On Titles and Labels
I’m not fond of titles or labels. They can bind and box us, and can be used as ‘faces’ that we cling to and others give their power to. I am more than one thing, and like everyone else, I am a multi-dimensional being, much more complex than a single title.
That being said, the core of any healing practice is spirituality in it’s basic form. And to be connected with Spirit, to really hear, and to be a conduit for, the titles and their projected meanings have to fall away as much as is possible in any given moment. In this sacred space, where a healer must lean in to hear and feel and know, a title is utterly useless- even the title of ‘healer.’
But titles help us in ordinary reality. They help us communicate clearly, have clear expectations in relationship to one another, and provide boundaries that define where one begins and another ends . And so we must use them- for now.
One of the titles I use is ‘healer.’ I’m not convinced I like the title ‘shaman’ or even ‘shamanic practitioner’, despite that these are the titles which best represent what I do on a regular basis, and are sewn into the fabric of my being. Shaman is more than a title to me- it is the way I process, the way I can see many layers at once, can hear, and feel, and sense beyond the senses, and Know, the way I am opened.
There is an interesting debate among the English-speaking shamans regarding the use of the title of “shaman” versus “shamanic practitioner.” This debate is in part perpetuated by the First Peoples (of all nations) and their interminable grief over the scattering of their own tribes, and the penance the European invaders must pay. Rightfully so. And cultural appropriation is a very real problem that we all must be sensitive to. The other place this debate is stemming from is other Westernized people who have adopted this enculturation of exclusivity and rarity. These are the ones who will deny shamanizing to others on the basis of their whiteness or lack of a cultural lineage for shamanism. On one side modern shamans are being shamed over even using the term “shaman”, and told this is a symptom of conflated Ego. Many are bowing at the knee to accept the watered-down title of “practitioner.” I personally see the whole thing as conflated Ego and Ego-attachment, as this bowing is a sort of false-humility still tied to Ego and label, and until my insight into this is broader than it now is, I stand in this belief: I AM SHAMAN. But I am so much more than this too. So, for me, it’s not whether the title “shaman” is too big for me, but whether it is actually too small.
But really, I believe I may understand how reality is created, so you can call me whatever you like- ‘facilitator, guide, ninja, demon slayer, high wire acrobat, sister, mom, counselor, advocate, teacher, coach.’ I can be all of these things, yet crowning me with any of these titles or labels doesn’t change at all the essence of who I AM.
Edgar Cayce said, “Know that all healing forces are within, not without! The applications from without are merely to create within a coordinating mental and spiritual force.” I know this to be true in every cell of my body. I have seen and experienced healing first-hand.
There is a growing body of research around the ‘placebo effect.’ What this research is showing is that the brain is more powerful than we have realized. I have seen this first-hand as well. Here is what I know, from direct experience, about healing: it doesn’t matter how you were wounded, when, or by whom. Spending too much time focusing on going back to try and work through all of that is insightful, and might help in some ways, but it will not bring healing. Healing usually occurs only after a person decides they are going to take responsibility for it. So it’s not a matter of what happened to cause the wound, but that you believe you are responsible for healing it, and that you have the capacity to heal.
In other words, going to someone else to heal you is not required. Seeing a shaman, a Reiki Master, a psychotherapist, a doctor, a priest, in essence these are all placebos. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am in NO WAY suggesting you NOT see a medical professional or NOT take your prescribed medications, or NOT follow through on recommended treatments. What I am suggesting is that the power you hold to heal yourself is beyond what you currently realize. You have only forgotten.
This makes the shaman and the client equal in every way. I don’t believe I possess any special powers that are unavailable to anyone else. Yes, I have worked in developing my skills, in practicing them, in honing in on the nuances that enable me to offer something I believe to be valuable and healing. I have been a student of healing for decades. And so in this sense I see myself much more as a teacher, a path-pointer, a coach. Although healer is also what I am, as long as I am being defined as such by another who is also defining themselves as wounded. We can start a relationship on those terms, if this is what is necessary. But just know that I believe in your ability to heal yourself and will always encourage that. I see my job as teaching you how to heal yourself.
In my experience of shamanism it is much more a way of BEING than a specific set of practices. However, in being we are, in direct effect, doing.
