes a ceremony goes wrong in the hands of a well-trained, well-meaning person.  I think we should not go blind into any situation and assume someone always knows what to do.  You are always taking a risk.  Life is dangerous.  Accidents happen.   Spirits take people when it is their time despite our best efforts to keep them in this world. We do not know for sure that if James Arthur Ray were a native that no deaths would happen.  Perhaps he would have constructed his sweat lodge better but still not allowed people to leave.  Would the case have had as much publicity if he were native?  What we might believe is that if any person, native or not, who cares about people’s safety above all other things, would have zero deaths in their sweat lodge.

Suppose, instead of a sweat lodge, Ray had constructed a somewhat traditional sauna and marketed it as such, complete with birch twigs. Would he have gotten as many participants advertising a sauna instead of a sweat lodge? Would he have used a plastic roof and sealed it too tightly with epoxy and made it unbreathable?  Would as many people be crying foul and accusing him of appropriation?  Would they try to dig up his Scandinavian heritage or would they just assume he’s white, so he can use it, or its been in America for so long anyone can use it?  Perhaps people would laugh at him and wonder how it could happen, a white man who doesn’t know how to use a sauna?  Or would people just call him stupid, cruel, and negligent, removing any cultural association from his use of the sauna?  The danger in emphasizing the cultural aspect too much takes away from the severity of the act Ray did and conflates the Noble Savage image.  While you would assume a native would have known better, would have had more respect, would have constructed a better lodge, would have let people out instead of forcing them to stay, I think this speaks more of a person who cares more about people than fame or money, rather than simply their blood culture is the same as the ceremony’s culture.  Perhaps less natives are motivated to make it big with the sweat lodge, but I think this has more to do with having less hope and poor ambitions, due to discrimination, poverty or both, rather than being native to start with. Maybe some of them see the trap of greed and resist it. However, this resistance could be due to cultivating respect and self-worth, which does not come automatically from being raised in your birth culture but from living as a caring human being.

I don’t think limiting cultural practice to people of same culture is a good way in the end to prevent future negligence.   It sounds very respectful and easy on paper and at its most basic says let the people regulate their own traditions.  The clincher is how enculturated do you have to be to participate?   Is being raised in the culture enough or are you not allowed if you are half European?  How many generations do you have to live in a country before you can participate in its native spiritual cultural practices?  Are you never allowed, in which case you must make up something new or stay with what you did in the old country?  Why is this not seen as out of context or appropriating the landscape?  Because it is easier to stop people from doing something than it is to stop them from moving? 

I don’t have a good alternative answer to stop future James Arthur Rays.  You can’t save people from themselves and there will always be snake oil peddlers.  Native people have had much robbed from them and much of their history and experience ignored, belittled, or destroyed. So have many white people who seek to regain a grounded spirituality but get distracted by quick-fix, fast-food spiritual fakery cleverly marketed by native association. A good start is education.  Don’t pay huge amounts of money for spiritual experiences.  Don’t be a weekend warrior.  Incorporate your spiritual practice into your daily life, or at least every other day.  Get together with others, if you can, instead of texting, help each other out, and share your experiences.  Take care of yourself, work through your issues slowly, and remember there are no quick fixes.  Just going for a walk outside in the open air can be a spiritual experience and you don’t even need to walk through the woods.  We may not want the concrete jungle to take over everything, but the spirits and the divine are there, as surely as they are in the Amazon jungle. We carry them with us, and they are under the concrete in the Mother Earth and above the skyline in Father Sky.

Posted on 20 March '15 by , under Cultural Appropriation. No Comments.

Baring my Heart: White Guilt

In some ways, I feel I have been open about how I feel about white guilt, but it somehow felt valuable to put all my thoughts in one place.  I feel I have a middle view about white guilt.  I acknowledge it exists but I want to find some way to heal and move on.  I don’t think it is right to forget what happened, but I think some way to recover is good as well.  If we don’t, then the previous power differential will always exist.

To begin, my ancestors took part in many horrible acts of domination and warfare.  They destroyed and co-opted many lands and peoples.  I believe this is part of human survival nature.  White people were not the first and will not be the last to dominate, make war, and destroy.  It does not make it right, it just is the way things have been and the way they continue to be.  It is also true that humans can be quite peaceful, but like other animals, we also have the nature to fight if our children, home, family, or food supply is threatened, no matter what the color of our skin.  We are not exempt from wanting to expand our territories or secure our food.  White people are not the only people to create empires and have slaves either, they are simply one of the most recent.

