More on Being a (White) American Shaman

One of the comments to my last post brought up EXACTLY why I get so frustrated with (white, college-educated, more-or-less middle class) Americans saying they have no culture or that they should abandon what culture they have.

But–YOU CAN’T ABANDON YOUR CULTURE OF ORIGIN ENTIRELY. Not without spending many years completely assimilated into another culture, and even then your experience is always going to be different from that of someone who was raised in that culture by birth. For many American neopagans, the ingrained tendency toward things like independence, valuing intelligence, emphasis on having a great deal of personal choice and preference for having many options to choose from–these things are not going to just go away. The very fact that a person is trying to rebel against the culture of origin states that they feel that they can do so–and that’s a hallmark of that independence that I mentioned. You can’t start over with a blank slate. You just can’t. Your brain is not a slate.

I remember one attempted effort at community building that I was invited to. I sat for a few hours listening to an upper-middle-class white woman with Tibetan flags on the porch of her nicely restored two-story house talk about how disjointed and disconnected everyone in this society was, and how neighbors didn’t help each other any more. She talked about creating a network of people to trade skills, to barter what they had, to automatically help any one person in the group who had a need, regardless of that need.

And it sounded incredibly naive. Here I was, sitting in a group of about twenty people, and the only person I knew at all was my then-husband. How were we supposed to feel okay about offering up our services to strangers we’d never met, when we were raised in a culture that had a lot of mistrust worked into it? Before we could have some utopic vision of collaboration come together, we had to be able to overcome this enculturated mistrust. And yet the first thing we were talking about was what skills were represented. If I recall correctly, we had one person who had a trade–plumbing or electrician, I think–and about eight tarot readers–which spoke to the extreme homogenization of the group that was primarily present. So we ran up against another problem–the tendency to seek out People Like Us, and an inability to communicate with People Not Like Us.

I see people like these trying to do things like artificially create a cohesive community akin to that found in a more communally-based culture, and seeing the efforts collapse. It’s not that they aren’t earnest. It’s that they’re trying to create something that they have little to no direct experience of, and which goes entirely against what they were raised with. Most of us were raised with the concept of nuclear families as the central building block (albeit sometimes blended nuclear families thanks to the divorce rate), but still with that emphasis on the identity as an individual within that group, with strong loyalty toward one’s own interests, sometimes over and above the needs of the group. This runs counter to many communal cultures where you put the group first, and arrange your identity as an individual around that.

My point is not to try to discourage people from improving on our culture. My point is that it’s time to quit denying that we have a culture that we come from, flaws and all. And it’s in our own best interests to play to the strengths of that culture. That doesn’t mean it has to be to the exclusion of learning from other cultures. But in order to get somewhere, you have to understand where you’re coming from and what you have to work with. Cultural elements are not plug-and-play. As I have complained many times about core shamanism (most notably this post), you can’t yank things out of a culture’s shamanism and plug it into your own and expect to get the same results. Shamanisms, like so many other things, are a product of the cultures they come from. Yes, there’s the universal human experience–for example, we have a common theme of a world tree/other vertical axis because we are upright, vertically-oriented visual creatures. But we cannot divorce this extreme macro experience from the less macro contexts of individual cultures (and subcultures).

So let’s look at the strengths of where I come from–middle class, college-educated, liberal white American that I am. Here are values that I have:

–Independence: I keep bringing this up because it is a strength. Because I am independent and was raised with the idea of developing myself strongly as an individual, I was able to create an ideal self to work toward. This included countering some unsavory trends that I found in the small town I did most of my growing up in–racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, etc. My independence allowed me to deny those influences, among others.

–Self-reliance: While negatively this has been used to promote things like the misguided notion of bootstrapping, as with anything it can also be a strength. Self-reliance helped me in things like being self-employed, being experimental in my spiritual path, and being comfortable in being a solitary practitioner.

–Creativity: Ingenuity is a common thread in America. Just because it’s used for things like inventing a bigger, more gas-guzzling SUV or new ways to fuck over American workers doesn’t mean that’s all it’s for. Creativity comes up with everything from inventive protest signs to finding ways to solve the very real social, environmental, medical and other problems we face–as Einstein himself said, “”You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it”.

