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 Post subject: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:30 am 
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Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures

I have read a lot on here – and other sites and though listening to healers talk –regarding the question of whom can become a shaman. Often this is just a polite way to ask whether someone who is white skinned, comes from an Indo-European culture (which then morphed into a Euro-American culture if people are not residing in North America).

As I walk upon my path, I have had some thoughts regarding this question. I know this could be a contentious topic and I will show respect within my words and I ask that others do the same. We are all coming at this question from our own POVs and I would really like to hear what other people’s POVs are on this subject, since I am a seeker of knowledge.

Getting back to the question regarding who can be a shaman. I have heard it said and understand why traditional medicine people will say that shamans/medicine people must be from an Indigenous/traditional culture in order to be authentic and do their highest good at the craft; for example, Native American /First Nations.

More accurately, they say that if someone is going to follow a Native American path of healing, they have to be of Native American descent for their medicine to be strong.

This said, I don’t understand why an Anglo-Saxon would want to play at being a Native American healer when they are themselves not Native American; plus any healing work they do do under that guide or alter-identity won’t be as potent since it lacks spiritual and ancestral context.

If you are being called by Spirit to become a shaman, why would you want to go – or why would Spirit direct you to practice the healing arts in an unfamiliar cultural context as opposed to someone searching out how to be a shaman in the culture they have authentically inherited as their birth right?

Why try and be something else, as if your identity isn’t good enough?
I mean, I see Indo-Europeans go so far as to get a tan and dye their hair dark and exclusively use traditional Native American healing tools when they are not Native American? Are these people embarrassed or ashamed on their own culture so they have to appropriate the culture of another group?

1: I understand that the traditional, Spiritual based power to heal is derived from the sacred relationship that the healer has with the land and with Spirit (of their culture and their ancestors). In fact, the power of the Spirit that resides in a person is inseparable from the land.

For example, much harm (done to individuals and to their culture) was done to Native Americans when they were forcefully removed from their land and into residential schools and healing has only now begun as people are able to return themselves and their families to their homelands and territories.

Specific rituals for healing, sacred songs, etc, are also reflective of the area your culture lived in, so you’ll have songs that mimic the call of a certain bird or call upon the power of certain environmental phenomenon specific to the area.

This all said, if you are not Indigenous to the land where you are a practicing shaman and cannot access the bones and spirit of your ancestors who have lived on the land for centuries, then your power as a shaman or medicine person would be greatly diminished.

Therefore, I can see why it is recommended that people be authentic to their birth right and why some traditional medicine people would frown upon outsiders trying to mimic their healing tradition – by coping the clothing, hair styles, sacred objects and language/songs.

2: I also don’t understand why a person of Celt dissent would want to follow the path of First Nation culture when they already have a culture of origin and a land/territory they are indigenous to – as is their birth right. Perhaps someone could explain to me why a person of Indo-European descent would want to abandon their authentic culture and join up with another culture and participate in an inauthentic way?

I mean, you’re going to be an outsider to that culture? I see people who are not Native American claim they can perform sweat lodge ceremonies, but cannot speak an Indigenous language? Maybe somebody can explain to me why someone would want to facilitate the healing practices of another culture without being fully informed about that culture and how they conduct their ceremonies?

Again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. And I can see why, for example, a Native American could call it cultural appropriation when someone outside of that culture practices traditional native healing methods. Especially since white culture and white people have been extremely destructive, through policies of genocide, residential schools and racism.

I think it was Chief Seattle who said, “First they came for our land, then they came for our children and now they come for our spirituality.” It does seem like a lot of take take take without much giving back.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:03 am 
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I didn't seek the opportunity to became a shaman. Two shamans in Tuva, Siberia quite separately suggested that I become an apprentice.

I am Scottish. I went and studied in Tuva and I became a shaman.

If you say that the indigenous people have the knowledge, are you saying they were right or wrong in suggesting I become a shaman?

