I brought up the topic of “authentic Shamanism” at one of my classes / circles this week. I’ve noticed especially in the last three to four years that when people speak to me about Shamanism, they often make a distinction between what they are doing and what “is out there.” These days if you are not into Ayahuasca you are not authentically into Shamanism. So what is “Shamanism” if it changes its appearance every decade? Is it about altered states of consciousness through hallucinogens? Is it about ceremonies and rituals; or about soul retrieval, dreaming and healing? Since Shamanism isn’t a Religion and doesn’t have set doctrines, then how can you anyone be clear on what makes it “authentic?”
When I brought up the question this week, I received a few interesting comments. Many of the individuals in our circles have struggled with addictions and it’s because of the Medicine Wheel teachings that their lives are full and healthy again. The idea of defining Shamanism as a journey with hallucinogens is offensive to these people. They feel that they’ve gained more clarity in body, mind and soul by exploring attitudes and disciplines; which connects them to nature and the stars.
“To say that Shamanism doesn’t exist without Ayahuasca is preposterous” said JT who has been studying Shamanism for over a decade.” According to JT there are several other ways to reach altered states of consciousness outside of taking drugs. Fasting, dancing to the point of exhaustion, fighting an infection and being sleep deprived are also as efficient. Both JT and I agreed during our conversation that the notion of “altered states of consciousness” does relate to Shamanism but it is a topic; which has become way too linear in the 21 century.
How important is the subject of “altered states of consciousness” when trying to define or understand Shamanism?
I’ve often wondered it’s the lack of non-fictional stories relating to shamanic initiations or the lack of knowledge concerning the lengthily or life long education into natural and cosmological law or reality that gives permission to anyone and everyone to self-proclaim themselves as shamanic Holy People (Shamans, healers, dreamers, warriors, ceremonialists etc..). Perhaps it’s the “power” of the religious institution behind church or mosque leaders; which protects priests, ministers, pastors, bishops, rabbi, imams etc… from having imposters take up their roles? Is it really important in the end to be able to tell the difference between the “authentic Holy People” and the pretenders?
From my perspective and based on the teachings that I’ve received “we trust Spirit” to bring each and every one of us to the teachers, healers, and guides that were meant for us. Before any of us are born, our stories have been written and contracts have been signed with others. These contracts are based on “learning, healing, growth and change.” We commit to one another and we bring to each other the experiences necessary to move through a spiralling process of progress. Whether it takes seasons, a life time or many life times to reach the goals we’ve set for ourselves – the journey we undertake impacts a whole collective. To think that I’m the ultimate teacher, healer or dreamer for everyone is no doubt arrogant and even limiting.
In all honesty I’ve learnt great lessons from educated experts, self-taught experts and total imposters.
Last night during supper we were discussing the topic of “using Beagles (dogs) for experimentation and practice in veterinarian schools.” We all unanimously agreed that it was unacceptable. Yet at the same time we all understood that students need “animals” to learn. 30 years ago you could be an initiate to a senior vet, and work at their clinic while going to school. This way you could practice on animals; which needed the care and assistance. Hairdressers, carpenters, teachers and many more trades and professions offered mentoring opportunities. You couldn’t be recognized without the seal approval of an elder within the field. These days “elders” are treated as “old timers” and pushed out of their jobs so that that the younger crowd could come in and take over. Schools, tests and diplomas have replaced the “old school” mentoring methods.
It seems that year after year; century after century well-intentioned individuals attempt to find the “perfect way” to teach and to legitimize skills and practices. For example when discussing “healing and massage” with practitioners I often come across a kind of social wound; which is about “a lack of recognition or legitimacy”.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want the permission to be who they are and be recognized and respected as such with no discrimination.
Seriously separating our working life from our personal, home life is ridiculous to me. It should all come together as one. The quest towards legitimacy is not only about the roles we play in the work force; but also about the roles we play in relationships and in the World. One of the greatest issues today is that people don’t feel they have any kind of “power” to bring forth changes in the environment; in their work and family settings or on the Planet. It seems only people in politics or with money can be catalysts for change…
When I started learning about Sacred Circle traditions with First Nation traditionalist 30+ years ago what I appreciated the most was how it was completely removed from the linear, Western World I came from. I could breathe free without social programs and expectations. I could open my heart and my eyes to what I was enthusiastic and curious about. I could step into the circle and hear “my own story echo back to me.” I was told at that moment that “authenticity” wasn’t so much about how the World or people perceived me; but about “how I chose to express myself in words, actions, choices and attitudes.”
At the age of 19 years old I didn’t ask myself the question: “What is authentic Shamanism?” It never actually crossed my mind. I was looking for adventure and experience; and I was seeking out people and places; which resonated with me. I was testing my gut and seeing where it would take me.
It my experience it never took me to hallucinogens and yet, I still managed to reach heights of altered states of consciousness that a very small fraction of humanity are capable of. I understand that it can be frustrating, disappointing and just plain annoying at times to watch people in their labyrinths / realities; but at the end of the day when I go back to silence – “I find me at the centre of my circle not them.”
By making sure “I’m authentic” and true to myself in walk and talk I can emanate a sacred or holy vibe that can have an impact on others and the World around me. It’s the only true medicine / power that we have…
What is Shamanism about generally? It’s about being intimately related to the Earth (nature) and the Stars. If you want to find “authentic Shamanism” you need to first commit and devote your life to natural and cosmological reality. You need to be authentic in this journey and quest. Then, you need to trust and have faith in your own personal story. You need to believe and respect the people who are on your path and the contracts you’ve made.
SO said something quite inspiring on Wednesday, she said “I’ve known people who are great leaders; people who are great teachers; people who are great healers and dreamers etc… I have good example of authenticity, now all I have to do is follow in their footsteps.”