–Social justice: Yes, there’s a lot of injustice in this culture. But there are still many Americans who are dedicated to justice for all, including social justice. In my work in my internship, I am working with women straight out of prison who are recovering from severe addictions, and who have a high risk of reoffense. In my time here, I have learned a lot more about the efforts that are being made across the board to help “throwaway populations”, the ones that more privileged people want to pretend aren’t there, or are beyond help, just so they don’t have to put forth the work to help someone else. Just because these efforts don’t make exciting headlines doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

–Industry: That Protestant work ethic can come in handy, especially if tempered with other practices to keep it from turning into workaholicism. It’s part of what helps us actually get shit done. Surely American neoshamans can find some use for this trait?

–Opportunity: While some Americans are more stingy about it than others, we still have the core value of opportunity for all. What it takes for someone to have an opportunity extended to them, and to have the ability to actually take advantage of it, is variable from person to person and depends on a lot of factors. However, culturally we value finding and making the most of opportunities.

Things like strip malls, dishonest politicians, and massive SUVS–these are surface symptoms. It’s what they’re symptomatic of that’s really important. The values above are tools. Any of these can be used constructively or destructively, sometimes even in the same action or by the same person.

Like it or not, the values and ideals that you are exposed to for a large portion of your life do leave a mark on you that, for all intents and purposes, is indelible. You can add to your experiences and viewpoints, but there will always be at least a shadow of where you’ve been before. You can consciously claim to reject your culture, though in actuality you’re probably only rejecting certain elements of it. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to have tabula rasa, or that you’ll be able to acquire a new culture in the same way as someone raised in it. Nor can you create a new culture entirely unmarked by your past, or the pasts of anyone else involved in cutting and shaping whole cloth.

We need to own that fact. Instead of trying to claim we’re part of a cultural wasteland, I feel it is vital to embrace the strengths of the culture we do have. Disillusionment just creates illusions of its own. And those illusions can get in the way of actual progress in working against the very things we reject.

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18 thoughts on “More on Being a (White) American Shaman

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you that “you can’t yank things out of a culture’s shamanism and plug it into your own and expect to get the same results”. In order to be an effective shaman at all I have to work with the cultural framework around me, and part of that is acknowledging the culture I live in is individualistic not collectivist. To do otherwise is to miss the point of being a shaman: your serve your community. You deny that individuality is the dominant force in this society, and you may possibly deny any healing or other benefit to your client, community, or yourself. Collectivist ways of shamanism may simply not work for people in this one.

    • “You deny that individuality is the dominant force in this society, and you may possibly deny any healing or other benefit to your client, community, or yourself.”

      Yes, this, very much so. We cannot force people to be something other than what they are, and we need to meet them *where* they are. For example, most of my counseling clients wouldn’t grok the whole “shamanism” thing as anything more than devil worship or insanity–not out of any persecutory sense, simply just out of conditioning. This is why I’m getting that degree in counseling, because “counselor” or “therapist” is a role with many similarities, but which meshes with more people in this culture.

  2. What awesome posts Lupa! I, too, feel like there was a reason for us to not hang onto our collective ancestors’ cultures. For Americans, many of us have bloodlines of Native Americans as well as European Ancestors, and some of us even have more genetic ethnicity! Yes, with political and religious manipulation, we have lost much – but maybe our job is to not take for granted the connection with the Spiritual. Maybe we created an experience so we would work for it and value it! Maybe some things about the ancient cultures had to go by the wayside in order for this to happen. Too often though, the void gets filled with crap before we arrive at that spiritual place – the mundane materialism many on a spiritual path so loathe. I do not loathe prosperity and abundance IF it is aligned with spirituality – but often it is separated and it makes people think they must choose between one or the other and can never have both (this is also conditioning I believe).

    I, too, utterly marvel at people’s saying they wish for independence when their actions show quite the opposite. It is the whole “I want to be DIFFERENT,” but yet belong to the “club” that is different, not to do it on their own. Again, it is tribal behavior happening all over again. So perhaps most people need this belonging, this “labeling” or knowing where they stand in the tribe, even if it is “the weird ones” – no one wants to outright leave the tribe because that is too scary. The ridicule that often escalates to hostility is too much for most to handle. But once it is traversed, these same people that are outcasts can then become reverered. Crazy!

