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Shamanic Integrity: What we can Promise

Shamanic Integrity: What we can PromisebyDr. Steve Serr

There is absolutely no copyright on the following material. In fact, among shamanic practitioners, it is hoped that it be copied, recopied, and wildly bandied about as broadly as is humanly possible! Moreover, some very thoughtful and experienced practitioners and teachers have also been thinking through the matter of integrity in shamanic practice, so I decided to work from a platform that has been spread through the Society of Shamanic Practitioners.

Recognizing that they put in a great effort in their conclusions, I also felt there could be improvement, and at least, clarification. I re-approached their discussion of shamanic integrity with what I felt needed tinkering with, and proceeded to clarify each of what I have come to refer to as the 'Promises', and help illuminate what these can mean to a shamanic practitioner.

In addition to the Society of Shamanic Practitioners, I also need to nod my appreciation to my former professors in psychology and counseling practice for their dedicated insistence that the service of human caregiving be treated with the ethical depth that it deserves. These professors impressed the importance of this on me in a way that is undoubtedly contributing to my efforts here.

The following is not a complete series of principles, for it certainly has not yet passed the muster of widespread shamanic experience and testing, rethinking and rewriting, the kind of back-and-forth discussion that eventuates in a list of principles of integrity that can be roundly accepted. It is thus not proposed to be complete, but as a text that is working towards the nature of what a practitioner can promise if he or she is maintaining an ethical code and performing ‘best practices’ as a professional.

This question: 'What is shamanic integrity?" is for you to test and determine, and which is something about which shamanic practitioners can eventually, hopefully, derive agreement. As a practitioner, you will unquestionably be facing some, if not all of the areas of focus that are included below as you proceed through your practice. My hope is to have contributed to this discussion, and to have provided you with a place from which you can start your own thinking about 'what is' shamanic integrity. Such a matter is yours to develop into a statement of your own; a statement that speaks from your heart. I present the following simply to help us guide shamanic practice as best we can with where we are in this remarkable period of shamanic resurgence as we rekindle, re-approach, and in many cases rewrite shamanic practice as we step forward to meet the demands of the present era.


1)To work in sacred alliance with the Spirits.
What this recognizes and clearly states is that the shaman cannot do her or his work alone, but that it is entirely through teaming with spirit helpers that any shamanic healing or divination can be done at all. This is essentially, a humble reminder to help thwart an urge to grandiosity and claim that it was the shaman who was the powerful one. This also helps those who seek shamanic help to not laud the shaman with unnecessarily high payment and gifts.

2) To recognize the wholeness inherent in each person, group or circumstance that comes for healing.

Here is a capsule summary of the essence of the shamanic model: the effort to restore wholeness. Whether it is a split or drained part of one’s power, or a split part of the soul, the shaman and spirits work together to restore what is its whole.

3) To honor whatever form pain is presented.

What is painful to one may not seem so for another. When one suffers, their suffering is to be honored, respected, and accepted as it is. All symptoms of pain need to be heeded as indications that something is not well. It is our function to then approach our spirit help to discern what this might be, and get guidance in how to proceed towards healing.

4) To be mindful of speech, thought, and action and their impact on building relationships.

Simply because someone is practiced and capable of teaming with spirit help to bring healing and information, does not mean that he or she can ignore the sensitivities of beings in need. A strong working relationship with other human beings as well as the spirit world is the only way shamanic work can be accomplished. As speech affects others, and thought affects action, so the shaman must be mindful of all of these, just as a monk, as all of these things will affect the world in some way.

5) To be respectful of clients and colleagues, even in differences.

This might be considered step towards the psychotherapy of Carl Rogers: a posture towards clients and colleagues of ‘unconditional respect’ that leaves the ‘door open’ for good work to be done with clients, and a good influence to be extended to colleagues.

6) To work with compassion and non-judgment.

‘Judgment’ used here does not mean a simple ‘reckoning’, ‘determination’ or ‘assessment’. Here, the tone is one of speaking or thinking down of someone, which means the involvement of ego. Ego, as we have come to understand, is what gets in the way of the shaman’s ability to be the ‘hollow bone’, and frustrates her or his potential in all of their work. ‘Compassion’, on the other hand, is the posture of someone in an understanding, aware, and sincere service. Again, this rings of Carl Rogers’ recommendations for most effectively facilitating client’s return to wellness.

7) To set personal interests or concerns aside so that efforts are focused on the client’s wellbeing.

Anything other than the client’s wellbeing is very simply that: not of service to the client. To any person in a care-giving profession, personal interests or concerns can only impede a professional role. There is no ‘cunning’, ‘manipulation’, or ‘what’s in it for me’ in a shaman with integrity. Which is, of course, not to say that many people who are shamans, businesspeople, pharmaceutical industry management, police, government officials… (the list goes on) approach the world in this manner. Which, is precisely why promises of integrity like these are created.

8) To strive to the best of one’s ability to do no harm.