I do not consider myself superior or inferior to any other human.  I am simply human, as are they.  I do not wish others to mistake confidence for arrogance or superiority.  I believe that carrying feelings of guilt for actions that can never be repaid are as damaging as carrying feelings of vengeance.  I cannot long for forgiveness that may never be given.  I cannot take back what my ancestors did, but I do not wish to vilify them too much, claiming that I am somehow a better or more superior human than they were.  Neither do I wish to claim that my more distant, more indigenous ancestors are better than my grandparents or myself.  We all made mistakes, some worse than others, some that seemed small at the time but had far reaching effects.  Ages come and go, as do the people and the cultures with them; old ones die or change, new ones take their place.  Times could be good or bad.  Sometimes there is progress, sometimes there is regression.  I do not necessarily view the ancient past as a human golden age.

If we were to posit a punishment or consequence to be carried out for what my ancestors did, what would it be?  What would satisfy the victims and when would enough be enough?  Would everyone have to pay for the actions of their ancestors, provided we could find out the history and who owed whom?  Would it only satisfy the victims with a role reversal, whites having children taken away, not allowed to speak native language, beaten if it is spoken, living in poverty, probably can’t get a job, lower wages, dad probably isn’t around, called names, and possibly killed just for being who they are?  Or would they only settle for this if they did not have to perpetrate the acts of violence? Would we be able to move on or would native guilt be born out of the process?  Should white people pay blood money for damages done?  How much would be considered enough and for how long?  Would we see an economic role reversal, whites poor and others not?  If this did happen, would the natives be any kinder with their economic and political advantage or would they become corrupted by power once they had it?  Would they insist all whites be deported back to Europe?  How pure a native would you have to be to stay?  Would only people on reservations be able to stay?  How would they maintain their borders afterwards?  Most likely, enough would never be enough, because the emotions of envy and vengeance are insatiable. Justice would never occur and it would only result in a power role reversal of who is paying whom.  This is not a happy nor healthy way to live.  Sad as it may be, the first step to peace with what has happened is not payment or staying away, but letting go and forgiving.

I cannot deny that I benefit from the actions of my ancestors.   I do not have to live in the same conditions as many who were oppressed or their descendants and my actions are not questioned as much.  I have more opportunities and role models, even as a woman.  Even if I never use my privileges, I am judged by the potential that exists.  It doesn’t seem to matter that some white people live in very poor conditions, just being white changes the way others view them.  A black person may have white ancestry too but as long as they pass as black, no matter what their actual living conditions are, they are judged differently than a white person, even if their white ancestors are seen as doing bad things.

In regards to being a shaman in the West, white guilt affects the practice of at least some individuals.   The natives of North America especially say that there are too many white people abusing native traditions and making money off them.  They lump all white people together, whether they are serious practitioners or not.  It seems, from my research at least, by what I see made public, that few people who undertake traditional training stay with that tradition and become good at it.  Instead, they go on to learn from other traditions and do bits and pieces of these traditions, as well as other forms of energy healing, reiki, and various other psychic offerings.  I feel this disrespects the spirits and the teacher.  Why go get the training if you are not going to use it?  Maybe it was life-changing for you or it makes you better at other techniques, but if you don’t do the tradition, then you are not honoring your lineage and teachers.  Some say they do not do it because they are not of the same culture.  If that is so, then why even start the training?  The spirits and ancestors have opened the way for you if you are able to find someone who will teach a white person.  Not everyone who teaches whites is dishonorable or a fraud.  Not every white who accepts and practices indigenous traditions not of their birth culture is a fraud, an oppressor, or just playing.  It is sad that the focus has been more on exposing frauds instead of recognizing and encouraging the real thing.  Granted, it is hard to find, but not impossible.  More and more white people are returning to traditions of their white ancestors or inventing their own tradition.   Some of them are motivated by white guilt.  Some of them are not.  Nonetheless, it will take time before the genuine outnumbers the fake.  There is hope that with more genuine practitioners that it will be easier to recognize the real thing.  Hopefully this will be possible without having to institutionalize being a shaman or other similar spiritual professions.

If there is to be any healing of guilt, envy, and hopelessness then there must be letting go, forgiveness, and coming to peace.  The white people must forgive their ancestors and remember to approach all people with respect.  The other side may take longer to heal.  They must give up helplessness and go for a good life, even if it is more of a challenge.  On MPR, Walter Mosley said “there is no such thing as a white person.”  He said this on a show about racial differences.  He said the only way to get rid of racism is to get rid of the concept of race, especially being ” white”.  He is part black, part Jewish and gets asked what it is like to be part white.  His response is “Jewish is not white.”  This is an important distinction.   Nationalism, an extension of tribalism, is very natural for humans, promoting loyalty to a social group.  The difference is lumping several different tribes or groups of people together based simply on how they look and saying, “now you are white.” This race card is even more insidious than past examples, such as the English trying to claim the Irish were a separate inferior race!  You can’t hide behind your language or culture anymore.  All it takes is someone looking at your skin for them to treat you differently.