    And yet, as you mentioned, pagan-type intentional communities fail miserably, and I believe this is for a few reasons. I recently witnessed folks here in the same geographical area unite with the purpose of aligned political views (more or less, but the main part is freedom and liberty to be restored to our country), and many of these people were hardcore fundamental Christians, making many people think that the alignment was both. Obviously we didn’t align with the second portion at all (even if we were assumed to many times) but I have to give them credit for figuring out EVERYTHING. Not only did they have plenty of people who were willing to actually give and not just take – the skill sets offered were well-reputed, well-rounded and necessary. Our contribution of hubby’s computer and mechanical skills (and tools) and my training in herbalism and foraging and even energetic healing was viewed as a valuable contribution. Others did solar power, organic gardening, bulk supplies of firewood, sustainable home-building, beekeeping, homeopathy, water treatment people, you name it. Every 2 weeks on a Saturday the head organizer had classes hosted by 3 or 4 of the categories so everyone could indeed be self-reliant, as well as know resources to consult. While I didn’t like the fear-based bias of the preparation stuff, I think preparation is important regardless of the times. And getting off-the-grid is admirable indeed for all. Pagan types could learn so much from this!

    I think I will stop here Lupa! 😉 Thanks for making all of us think – again!

    • “I do not loathe prosperity and abundance IF it is aligned with spirituality – but often it is separated and it makes people think they must choose between one or the other and can never have both (this is also conditioning I believe).”

      There are so many dualities out there, the whole either/or way of thinking. I prefer the dialectical approach of both/and. It’s more flexible, allows for grey areas, and is inclusive rather than exclusive.

      As to the “pagan commune” ideal bandied about so much, people need to have more than just religion to bind them together. Your example shows more practicality than most of what I’ve seen, and it must have been a tremendous amount of work on the parts of everyone involved to make that happen.

  3. One thought which has crossed my mind on a few occasions: one of our cultural strengths IS cultural appropriation. Consider our cherished American myth of the “melting pot,” wherein people of all cultures come together to become something which is as American as apple pie – and pizza, St. Patrick’s Day parades, and Dominican baseball players. We’ve been picking and choosing interesting things from various cultures for as long as we have been an immigrant society. (Admittedly, this has not been without its controversies, excesses, and detractors).

    I think we need to examine and point out smug, self-righteous commodification of indigenous religions and respect boundaries when they are put up by native peoples. Calling yourself a “Lakota medicine man” because you attended an expensive seminar by some non-native who has little or no connection to the people is disrespectful and should receive all the scorn it deserves. But I would also note that cultural appropriation has been going on since the Romans imported Persian, Levantine, Greek and other gods into their city and their religious practices – and probably well before that.

    • And you bring up the degrees to which borrowing/appropriation/etc. occur, as well as the spirit in which it is done. Part of why I think it’s great for us to be continuing this discourse is to allow people to make informed decisions. One of the things that marks harmful appropriation is ignorance of impact and, as you mentioned, “smug, self-righteous commodification”. For a group of people who claim to be all about self-examination and enlightenment, paganism can often be full of willful ignorance and obstinance.

      OTOH, as you said, diversity is a huge strength here. Just look at food, for example–in all but the tiniest places you can get food from all over the world, and only the most closed-minded people see this as a problem. Sadly, the cosmopolitan attitude toward food doesn’t carry over into all cultural elements, but it’s a good start, IMO. Hence why international food tastings are such a great intro!

    • On the cultural appropriation issue in terms of Roman religion: it’s an interesting point, Kenaz, and yet perhaps not quite “cultural appropriation” in the same sense that we understand it.

      When the Romans performed evocatio on a deity of their enemies, they didn’t honor the deity in the way their enemies did, or adopt their cultural practices, they just gave them “divine citizenship,” as it were, in their own religious framework. They didn’t claim to be anything other than Romans honoring foreign deities in the way Romans were accustomed to honor any/every deity. While that may be similar to how some Wiccans, for example, approach whatever deity they might decide to approach, from whatever culture they feel, I don’t think it’s quite the same thing as “stealing,” which is what is often suggested in the negative accusations of cultural appropriation.

      It may be a fine distinction, but it is interesting…It may, for example, suggest that it is more honest to honor deities from other cultures in one’s own culture’s manner rather than attempting to learn another culture and adopt its ways, language, etc. There are ways this can be done in both positive and negative manners. Hmm…

      • Huh. An interesting distinction indeed. I’ve been a little bit aware of ancient Roman syncreticism as a system of tolerance for anything that didn’t upset the governmental religion (to my understanding, anyway) but I haven’t nearly the detailed background in that than you do.

