Alright, I’m going to be asking for audience participation on this one. I’ve got a few questions about shamanism and the actual day to day effects thereof that I’d like some clarification on, if folks are willing to answer.
First off, I want to make it very clear that I’m not intending disrespect with any of these. There are some things that I’ve heard from people who have practiced shamanism that, quite frankly, I question. And although spirit work isn’t exactly the same, I hear similar things from spirit workers about the effects of their own relationships to the gods and spirits. Over the past half year or so–pretty much since I started heeding the pushing and shoving towards shamanism–I’ve run into more modern shamans and spirit workers who have the attitudes I’m going to discuss, and in the interest of trying to figure out what to expect, I’m asking for clarification on the whys of these perspectives. Additionally, it’s better than sitting here and making assumptions about thigs I haven’t yet experienced.
–Being a shaman will ruin your life.
I know some of this stems from the shaman sickness, the illness that comes of ignoring the call to be a shaman. I can’t say I’ve ever been deathly ill. I occasionally get asthma from acid reflux, but I do that entirely to myself through stress. The most impressive surgery I ever had was having a benign tumor removed from my hip when I was seventeen (it took all of ten minutes, or so I was told). I don’t have any immune disorders, and I outgrew my allergies once I became an adult (and even at their worst they just gave me sinus infections a couple times a year). Mentally, the most I deal with is depression from time to time, and nothing severe enough to warrant drugging myself.
As far as my personal life, it’s pretty good. I’m happily married; we’ve had our differences, to be sure, and there were times we really wondered what the hell we were doing, but we got through every situation and came out the better for it both as individuals and as a couple. I won’t say I’m the absolute bestest friend you’ll ever have in the whole wide world, but I do have a decent social life. I have a good job (though the schedule sucks right now) and I don’t have much trouble finding new contracts. Plus I have a good side career as a small-press author and editor, as well as artist.
So should I expect to lose all of that once I get into the meat of shamanism? Should I count on getting divorced, losing my job, going into debt, and having my health fall to pieces? Or do the trials I’ve been through count towards my total amount of suffering (like the eight month period in 2004 where I got dumped twice, moved three times, totalled my car, went into one of my worse cases of depression, and otherwise had my life explode?) Is it possible to be a shaman and still have a healthy mundane life? Or should I just give up on trying?
–The gods/spirits are bigger than we are, therefore we have to lie down and take whatever they give, whether we consent to it or not.
I see this a lot in classic mythology–the gods can be real bastards. However, this view of the Divine tends to be a minority in modern paganism. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but if the deities are living beings who are aware of the changes in the world, at least to the point that they understand that 21st Century United States culture is not the same as ancient Greece or paleolithic France, would they not also understand that how humans approach deities has changed as well?
My perspective on the Divine is very similar to this, written up by my husband. It’s a more egalitarian perspective, and it more accurately reflects the relationships I’ve had with both deities and spirits/totems over the years. Granted, I also haven’t been a practicing shaman over that time, so that probably affects my perspective.
Now, being involved in BDSM, I’m well aware that, for example, a Master/slave situation is more intense than a scene in a bedroom. However, both/all parties also consent to and want to be in that situation. So it would make sense to get into a similar role of sacrifice and devotion and giving up of free will to a deity–with one’s consent. However, I have to honestly ask, what happens when the deity-devotee relationship becomes abusive? Do we allow gods to do things to us that we would never allow another human being to do, just because they’re bigger? If a person is in a relationship with another person that makes hir miserable, hir friends tell hir to get the hell out. But do we do the same with deities or spirits?
And that leads me to my next topic:
–There’s no way out.
Shamanism has been described as something one MUST do, and if you refuse, the spirits make you sick. This isn’t just in modern shamanism, either, but in traditional shamanic societies worldwide. What if shamanism ruins your life? What if it makes you miserable? What if the deities and spirits leave you destitute in a hole somewhere, cursing the day they ever called you? Are you stuck? Or do we have room to negotiate? Again, in my experience, I’ve always had room to negotiate; however, again, I haven’t been a practicing shaman in that time.
–If you aren’t suffering, you aren’t doing it right.
Just like it says. How can something that a person complains about on a regular basis be worth it? If you aren’t complaining regularly, does it mean that you aren’t listening, or you aren’t really doing true shamanism? Should I look forward to being Our Lady of Intense Suffering?
Again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful; I’m exaggerating a bit, but I do want to know why these beliefs are in place. I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes suspect dogma, but on the other hand the people I’ve met don’t strike me as blind fanatics, either, so I figure there are good reasons for these things. So I’m asking folks, if you will, to kindly fill me in however much you wish, so I have an idea A) of how accurate my perceptions above are, and B) what, realistically, I may or may not want to prepare for.
The thing is, I’ve got two months until I decide whether to continue to pursue this path or not, and whether I want to dedicate myself more fully to the Animal Father. The totems will stay regardless, but the relationship to this particular deity and this path is what’s at stake here.
One of my biggest rules in magic/spirituality/woo/etc. is that it’s all well and good until it starts negatively affecting one’s mundane life–at that point, it’s time to take a step back and look at the situation with a detached eye, especially if it’s negatively affecting someone else. Now I know there are numerous self-professed shamans who have never had a problem, who seem to bask in Universal Love and Light, and while they may face dangers when journeying, their lives are otherwise healthy. Are they less shamanic than those whose lives have gone all to pieces?
What the heck am I getting myself into?
(Thanks in advance for perspectives, even if they end up not being easy to hear.)