Ugh. This grad school thing is quite possibly one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever taken on. I spent last Friday through Monday spending every day, all day, at school, getting my brain stuffed full of information. Not that this is horrible, of course, but other events have left me with little time to process all of it.
Saturday and Sunday were all ecopsychology. I got a LOT out of the two days, both theoretical and experiential. I’m already finding ways to weave it into my shamanic stuff as well, and in fact was able to work some of the material into my 21st Century Animism workshop at esoZone on Saturday night. I haven’t been doing much in the way of journeying and other formalities this month, since school has taken precedence. However, part of the reason I’m in grad school in the first place is to help integrate my spiritual/magical life in with the rest. The role of therapist is about the closest this culture has to a shamanic figure, and so it fits in neatly with everything else in my path. That being said, I’m not going to stop journeying entirely; however, I’m not going to kick myself too much for going a few weeks without when I’m occupied with activities that also contribute to my work with spirits. (The spirits themselves haven’t complained, either, FTR.)
As for expectations…I was thinking a couple of weeks ago about the motif of dismemberment and rebirth in shamanic practice. This is something that neoshamanisms have really latched on to; some people swear up and down that you cannot be a True Shaman (TM) unless you have gone through this experience–never mind that there are traditional shamanisms that lack this experience, or even any ordeal whatsoever.
I’ve seen this motif pop up in neoshamanic literature to the point where it’s become almost a cliche’. Often it’s used as part of guided meditations (not journeys), which are carefully scripted and there’s not a lot of room for individual experience outside of the script. I’ve even had it happen to me in things that clearly weren’t Major Initiation Rituals wherein my life was changed forever and I became a Real Live Shaman. Nor did I spend days and days recovering from the experience, and I’m guessing that most neoshamanic writers aren’t going to lead people through things that can potentially leave them insane and/or otherwise fucked up long-term.
So is this merely a watering-down of yet another traditional shamanic experience brought on by softer living? Or is it because this is one of the motifs that shows up commonly in anthropological literature about traditional shamanism, and therefore since the experts say it’s so, we come to expect it as part and parcel of any shamanic experience? Do we just expect that if we go through the right paces, say the right things, do the right rituals and read the right books, that we’ll someday find ourselves being eaten by bears, down to our bones, only to be recreated into an authentic being?
I have to wonder, too, about other patterns that neoshamans often expect to be there. Take journeying, for example. This is par for the course for Siberian and other shamanisms. However, it’s not universal. Korean shamans, for example, are more prone to channeling than flight, taking in rather than going out. And the same could be said for “sucking shamanism”, healing through the removal of illnesses by literally sucking them out of the patient’s body; or drumming; or the Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds attached by a World Tree; or shamanic sickness; and so forth.
Do we experience these things because they are objectively and near-universally shamanic? Or do we experience them because we expect to, because that’s what other people have experienced and we want to be like them? How much do we, even subconsciously, let our expectations control what we experience?
Food for thought…