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Shamanism is an Action Verb, Part 1

If Spirits Simply Start the Healing,
And the Shaman is Only an Empty Bone,
Then Where Is the Healer?

Today, a lot of people learn about shamanism and get introduced to these ancient ways through the popular ‘weekend workshop’ gatherings, where a smaller or larger group of eager, excited students show up for a couple of days of instruction. This works well for teachers who only have to show up for a couple of days to take in a respectable income. Moreover, students usually enjoy interacting with others who like themselves, feel this deep, natural draw back to what our combined cultures appear to have forgotten. It is hard to find fault with teachers employing this format since they are merely trying to figure out how to make a living and spread their wisdom within surrounding cultures that have forgotten how to support its shamans. However, beyond this, something is going terribly wrong.

Shamanism is being spread as something that one can simply learn and then walk away with. Like tying a shoe. We are being regularly introduced to shamanism as a sort of ‘how to’ thing where one is shown the mechanics of doing such things as power retrieval or divination.

Shamanism is being presented as a sort of ‘healing-comes-from-the-shaman’s-intervention’ sort of thing. The problem is not that practitioners hold a ridiculous misconception of an all-powerful human being, but that their clients are in turn, encouraged to walk away from their sessions as if by having a power animal retrieval with powerful spirits and an all-powerful shaman, they are now empowered.

Of course, for some shamans, thinking that simply doing a practice enables clients to walk away healed must feel great. However, just like the children’s book emperor who struggled to present himself as so special that none could equal him in dress, the emperor is actually not wearing any clothes. The shaman is just puffing him or herself up like a naked emperor, when actually, they are only a sort of necessary, and often troublesome obligation in the healing or divination process. It isn’t the shaman who has the power to catalyze healing or provide the needed information. The spirits do. Shamans are nothing more than a connecting bridge between the worlds: across this bridge comes the information or the healing potential that is catalyzed.

This is called ‘the empty bone.’

But this is dreaming of a more perfect world. Today, shamanism is instead being taught today as a matter of healing or divination sessions. The weekend dissemination of ‘how to’ shamanism unfortunately spreads and reinforces a serious misconception. For example: is someone disempowered? Similar to being told by a physician to take a pill for a physical ailment, shamanism is being treated as a simple matter of obtaining the right power animal. “Here”, the shaman might say, “Take this carefully discovered power animals who has shown up to help, with a glass of water, and call me in the morning.”

OK. No more beating about the bush. Let’s start with the Shaman. The simple fact that actual healing in shamanism has little, if anything, to do with the shaman. Information or healing is something quite beyond any shaman’s capability, no matter how many miracles he or she says they can do (and, no matter how much money they suggest you pay for it), shamans by themselves are simply human beings with a greater or lesser ego.

Question: But wait a minute, didn’t you just say that the spirits only start the healing. If the shaman is not all-powerful, then who is?

Answer: The one fully invested in obtaining shamanic help.

OK. Maybe I was a little harsh. Yes, shamans do develop an acute sensitivity and awareness, and they do develop considerable mastery of different shamanic practices. OK, they do spend a considerable amount of time learning from the ordinary and nonordinary world around them and finding a way to navigate where most people simply do not want to, or believe they can go.

But regardless, when it comes to the healing that the shaman helps facilitate and the spirits catalyze, both the shaman and the spirits pale in power to the living, breathing activity of the one who receiving shamanic care. The success of shamanism is found precisely in the physical, actual, living, breathing manifesting of what has been started or learned by and from the spirits. Shamanic healing comes through the development of what has been catalyzed. Long after any spirits or shamans had a hand in it, shamanism is about growth and working towards wholeness. The whole matter would fade away into oblivion and purposelessness if it were not for the client. Healing in shamanism is about a course of activities to make things better. It is about action. It is about doing.

Take for instance the following practitioner’s question who found that Wolf was taking over in place of other animal spirit helpers as their main power animal:

“Wolf has… said to me I have to acknowledge my shadow self… Wolf has asked to come back with me. Am I allowed to bring Wolf back with me?”

Continued: go to Shamanism is an Action Verb, Part 2

About the author:
"By rediscovering the natural spirituality of our ancestors before we became splintered from the natural world; by remembering our intimate connection with this natural world with which we are inextricably connected; and by learning to listen and speak to the spiritual voices for which the human ear is naturally attuned and that have been begging for us to listen for thousands of years, we have the means to assist ourselves and each other to return to wellness" Steve Serr PhD, MDiv Shamanism 101


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