Well, the technology gremlins have been active this morning. If you have been inundated with blog post announcements, I apologize……
“Social justice cannot be rendered by people who are not actively engaged in the society they wish to see justice in. Nor can shamans effectively shamanize if they turn their backs on the society that their clients are coming from. How one interacts with society is, to be sure, a personal set of boundaries. But how is it that so many of us will push boundaries in the spirit world, and yet won’t challenge physical-world boundaries, if not for our own sake, then for the sake of our clients?” via Therioshamanism
This quote ended a long and deeply thoughtful post by Therioshamanism last week. In the post, the author writes about many of the challenges facing contemporary shamans of all persuasions. Perhaps foremost amongst those challenges is the temptation to focus on the needs of the individual client at the expense of societal and global issues. Yet, as the author points out, our clients are deeply effected by the very social and natural forces neoshamans are prone to ignore.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the confluence of core, neo, and traditional shamanism. The world is shrinking, and as it does, our interactions increasingly influence how we all think about, and practice our art. I imagine this is particularly true for those of us who practice in urban settings.
There are, in the world, a myriad of shamanisms. Traditional shamanic practice is highly culturally dependent, even though shamans often learn from their peers in other cultures. Yet in our market driven, highly networked word, information, theory, and techniques are readily stripped of their cultural meaning and enter the market as information commodities.Much is lost in the transition.
I have benefited greatly from teachers, some now having journeyed over to the spirit world, who chose to teach me something of their culture and their understanding or shamanism or other medicine. I am forever in their debt. Most of these women and men straddled traditional culture and the urban world. They remain remarkable teachers, partially as they demonstrate with their lives how one may live and heal in many cultural frames. This is a profoundly healing message for me as a person of Mixed Blood.
I am deeply appreciative of the courage Therioshamanism showed in writing about the problems inherent in contemporary shamanic practice. At the same time, I am concerned about one passage in the post:
“And yet neoshamans persist in working with templates that are based on older, smaller cultures’ shamanisms. To an extent, yes, you can learn from your predecessors, but it doesn’t do a damned bit of good if you can’t apply it to your own community’s unique situation. We face greater systemic problems than ever.”
In most Traditional cultures the shaman’s primary role is to bring balance to the community. Healing individuals is an essential aspect of this role, but it is not the core task. The above quote essentially misses this. Further, it continues the systematic erasure of Indigenous practices and cultures as vibrant, living traditions, traditions that re highly responsive to the changing world. Additionally, it is difficult to imagine a more overwhelming systemic threat than the European invasion of the Americas. We First Nations peoples, are, after all, still here. We have learned to survive and adapt. Many of us hold the genes and knowledges of our ancestors from both sides of the great waters.
Finally, we may well be in a time where community as a collection of diverse persons is endangered. Problems are societal and global, yet they are felt most acutely at the local and regional level. There may be no solid sense of community at any of these levels of organization. So, one may well ask, what a shamanic practitioner is to do when community is threatened or absent?
None of this takes away from the central thesis that visionary healers cannot ignore the gathering storm of regional and global issues. We ignore them at our peril, and the peril of the very individuals and families we wish to aid.