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 Post subject: More thoughts on the validity of shamanism
 Post Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 3:27 pm 

Joined: Sun Dec 30, 2007 9:19 am
Posts: 2
Location: Charlottesville, VA

I have just logged onto the ShamansPortal for the first time and was attracted to this most controversial issue. I have recently started to get formal training shamanism, although I would venture to say that my training began over a decade ago. I like to say that the spirits gave me just enough suffering to deepen me, but not enough to kill me. In so-called "traditional" cultures which we in the West envision as having an intact or semi-intact shamanic tradition, men and women were called into roles as healers, spiritual leaders, ritualists, and so on often by events such as being struck by lightning or falling into a life-threatening illness. In these times, I think the call comes to people in other ways.

I was trained and worked for many years as an academic anthropologist and folklorist. My field of research and teaching evolved into looking at transgenerational dynamics of violence. To that end, I did a great deal of research into the underlying issues behind many Native Americans' objection to White (or non-Natives) being taught and then teaching what is called in western literature "shamanism." The origins of the word shamanism comes from a white scholar of religious studies, Mircea Eliade, who extrapolated from minimal personal experience the phenomenon in some indigenous cultures journeying into the Upper Worlds. He derived the word "shaman" from a word describing a medicine person among the Tungus people of Siberia. This concept of shamanism took off from him and western scholars in other fields--anthropology and sociology--grabbed it to define the spiritual practices and beliefs of many indigenous peoples around the world. It was used indiscriminately and often reflected the western tendency to overgeneralize and label in the absence of true participation in research gathering by the people being studied.

I have an ambivalent relationship to using the word "shamanism" due to what I feel is a need to respect the legacy behind language--and in that sense, respecting the feelings of those in our country and the world at large whose cultures are still under seige and even disappearing. Yet there clearly has emerged a movement or a new spirituality which goes by the name of shamanism and to that extent, the word has taken on new and even positive meanings. I think the balance here is to recognize that what we call shamanism is not necessarily the same thing that is done in thousands of cultures around the world, but is something different, something new. While it may draw from perennial and ancient sources, it is nonetheless different or other than what, say, the Lakota might believe and practice. This is true of any knowledge--all knowledge reemerges over the ages as it is needed, rediscovered, and reconfigured to fit new imperatives.

At the same time, whenever something is "new", there will be a period of some instability as it is "tried on" or even co-opted by those who may not understand or wish to look more deeply. New spiritual movements are rife--and ripe--with both good and bad entrepreneurs. We cannot control what others do, all we can do is hold to our own integrity and trust that in the unfolding of life in the physical plane, all is coming into balance.

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