It has been thousands, if not millions, of years since all humans were Africans and had the same skin color.  Since then, my ancestors moved into less sunny climates and developed traits to adapt.  In this way, humans are not like dogs, simply having a variety of fur colors.  Race, or skin color, rather than being a method of identification, seems to come up when one group of humans wants power over another.  The other group is seen as looking different, even if they are closely related, as in the case of the British and the Irish.  In the end we are still living human beings trying to make it in this world, with differences in circumstances and lifestyles, but needing many of the same types of resources.  It is these similarities that can help people be more respectful and helpful to others, no matter what they look like.

It will be nice when the day will come when we can say “let’s help poor people” and it won’t matter if they are black or white.  Or we can simply hire people for a job and not worry about meeting a dark-skinned person quota.  Inequality will continue to exist.   I think that we cannot give everyone the same finances and the same job opportunities.  It will not be possible in all areas.  All we can do is try to help where we can.

Posted on 19 February '15 by , under Cultural Appropriation, Culture Bridge, Shaman. No Comments.

What Do You Do as a White Person who is a shaman?

I have wrestled with what my role, as a shaman, with my training, might be.  The fact that I am asking this question at all may raise plenty of hackles.  However, the fact exists that my choices have placed me in an in between place and I must deal with it if I want to be effective.

For others who are learning a different spirituality than that of their cultural ancestors, they have naturally become, by their very existence, a bridge between cultures, much the same as people who intermarry or are adopted out of culture.  Where they choose to do that role is up to them.  They may interact with one side or sides rarely or not at all.  However, the potentiality still exists to share and interact between the two or more cultures.

There is a pressure in Western, or perhaps just North American, society, to see any act of becoming like the indigenous people as an act of oppression which must be repaid.  I highly suspect many of these people who claim that indigenous people are owed something for centuries of oppression or continued cultural borrowing have not actually talked to any of the people they claim to be representing the interests of to see how they feel and what they do want.  In my own case, my husband and I give loans through Kiva to Mongolians who want to start small businesses.   When I asked my Tsaatan teacher what my husband and I could give to help him and his family, all he asked for was books on learning English.  He could have asked us for a new tarp, a goat, even one million tugrik, but he did not.  Whatever the naysayers may say, it is my opinion that trying to artificially raise up the status of these people without their work and consent is more culture destroying than ten white people becoming shaman.  For starters, what are they going to do with this free wealth?  Not everyone might be as savvy as my teacher who, if he did accept, might use it to acquire more reindeer or horses.  He has already lost one daughter to the city, who left to become a hairdresser.  Others might do the same, and thus the Tsaatan traditional culture dies with Western donations of goodwill. You might say, well these people are entitled to wealth and a Western lifestyle if they so choose, they are already wearing Western clothes anyway, isn’t that healthier and more satisfying?   Actually, in most cases, no.  It is better to look to happiness with current life, rather than artificial ideas of wealth imposed from outside. Now I cannot speak for other indigenous folks, but if they want to keep their way of life, then Western donations is not what they need.  Most of what they could use, for war to stop in their countries, or laws to protect their territory, are not within our power to give.  This does not mean do not give food, money, or clothing if it is welcome.  Some groups of people feel differently.   I just believe it is important to realize that we cannot save these people nor truly repay them by just offering them money.  Even if enough donors gave, what happens when the donors feel the poverty is gone?  Are the natives now dependent on donations?  If there is not some purpose provided to them, some hope for life, then once the money is gone most will fall back into poverty.

You might ask, why would a Mongolian shaman teach a white person at all?  If his/her heart and head is in the right place, the shaman asked the spirits and the spirits said to teach that person.  It is certainly not for monetary gain.  Besides the cost of items for ceremony and a donation that my teacher requested, I am not paying him money to teach me.  If it is for fame, I think there would be easier ways than teaching non-local white people who come every few years due to living thousands of miles away.  He is already renowned as a powerful shaman and comes highly recommended.  I don’t think he is doing it just for fun.  It costs time and effort to train apprentices.  So much so, that for my teacher he got lucky that I was pregnant when I asked, so he could not begin training, because he said he has too many apprentices at the moment.  Part of it might be a global acceptance mentality, the Tsaatan do use cell phones and satellite tv after all, but I do not think that is the whole picture.