        “It may, for example, suggest that it is more honest to honor deities from other cultures in one’s own culture’s manner rather than attempting to learn another culture and adopt its ways, language, etc.”

        Hmmm. Definitely food for thought, especially in context of this post. I have always worked with the totems in my own way, based on my personal interactions with them, as opposed to any sort of indigenous practices, and that;s what’s worked best. Granted, animals are more delineated along geographic than cultural lines, but given that I’ve worked with all sorts of totems, to include some that no longer have physical counterparts here, I’d like to think that I’ve found success in this endeavor.

  4. I entirely agree without your statement about trying to start from a “clean slate” culturally and that there are indeed (at least some) positive aspects to our postindustrial American culture.

    I was wondering though if perhaps you could cite some more specific examples of how our culture can be acknowledged and effectively incorporated into a contemporary shamanic practice.

    The issue I find is that the cosmology of white American culture is primarily Christian-based and not generally inclined towards animism and pantheism, perspectives which I think are fairly essential to shamanism.

    • Hmm. Well, being a counselor is one way that I am incorporating the shaman’s role into my everyday life. It’s not exactly the same, but there are some similar skills, and the role of the counselor is more acceptable in this culture than that of “shaman”, for the most part. I need to sit down and write a post about specifics, actually–thank you for the prompt!

      I’m not entirely sure I see Christianity as the primary cosmology in this culture. While there are a lot of people who are ignorant of science, I do feel that scientific research in things like astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry, etc. are all important parts of our cultural mythology, even if they’re more taken for granted because they’re so incorporated into everyday life. Computers, antibiotics, cars, satellites–these are just as important to our cosmology, if not moreso because they are effective regardless of one’s religious preferences or mythological interests.

      For me, science is at the basis of my cosmology. Everything comes from direct observation of the world around me. Granted, things like folklore are extrapolations made by other people over the years, but they’re still based on people experiencing the world. Science is just a very focused and structured way to observe. While I have many subjective layers of experience that inform my personal cosmology, it all begins with knowing things like the law of gravity and why it works, how ecosystems are put together, and so forth.

  5. Great post! I’ve often thought along similar, but different lines. I would definitely agree that N. Americans are educated to believe that whiteness is a “neutral” cultural standard/centre that defines normality. This is perhaps why white people who don’t fit into this vision of normality become discriminated in their own way, almost as if they are a separate race e.g. “white trash.”

    To parallel that, I’ve come to dislike the use of the word “ethnic.” “Ethnic” carries connotations of being uncivilized, un-modern, un-white, as if traditional aspects of cultures (or even entire groups of people) are something of the past. I also find its usage often supports a false dichotomy between white = modern/normal and ethnic = traditional/marginal, making invisible the fact that many “ethnic” people bear markers of white privilege such as a western education or having modern, individualistic values while hiding non-normative sub-cultures or traditional aspects of white N. American culture.

    • It’s interesting how “whiteness” even came to be. 100 years ago “white” groups such as the Irish were still discriminated against by more English-background folks. However, the concept of being “white” became stronger as the presence of post-slavery African-Americans increased in society and some people began to see that as more of a threat. So it stopped being so much about the country of origin, and more about color of skin. (Which is FAIL either way.)

      Yeah, I agree with you on “ethnic”. It’s gotten this connotation over time that is antithetical to what it was originally supposed to be, ideally. It’s almost become synonymous with “exotic”–still supporting that concept of Otherness.

  6. I think I have a slightly different definition of culture – to me a culture is a distinctive worldview (way of thinking; set of values) and way of life (the way that worldview is expressed in the physical world). So, by your definition of culture, when you say: “Yes, there’s a lot of injustice in this culture. But there are still many Americans who are dedicated to justice for all, including social justice.”, you are defining social justice as a cultural trait. But to me, the fact that a certain segment of the population believes in social justice does NOT make it a cultural trait. Instead I see that as people trying to change the culture to make it more socially just – which just illustrates how the culture LACKS social justice.

    I think a lot of the traits you described are aspects of human nature, rather than characteristics of this (or any) particular culture. Some cultures express those more, or less, and those are cultural differences. But people are going to express those traits regardless of the influence of culture, because those traits are part and parcel of what makes us human. So, for example, just because some people in a culture show empathy towards others (a universal human trait), doesn’t automatically mean that empathy is a core value of the culture they are a part of.