Also, as part of my apprenticeship, I treated Tuvan indigenous people. It didn't make any difference to them my being Scottish or Tuvan.

Was their attitude wrong?

If so, how is it that you think you know better than them?

Mackenzie Blyth


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:38 am 
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I think I understand what you are saying North but correct me if I am wrong:

That rather than 'seeking' to be something we are not or adopting a culture which is not ours, we should first be at home with our own heritage and culture, learning from that and working within it's mythology etc?

This I agree with to an extent and certainly it would help to stop the needless appropriation of other cultures. What many white westerners seem to mix up is the difference between wisdom and culture. Wisdom is universal and we can all learn from oneanother's beliefs, ceremonies etc but those ceremonies are culture specific and often don't translate to a different culture outside their own. They need to be adapted and the foundational wisdom incorporated into new ways of working so that it can be understood by a dramatically different cultural mindset.

At the end of the day, as Mackenzie indicates, it is the Spirits who lead us to where we need to be and when we get several confirmations of direction, we have to either trust them, work with them and believe that they know best or go our own (ego) way of pretending to be something we are not. Shamanism is all about working with the Spirits, wherever they lead not choosing what seems like a cool (self aggrandising) label for one's big Kahuna hat!

As for the ancestral context of a spiritual path, this is an old argument and since few if any Native Americans today, even in remote Native American societies are 100% pure blood of their ancestors, as mitochondrial DNA tests have proved it is of little matter. Virtually all have indo-european markers from the French, Irish, Scottish, Russian, Dutch and English settlers who swept into the land from the 1600's onwards. Many even have Viking/Norse markers. I wonder what their ancestral and spiritual heritage means then?

I know that one of my ancestors was from northern Europe (having traced back my family tree) and that she leads me in that direction for knowledge but it doesn't mean that I have to adopt that culture.

Is that what you were talking about?


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:50 pm 
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Thanks for getting back to me, Mackenzie, I cannot comment on whether they were right or wrong. I don’t know them, nor the connection to their community or the esteem they hold in the eyes of that community.

Nor do I respect your tone at the bottom of your post, why do you feel you have to be so defensive and aggressively so to someone asking very honest questions?

From your story, I hear you did the leg work and genuinely sought out teachers and humbled yourself as an apprentice. In my POV, I find that 100% different than people who take a weekend crash course in Shaman studies or have read one or two books on the subject. You don’t know how often I hear people boasting about how they were able to become shaman in a matter of days, weeks, months by paying hundreds of dollars.

I just wonder why you don’t seem to have any interest in looking into your own culture, territory and spiritual legacy since you mention you are Scottish?

What is so unattractive about their spiritual practices that would make you seek out a strange, foreign culture instead of investing in our own heritage and roots? Who’s ancestors do you call out to in your shamanic work? Your own Scottish ancestors even though you are not practicing their ways, or do you call out to ancestors that are not yours and lack a intimate connection to you?

I also know that becoming a shaman and being initiated are two very very different things. Initiation is the heart of an Indigenous experience, that has strong cultural and territorial ties.

Let's say someone wants to study to become a Saami shaman, but have no attachment, intimacy or familiarity with the land or the culture. Sure you can learn but how deep would their understand really go if they are lacking that fundamental spiritual and cultural context that differentiates between a general-practitioner shaman and a very specialized, initiated Saami shamanhood.

It can take growing up a whole lifetime within a culture to even begin to understand its spirituality.

Mackenzie wrote:
I didn't seek the opportunity to became a shaman. Two shamans in Tuva, Siberia quite separately suggested that I become an apprentice.

I am Scottish. I went and studied in Tuva and I became a shaman.

If you say that the indigenous people have the knowledge, are you saying they were right or wrong in suggesting I become a shaman?

Also, as part of my apprenticeship, I treated Tuvan indigenous people. It didn't make any difference to them my being Scottish or Tuvan.

Was their attitude wrong?

