Shamans and Native Americans

A while back I chanced upon the following blog post. In  addition to an introductory essay, the writer went on to post articles by several notable writers. The title of the piece was , “WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS: The Case Against “Shamans” In North American Indigenous Cultures.”

The writer of the blog, “The Wanderling”, says, in part, “My Uncle was well accepted by most spiritual members of the indigenous people of the desert southwest he interacted with as a person at one with the Earth. He was married to a Native American of the Little Shell Plains Ojibwe who was a fourth level Midewiwin medicine woman that was held in awe by most that came within her presence. He himself moved with an almost cloak-like and uncanny nearly invisible ability, passing among people and places without disturbing the environment. Some say he was a Cloud Shaman and it may very well be the case. However, for the most part, he felt it was an impropriety to usurp for ones own gain or any other reason the traditional spiritual realms of others. Plain speaking, from a very young age I was, by example, both shown and taught by my father and uncle two very basic concepts: “When walking in the woods, never leave tracks,” and “when you depart from a campground, always leave it better than you found it.” Both concepts, although worded specifically in context, were meant to be expanded to the world and ones life as a whole, the philosophy meshing perfectly in my later teen years when I began study practice of Zen under the auspices of my Mentor.

It should be brought to the attention of those who may have an interest as well, that the word Shaman is meant to mean in the English language, by definition, that a Shaman so identified, understands that ALL things have a spirit, which in turn would imply within that definition, that each of our words and thoughts are thus endowed. As I have treated the words of the authors below appropriately, so too, it is hoped the spirits of my words are granted an equal treatment. I bow in deference….”

via WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS: The Case Against “Shamans” In North American Indigenous Cultures.

It is very difficult to know whether “shamanism” was traditionally practiced by First Nations peoples in what is now the United States. Certainly, the word “shaman” has  been used by social scientists to cover a vast array of cultural practices. Practically, many of my teachers identify themselves as participating in shamanic lineages. This may be, in part, a result of cultural disbursement and interaction; most of my teachers learned from healers from other cultures, as well as from their own. (There is much evidence to suggest that cross-cultural contacts were the norm well before first contact with Europeans.) It is also worth noting that genocide has created enormous cultural disruptions, and made generalizations about past cultural practices suspect.

The contemporary term “shaman” has lost specificity. We can only understand healers’ conceptions of themselves and their worlds within specific cultural contexts. I also agree that it is simply unacceptable to usurp culturally specific ways of practicing healing, and to sell that information in the global marketplace; such practices contribute to cultural genocide.  At the same time, there is much information about healing practices that is not culturally specific, or that has been transmitted between practitioners of various cultures. We healers of many traditions are now  working to simultaneously protect indigenous cultures and disseminate tools for addressing the crises facing our peoples and planet. There is great need to do both.

4 thoughts on “Shamans and Native Americans

  1. “We healers of many traditions are now working to simultaneously protect indigenous cultures and disseminate tools for addressing the crises facing our peoples and planet. There is great need to do both.”

    Couldn’t have said it clearer.

    While my own healing path stems from the line of teaching commonly referred to as Core Shamanism, and while some consider that practice culturally bankrupt due to its decontextualizing the very methods it teaches, it seems a natural fit for the crazy-quilt fabric of the society in which we Americans find ourselves today. With no real cultural identy to call our own, we seek to embrace the heritage of our roots while expressing this heritage in a way that is truly unique – a paradox indeed.

    Core shamanism offers one the opportunity to take very defined practices and weave them into the fabric of this culture. In doing so, at least in my own experiences, one brings to Western life a modicum of spirituality that is often sorely missed. In this way, one opens the doorway to healing one’s self, one’s society and, by implication, the world herself…

    1. Core Shamanism remains, for me, a conundrum. There are many wonderful practitioners, including First Nations peoples who have lost our own traditions, who were trained by Michael and others in Core Shamanism. At the same time, there are quite a few folks out there who do not seem to understand the traditional roles and responsibilities implied in the term “shaman”. There’s a reason many First Nations people run away from the role as quickly and far as possible.

      I have looked in on your blog periodically. How goes your journey?

      1. Understandably so. The coffeetable shamanism crowd fails to realize that there are things out there that can really do a number on you if not approached with respect. For most people, some stones are better left unturned.

        Thanks for asking – the journey goes very well. Things are coming at a faster pace, but the support is always there. I very often find myself acting and speaking from a place beyond consciousness. It’s definitely a strange and wonderful trip.

        How are things with you?

      2. Ben,

        I am glad you are well.

        We are recovering from vacation and a visit from my daughter and grandson. We had much fun!

        Vermont is lovely in the summer; this year things are amazingly green and rich. We are indeed grateful for Nature. Here, as everywhere, the pace of things keeps accelerating. We resist that which seems to obscure Spirit, and welcome that which heals. It is not always easy to know which is which.


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