Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shamanism and Cultural Integrity.

“…many Native Americans see the use of the word "shamanism" as the height of an offensive stereotype and commercial exploitation of their people's beliefs. Many neo-shamanists and scholars are sensitive to this issue, and strive to educate the public about exploitation of indigenous cultures, as well as correcting common misconceptions about the words "shaman" and "shamanism." Tori McElroy.

I came across an image today that was extremely beautiful. It was a photo by Gregg Braden of a hummingbird perched on a glass ball looking at its own reflection. For a little while I just dreamt with the image and wondered about the hummingbird’s experience. My heart started beating faster and I could smell the sweet odor of all kinds of flowers. The perfume inspired colors and they were bursting in front of my eyes. I jumped and found myself awakening in front of my computer screen.

Curious, I started reading comments from other individuals who saw the picture and somewhere between the 60th and 400th statement I got peculiarly pulled into an absurd conflict between two critics. One woman got upset at another woman’s comment and left a blog address to justify her reaction. I found myself following her trail to a text that talked about shamanism and cultural integrity. What are the chances?

It isn’t the first time that I come across a text such as this one where the author believes that he or she is protecting First Nation people and Indigenous Spirituality by putting down Shamanism. Christians have written similar essays putting down pagan religion. It doesn’t matter who writes these blog entries it always boils down to the same theme: I want my perception of the World to be accepted as truth.”

I’ve often wondered what gives someone the right to speak in the name of a Nation? And as a member of a Nation who would I support and accept as my representative? It’s a huge question and it weighs on me from an ancestral perspective. I’ve often read stories about Sitting Bull, Black Kettle, Crazy Horse, the Peacemaker, Strathcona, etc…

I seek for a prophet somehow…

Is it “a fact” like this author states that “most Native Americans find the terms shaman and shamanism offensive?” Tori McElroy doesn’t explain in her blog why the terms are so insulting to the cultural integrity of First Nation People. Actually, she speaks highly of the word “shaman” and seems to say that traditional Siberian shamanic practices are very close to Native Spirituality. What seems to upset the author is the fact that theses terms “shaman” and “shamanism” are misuse in popular culture. To be honest I don’t know what word isn’t misused in Western society. Sexuality, love and consciousness for example are three words that I find are completely misunderstood and in so many ways – misused.

In NeoShamanism especially or should I say in “NeoShamanic circles” I notice a lot of bickering. Who’s authentic and who isn’t? Who offers traditional teachings and who doesn’t as if one is better than the other... I’m not arguing that knowledge isn’t helpful and even crucial to the study of Shamanism but sometimes you have to trust fate. In Shamanism particularly it has always been important “to hear a calling” and to “prove one’s self capable of handling the challenges or initiation. I find that now-a-days and more than ever, especially in matters of Spirituality there’s lots of talk about “abuse of power.” When I read blogs such as the one written by Tori McElroy I often cringe because it screams for a kind “for spiritual surveillance.” Do we need any kind of institution to create rules and consequences in the world of Shamanism? Do we need people to dictate who’s Shaman and who isn’t? Do we need to pay a fee to a Shamanic association at the end of the year to be recognized as shamanic practitioners, shamanic communities or have our shamanic methods respected? Why can’t we leave this world to the laws of this world?

Finally, I’ve visited many First Nation reserves and settlements in Canada. I’ve met lots of elders and traditionalists who combine the old ways with new knowledge such as Reiki. I’ve never met anyone who was insulted by the word “shaman” or “shamanism” mainly because the history of these words is beautiful and sacred. As a First Nation person I find that to be associated to the Holy People of Siberia is wonderful. I learnt a long time ago that each tribe had their own words to describe the holy men and the holy women of their community. Things have changed. History, Christianity and emancipation have changed us all. It stands to reason that before we find the words to describe ourselves again it will take time. Before we can understand the medicine in words, we have to understand the medicine in our experiences. The way I see it – it starts with exploring, observing and living. I certainly wouldn’t want to be restricted in the living that I need to do to get to where I need to be….

What do you think?

P.S. Thank you to Linda for this picture taken at our latest workshop in Golden, B.C.


Ally said...

Lisa, because we hold a medicine wheel circle, I also hear a lot of comments like, "is what you teach here TRUE Shamanism"? "Are you a Shaman?" "Are you Native American, and if so, what tribe? If not, how can you have this kind of circle?" etc. I have walked this path with you for about 10 years now, and I realize that it doesn't matter if a person is "Native"; it matters more the experiences a person has and how they learn, heal and grow from those experiences that makes a path "authentic".

Wapeyit Malsom said...


Most people are proud of their ancestry. I've met Americans who are a mix of Irish, Scottish and French; Jewish, Polish and French; Dutch, African and English etc... They all speak highly of the mix of cultures in their families because ignoring one of them would mean forgetting their grand-mothers and great-grand-fathers etc....

For the First Nation People it's different. Rather than respecting the fact that I'm First Nation -- it boils down to "am I half, a quarter, one sixteenth or... of this culture." It boils down to whether or not I have a number or paper -- counted by the Government. It boils down to whether or not I'm tied to a reservation etc...

I can understand why some people want to fight to keep their culture alive. I've seen it with the French in Quebec but the fact of the matter is -- when it comes to SHAMANISM or SPIRITUALITY -- it's not about culture it's about HUMANITY.

At least that's the way I see it. In the end, we are one WHEEL with 4 colors as anchor; but they intermingle to become the colors of the rainbow.