(From: ‘Earth People’ Volume 2 Number 1)
Firstly I would like to say that a shaman cannot be made, regardless of how much reading, teaching or knowledge one may do or acquire. They are chosen, whether or not they acknowledge it, like it, or understand it. However the basics of shamanism can be learnt by anyone wishing a greater understanding of life; in one way we are all shamans of our own lives. The life path of a shaman is difficult and full of responsibilities and sacrifices that are beyond description or comprehension, whether a title is used or not.
According to Professor Micea Eliade, the French historian who completed a cross-cultural study of shamanism, there is an overpowering mental crisis where one’s consciousness falls into the subconscious, in a type of schizophrenic crack up. This crack up is generally recognised as the main feature of the vocational summons; our hospitals and mental institutions are full of misunderstood and misunderstanding shamans.
Shamanism is a practice found in every part of the world and throughout all of history. However most cultures have their own term for the practitioner, for example, the Native Americans refer to them as medicine men and women or holy men and women, the Australian Aboriginals refer to clever men and women. The Hawaiian word for shaman is Kupua, and they have been known as witches, wizards, sorcerers and wise men just to name a few. The word shaman is derived from the Tungusic language of Siberia and is now used as a convenient term to describe the practitioner and his or her practice.
Serge Kahili King Ph.D. in his book ‘Urban Shaman’ says:
“A lot of people have different ideas about what a shaman is and does, but like Eliade, I tend toward a strict definition. Not every medicine man is a shaman, but a shaman might be a medicine man. Not every tribal priest is a shaman, but a shaman might be a tribal priest. Not every psychic healer is a shaman, but a shaman might be a psychic healer. For the purposes of this book and my teachings, I define a shaman as a healer of relationships: between mind and body, between people, between people and circumstances, between humans and nature, and between matter and spirit."
And regarding the two types of shaman, King says:
“A ‘warrior’ shaman tends to personify fear, illness, or disharmony and focus on the development of power, controls and combat skills in order to deal with them. An ‘adventurer’ shaman, by contrast tends to de-personify these conditions (i.e., treat them as effects, not things) and deal with them by developing skills of love, cooperation, and harmony.
“Shamanism, especially the Hawaiian variety, is well adapted to modern times and needs for several reasons:
1. It is completely non-sectarian and pragmatic. Shamanism is a craft, not a religion, and you practice it alone or with a group.
2. It is very easy to learn and apply, although, as with any craft, the full development of certain skills may take a while.
3. The Hawaiian version in particular may be practiced anywhere at any time, including at home, at work, at school, at play, or while travelling. This is mainly because the Hawaiian shamans primarily worked with the mind and body alone. They did not use drums to induce altered states and they did not use masks to assume other forms or qualities.
4. The nature of shamanism is such that while you are healing others you are healing yourself, and while you are transforming the planet you are transforming yourself.”
Joan Halifax, in her book ‘Shaman – The Wounded Healer’ begins by saying:
“The life-way of the shaman is nearly as old as human consciousness itself, predating the earliest recorded civilisations by thousands of years. Through the ages the practice of shamanism has remained vital, adapting itself to the way of all the world’s cultures.
“Today the role of shaman takes many forms – healer, ceremonialist, judge, sacred politician, and artist, to name a few. The shaman lies at the very heart of some cultures, while living in the shadowy fringe of others. Nevertheless, a common thread seems to connect all shamans across the planet.
“An awakening to other orders of reality, the experience of ecstasy, and an opening up of visionary realms, form the essence of the shamanic mission… That this commonality cuts across seemingly irreconcilable ethnic and cultural line attests to the mystery and power lying at the source of myth, the human psyche.”
And from ‘Lynn Andrews in conversation with Michael Toms’, Lynn says:
“Shamanism is a way to create bridges between the everyday material or physical world and the world of spirit. Shamans have lived through a life-threatening situation and have come out the other side with special capabilities or a special vision of what our lives are all about. In contemporary life, there are millions of people who have done extensive work on them selves, and are shamans in their own right. They are people who have lived through disruptive family lives; people who were beaten up, either emotionally or physically; people who have learned to survive in an alien world and discovered realities invisible to most of us. When you look at the history of shamanism in ancient times, shamans were often people who had near-death experiences. Or faced madness, only to come out the other side with the ability to perceive realities other than those most of us know, realities that some say exist in parallel to everyday existence.”
A true shaman is firstly and foremost an Earth Person, who lives the fundamental spiritual and natural way of giving sacred reverence and respect to all things all the time; as all things are alive. Shamans are steadfast and honest, and they live morally and frugally, often giving up all pleasures and material possessions apart from what is absolutely necessary to practice their craft.
True shamans, medicine people, and holy people do not try to cheat or fool anyone to just get by. They work constantly, studying and perfecting their craft, and they don’t waste time or any other resources. But most importantly they keep their life in balance, between physical needs (Body, West), psychological needs (Mind, South), emotional needs (Vital and Heart, North), and spiritual needs (Soul, East).
According to Fools Crow, if you sincerely live this way you become a hollow bone for The Higher Powers (God etc.) to work in and through. He says that the cleanest bones serve Wakan-Tanka and the helpers the best. And that medicine people and holy people work the hardest to become clean bones. And he says that the holy person is the one who becomes the cleanest of all.
The kinds of things that people clog their bones with are: fear, doubt, guilt, reluctance, desire, and selfishness just to name a few.
