Sometimes it is difficult for me to explain to people exactly what it is that I do. Very often it can be confusing to people who come to me and expect to meet a ‘shaman’ and instead are met with a blue eyed, blond haired and perky man who happens to have rattles and a drum. It gets even more complicated when I explain to them that I am not a shaman, but a shamanic practitioner. To which I often get asked, “Well, don’t you practice shamanism?” to which typically a long explanation ensues. From there, one of two things happen. Either people are perfectly content with what we will be doing OR because they had preconceived notions to what shamanism was and is they may end up leaving in search for someone more ‘authentic.’
There is a reason why I put ‘authentic’ with ” because really I practice shamanism as authentically as possible and my shamanism is truly as authentic as it gets in that it is my expression of shamanism. Which can be really difficult, admittedly, for some people to grasp. Largely because shamanism, for the most part, is taught from a given cultural background and handed down from lineaged teachers to the next generation.
This blog post is to explain the whys I don’t call myself a shaman, but instead proudly take up the title shamanic practitioner.
Really, my point of reference largely comes from my own exploration and teachers who taught me shamanism–and more specifically from a core shamanic background.
First thing is first, I want to explain what a shamanic practitioner is as it can often times be difficult for people to understand the difference. A shamanic practitioner is a person who employs shamanism; the methods and techniques to enter altered states of consciousness to journey between worlds to commune with helping spirits and explore non-ordinary reality. Shamanic practitioners are, usually, everyday people in a Western world who’s main occupation is not shamanism. This is because shamanism, at least here outside of certain groups of individuals, employ shamanism for themselves and personal spiritual development. Which is perfect, because shamanism is really a Path of Direct Revelation. Many utilize shamanism to heal themselves, as a tool of self discovery and guidance. Some might use it for friends and family on occasion, and some even join or form journey groups or shamanic circles to explore shamanism. But not all of us, who are shamanic practitioners, make it into a profession or have a desire to do so.
Compared that to the image of the ‘shaman,’ we already see a huge difference. A shaman is a person who serves their spirits and their community. They often are in an unbroken lineage passed down from teacher to student. In some cases, and in many cases, these shamans have undergone a series of life changing events and initiations that give them the authority to act and speak as a ‘shaman.’ A shaman is one who serves.
So already we see a big difference between the two. Shamanism here, in our Western world, tends to be utilize for individuals and by individuals whereas shamanism in a tribal or indigenous group of people utilize shamanism as a way to benefit and move the community forward by acting as a bridge between ordinary and non-ordinary reality.
With that said, yes there are many of us who employ shamanism for other people and our communities in general, but even then we rarely refer to ourselves as a shaman. That’s largely because of two main reasons.
The first reason is because typically, from our perspective, power is something that should not be boasted about. It is believed, and in my experience held to be true, that the moment we boast about a power that we have–especially when it is spiritual in origin–is the very moment it can be easily taken away. In shamanism we work in conjunction with our helping spirits to co-create a life, the power that we utilize is not our own but that given by the helping spirits. That isn’t to say we, as people, do not have power only that for shamanism to be shamanism we borrowing the power of our spirits. We are not doing the healing, we are simply a vessel for the energy and power of our helping spirits to facilitate the process. We have no power to boast about, instead we are mindful of that which is given to us.
Secondly, calling ourselves a shaman in a culture where shamanism is simply being revived is taking on a title that does not necessarily belong to us. The shamans of today are those who come from lineaged traditions, perhaps one day we will be able to take on that title but for us as Western modern people who were brought up in a Western worldview shamanism is something we have rediscovered. That isn’t to say what we practice isn’t legitimate or valid. It is. But it’s valid in a very different way. Shamanism serves a community, a shaman serves a community. Very few of us have shamanism as a profession, few of us serve a community and its spirits.