If you cannot do well, at least do no harm. This again, is a posture towards one’s work, a resolution to do one’s best. In terms of shamanic work, it is precisely the strength of one’s intention that is a key factor in the effort’s potential.

9) To never engage in sexual or business misconduct and abuse client trust.

It is easy and natural for a client to want to express their appreciation for good work. The shaman (like many other public roles) has become elevated in their eyes, respected, and trusted… perhaps loved. Thus, it is probable that one time or another, one will be offered money, sex, gifts or power from clients and families all too eager to demonstrate their affection and gratitude. This is particularly tricky, as clients can easily blur the boundaries between the caregiver as a professional, and the caregiver as seen by a client as a potential friend, lover, associate, etc. It is incumbent on the shaman as a professional, to always retain these boundaries, especially when the client fails to do so. This way, not only will the practitioner retain their trust and respect, but the practitioner’s own ego does not have as ready an opportunity to interrupt good work.

10) To maintain clients' right to privacy and confidentiality.

The shaman deals with particularly intimate and sensitive matters. In order to garner and retain client trust, a client must always know that their concerns will be held sacred and private by the practitioner.

11) To be honest with clients and other practitioners and be truthful in how one presents him or herself personally, in public relations and in advertising.
Honesty is always the best way to gain and maintain a community’s respect and trust. Without honesty, it is impossible to maintain one’s own integrity.

12) To offer fair and appropriate fees.
Your time and training is valuable and needs to be respected, and honored. On the other hand, your training does not give you the prerogative to abuse the position of people in need. There are not nearly as many shamans available in the United States, for instance, as there are auto repair persons. We know how much auto repair can charge: how much more leverage, has historically been available to the shaman! The abusive shaman has in many instances earned the reputation of demanding exorbitant compensation for their healing or divination services. Unfortunately, even shamanic teachers and trainers have occasionally put greed above the standards of best practice, and charged much more than was fair and appropriate.
The establishment of a fair and appropriate fee for your service is a matter of balancing compassion with fairness. Too many caregivers are willing to under-charge for their work, and in fact, too many organizations hiring caregivers have taken advantage of this vulnerability in a compassionate person, for these are commonly the ones called to caregiving as a profession. However, the practitioner is also performing a valuable and difficult function for which many years of training and experience may be needed. You deserve to be compensated in a fair manner, and must look around, gauge your abilities, gauge the economics of your area (hardship vs. lucrative) and determine this fee for yourself.

13) To keep one’s own life and personhood in balance to the best of their ability, and seek assistance when he or she needs it.

It is very easy for many caregivers to follow their care-giving passion and to the detriment of their own self-care. It is also the case, that the strength of one’s ability to care for others is directly influenced by the balance in one’s personal life. What goes into a balanced life? What makes for a vital, thriving person? We are encouraging this in others, should we not apply this as well to ourselves?

There was once a well-known and respected caregiver who was giving a series of much anticipated talks about the process of providing care to a large group of caregiving professionals. They represented many careers: rehabilitation specialists, physicians, counselors, psychiatrists, hospice workers, social workers… there was even a shamanic practitioner or two present. They had just finished a huge meal together, and were pushing back their chairs from their tables to hear another of the speaker's presentations.

The speaker asked them to pull out a piece of paper and a pen, and jot down 10 things that they most readily would recommend to someone who needed to take care of him or herself. Notepads and napkins spread out in a hurry, and these professionals chuckled to themselves and grinned at as they readily wrote out their own, special lists of how best to care for themselves. After all, this was second nature to them.

Then, the speaker asked them, in a low, soft voice, to put a check mark next to the items on their lists, those which they had actually done for themselves over the previous 6 months. All of a sudden, the room fell silent, as nearly a hundred caregivers scanned their lists in an anxious, and then reflective way, realizing to their illuminated discomfort, that they had not applied the same wellness criteria, to themselves.

14) To consult with appropriate professionals and peers when he or she has questions about care, ethics or technique.

This is simply a matter of ‘best practices’ in any profession. In this case, it is incumbent on a professional caregiver to seek peer consultation in cases where there is question of the best approach, or any matter for which the practitioner is unsure. Of course, the practitioner is always consulting with their spirit helpers, but there are many matters, such as those of human ethics, for which spirit helpers are unable to assist.

Reach out to colleagues, former teachers, or other professional associates to whom you know you can consult with confidentiality, for another perspective, other experiences, and the possibility of dialoging towards the level of reasonable assuredness you need to proceed. Professionals commonly establish an informal network of such associates; as such a resource is helpful for everyone.

About the author:
Dr. Steve Serr, Ph.D. has made accessible and affordable, quality shamanic training available worldwide. He has found that technological advances in the internet allow the education in shamanic spirituality in a surprisingly traditional, one-on-one approach. His beginning, intermediate and advanced certification courses in divination and healing are training students residing throughout the world. He holds a master’s of divinity in sacred naturalism, his doctorate is in clinical psychology, and maintains a small private practice in Ben Lomond, California.


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