If so, how is it that you think you know better than them?

Mackenzie Blyth


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:00 pm 
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I look at this from various levels, some of include geography, timeframe, ethnicity, cultural appropriation, history, academia, post-industrialism, feminism, post-colonialism... I do think that "shaman" describes many things/people from many classes, cultures, genders. I also realize the specificity that term implies to a specific group of people of which I am not ethnically connected. I choose my terminology to describe my path and work carefully not because I need to separate someone from me or claim something I am not, but to show respect that I expressly do not do any of the above. I am not New Age branded or indigenous, and there is vast room between those things. People who approach the shamanic path with ego at the fore usually reveal themselves very quickly, it doesn't matter what word they are using to describe themselves or who trained them.

A better question to me is why do people of Anglo/western descent not find spirituality in their own culture of the present? What is it in us that makes us feel a spiritual path that isn't in an exotic place with brown skin and no malls/Internet is more pure?

I appreciate this discussion.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:18 pm 
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Thank you for responding to me in an open and respectful way. I don’t know if people realize how ugly their aggressive, defensive nature can make them.

You hit the nail right on the head with your comment:
Quote:
“That rather than 'seeking' to be something we are not or adopting a culture which is not ours, we should first be at home with our own heritage and culture, learning from that and working within it's mythology etc?
This I agree with to an extent and certainly it would help to stop the needless appropriation of other cultures.”


So thank you for getting it.

I don’t know if people truly get the kind of damage people like “White Eagle Medicine Woman” Rachel Holzwarth or “Little Grandmother” Kiesha Crowther do to both Native Americans and whites.

Think about it even from the POV of a white skinned person who is genuinely interested in studying First Nations culture in a respectful way but gets lumped in with the same group as the Plastic Shamans.

In regards to White Eagle Medicine Woman and Little Grandmother, here you have two white skinned, anglo-saxons women playing Indians (getting a tan, wearing appropriated regalia and using appropriated tools). Even if their messages were sound (and not poison fruit from the poison tree), the very fact that they lied about their identity destroys any good vibes and teachings.

I mean, they also destroy any good meanings of their teachings because they charge for ceremonies and they mash all up all Indigenous knowledge and pretend it comes from one homogenous source, destroying the beautiful diversity that exists between Nations and Peoples.

Now, you have First Nations groups holding public talks and protesting where ever these women show up and making press statements denouncing them and encouraging the truly curious to seek out authentic sources of knowledge instead.

Commenting on your point about ancestry, your connection to your ancestors is not exclusive to the blood quota percentage you need on a federal registration. Respect for ancestors is working with the Spirits and having the Spirit knows you, they know you (and your peoples) past and can share important lessons with you regarding your future and also the future of your people.

I know a lot of new-agers are strickly focused on individual empowerment, but Indigenous based shamanism is liked to seeking teachings and knowledge for the good of the whole community, not just individual self-improvement. I just don’t often here non-Indigenous groups pay attention to this very very important factor of working with Spirit. It’s a shame they are lacking this understand.

I like your comment as you are very correct: “Wisdom is universal and we can all learn from one another's beliefs, ceremonies etc but those ceremonies are culture specific and often don't translate to a different culture outside their own. They need to be adapted and the foundational wisdom incorporated into new ways of working so that it can be understood by a dramatically different cultural mindset.”

No one has a monopoly on the ability to seek out wisdom. But belief systems and ceremonies and traditions are very culturally specific and don’t have much power when they are taken out of their intended context. You can’t just stick someone out in the bush for four days alone, charge $1,000 and call it a Vision Quest. It’s just four days out in the bush, which might be healing for some people, but don’t culturally appropriate and call it something that it is not when, for example, there is no authentic pipe carrier.

Anyone could technically bring together a group of people inside a tent and have them sweat in here. But that does not make it a sweat lodge. That is so far from the truth!