It is for these reasons that I personally do not call myself a shaman. My people and community that I do serve and the spirits that I work with may from time to time refer to me as a shaman (often times to emphasize the work that I do) but I do not refer to myself as a shaman. Largely, because my shamanism is my own. I practice it as authentically and as truly as I can, my spirits may push me to help facilitate a process for people and yes there are people, friends, family and community members I see frequently but in the end ultimately I’m still discovering and exploring what shamanism means to me. Spirit just happens to bring people to me from time to time, or more accurately Spirit brings people to my helping spirits to facilitate these processes.
I do not refer to myself as a shaman because I value the hardwork and dedication that ‘true’ shamans do for their communities and their people as well as the spirits they may serve and honor. That isn’t to put down my own shamanism, because my shamanism is incredibly powerful and meaningful. To me. And perhaps the occasional person who may come into my life. My shamanism is ultimately my own.
Their shamanism, by contrast, isn’t necessarily about them at all or their own personal development. Of course, it’s hard not to evolve when we move with Spirit, but ultimately in tribal or indigenous groups of people who have retained shamanism (whether they refer to it as such is completely different story) is meant not for themselves but their people and the spirits that they serve.
We are very lucky, those of us who are just coming to shamanism. Whether we are adopted into specific traditions and lineages, the doors to the spirit world open to explore and immerse ourselves in or whether we are forging our own paths as authentically as we can. We are lucky that we have this opportunity to explore and discover the true nature of shamanism. How we get there may be different and the Mysteries unmeasurable, we as Western people are rediscovering a birthright.
From where I sit, to call myself a shaman is coming from a place of ego. Some may argue that stating you’re a shaman is like stating a fact, but if you have to call yourself something does that actually make it so? Especially in something as deeply spiritual as this? Something so endless and timeless?
No. I don’t think so, anyways.
Instead, my statements of facts is that I am a practitioner of shamanism. I know methods and techniques to alter my consciousness to facilitate a shamanic journey to traverse non-ordinary reality to commune with transcendent, compassionate spirits. I know methods and techniques that help me merge and embody my helping spirits to help treat the spiritual nature of issues presented and help mend the soul. I know how to perform divination to help myself, and others, seek guidance and answers in their lives on the various problems that one might come to the spirits for. I may also know how to retrieve certain ceremonies that honor the various changes of seasons, rites of passages and so forth.
But all of those things don’t make me a shaman.
It does, however, make me a shamanic practitioner because I am utilizing shamanic methods and techniques to do all those things.
It is for that reason that I, personally, don’t refer to myself as a shaman.
The reason why I’m writing this blog post today is largely because I am hoping to potentially present a different point of view, especially in the Neoshamanic community where many do self-proclaim to be a shaman. And that’s fine. For them, anyways. But for me? I don’t see myself or my practices as less than just because I don’t refer to what I practice as shamanism or don’t self-identify as a shaman.
If anything, it’s incredibly liberating explaining to people that I am a shamanic practitioner and that I practice shamanism, because in that is my authenticity. In there is that personal strength. I’m not limited by a particular identification or label, instead I’m free to explain exactly what it is that I do.
It doesn’t matter whether people see my practices as legitimate or authentic or not.
What matters, at least with the shamanism I practice for myself, is how I view it and how my helping spirits respond to my practice. Shamanism is a result oriented practice, and what matters in the end are the results of my work–not only for myself but the people who may come into my life because of Spirit. If I can be of service to Spirit and help facilitate an experience with people and give them spiritual tools that can support and empower their lives? All the better!
In the end, my shamanism is my own. It’s not meant for anyone else. I practice shamanism as authentically true to myself as I can. I have no need to steal other peoples rituals and sacred ceremonies. Instead, everything I do moving forward are shaped by my experiences with my helping spirits, my shamanic journeys and my experiences. What could be more beautiful and liberating than to simply be?
So for me, I don’t take up the label or title as shaman. It doesn’t belong to me. It will never belong to me. But shamanic practitioner? A practitioner of shamanism; of its methods and techniques? Absolutely! Because as simple as it might be, that’s all I do. I practice shamanism.