What is missing in many of the arguments about borrowing from other cultures is what the spirits and ancestors want.  This is a complex issue and often overlooked because the “offending” individuals are seen as doing what they do for egotistical and selfish reasons.  (This is not to say some individuals are not this way, but I believe not all of them are.)  They are told to go do the tradition of their own culture.   Well, in my own case, I tried this first.  I am part British and Irish, so I was learning Gaelic, doing faery magic, and learning Irish and British lore.  It was satisfying to me, but the spirits had a different idea.  I did a Mongolian fire offering ceremony (quite doable by laypeople) and an ancestor, as well as many spirits showed up.  I had never had such an overwhelming response to any Irish/British ceremony I had done.  This told me I needed to rethink what I was doing.  For whatever reason, the Mongolian ancestors are ok with me doing this work and want me to keep doing it.  Otherwise, they would have told my teacher, no, she can’t be a shaman.

So, next I am faced with what do I do now.  My husband is the main breadwinner and though he telecommutes, he has never really wanted to move to Mongolia.  I do not want to leave him behind, so I must do my work within a culture that, though it has fringe support for shaman, for the most part people do not even believe spirits exist and that ancestors protect us and want to stay in touch with us.  The role of the shaman has been relegated to that of a healer in western culture.  So much so that some shaman think they are doing just fine if they do psychotherapy or spiritual counseling because these roles already have a place in the mainstream.  This may be helpful, true, but it is a far cry from what could be possible if shaman became more accepted as a spiritual mediator who does ceremony with song and dance.  The value in these things, is that they tie people and communities together instead of an individualistic healer/doctor mentality that says “I go see a shaman only when I’m sick.”  However, the west is taking the baby steps necessary to accept shaman to a greater degree in a wider variety of roles.

Posted on 5 February '15 by , under Cultural Appropriation, Culture Bridge, Shaman. No Comments.

Oh Beautiful Blue Sky

(more…)

Posted on 27 January '15 by , under Poetry. No Comments.

How to be Respectful with Other Faiths

Perhaps this writing will be misunderstood by many, but it is my intention to try to help those people who, like myself, I believe are legitimately called to “culture-jump”, so to speak, or practice a spirituality that is different than the one they were raised in.

Be truthful about your heritage, background, connections, and intentions.  If you do not hold a special position within your birth culture or the other culture, do not lie and say you do.  Do not fabricate connections which do not exist.  Do not profess more knowledge and experience than you actually have.  Do not claim ancestry that you do not descend from.  If you are unsure about your ancestry, it is better to say you don’t know it until you are more certain.  Do be honest and straightforward concerning visions or dreams you have had, experiences you have had, and magical abilities you possess.  Do not exaggerate your talents and prowess or claim to have experienced things that did not actually happen.  If you are coming to ask for training, do not claim the title and speak as an expert.  Be humble and let others be the authority.  Follow their customs when it comes to what gifts, offerings, payment, or time is required.  If you quit before you are finished, do not claim the title.

If at all possible, travel to the country where the people live whose culture you seek to be a part of.  Talk to the people and learn directly from them, if you can.  If you cannot find a teacher, you have three options: ask someone else, leave and come back a different time, or give up the search for a teacher.  It can be powerful to leave offerings and give thanks whether you find a teacher or not.  Learn the language.   A whole new world of possibilities will open up with knowing the language.  If however, you are just curious and not serious, it is better to take a short trip and stick to tourist attractions instead of visiting the locals.  Some of them are more used to tourists than others.  If you are not prepared to learn at least rudimentary language, spend at least four years of training, and commit to helping people the spirits tell you to, then you are not serious.

Ask the other people you seek to learn from if there is anything they need or anything you can do to help.  If the answer is no, respect this.  If the answer is yes, give what you can, when you can, but do not feel obligated to support the whole community if it is not wanted or you do not have the means.  Stay in touch even after your training is complete.  Stay or visit if you can.  Respect their boundaries and do not overstay your welcome, especially in the beginning.  It can help to support activism causes, but research the organization thoroughly.  Many organizations do not actually give the indigenous people a good deal.

Respect the taboos of the culture concerning the spirituality.   For example, my teacher says he cannot teach me when I am pregnant.   Therefore, if I want to learn from him I must make the effort to not be pregnant when I go back.  Some cultures have dietary rules concerning practice, restrictions on sexual activity, or do not allow women having a period to participate.  Respect these taboos, even if the culture you were raised in feels differently.

Ask the other people directly, during training if possible, whether it is ok to deviate or combine traditions.  If they say no, respect this.  After all, the whole point of learning from them is to learn how they do it.  Otherwise, you could have skipped it and experimented on your own. If you do go against their recommendations, understand you do it at your own risk, even if you say nothing word may get out, and you may jeopardize your relationship.  If you are not allowed to take apprentices, don’t take them before your teacher says you are ready. Respect the rules concerning payment for ceremony.  If the rule is don’t charge, then don’t charge.   If the rule is donations are ok, then feel free to ask for donations.  If you are not allowed to charge for training apprentices, then don’t.

Keep your heart and mind open and do not cling too much to preconceived ideas.  When you actually have arrived, found a teacher, and are receiving training, many surprises may happen.