    Personally, I think it is clear that the worldview of this culture is based on domination (power-over), and enculturates its members to suppress their feelings and empathy for others as a result [Arno Gruen clearly describes this in his excellent books The Insanity of Normality and The Betrayal of the Self).

    I don’t have any intention of “denying that we have a culture that we come from”, nor have I ever believed that I can somehow erase the influence of that culture to “start over with a blank slate”. But I have dedicated myself to the lifelong process of undoing the enculturation that I have experienced growing up in this culture, because as cultures go, I think western civilization is sick. The indigenous people of this land had a name for it – wetiko, meaning: white man’s insanity. Personally, I don’t want to be insane, so that is why I have chosen to work towards developing a different worldview from the culture I came from.

  7. The thing is, though, that the dominant cultural paradigm isn’t the *only* cultural paradigm. I also feel that the media shows a highly distorted image of what American culture is *supposed* to be, versus what it actually is. I agree with you that there are a lot of elements of power-over, for example, in the dominant discourse, and in my degree work I’m seeing a lot of what you speak of with regards to emotional repression and sublimation. Where I disagree with you is the idea that these are defining traits of this culture, while the things I listed as strengths of it are more universal. It is clear that mainstream America tends toward being individual vs. collectivist, and our modern myths show that pretty well. This tendency to inwardly draw one’s focus can be misused to create discriminatory divisions, but can also be used to buck the system when embroiled in an unjust setting.

    For that matter, the tendency to discriminate can also be seen as human nature–animals in general have to determine very quickly whether another individual is a threat or not, and animal groups display loyalty to varying degrees–humans have just taken it to a much more complex level of subtle nuances. Same thing goes for power-over. Competition is a common human trait with the drive for resources at its very base, and again we display it in unique manners.

    If you do not agree with me on what white culture is, then what do you see white culture as, if I may ask?

    • Taking the definition of culture as a particular worldview & way of life (way of thinking about and acting in the world), I would define “white culture” as western civilization. The forward to the wonderful book Original Wisdom (by Robert Wolff) describes what I consider to be the historical origin of modern white culture:

      “…those of us with European…roots have ancestors who lived as indigenous, tribal people for the vast majority of the history of the human race. Yet nobody in Europe today remembers the Old Ways [my edit – referring to our animistic, hunter-gatherer ancestors, not our theistic, farming ancestors that came later], the sacred places and plants, the meanings of the stones and markings and holy groves. It was all wiped out in a massive holocaust led first by the Celts, then the Romans, and then the Catholic Church. And that great forgetting was then carried to five other continents by zealous missionaries, the first wedge of empire and theft, and brutally enforced by armies and trading companies for five centuries.”

      Western civilization (“white” culture, even if many who are part of it aren’t white) now dominates the world, and therein lies what I consider to be its defining cultural characteristic – imperialism / expansionism / global exploitation of resources to support an increasingly complex, urban way of life. For the most clear and comprehensive analysis of the origins and characteristics of western civilization (in my experience), I recommend Derrick Jensen’s book Endgame.

      Within white culture there are many national, regional, and local cultural differences, since it now spans much of the globe – but as a whole it is larger than any of those. To me, examining these national/regional differences and defining the overarching characteristics of western civilization in general are two different discussions.

  8. I don’t know how you can call the American overculture ‘white culture’. And I really don’t actually know what white culture really could be–Aryan compounds in Idaho? Green Jello? Donuts? At any rate huge amounts of us US citizens with ‘white skins’ (and resultant privilege) find that US overculture strange, and foreign. Really this is such a multi-cultural nation, except is some remote locations to say nothing of the mosaics of sub-cultures and deep deep regional differences. No race owns the overculture , to the extent there has been a melting pot in US history it’s a mix of a lot of influences, especially European and African intermeshing. No race owns strip malls–or the pursuit of happiness, so I think it’s inaccurate to label this as ‘white’.