“It is not the illness but rather the cure, which the depth of the crisis reveals to the shaman, that lies at the heart of shamanism.” – Robert Ryan
Shamanism is one of numerous paths towards self-realization. It’s a path that resonates deep in my bones. But even within shamanism there is a vast spectrum of expressions. How one projects one’s own expression will effect their specific practice. In other words, no two shamans are alike. In a neoshamanic culture many shamans have the privilege of being eclectic, having been exposed to many cultural traditions and practices. There is a lot of criticism about “culture stealing”, particularly directed towards the neoshamanic movement. There is some legitimacy to that, but I see this conflict as stemming from unhealed wounds, and not fundamental to the practice of shamanism. Most neoshamans (or modern, Westernized shamans) live in cultures which have lost their ancestral roots, and the shamanic lineage has been broken or disconnected. Without a clear linear method of mentorship the only option a shaman has in post-industrialized culture is to forge a new path, combining the knowledge individually gleaned as an outsider to other cultural traditions. This is only “stealing” if one comes from a position of believing that culture is “owned” and that there are clear boundaries of separation between “us” and “them.” I do not believe either of these things are true. Furthermore, many modern shamans sit in ceremony with healers, teachers, shamans, medicine carriers of various traditions and these elders want to give their medicine away. They understand we are all relatives, that we all inhabit this Earth, and that when one is wounded, all our wounded, when one is healed, all are healed. So the elders themselves are sharing the medicine and blessing their non-native students to go out into the world to pass it on. This in my view is a non-issue and accusations of cultural appropriation come from unhealed places- it’s inconsistent with the medicine path.
Because of the loss of our conscious connection to ancestral roots, most in post-industrial society are suffering the effects of such a loss. Rather than accuse one group of “stealing” culture from another, it makes more sense that we join together with a single goal of healing the loss, and supporting one another in defining and strengthening a new culture that views all humanity as basically originating from the same Source. For we are One.
I have learned universal shamanism as a basis for my practice- these are the fundamental aspects of shamanism that are transcultural. From there I have brought in my own experiences, understandings, and enculturations. Many modern shamans, myself included, have experienced one or more “past life” and/or “parallel life” as a shaman, even in indigenous and archaic cultures. I acknowledge there are many skeptics who would roll their eyes at such a statement. Whether one believes me or not, the point is that I believe there is a genetic lineage and a soul lineage. I personally have Knowing and deep soul resonance with African, South American (non-Andes), and Japanese shamanic, warrior, and healing practices.
The final thing I want to say about shamanism is that while it is a way of being, an integrated practice of sorts, shamans do not cease to be human beings any more than a Buddhist monk does. But shamans should never be viewed as monks, because that’s not what they are. While a practicing shaman should have endured much in the process of becoming a ‘hollow bone’, there is still a learning component to the practice. A shaman is ever-evolving, and should never be seen as anything more than what they are. Anytime someone gives their power over to another, no matter how spiritually evolved the other person is believed to be, at some point the giver will become disillusioned and disappointed by the person they tried to give the power to. That may be part of the process of learning about power, but it’s important to be clear that in such situations the person to blame is not the one who became less than what was expected, but that a lesson was set-up by the one who failed to see the person as an equal in the first place. Entering a relationship with anything less than self-respect will most likely teach you self-respect.
I will consciously do my best to deflect the power offered to me, as to take one’s power, even if willingly offered and even if unconsciously, is an act of sorcery. Potentially in all human interactions, but especially in shamanism there is a discernable nuance between power over and power with and it is something I remain highly sensitive to and conscious of. I am committed to not engage in acts of sorcery. Although sorcery is incredibly common among indigenous shamans, as we usher in a shamanic Renaissance and come to define shamanic practice in Western cultures, I believe it’s important we become guardians of integrity and that a developing shamanic lineage should hold high standards for emotional intelligence and moral acuity. Let us act only in love and benevolence, and may our defense also only be a defense of love for the sake of love, never justifying malevolence as a defense against malevolence.
We are equals. Period.
Every human being, regardless of the labels ascribed to them, regardless of their behavior, regardless of their level of consciousness, is a Divine being. We all have a role here.
Many people come to shamanism with a mental health diagnosis. The problem is a label such as this is a way to define a person and their human experience in pathological terms. It doesn’t support acceptance and in terms of human consciousness, creates a false line defining “normal” from “abnormal.” How can any human experience be abnormal? Our culture has become a very sociopathic, life-killing culture, and the labels are a trap. When one person says something is “wrong” with another without their invitation this is curse-making. So there are many, many people walking around today with curses, some so heavy they are literally killing them. A big part of shamanic practice is to help people recognize the curses and begin to lift them, while teaching the skills to protect against future curses. A shaman should also be teaching people how to cease being curse-makers themselves, as much of this has been taught and perpetuated in unconsciousness. So education and framing is as important in shamanism as is direct ceremonial healing. As best I can tell, this is a unique aspect of Westernized shamanic practice, as a shaman working within a Western culture is combating the cultural illness in addition assisting the individual.
In this way shamanic practice should involve a combination of talking, ceremony, education, and direct application.