Posted on 24 January '15 by , under Culture Bridge, Respect, Shaman. No Comments.

Modern Shamans and Destructive Spirits

I am helping a friend get rid of bad spirits.  These are beings that are malevolent towards humans and best cleared from her life.  I looked online to see if I could find how other people had done it before.  Now, you could say that such a thing would probably not be online, but I found myself disturbed by what else I did find.  First, there was not much on getting rid of destructive or bad spirits.  Second, there were many of the modern shamans who were more inclined to think that people’s problems were due to something within the self instead of bad spirits.

This reminds me of the final Harry Potter movie The Deathly Hallows 2.  Harry is in the in between train station after killing the part of Voldemort (horcrux) that existed within him.  He is walking with Dumbledore and asks him, “this isn’t real is it, it’s just happening inside my head, right? ”  Dumbledore responds “of course it’s all happening inside your head, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”  It is unfair to categorize inner experiences as having less weight than being bothered from without.  It is not right, in my opinion, to say someone is battling part of themselves, therefore they don’t need a shaman and they are on their own.  Would a more traditional shaman send the person away?  Would shamans of the ancient times have sent them away?  Is this a good trend for modern shamans to take part in?

What is more disturbing is that if people’s problems are not due to bad spirits then what do modern shamans think is causing problems?  To me this seems contradictory.   I agree that shamans have had to adapt to modern times but if too much of the foundation disappears, then the practice loses purpose.  In my opinion, this idea that spirits are not the cause of problems stems from a lack of belief in spirits and their power.  What is left is saying that the problem is generated by the person. Humanism, the over-emphasizing of the individual has invaded modern shamanism as it is the popular viewpoint of the times, taught in schools, broadcast on tv. The only good thing about this is the individual taking personal responsibility.  However, a person has to take responsibility anyways for treatment to be successful, so why leave them in the dark?  Shamanism becomes little more than energy healing with some fancy accessories if you leave the spirits out of it.  Not all people’s problems may be due to spirits, bad or neutral, but to say a person is not worthy of shamanic help because of an inner struggle is questionable at best.

If, within your practice you would rather not work with such people, or on a case by case basis you feel there is someone you would rather not treat, or you just have no idea what to do or what is wrong with them, I think it is better to just forward them to another healer, which is probably what would happen anyway.  Do it with kindness and say that you think you can’t help or that someone else can help better.  Please don’t tell the person it is not spirits, because it could be, even if it is “only” spirits generated within themselves by their own minds.

Posted on 3 January '15 by , under Shaman, Spirits. No Comments.

Some Helpful Truths

You are not the most important thing in the universe.
Humans are not the most important things in the universe.
Life is not the most important thing in the universe.
You cannot know or understand everything.
No one person or being has all the answers.
Every shaman has different talents and the first one may not be able to help you.
Shaman are not all-powerful.
Whether we are destined to become gods or not, even gods are connected to everything and are bound by certain laws of existence.
There exists powerful old magic, simple in its form, consisting of kindness, love, loyalty, and saving another’s life.
If you pursue love and purpose over wisdom and wealth, often you will end up gaining the latter two upon the way.  The reverse is not as certain.
You can argue all you want about human potential concerning spirituality, education, or wealth, but as long as your children survive long enough to have children themselves you have succeeded, as far as nature is concerned.
There is no shame in being human
Life is not fair.

Posted on 27 December '14 by , under Philosophy. No Comments.

Dangers of Being a Shaman

Yes, we’ve heard it before.  Being a shaman is dangerous and should only be taken up by those few who are called to it.  But what exactly are those dangers?  Most material and articles I read that say it is dangerous do not go into why.  One article said you can get lost in the spirit world.  Another said some shamans get sick when they first get called and may get sick again if they don’t practice.  One said you can anger deities.  Another said it shapes you and leaves its mark on you.  But what exactly does this all mean for the individual and why should you listen?  Why do articles and/or books not go into more detail?  Perhaps they think you’ve heard it all before and it’s not important to go into detail.  Maybe they don’t believe it is really dangerous and you are already well protected.  Maybe they think the dangers are hidden and advanced teachings and you should not be asking.   Maybe it’s that they want to scare you into imagining the horrors and that will be enough to scare you away.  Whatever the reason, I thought I would like to talk a little more about what could actually happen if a person who is not well suited to being a shaman becomes one.  Some of these things may also happen to the beginning shaman, or the careless or cocky shaman.