    I agree everybody has culture, but people can be bicultural, or even polycultural. Those who claim America does not have a culture do have point, though, as much of what passes for this dominant culture is manufactured by corporations, and bears very little resemblance to the culture that existed in the US in the early years of today’s elderly generation. People enculturate to different cultures, and for some spiritual paths have involved long years of deculturation from birth cultures. As a polytheist who is an Irish/British American and whose primary sacred focus is Celtic recon, my journey certainly has moved away from the overculture’s atomistic individualism, and toward values like generosity and sometimes putting myself second to family members’ needs–in distinction to US celebration of selfishness and Me First.
    Independence at an extreme is the way of the cancer cell.

    • A lot of it is simply a lack of a better term to explain that the people with privilege–who are most often in this culture white–have the most influence on the overculture, or at least portrayals of it. In fact, the continuity of privilege is a factor in that influence. I’m attempting to speak of where the power imbalance currently resides; if you have a better suggestion, I would appreciate it.

  9. You know, I have a few thoughts of my own on this subject of “white culture” and how it is, that it is so easily dismissed as “non-existent” by so many.
    I was astonished and shocked when I listened to an interview with the “president” of an “anti-discrimination”-type group (left nameless for a reason) on one of my local radio channels years ago. He stated that, “white Americans have no culture and no spirituality”. I was so shocked to hear this kind of a statement, made so boldly and so unabashedly-public, as if it was to be taken as the truth and nothing else, because it came from the “president” of this politically-active group!
    I wanted so badly to call up and speak my mind to this individual that I was literally seething at just the very thought of dismissing everything about “white-America”, with the most broadest stroke of a brush, and yet have no qualms about stating it in answer to a previous caller’s question. Unfortunately, we are all still paying the price, again and again, for this continuing travesty, lack of insight, and lack of respect for one another – all on the basis of skin tone and with whom we associate. It is a very easily ridden bandwagon, due to how little is required of its adherents.
    Another bang that had me reeling, was when I was talking with whom I thought was a dear friend – when he stated that the “white-man’s religion” (understood to be “Christianity”) was what was responsible for destroying so much in this world. I turned to him and told him that this “white-man’s religion” he was keen on mentioning, was not originally belonging to or created by the white man. It was forced upon him (his ancient European ancestors) by foreign conquerors who were about spreading their empire. (Think: The Roman conquests, the Vatican-initiated “wars” such as the Inquisition, for starters.) The early European cultures were mostly agrarian and/or hunter-gatherers. They knew of the importance of taking good care of the land and being thankful for all they had. When we look at the Sabbats in their more historically-accurate contexts, we see them more as celebrations of the times of year, and their connection to the cycles in our lives. These were people whose very survival depended on the continued productivity of the land, and being thankful for those times of bounty and plenty. My favorite would have to be Samhain, because it is about paying our respects to our ancestors, and remembering the lessons we hopefully have learned in the past years. It is a time of reflection and introspection. It is a time to pass away from the old and out-dated ideals that served not, but to begin considering the new possibilities for the up-coming year.
    Now please do not misunderstand me when I mentioned “Christianity” as one of those religions being held to blame for the messes we are constantly reaping the whirlwinds thereof. The blame lies squarely upon those who USED it as a convenient excuse, and those of the followers who followed without question or second thought. Politics and control started with many of the earlier “established churches” where the few in power dictated to the masses. This was by their design. However, this and the other “Abrahamic religions” were more of the “new kids on the block”, so to speak. It was also in these particular times that warfare and conquests went hand-in-hand with the dictates of those who controlled the establishmentarian religions.
    Now, the other “bang” on the head that really had me upset of late, was when I was with a group a few years ago. They had a guest speaker in for that day, where he was from one of the local tribes. I thought he was a very insightful man and shared some very interesting things about his people’s beliefs. I believe he was considered a “medicine man”, of whom I hold high regards for. What had me questioning his “credibility” as a medicine man, was when he responded, rather disdainfully, to a question that was posed to him about being a Shaman. His response was, “Shaman is a WHITE MAN’s term”. Okay. So what? Was this to say that was no such thing as a white shaman, or that white folks were incapable of practicing the spiritual art all the same? I’m sorry but, to my understanding, the term “shaman” supposedly came from the Siberian Tuvan peoples’ term “saman” for their medicinal healers. I have had a strong interest in some of the Tuvan’s practices and beliefs for some time because some of them still practice some portion of their “old ways”. At least what of their practices managed to survive the Communist purges during the Soviet Era.
