Saturday, June 7, 2008

the making of the shaman

In traditional cultures someone generally becomes a shaman in one of two ways. Either they are born into a family of shamans or they are pointed out by traumatic events in their life that open them to communication with sprits. Since there are not many established family lines of shamans here in the modern world, we have to rely on the other primary form of inducing shamanic development. These traumas, which usually but not always, come in early life, can range from physical illness and near death to traumatic abuse and loss. But this is only the beginning. 

I read an article by Jason Godesky entitled Neoshamanism is Masturbation. While he rightly points out that many of those who claim to practice shamanism in our culture are little more than spiritual tourists, he misses some very important points as well. For instance, he reasons that since the traditional shaman works within a community; only serves the members of that community, and does not receive payment for the work that he does, that this means that any person claiming to be a shaman who serves those not in his immediate community or who takes money for his services cannot be a valid shaman. 
His first mistake is not recognizing what parts of the picture refer to the shaman and what parts refer to the culture in which the shaman is working. Obviously, when a shamans working in a traditional culture acts according to the norms of that culture it is appropriate and competent. Just as obviously, if a shaman were to act according to those norms in our culture, it would be both inappropriate and incompetent. 

Within a tribal culture, the needs of the shaman are met by the other members of the tribe in exchange for his or her service to the tribe in the realm of spirits, sickness, stories and whatever else they deem to be appropriate to that role. So there is no need for the shaman to "charge" in that context. He has no rent, no food bill - everything is already taken care of. 

Within our culture, we meet our needs by providing services in exchange for money, which we then exchange for the goods and services we require. These are the norms of our culture, and it is only right and fitting for someone working in this culture to work within these norms. 

Shamanism is not about adopting the norms and practices of other cultures. It is not about cultural appropriation. It is about recognizing our necessary links to ancestors, spirits and the divine and learning to express these connections in meaningful and healing ways. Ultimately, this IS in service to the greater community. 

Going back to the making of the shaman. Once someone has gone through whatever traumatic events have sensitized them to the spirits and given them a taste of altered states, they still are not ready to shamanize. If they are stable enough, they may be qualified to start training. Assuming they can find capable teachers and make it through whatever additional initiations that are required, they may get to the point of providing effective shamanic services to others.

No comments: