Frequently Asked Questions
What is Shamanism?
The first question I’m often asked when people see my brochure or hear of my work is “Just what is shamanism?” Of course, I could delve into a lengthy discussion of assorted anthropological definitions and theories on shamanism’s origins. Certainly this would feed people’s minds. But my simplified response is pretty much as follows:
Shamanism is humanity’s first attempt to make sense of the world and their place in it; to come into relationship with their surroundings and the inherent consciousness they sensed in all of Nature, from rocks to plants to insects and animals. It is a way of relating to and communicating with the world, both “seen” and “unseen,” that has been practiced by humans continuously for at least 30,000 years – and some say as long as 100,000 years.
Is Shamanism a Religion?
Shamanism is not a religion. It requires no belief in or adherence to a particular dogma. Shamanism is a practice that relates to all things at the level of Spirit, which in modern times is sometimes referred to as Energy. It is experiential – meaning “feeling is believing.” Don’t believe me – or anyone else, for that matter. Believe your Self.
Shamanism is an ancient spiritual practice occurring in indigenous cultures throughout the world, from the rainforests and mountaintops of South America to the Mongolian and Siberian steppes, from New Zealand, Australia, and Africa to North America and the frigid isolation of the tundra. The word “shaman” is derived from the language of the Tungus reindeer herders of the Lake Baikal region of Siberia and means “one who sees” or “one who knows.”
Historically, the shaman of a tribe was involved in every aspect of life, from birth to death. The physical and spiritual health of the people was the shaman’s responsibility, even down to locating where hunting parties should focus their efforts. Communicating with Spirit through Nature, including animals, plants, and stones, was essential to achieving and maintaining balance, not only individually, but also within the tribal community as a whole, and between the community and its environment.
What Can Shamanism Do For Me?
Shamanism has been adapting to change over tens of thousands of years and is just as relevant to issues faced today as it was to the needs of our ancestors. Whatever age
or culture people belong to, we still experience the pressures of life and living:
- We try to cope with difficult or unexpected failures or losses.
- We often experience conflict between who we truly are and who it seems easier to pretend to be (either to ourselves or to others).
- We struggle with doubts and insecurities, never really understanding why they hold such power over us or why it seems impossible to really let them go.
No matter how technologically advanced we become, our ultimate challenge is to deal gracefully with the art of being human. A shaman can help you remember your connection with Nature and All Life and reclaim your essential self.
Who Are You to Call Yourself a Shaman?
In fact, I do not ordinarily or routinely refer to myself as a shaman. I have been trained and initiated into a variety of shamanic spiritual traditions, yet I always consider myself first and foremost a student of Spirit. Usually, I refer to myself as a shamanic practitioner, as I do utilize what have traditionally been considered to be shamanic skills and techniques.
There is universally a very high measure of respect and honor that comes with calling a person a shaman. Given that it is, in a sense, both a title of honor and reverence and one that designates power, it would be just plain weird and egotistical of me to go around calling myself a shaman.
Indeed, some indigenous cultures take extreme umbrage to anyone outside of their own ethnic heritage referring to themselves as a shaman. I certainly understand the desire to maintain the highest degree of respect and honor in using this term, and can appreciate the resentment that would come from “weekend workshoppers” randomly designating themselves as shamans to anyone who will listen (and especially those who don’t know any better). But the fact remains that, at least in my experience, most shamanic cultures approach those who “answer the call” with outstretched arms and big hearts, not getting bogged down in a particular person’s “right” to call him or herself “shaman.” To these wisdom-keepers, it’s results that count. And results, ultimately, are what shamanism is all about.
Thus, if a person with whom I work or have contact calls me a shaman, and if in their experience I have earned that designation, I am not about to argue with them over it. Ultimately, it is my deepest desire to walk my talk, be of highest service to Mother Earth and her children, and be faithful to the trust and gifts given to me by God/Goddess/All That Is.