So in my practice I offer direct and immediate guidance, facilitated by Spirit. But I see my larger role as a facilitator of path. Because I believe wholly that we all possess the capacity to self-heal, I much prefer to support, teach, and encourage people to heal themselves than to serve as a role of “the healer” in their process. But I can and do do that too.
A big part of my practice is also ‘tuning in’ to each unique person and tailoring my practice for that which most resonates with the individual. I believe shamanic practice should not be rigid and fixed, but flexible and always open to leading. This also is perhaps unique to Western shamanism, as the lack of cultural lineage and group agreement about cosmology and religious belief requires the shaman to be open to all cultures and religions. There is tremendous diversity found in Western societies and I believe Western shamanism should reflect this. The goal of any shamanic practice should be to create resonance, and to remedy dissonance. That’s not to suggest that two people should always be in resonance. Sometimes, for various reasons, working together can be hindered. That too has reason and effect.
I believe in personal accountability as the most fundamental aspect of shamanic practice. Because of this, in many situations specific assignments or tasks will be provided to those who seek my services- I call this a “prescription.” Just like you go to the doctor and get a medicine that you take to get well, often a certain ‘medicine’ will come through that will require a specific act or practice be tended to on a regular basis. This not only serves a tangible function for your benefit, it also cements your commitment to your own healing.
But practice itself, as it is tied to the individual, is also always evolving. Because I have learned universal (or core) shamanism, specific cultural practice is not something I engage in. I have learned from shamanistic teachers in the Peruvian Q’ero tradition, the Mongolian tradition, and the Norse tradition. I have also studied Native American shamanism, the Shipibo (ayahuasca) shamans on Peru, and the few other specific shamanic cultures. I am a student of shamanism as it is expressed worldwide. But I have not learned within any of these traditions so fully that I feel entitled to practice or teach them. My foundation is Core Shamanism and it feels the most appropriate shamanic expression in the culture and time I am living within. I do combine aspects of all the traditions I have learned from, always with a great respect for my teachers whom have opened the path to learn their specific cultural practices. My practice evolves with every ‘client’ because as we come into one another’s fields we both offer an opportunity to learn, to expand our consciousness. Along with this comes changes in understanding, and in outward behavior. For the shaman this will express itself in practice, as new elements are integrated, and foundational elements are fine-tuned.
Shamans have always known that this is but a dream. With the advent of quantum physics, modern science has the amazing opportunity to merge with the ancient ways of Knowing through shamanism. Most background work in shamanic practice comes from non-ordinary, or non-local reality. In other words, dreams, visions, journeys, lucid experiences (hypnogogic, hypnopompic, etc.) are all used as fields of information to be mined, the boon being brought back into ordinary reality. By using the term background I do not mean it is less important. Truly this is the most important work a shaman does. But it often is not the most visible or apparent of the work, as in these states of non-ordinary reality the shaman is almost always silent in the absorbed experience.
Teaching others to achieve a state of non-ordinary reality is not necessarily a practice of shamanism- it depends on what a person wishes to learn for their own benefit. But all people do dream. In shamanic understanding entering a dream is entering another reality- a past, future, or current parallel, or even another realm. It is my belief that an aspect of responsible shamanic practice is to teach others how to navigate these parallels in a way that is beneficial and helps them to glean the information. No one should become dependent on another to define for them what “reality” is.
“Reality” is a very subjective and nebulous thing. We are taught in Western mind that “reality” is constructed solely by what passes through the five senses and that the human being can be an objective observer. Both of these ideas are untruths. We have always lived in a quantum universe, but we are re-awakening to this “reality” and our potentiality within that. Shamanism supports this, and also provides a fundamental practice in navigating it. Just like the external practice of shamanism evolves, the internal process also evolves as a shaman is continually learning with each journey how to maneuver, gather information, map, create map legends, interact with other entities, to safeguard themselves, create effective actions, manipulate the environment, and shapeshift.
Some people call this “psychosis”, some call it “imagination”, or “dreaming”, but a shaman knows these words have historically been used in ways that have drowned out shamanic cultures and demonstrated the preference towards rational materialism. Rational materialism has perpetuated there is a clear boundary between “real” and “unreal.” Exploration of “reality” requires one to let go of all labels and ideologies and to become open to the possibilities. This is a shamanic way of being and it is what distinguishes a shaman from someone who is not shaman.
There is a lot of controversy about “spirits” and this idea that shamans intentionally conjure spirits, or allow spirits to possess them. A “spirit” is not the same as a “soul.” Spirit, to me, is an essence, a specific quality and constellation of intrinsic characteristics that create a construct, or a whole of something. Whether we believe it or not, see it or not, other dimensions contain a vast amount of spirit within them. Going to these dimensions is not inherently “evil” or wrong. Prior to rational materialism it was the only way of Knowing that indigenous societies had. They did not have the luxury of scientific knowledge. So when a drought began to impact their lives, or when a sickness overtook them, the shaman would travel to the spiritual realms to gain information about what was happening, why, and most importantly, what to do about it.
