A Forest Door posted a very thoughtful piece yesterday. In this excerpt he discusses some of the conundrums facing those who practice shamanic techniques in post-industrial societies: “I am very much a spirit-worker, and it’s similar, but not the same. I wouldn’t even call myself a shamanist. I say this because: (a) I don’t work for a human community; (b) I do not specialize in healing of any sort; and (c) while I do a lot of trancework and altered states of consciousness, I do not use these states primarily to fare forth (i.e., astral travel, or journey), out of my body, to the other worlds. I’ll admit, I am perhaps overly sensitive about this, in that I don’t want to be yet another plastic shaman mis-appropriating terminology and concepts to suit my own ego (although of course, there are certainly authentic, hard-working shamans even in modern America, they just aren’t the majority of those using the label). But neither should I err too far in the other direction, just in my own self-image and internal thinking, because there are some important elements of shamanism that I do share, or that at least could be useful to me in my work – and I’m guessing the same is true for other spirit-workers of all sorts.”
I believe shamanism is about relationship to spirit. Techniques can bolster the relationship, but they are secondary to it. I am reminded of a story. A young shaman went deep into the forest in search of a noted healer. When he found her, he looked for her mesa, the heart of her healing power. He looked around her hut. When she went left the compound for a moment, he looked in the outbuildings, and the garden. Finally, in desperation, he asked for a healing. The elderly healer went into the yard and took a single leaf from a tree. Returning she placed it on a table and announced she was ready to begin.The young man asked,”but where is your mesa?’ To which the elderly healer replied, “The leaf is my mesa.” One of my teachers was that young man.
One more thought: “Plastic medicine man” was a term coined by First Nations people in the Eighties to describe people who sold tribal wisdom. The term was used somewhat politically, and indiscriminately. Now it seems to be used for persons who misrepresent themselves as healers using tribal traditions. The misappropriation of First Nations knowledge and experience is profoundly harmful, and a continuation of centuries of genocide. It must be opposed. At the same time, accusations of appropriation must not be made lightly.
There is room, and need, in our world for all kinds of healers. Not everyone is called to practice shamanism, but many are touched by the spirits. Respect for First Nations cultures and traditions, respect for the spirits, and kindness towards oneself go a long way towards helping us find our way as healers in these challenging times.
New Days-New Ways posted an engaging blog about her experience with spirit guides. In part she noted:
“What ever your special affinity with any animal is, make friends with it, build your relationship, embrace your ally. Recognize that this is a spiritual relationship to help you through your transitions. Not all spirit guides are beautiful angels with iridescent wings from ethereal realms, some are right in front of our noses with all the reality of earth-bound living.’
I would add that is helpful to get outside, explore the natural world, meet animals of all kinds in their natural environments, or even at the zoo. If you meet an animal in the Dreaming, ask it about its lifeways and predispositions, do some research, and pay it respect. Probably a specific genus of animal came to you for a specific reason. It’s really useful to get to know that animal in its specificity.
I hoe you find these links evocative and useful.