The reason I hear brought up the most often is that the spirit world is dangerous and if you wander without a map or sufficient defenses that you will get hurt.   But how?  What could really happen to you?  To start with, you could meet spirits or gods who will hurt you if you do not know how to fight back, defend yourself, or satisfy them with what they want, in terms of song, offerings, or other bargains.  This hurt could manifest as bad dreams, paranoia or anxiety, strange physical marks like scratches or blisters, or the spirit or god hanging around in your space after you come back from the spirit world.  The spirit could attach itself to you and cause sickness or bad luck.  Or, spirits may simply ask what you might consider to be strange (at least at first) things from you, such as, believe it or not, sex.  You do not need to have had a previous relationship with them for this to be asked.  You could get lost and not be able to find your way back to your body for a while.  This could result in exhaustion, loss of consciousness, or in extreme cases, death.  While you are lost you could meet spirits or beings who could eat you, dismember you, all in the spirit world, but when you return to your body, this could leave you shaken up, hurt, or emotionally unstable.  You could come back to your body, but not believe you are really back.  You could go back to your everyday life,  talking to everyday people, who do not think these things exist, about the spirits next to them, and they think you are crazy.  You could be hyper, nervous and excitable,  and not be able to sleep. You could also meet other people, other shamans or travelers, who do not like you and may attack you, causing wounds that only another shaman or trained spirit worker can fix.

Another danger of being a shaman I have heard mentioned is angering a deity.  Some of the ways to anger a deity might be if you don’t do what they say, if you don’t give them the right offering or enough of it, or often enough, if you share secrets with people who should not hear them, if you travel too much into their territory, if you walk away from your service or try to stop being a shaman.  So, you have angered a deity, now what?  The deity, spirit or ancestor could begin by saying many bad things to you and pestering you until you obey.  They could give you nightmares, anxiety, or panic attacks.  If you continue to make them angry, they could drive away your friends and family.  You could have a long string of bad luck, as benign as losing a ring or articles of clothing, to as serious as losing your job or your home. While this may seem farfetched, many spirits and gods are very demanding and such things have actually happened to real people.

Another reason I hear of the dangers of being a shaman is that it changes you and leaves its mark on you. This may sound benign or bearable at first, but most people are reluctant to change habits and behaviors, let alone a worldview.  It never stops.  As a shaman, you are constantly challenged to see things differently. A large reason for this is needing to be able to solve a large range of differing issues that will inevitably appear.  Not every client is a young college student, no relationship, no kids, who only needs a soul retrieval. The spirits may also forbid you from doing certain things, like eating certain foods, or they may require you to do certain things, like wearing opposite gender clothes.  At some times you may feel as if you are going crazy from what you are experiencing.   At other times you may feel both overloaded and entranced by the ecstasy.  You may also feel tired and overworked.  It is important to take care of yourself, otherwise you won’t be able to withstand the demands put upon you.

The last danger of being a shaman I have heard mentioned is surviving being called to be a shaman, sometimes called shaman sickness, and having to deal with being sick again if you don’t do shamanic things for a while.  Not all spiritual people, with jobs similar to that of a shaman undergo such an experience.  Some people don’t think all shamans go through shaman sickness.  Others think you are not a shaman if you have not been through shaman sickness.  Not all shamans seem to get sick or feel crazy if they stop doing shamanic things for a while.  Shaman sickness may be a physical illness or it might be triggered by an accident.  It might manifest as madness, going crazy, seeing things and hearing things that others cannot see or hear.  The danger of shaman sickness is that not everyone makes it through.  Some people do die.  Others go permanently sick or crazy. If you are going through shaman sickness and you do not have another person you trust, who realizes what is going on and can help you through it, you could end up in a psychiatric ward prescribed medications that will take time to step off of and have their own set of side effects.

After that host of dangers, is there anything else?  It seems the two most frequent dangers of being a shaman are being spiritually hurt (which may manifest in varying degrees on the physical plane) or going crazy.  One other I have not seen mentioned online and did not think of myself is having your life negatively affected by doing work for people who do not believe in magic or shamans.  My teacher mentioned this when he did ceremony for us.  I don’t think this means you need to be fanatical about screening clients,  but it is good to be aware of, watching for people who flat out don’t believe or who are merely curious.  Some people might be driven to belief if they have tried everything else and nothing has worked.  In fact, most people these days see shamans as a last resort, most likely because belief is not as strong and at least in Western countries, while the numbers are growing, shamans remain about as rare as hen’s teeth.  Two other ways your life can be negatively affected as a shaman is if the client does not provide offerings for the spirits and if you refuse to treat someone the spirits say to treat.  If the spirits are not compensated, then they will take out their rage on the shaman, causing bad things to happen.  If you do not treat someone the spirits say to treat, the spirits may cause bad things to happen to you or they may become weaker and less effective.  Since, in our culture we are not used to believing in spirits anymore or giving an offering in exchange for spiritual help, it might be hard to think of these things as problems when dealing with a shaman, but they do happen.

