I received a call from a young woman who got my name and number from a friend of a friend of a friend. You know how that goes….
After she told me her story, where she comes from, who referred her and what she’s been learning in the last decade – she asked me if “I did sweat lodges and if I could give her access to an honest-to-goodness-real-shaman?” I couldn’t help but shake my head and roll my eyes. I wondered for a moment whether it was best to be polite or give her a piece of my mind. In the end, I simply said: “I got to go. Good luck with your search.”
Unfortunately and it’s sad to say – I get these kinds of calls often. There’s so very little and authentic or genuine literature or oral information out there on the topic of Shamans or Shamanism that it’s natural for people to quickly jump to conclusions. Lots of people believe for example that Shamanism is synonymous to Native Spirituality.
It is not!
Many individuals will assume that if you’re into Shamanism – you’re also into sweat lodges, sun dances and vision quests. All three of those are religious ceremonies and rites of passage traditionally done by First Nation Tribes from Western Canada and the U.S. Again, you can be shamanic without having an interest in the old Indian religion.
On a few occasions during the open mike session at conferences, I’ve been asked: “how does someone with a sincere desire to follow a shamanic path come to be initiated by a real teacher or shaman?” Always with an intonation on the word real. My response to such a question as always been so far: “What does real mean to you? Obviously if you haven’t found a teacher yet it is because you have a precise definition and lots of expectations.”
It’s actually a fact that when you let go of expectations, programs, and definitions that whatever you are looking for will appear in the shape or form you were destined to find it. If you can’t trust and surrender to the Universe usually you stay stuck in a box and very rarely see where this box floats… In Shamanism and especially in sacred circle tradition it is important to be able to let go and have faith. It’s actually an ability (so to speak) that is crucial before embarking on any spiritual journey.
I realize that a good amount of people these days will call themselves shaman and will attempt to convince their audience that they are the real deal and that everyone else who advertizes they are shaman too – are not.
“How can we tell who’s telling the truth?” is often a common question.
For starters, according to tradition there are a few ways someone can be called to be a shaman:
1. You can be called to be a Shaman because it is part of your genetic make up: Your father or mother, grand-father or grand-mother, great-grand-father or great-grand-mother etc…. were shaman before you.
2. You can also be called to be a Shaman by Spirit. Usually the call will come to you through a vision or a dream and will continue to be repeated through synchronicities. What most people don’t understand is that it isn’t enough to just say “they told me in my dream – I’m a Shaman.” Often enough the call will be conveyed to witnesses as well who will eventually appear to help the person emerge and accept the call.
3. Another way to find yourself walking the path of the shaman is if a shaman chooses you as an initiate. This was very common in olden times.
4. Finally, there are some who seek out the shaman’s path and ask for the education.
According to tradition a shaman chosen by spirit or instructed by another shaman will be stronger than a shaman who asked for education or fell into it by inheritance. The actual journey of becoming a Shaman is between an initiate and Creator. It’s an intimate, precious and divine experience that usually stretches beyond words. You should never approach a Shaman the way you approach a candidate who is asking you for employment. The whole idea of proving yourself genuine and worthy is actually a Western programming. A real Shaman (so to speak) wouldn’t be interested in giving you a play by play of where he or she was educated and by whom. You’d probably get ignored or you’d get one of those long and disappointed indifferent stares in response. Of course it doesn’t mean that because someone is sketchy or secretive in telling you how they became a Shaman that he or she is a Shaman. They could as easily be con artists.
There is a difference between a spiritual teacher, medicine people, elders and a shaman. Usually the differences between the roles are understood between these people and often, it is believed that nobody else needs to know. Yet we live in a World and during times where knowledge is easily accessible and a priceless commodity. On one hand it is kind of wonderful that the role of the shaman is still a mystery and somewhat out of reach at least for those of us who believe in its beauty and power. On the other hand it is also sad because it means that only a small fraction of people will actually get to experience this gift in their life. Some people prefer to promote the message that the shaman has long been extinct and the teachings forgotten. One way or the other these comments or judgments have never mattered much to a real shaman.
I’m a strong believer in fate and destiny. I think that each of us are born with a story that is meant to teach us very specific lessons and that we are all called to have a role in this World. I know that those who are meant to be Shaman end up being Shaman and that nobody is cheated of his or her own journey, path and purpose. Acceptance, awareness and commitment are again crucial qualities in people really looking for their path.
I do believe in many ways that there should be more information out there on the Shaman and Shamanism I wouldn’t have a blog if I didn’t; but I have to be honest I tend to also believe that too much knowledge can be detrimental. In the past, many shaman were killed and persecuted because there was too much talk on the topic. People tend to assume and interpret experiences according to their expectations. The fact of the matter is the shaman’s journey is completely empirical. If you don’t experience it you may not understand it.
Personally I love the old ways – how a shaman would choose the people he or she felt needed to be touched and would give them the time and the teachings when it was meant to happen. That’s my experience.
P.S. The photo was taken this spring. My son wanted to enjoy the sun, the wind, the birds -- while practicing his drumming. I don't even know if he knows I took this picture. I was peeking through my bed room window.