There are many ways to look at this. One way is that spirits are simply archetypes- that they hold energetic meaning. When I say I connected with ‘snake spirit’ nearly everyone will have an instantaneous thought and feeling about that because of the preconceived idea about what snake is. In this way there is a projection onto the spirit. It is these projections that we wholly find fearful, or label as “evil.” In it’s pure essence, stripped of projected meaning, spirit is neutral to a large degree, because the purpose of our interaction with spirit is always for the highest good. How we define “good” and “bad” is also a projected, dualistic product of our evolution into rational materialism. While shamans have always recognized there are malevolent spirits, trickster spirits, they have not traditionally viewed them within the same context as Christianity. To a shaman a malevolent spirit offers lessons in protection, in discernment, and may also offer valuable information to be brought back to the tribe about what is happening. So contact with spirits within itself is neutral, and purposed for helping the community.
Discernment is a fundamental aspect of shamanic being. Shamans know the difference between things- between lower world, middle world, and upper world entities, between spirits with malevolent intent, between soul pieces, and fragment spirits that have collected together to create entirely new entities, energy shadows, etc. It’s because a shaman isn’t going in blind, but goes into these realms with eyes wide open. And they also have ways of protecting themselves, certain methods, and ‘rules of the road.’ So in this way shamans do not intentionally conjure malevolent spirits. Can they get malevolent spirits attached to them? Yes. But this happens in everyday life, whether one is visiting spiritual realms or not. The difference is the shaman is likely to be much more aware of this happening because of discernment and the ability to ‘see.’
The most important thing to understand is that much of what a shaman does is employ ‘spirit helpers.’ These helpers are almost always from the lower realm (animal helpers), but can be from the upper realm (ascended guides- angels, teachers, etc.). They should NEVER be from the middle realm. While a shaman will visit the middle realm often because that is usually where the work needs to be done, they always take their guides and protection with them.
This idea of ‘spirit helpers’ is troublesome to some. It’s important to keep in mind that the shaman does not project their own ideas onto the spirit, as the shaman is a ‘hollow bone’, experiencing the spirit in it’s purest essence. To give example, perhaps an animal guide has been met by the shaman in the spiritual realm, and then the animal has revealed it’s spirit, or essence to the shaman so that they are actually entering relationship with one another. Snake is not inherently “evil”- it will teach the shaman lessons by demonstrating it’s essence (how it lives, how it eats, how it mates, how it nests, how it sheds, etc.). In this way the shaman can incorporate the guide’s essence into being and can offer the wisdom of the guide to others. It’s through this direct relationship that a trust is developed, an intimate knowing not much different than how two people who live together might know one another- their habits, preferences, strengths, weaknesses.
Once trust is established, however long that takes (and always depending on the shaman and not the guide), the shaman will begin using that guide as a companion in non-ordinary reality, and will call upon the guide to perform specific tasks in the spiritual realms that the shaman cannot or will not do.
The guides, because they have a spirit, an essence, hold an energy. This energy can be brought back into our third dimensional ordinary reality, as the shaman can literally embody it. It doesn’t mean the shaman is “possessed by it.” It’s better to think of it in terms of influence, in the same way people who live together for a long time begin to use the same phrases, eat the same foods, and may even start to look alike. Shamans often honor this energy through some sort of visual representation. It allows it to manifest and bring forth the strength and power of the relationship, much in the same way a wedding ring represents a relationship. The visual representation is not an “idol”, but holds the energetic pattern of connection and identification.
So the most important thing to know about the spiritual aspects of shamanic work is that shamans are in relationship with their spirit guides, and not commanding them, or being commanded by them. Information gleaned while in the spiritual realms, the other dimensions, the parallel realities, is always vetted by discernment and with the assistance of trusted guides. It is always possible for a trickster to trick the shaman, but this happens in ordinary reality as much as it does in the spiritual realms because the two are inextricably enmeshed. So going into the realms does not make one any more susceptible or vulnerable, in my opinion.
This connection with spirit through direct interaction with, discernment of, and maneuvering between and within spiritual landscapes is the fundamental difference between a shaman and a “psychic.” Psychics get their information as it penetrates from the fourth dimension directly into their third dimension consciousness. They rarely go anywhere to get it, so they are limited by their third dimensional experience. While a shaman can and does also get information in this direct way, the shamanic way of practice is through traveling to non-ordinary reality, or other dimensions and parallel realities to interact in the spiritual realms. In this way shamans do not know through only one channel (hearing, seeing, etc.), but can access all ways of Knowing to get information, engaging a wider conscious experience.