Regarding what makes a true shaman, medicine person or holy person Fools Crow says:
“You can tell a true medicine person from an imitator by what they ask you for in return for their help… [Imitators] may talk well, and they may have created ceremonies [and healing modalities] that will charm you, but these will not be ceremonies that are traditional and that come from the Higher Powers. Remember that evil can work ceremonies too. The strongest protection we have against evil is our pipe… When we have the pipe in our hands and use it in ceremony it is the same as it would be for a Christian if he could hold Jesus Christ in his hands while he prays.” [This is supposedly what communion is all about. Ed.]
As some people may have realised, I don’t quite follow any particular tradition, although most of what I do is based on Native American traditions. As an Australian by birth, but not an Aboriginal, I do have a great respect for and understanding of their traditional ways, especially those that are documented by anthropologists in the early 1900s.
I am an adventurer shaman of the universal kind, giving respect and reverence to all life on, within, and around our Grandmother and Mother Earth. I listen, mostly through meditation of one kind or another, to my intuition, inner pilot, spirit guides, and all spirit around and within me (or whatever you call “The Force”). The messages I get do not come as voices or visions, but as an inner knowing, with an ecstatic ‘AHAH!’ feeling.
I began this path as a means to try to understand myself, not because it was trendy or to gain any power over anyone or anything. If I do have any power I now know that it is to be passed on to others and shared, as all power comes from The Great Spirit or God.
My knowledge of life comes mainly from my own experiences, which have led me to study all the cultures’ mythologies and religions of the world; and to understand the similarities between these, shamanism, and Carl Jung’s psychology. Jung actually put himself through a type of shamanic initiation so that he could observe all the different ways he could think and feel (see my article 'Jung's Shamanic Journey into the Psyche' after 'I Wonder'). And now he has given us all a better understanding of the human psyche, with all its different levels, which is what the shamans call the many parallel worlds that exist at all times.
In some ways I create my own tradition by adapting the Northern Hemisphere’s traditions and teachings to suit the Southern Hemisphere. I do not do this to be disrespectful to those who have kept these traditions and passed them on, but as a way of helping myself and maybe others to understand life as it is experienced here, in the Southern Hemisphere.
For example, the medicine wheel is a traditional tool that has been used for millions of years in a myriad of forms and designs to give humans an understanding of life, so that they can bring harmony into their inner and outer life. This harmony comes from balancing the pairs of opposite energies like knowledge and emotions, spirit and matter, etc. So it doesn’t matter where around the wheel you place these as long as they are opposite each other. However, if the orientation of the medicine wheel also matches the energies of your outer environmental life of days, moons, and seasons etc., then bringing harmony to your inner and outer life can be achieved by understanding and living according to the one simple medicine wheel.
For the southern hemisphere
As adapted from the Lakota Wheel
The Medicine Wheel, among other uses and teachings, is symbolic of the four ages of man and the changes of life’s energies. Each transitional phase requires a death, or a letting go of the old, and a rebirth, or opening up, to the new.
Everyone is to face the direction as it is read out.
THE EAST POWER is known as
The element for the East is FIRE and the colour association is yellow. The East is is associated with HUMAN kingdom and it's enemy is Death. The East is the place of birth, birth of the SUN every morning; birth of the year every Spring and the place of un-manifest Spirit, and the human experience of Spirit. As children fresh from the spirit world, we are as far-sighted as the EAGLE who symbolizes illumination and enlightenment. The child is a being of pure spirit, searching, soaking up, and trying to learn to have a physical body.
THE NORTH POWER is known as
The element for the North is WATER and the colour association is red. The North is is associated with PLANT kingdom and it's enemy is Fear. The North is the place of growth, as the midday and Summer sun creates maximum growth. This is the place of the Lover and Warrior, where in our Childhood and Adolescence our environmental emotions and strengths are being learnt and tested in a trusting and innocent spirit, and we see and scrutinise the detail like the MOUSE, who symbolises this power. The physical-ness of our being grows to its zenith, a man as a warrior and a woman as a lover. This is where the cycles of the MOON are of great influence and we need to understand the fluidity of life.
THE WEST POWER is known as
The element for the West is EARTH and the colour black is its association. The West is is associated with MINERAL kingdom and it's enemy is Powerlessness. The West is the place of Middle-age, the place of change and introspection, of going with-in to find the inner strengths of our own spirit, like the BEAR or WOMBAT who hibernates in the ‘Dream Lodge’ and is the symbol of the healing energy of this power. This is the Autumn and evening time of our life, when light (Physical body) fades and darkness (The dark night of the soul) emerges. We change from being the fullest physical warrior and becoming a spiritual lover; or changing from a physical lover into a spiritual warrior. This is the place of the maturing adult and becoming a grounded being of EARTH.
THE SOUTH POWER is known as
The element for the South is AIR and the associated colour is white. The South is is associated with ANIMAL kingdom and it's enemy is Certainty. The South is the place of the knowledge and wisdom of the Elderly, and with the vast wisdom of the STARS. The white hair arrives on our head like the cold Winter winds that bring the snow, and keep our mind in full awareness of Spirit and matter. Our potential is to be the King or Magician in the place of honour and respect as the BUFFALO or KANGAROO, who are the animal masters of the Native American people or Aboriginals, because they are the ones that give their lives so that we may live. This is the time when the darkness of midnight and death is illuminated by Spirit.