What is a shaman anyway? Do you have to be of indigenous heritage, and born into being shaman? Is there such a thing as a modern version of a shaman?
A shaman, by standard definition, is a "walker between the worlds," an intermediary between the world of spirit and the world of matter. The use of altered or meditative states in order to travel to the spirit world is a key component of shamanic practice. Shamans typically use their journeys with intention of healing and promoting wholeness. The term was first spread in the 1600's after encounters with the Siberian Tungus tribe, yet it does not necessarily equate with one particular tribe: shamans are found the world over.
Respectfully, I can understand the upset of some indigenous peoples with the fact that in modern times, many shamans are "self appointed" rather than "born into." Sadly, since so many tribal cultures were decimated by modern influences, "born into" might preclude being born into a particular tribal culture. So a modern shaman is both "born into" by virtue of possessing spiritual gifts, and also "made into" by specific training.
I first heard the term shaman when I met one of my first spiritual teachers. A man of Liberian descent, I literally bumped into his tall and large parka-covered body as I picked my way across the icy sidewalks of Chicago in the Winter of 1981. After crashing into him, and while trying to apologize, he looked down at me, eyes shining, and exclaimed "Oh! How good to see you shaman girl!" Confusion ensued on my part, and I wondered what in the world he meant by that. Had we met? And what was a "shaman girl?" He suggested he knew I was a "shaman" by virtue of my "sight." Smiling at me, he said, "You see colors, right? Well I do too, and I will teach you what I know. I'll come find you sometime," and strode off leaving me startled and baffled by just what he meant by that. Yet, I was also intrigued--he'll come find me? Indeed he did. For two years, "Joe," as I came to call him, would find me on a bus, a street corner, in a cafe, a bar, on a park-bench--heck he'd find me all over Chicago, and always when I had about an hour or two to spare. During those spare hours he taught me energy healing techniques, how to use prayer, and helped me manage my aura sight. What an amazing, magical time! I still use what Joe taught me almost every day.
Subsequent to my training with Joe, I've been privileged to have shamans from around the world stroll into my life, teach me what I needed to learn, and stroll out. Over the course of 32 years of shamanic training and experience, I'd discovered that there were many common elements to the teachings, including the use of intentional prayer, respect for the wisdom of Nature and natural forces, utilizing percussive sounds such as rattles and drums to bring about altered states, and much more .
For me, the modern shaman is one who is willing to access consciousness as a force for good. Which brings me to answer another question I get asked quite often: Does one have to give up one's belief system or religion in order to practice shamanism? In a word, no. World-wide, religious beliefs, as well as scientific beliefs integrate quite well with a shamanic practice. Here's why: Ultimately, shamanism is about viewing consciousness as the basis of all life. It is a belief in unity--that spirit and matter inhabit the same universe, and are forever inextricably linked.
Whether I am leading a drum circle or healing ceremony, or clearing out discordant vibes via "smudging," or lighting a candle and offering up prayers on behalf of persons in need, or working with guidance from my animal totems or spirit guides, or even while in a counseling or an aura portrait session, I am grateful that I've been exposed to such beneficent teachings. My desire to share what I've learned comes from my knowing these teachings have practical applications in everyday life.
Coming up are 2 all day experiential classes: Modern Shaman - A Journey to Your Self will be offered in Anacortes, WA on May 11, and Bowen Island, British Columbia, June 1. See my activities page for details. Space is quite limited for these classes so that I can create a space to safely guide you through the journeys. Check them out, then check inside, and see if this resonates with you. As well, if you are ever in the Anacortes WA area, I offer 2 drum groups a month: on the New moon and Full moon. You are always welcome to these vibrant community events!
blessing your life journey,