There are certain Indigenous-specific protocols, sacred songs and teachings that go along with an Indigenous sweat and must be performed and maintained. Without performing these traditional acts and singing the traditional songs by someone Indigenous to that culture, the sweat lodge is dead of spirit and is no better than a day at the spa.



Forest Child wrote:
I think I understand what you are saying North but correct me if I am wrong:

That rather than 'seeking' to be something we are not or adopting a culture which is not ours, we should first be at home with our own heritage and culture, learning from that and working within it's mythology etc?

This I agree with to an extent and certainly it would help to stop the needless appropriation of other cultures. What many white westerners seem to mix up is the difference between wisdom and culture. Wisdom is universal and we can all learn from oneanother's beliefs, ceremonies etc but those ceremonies are culture specific and often don't translate to a different culture outside their own. They need to be adapted and the foundational wisdom incorporated into new ways of working so that it can be understood by a dramatically different cultural mindset.

At the end of the day, as Mackenzie indicates, it is the Spirits who lead us to where we need to be and when we get several confirmations of direction, we have to either trust them, work with them and believe that they know best or go our own (ego) way of pretending to be something we are not. Shamanism is all about working with the Spirits, wherever they lead not choosing what seems like a cool (self aggrandising) label for one's big Kahuna hat!

As for the ancestral context of a spiritual path, this is an old argument and since few if any Native Americans today, even in remote Native American societies are 100% pure blood of their ancestors, as mitochondrial DNA tests have proved it is of little matter. Virtually all have indo-european markers from the French, Irish, Scottish, Russian, Dutch and English settlers who swept into the land from the 1600's onwards. Many even have Viking/Norse markers. I wonder what their ancestral and spiritual heritage means then?

I know that one of my ancestors was from northern Europe (having traced back my family tree) and that she leads me in that direction for knowledge but it doesn't mean that I have to adopt that culture.

Is that what you were talking about?


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 3:57 pm 
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Quote:
not just individual self-improvement. I just don’t often here non-Indigenous groups pay attention to this very very important factor of working with Spirit. It’s a shame they are lacking this understand


That is a core part of it, I think. Western culture is built around the individual, the self-possessed person. This is a vital disparity between the collective, group-oriented tribal ideology of (most/all?) indigenous people. Most people raised in the "I" culture don't understand that everything isn't theirs to possess at will, while people raised in the 'collective' culture don't understand the need for others to overtake their rituals. It's a clashing world view from the beginning.

Also, a facet of what you said is how many westerners use 'shamanism' for self-growth, which means they end up using native tribal leaders for self-growth. They never take it to the next step, which is the service to community. While growth is great, that's not shamanism. Shamanism gives back.

Dream well.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 5:17 pm 
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Hi North,

I am not being defensive at all. It is arrogant of you to think that you said anything substantive enough for me - or anyone else - to be defensive about.

But, yes, I am aggressive in response to your notion of being so right, when your argument is so very weak.

Conviction alone is not convincing.

Not all forms of shamanism are the same, for example. And in the tradition I was apprenticed to the role of ancestors is not as you state. There are other things in your argument which do not apply.

But I am not going to correct you on all these aspects. It's not your ignorance which is most objectionable. It's your lack of humility...to put it mildly and gently.

Mackenzie


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 6:04 pm 
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Hey North,

If you can only learn shamanism from an indigenous source, who taught the first shaman before there was an indigenous source?

And, you're forgetting a valuable point of order in most cultures, that the role of the 'shaman' (used generically) and what they represent was far more important to the community than the training. An uninitiated, lay person could be forced into assuming the role in situations were no apprentice is available and the 'shaman' (used generically) is lost for some reason. The training, therefore, is less important than the role and simple cultural imprinting is enough to give anyone (quite literally) the qualifications to fill the role until a suitable replacement can be found. Remember, healing is only one aspect of what a 'shaman' (used generically) meant to the tribe. It was a position of authority in may cultures, and represented the covenant between the people and the spirits. Without a go-between, there could be no harmony between the people and the spirits or gods as relevant.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 6:26 pm 
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Skelleyh wrote:
A better question to me is why do people of Anglo/western descent not find spirituality in their own culture of the present? What is it in us that makes us feel a spiritual path that isn't in an exotic place with brown skin and no malls/Internet is more pure?