What if you say you are a shaman, but none of these dangerous things happen to you?  In the best case scenario, you know what you are doing and you always remember what to do and do it correctly.  However, we are all human, and always getting it right is not likely.   Perhaps you have not been a shaman very long, so you have only dipped your toe in the proverbial pond.  Unfortunately, it seems, weird stuff is attracted to shamans the way flies are attracted to poo.  It is highly unlikely that you could not have encountered some scary things if you are really a shaman. So, what then could be going on if you say you are a shaman but never experience any dangers?   Well, more than likely you are not really a shaman and you have been traveling in the spirit world on a very limited level.   There is also the sinister possibility that if everything always happens predictably and as expected in the spirit world for you, you might be stuck inside your own head, not really traveling outside yourself.  Inside you is a real place, with real spirits, but it may not provide all you need to solve problems. If you truly are a shaman and nothing dangerous happens to you, then you need to get out and do your job, do the dirty work.  Once you are a shaman and have reached a certain amount of spiritual development, you are guaranteed to have the perfect storm hit you, so to speak, or at the very least encounter something that scares the living daylight out of you.  It goes with the territory.

So, if being a shaman is so dangerous, why do it?  Well, for starters, there are literally those people who get dragged into it, despite resisting, get sick until they shamanize, may continue to get sick if they go too long without shamanizing, and the spirits cause bad things to happen to them and may eventually leave if these people do not become shamans.  Not everyone is dragged in this way, not all traditions require such proof to practice, and modern neoshamans seem to be more individually self-selected, self driven (this includes people in non-western countries–after the fall of communism in Mongolia, many self-appointed shamans popped up, many of whom were cultural artists or musicians before the fall.  The difference I see is that these Eastern shamans are still doing public ceremony/performance while the Western shamans are increasingly solitary and focused on personal development.)  Second, despite modern science and its attempts to explain how and why shamans work, the phenomenon, and its realms, the otherworlds, remains largely a mystery.  What is known is that shamans can help with problems that modern western medicine and science cannot solve.  I believe that this help is worth the dangers that come with being a shaman.  My teacher says a shaman must be a caring person.  I think caring for others is a strong enough drive to traverse the spirit world and weather its dangers.

Posted on 16 December '14 by , under Shaman. No Comments.

I’m a shaman, she’s a shaman, he’s a shaman too. Wouldn’t you like to be a shaman too?

Disclaimer: The title is a parody of a Dr. Pepper ad, I think. All spirit traditions and different shamanic lineages have their own criteria, tests, and rituals for recognizing shamans and spirit masters, by whatever name they may call them. There is no one universal method to discover or become a shaman. It can be dangerous for people who are not shamans to shamanize. Though it may sound corny, a shaman’s spirits protect from bad spirits who want to hurt him or her.

I am quite caught up in the question, are you a shaman? Being born in a time, culture, and area in which shamans are not so every day, I have struggled for years to feel worthy of the profession. Many more people are being called to become shamans these days. I have been approached by people who have asked me if they are a shaman. My answer to them is, ask the spirits.

Neo-shaman, new age shaman, plastic shaman, I feel I have to mention these. These are words used to describe more modern shamans who may be more eclectic, non-traditional, or downright posers. I am not a shamanic fundamentalist. I believe everyone has their own path, and some creative license is healthy as long as you walk with love and respect. The issue I have with New Age and Neo shamans is that sometimes their practices become such a mix of so many things that it doesn’t make sense or cancels itself out. The problem I have with plastic shamans or posers (some purists lump all new-age and neo shamans under this label too), is that these are the people who end up taking advantage of others and hurting them through poorly done rituals most often.

In case you didn’t know, pretending to be a shaman is not new. Plenty of people across many cultures and times have claimed to be shamans and spirit healers of many other names when they had no calling. Sometimes it was for family position, to keep the profession within a certain family. Sometimes it was for power, to be able to influence others. Although shamans have skills that allow them to see things that others may not, in the end they are still human, with the same human emotions and desires as everyone else. Even if we say shamans and other spirit healers are not quite all human and thus feel different than most people, the fact remains that in order to treat people or work with people they cannot totally exempt themselves from human bickering. If anything, they will be outnumbered most of the time by non-shamans and will have to negotiate at least some of the time.

As far as whether someone, anyone in any tradition, is a shaman, a medicine man or woman, or a spirit healer or master, is between that individual and the spirits. A human, already in a spiritual profession, can be a guide or a midwife of sorts, to usher in the new shaman. As far as whether or not the shaman gets clients is up to the community. They can decide if the work is worth receiving. If they feel someone is not real or not good enough, then they can decide not to go see that person.

If you think you might be a shaman, or any type of spiritual worker, whatever your title may be, it is important to have respect. It is because of the spirits and with the spirits that you do your work. If you don’t respect them, the Earth and Nature, the ancestors, and people, the spirits may stop helping you.