    I guess I have a very harsh view of those who say they are so “spiritual”, yet they so easily resort to the common, politically-correct retorts against whom I consider my people. They so easily discount and dismiss any possibility that “my people” once had a belief system very similar to theirs. I have much trouble finding very much about the “ancient ways” that has not been polluted with much of the modernistic ideals of the new age thinking. It is really sad that so little of the original teachings of those ancient ways survives intact, and in its not-so-adulterated form. There again, it is up to us to rediscover those ways by communing with the spirits of Nature, as our ancient ancestors once did, and learn from what would be the best teacher that exists. Anyone could do so if he/she was serious about intent and willing to put aside all of the artificiality that the modern “culture” has tried to ingrain in all of us.
    As to the “credibility” factor and how many pieces of paper one has to his/her name, how much money one has to spend on expensive and rather questionable “classes”, and whether the “establishment” or one of its partner agencies endorses or supports that one has “been through the right schooling” or through the approved (accredited) education system for his/her training – I will always be questioning this position. Some things in life can simply not be taught in schools, classes, apprenticeships. They must be learned by actual experience. Life is an opportunity to gain that necessary experience, and the opportunities to gain wisdom FROM that experience. So, I definitely hear the gripes about expensive classes and so forth when it comes to venerating the “graduate practitioners”. I would rather be taught by one who has actually lived these lessons, and lives by the basis of the wisdom he/she has learned from life’s experiences.
    Most of all, Nature and its attendant spirits can be the best teachers when no other means are available. Mankind has had to start somewhere. This is how many of us “solos” have ended up practicing solo, after being burned repeatedly by many of these so-called “spiritual groups”. I have looked into a shamanism group for a while. I have also exchanged emails with a couple of members who were “certified shaman teachers” who are maybe within about 350 miles of me. (No one else seems to be any closer.) All I see is how much money the want for me to attend any of their “workshops”. I’m sorry, but I am not made of money. I am rather poor and physically disabled to the point that I am unhireable by most accounts. So there you go!
    Maybe I am being a little nit-picky, but I have some concerns and reservations about the term “neo-shamanism”. It seems there are a lot of “neo-isms” these days. It makes me wonder if there really is any effort to try and rediscover the lost arts of the old ways. There again, maybe I’m just being a fool here! After seeing a lot of this “neo-paganism” in action, I have to wonder, “Are there any genuine pagans left?” Most of these neo-pagans could not even name five wild plants that grow natively here, and tell me what they can be used for, and how they are functional in their natural environment. (A young gentleman on WitchVox did a very good job of an article examining this problem too! – My hat’s off to him for daring to ripple some waves with the unspoken truth!)
    So I hope this reply gets some consideration on the merits of calling things as I have seen them. I intend no insult, nor any hurt feelings to be take as personal or otherwise. Sometimes it takes for one to stand up and risk being hated, for simply speaking about what he sees as compared to what he hears. A truly righteous one would have no problems calling into question his/her held beliefs, and what he/she holds as “true” when there is the possibility that maybe we, together, have missed a detail or two. Life is about reexamining ourselves, over and over, to make sure we are truly confident in our held beliefs and that our beliefs are genuine, not contrived and then “taught” by someone else. This is what the biggest headache of mine about the modern “church” has been; “Believe because it is written”. Whenever I asked the “tough” question(s), I was scolded and demeaned as a “disobedient child” – even by my Sunday school teachers – in front of everyone else. So much for that love that was supposed to be the center ideal in all of their teachings! However, I can not hold the blame on the church, without first holding upon those who continue the teachings of a doctrine that demands strict obedience and “believe by faith” as their core lesson.
    I DO believe in the proverb, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” This proverb has been around long before the first of the “revealed religions” made their appearance. It is still true today, and how many of those who bear bitter-fruit one can run into. Remember Aesop’s Fables? Each and every one of those stories had a moral, a lesson. Now, try to find any of those fables on sale in your local bookstore. Seems they have been relegated to the “forbidden books” category. I wonder why?!? Maybe, if we could reexamine these ancient tales, we may find that such wisdom was with us all along, we just have forgotten most of it. There again, shamanism holds these wisdoms as vital and necessary for a good, balanced life also. Nearly every culture that still practices shamanic medicine and such, know these wisdoms in one expression or another. It does not matter what skin-color, nationality, ethnicity, or whatever divisions-of-people one may consider. These ancient nuggets of wisdom were at least once well-known and widely practiced in everyday life.

    – Dragon’s Eye

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