Yup, that sums it up for me too and speaking only for myself, I would have to say that the answer, from what I have experienced, boils down to authenticity and the need for an authentic experience or confirmation that they were/are learning the 'real thing' rather than making it up as they go along.

So much of Western shamanic tradition has been lost, it takes a great deal of research to put what pieces there are back together. Even Saami shamanism is no longer an unbroken cultural lineage.

Because of this fragmentation many have been forced or compelled to seek for an unbroken line of knowledge outside their own culture but this clash of cultures can cause problems. Certainly it is unfair to assume that white westerners are never called to work in a shamanic way by their Spirits who guide each person to where the most appropriate teaching/mentors are. However, each one of us has a brain and free will, we can choose to learn and adapt. If there is one BIG way that shamanism has survived over the last 50k years or so, its by adapting to new environments the Spirits of each place and to evolution itself.

Shamanism may be rooted in the past but it is vibrant and lives in all times. It cannot simply remain static and a slave to a distant tradition. Like all of nature, all of the Universe, it evolves or dies.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sat Jul 16, 2011 9:38 pm 
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The arrogance and hypocrisy here is someone from a mainstream culture like yourself shouting that ‘no one has the right to tell me if I can be a shaman or not’ when in fact it was the white colonial powers such as the United Kingdom that perpetuated a genocide against Indigenous peoples throughout history for practicing their spirituality. And now you claim to raise the same concerns of the people who were killed off or culturally neutralized.

Yes, Indigenous cultures died either protecting their sacred ceremonies and customs or died because they choose to perform those sacred customs instead of being assimilated.

So spare me your righteous indignation about how you were given the ability to study under another Indigenous culture when you should be grateful that that Indigenous culture even exists in the first place and wasn’t killed off by religious fervor or colonialist Russia. You got to choose to follow this path. But for Indigenous people, spirituality is not about choice or a whim decision; it is inseparable from their culture (and death results when they are separated from their culture).

So instead of your righteous indignation and your concept of privilege, how you have the right to do this and consume that, you should be grateful.

Other posters on this thread have shown the truth of their character through their gratitude and humbleness. And their understanding that cultural appropriation just because you can, doesn't make it right.

Mackenzie wrote:
I didn't seek the opportunity to became a shaman. Two shamans in Tuva, Siberia quite separately suggested that I become an apprentice.

I am Scottish. I went and studied in Tuva and I became a shaman.

If you say that the indigenous people have the knowledge, are you saying they were right or wrong in suggesting I become a shaman?

Also, as part of my apprenticeship, I treated Tuvan indigenous people. It didn't make any difference to them my being Scottish or Tuvan.

Was their attitude wrong?

If so, how is it that you think you know better than them?

Mackenzie Blyth


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:02 am 
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Hi North,

You missed the point. If anyone had the right to decide, it was the shamans who offered to teach me without my asking - not you. That's what I object to - you and your inflated ego.

Although personally I abhor colonialism, I am not personally responsible for the UK's past, no more than say, an individual American citizen is responsible for past US atrocities.

I am also not personally responsible for atrocities done by white folks in general down the ages.

I am responsible however for my own actions and attitudes. When a number of shamans in Tuva offered to share their knowledge with me, I accepted gratefully and with respect.

We will all be judged by our actions.

Enough.

Mac


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:08 am 
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North wrote:
The arrogance and hypocrisy here is someone from a mainstream culture like yourself shouting that ‘no one has the right to tell me if I can be a shaman or not’ when in fact it was the white colonial powers such as the United Kingdom that perpetuated a genocide against Indigenous peoples throughout history for practicing their spirituality. And now you claim to raise the same concerns of the people who were killed off or culturally neutralized.