Also, not every single person has the same talents. A session with one shaman will not be exactly the same as with a different shaman. And, believe it or not, one session may not be enough. Sometimes miracles do happen after one time, spirits willing, and the person receiving treatment is really ready to move on. Finally, though it is not fun to speak about, shamans, even really good shamans, do fail sometimes. So, it is not really fair to say that someone is a a shaman because their treatment works. A treatment may not work from one shaman, in which case, the person should get more treatments or seek out another shaman. It is good that the number of shamans in recent times is increasing, so people have more to choose from. It is important to choose carefully and work with someone you can trust.

I don’t think it’s fair to say that being a shaman means you are a wise person, therefore anyone can be a shaman because everyone can become wise. This disregards the relationship that shamans have with their spirits and the other worlds. A spirit connection is not just a piece of knowledge to be memorized. Even if everyone can become ecstatic, beat a drum, or take substances to achieve an altered state, not everyone is suited to being a shaman. If the spirits are not there, then the shaman will have a very hard time helping other people. A simple way to describe the relationship is that a shaman is a person who is a connection between this world (middle world) and other worlds through his or her spirit family.

Richard Noll, a psychologist and researcher and interviewer of shamans, says that a shaman is someone who can bring on a state of ecstasy at will. This is true of shamans, but mostly of advanced more senior ones. Most beginners need an instrument as a “horse” to bring on a state of ecstasy, sometimes known as trance. However, this state of being or state of mind is only the first step in talking to and working with the spirits. Thinking of the shaman as a manipulator and spreader of ecstasy is a good start, but still misses about half of what a shaman can do. Shamans also battle and remove spirits who are causing trouble. Sometimes the presence of the shaman is enough to scare away troublesome spirits, but the stronger spirits will require more work to get rid of.

Sainkho Namtchylak has a nice song called You are the Shaman. What I like about it is it speaks of all peoples’ ability to help heal themselves by taking charge of their own lives. In this case, this illustrates personal spiritual power and relationship very well. Each person has a piece of Tengri (Father Sky) in his or her head, each one has a body made from Itugen (our Mother Earth), and each person has their own access to Khimorii (Windhorse or gas horse, which is power/strength, good luck and blessings). This song lays bare the weakness of the shaman or spirit healer. If the person asking for help is unwilling and not receptive to change, then the treatment will not stick. Each person must take responsibility for his or her own happiness. You must be your own shaman, even if you do not shamanize for others.

What would happen if everyone became a shaman? Is this an ancient part of the early human spirituality? One or some ancient peoples somewhere were the first shaman or shamans. (There is a sacred story about Eagle being the first shaman). Lineages die and new ones are born. Modern times do not destroy the transfer of the gift. If you survive the trial you will become a shaman. If everyone became a shaman, I imagine a few scenarios happening. One– suddenly, which rank of shaman you were would become even more important. It would not be enough to just be in the profession. Some people would still be smug about being higher level. Knowledge by itself is just data. It takes love and ambition to do something with it. Maybe a shaman war would break out, and the more powerful or well connected shamans would kill the other ones off. Two–everyone would be capable of some sort of healing, but some would be better at it than others. Some people would still prefer to have another shaman shamanize for them. Some people would not shamanize as much as others or for others as much. On the other hand, there would be more people to shamanize with, provided everyone could agree on what system to use and be able to cooperate to get things done. Maybe we would spend more time talking about ceremony and who would do what instead of actually shamanizing. Three–(least likely, in my opinion, but fun to dream about)–peace, love, and balance would emerge between all beings through upright living, good deeds, healing others, and all that khimorii. Then, having achieved this harmony, we would probably have some natural disaster wipe most of us out, or some stronger animal would come along with stronger power and enslave or kill us. The spirits still have the last laugh.

Though it can be fun to think of becoming a shaman on your spiritual path, it is not something that everyone eventually will become as a result of spiritual work. This does not mean you cannot have a very meaningful spirituality and evolve spiritually. If you think you might be a shaman, ask the spirits. If they answer back, and keep answering, in your dreams, in the bath, at two o’clock in the morning, when you are cooking dinner, even when you are not in ritual, then there is a good chance you could form a relationship with them and be a shaman.

Posted on 8 November '12 by , under Shaman. 2 Comments.

Sun Mother

This song came to me when we were dancing around the fire at summer solstice (2012). It is fun, happy, and easy to teach to kids. The words are:

Sun Mother

Sun, Sun Mother, Sunshine
Sun, Sun Mother, Sunshine
Sun, Sun Mother, Sunshine
Shine in our lives again

Posted on 1 October '12 by , under Music. 2 Comments.