Here I would have to say that although I understand where you are coming from and appreciate the emotion behind it the claim isn't strictly true. It isn't always white colonial powers who perpetuate genocide against indigenous people. Buddhist lamas of Tibet were pretty ruthless against indigenous shamans way before the Soviet government started their attacks. Different NA tribes were warring constantly against one-another, taking women and children as slaves and generally trying to wipe one-another out over old blood grievances and differences of opinion over spiritual practice WAY before any English or French settlers came (hence how wonderful the co-operative Anishinaabe longhouse culture is for example). Southern Japanese government virtually wiped out the shamanistic Ainu culture in the north of Japan and Italian Catholics ruthlessly annihilated the shamanic culture/practitioners in North Western Europe over many centuries so to say that only one group of people predates upon others is a weak argument. It is a problem of being human, not merely one of skin colour or belief.

North wrote:
Yes, Indigenous cultures died either protecting their sacred ceremonies and customs or died because they choose to perform those sacred customs instead of being assimilated.

So spare me your righteous indignation about how you were given the ability to study under another Indigenous culture when you should be grateful that that Indigenous culture even exists in the first place and wasn’t killed off by religious fervor or colonialist Russia. You got to choose to follow this path. But for Indigenous people, spirituality is not about choice or a whim decision; it is inseparable from their culture (and death results when they are separated from their culture).

So instead of your righteous indignation and your concept of privilege, how you have the right to do this and consume that, you should be grateful.

Other posters on this thread have shown the truth of their character through their gratitude and humbleness. And their understanding that cultural appropriation just because you can, doesn't make it right.


Does this kind of attack help either? Where can common ground be found? There are 'some' people who have perpetrated crimes in the past but we cannot hold all now living accountable for the crimes of their ancestors any more than we can hold all indigenous people in awe as spiritual gurus simply because they have braids and dark skin. It's very easy to build walls of righteous indignation but it takes a true spiritual warrior to build bridges.


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:39 am 
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Despite all the problems surrounding those few (and to be fair they are pretty limited in comparison to the vast population of the world) people who would pretend to be what they are not, the real plastic shamans who have read a book or two, attended a sweat or a pow wow and then go off to charge £200 per head for weekend workshops in Medicine Wheel teachings or such like, what damage have they done?

Have they opened up some small understanding between more open minded people outside those indigenous cultures? Has the 'New Age' movement given permission for people to be OK with animism and beliefs other than mainstream monotheistic religion?

More people are open to and respectful of 1st nation cultures and beliefs now than at any other time in history. Not all, but more than before. If the worst thing that some of these pseudo teachers have done is to open people up to the possibility of living a more respectful and wholesome life, regardless of whether it is based in culturally correct beliefs, then surely some good has come?

Better perhaps to patiently re-educate people in general, point out the problems with some of these plastic teachings and encourage more people to be open minded and tolerant surely?


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 Post subject: Re: Shamans must be from Indigenous cultures
 Post Posted: Sun Jul 17, 2011 1:20 pm 
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The ancient Celts had their shamans, as did the Japanese. Shamanism isn't synonymous with Indigenous North and South American cultures. All world cultures either are or once were shamanistic. Besides that, one's spiritual affinity and identity aren't the same as their genetic heritage; it's very common to see souls reborn across region, culture, or even species lines. The Tibetans, in times past, had a list of foreign countries that were considered desirable and undesirable to reincarnate into.

Shamanism, that is, animistic nature spirituality, comes from the spirits of nature. It does not belong to any human culture or cultures. Wild creatures have their own wisdom, medicine and spirit contact of a similar sort; this is natural wisdom, not engineered methods. If the spirits call to someone whose nation has not been shamanistic (or in Japan's case, has not had fully effective shamans - bit of a long story) for many thousands of years, if Nature herself approves of them becoming a shaman, then that overrides any political interest.


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