Photo by Joshua Newton
Thumbing through a course catalog a few years ago I noticed an offering that included the ability to obtain a Certificate of Shape-Shifting. I casually wondered what the Final Exam might look like. Does one have to cross the sprawling campus as an Elk, a Mongoose, or some other animal? Or perhaps hiding in plain sight as a cedar tree would qualify.
In my files somewhere I have a Certificate of Sainthood – yes, it’s true . . . but that does not make me a saint, as any of my close friends or family members can assure you. What is it that makes us who we are anyway? Is it the certificates and degrees we hold? The role or position we have acquired? Our status, possessions, grandmotherly-ness or shapely physique?
Of late I have run across a number of people who openly declare themselves to be Shamans. The number is now surpassing, in my mind at least, those who claim to be Gurus. It seems like being a Shaman is the new, cool thing to be. Overheard on the bus, “Oh, did I mention I am a Shaman?”
Some of the practices we employ as healing facilitators fall under the category of ‘shamanic’ by nature of their connection to time-honored indigenous healing practices used throughout the world. Generally, we stop short of deciding that makes us Shamans. Perhaps, to use a phrase coined by Hank Wesselman, we are at best shamanists.
We have found that it is wise to embrace humility foremost before the vast mystery of this life we live, this unfathomable universe. I remember a story of a young teenager who, when asked if he was a Christian replied, “I am trying to follow Christ.” This seems like the kind of answer that can really lead somewhere.
Just as it is easier to say you are a Christian (or a Buddhist, or a Saint) than it is to be one, it is also easier to say you are a Shaman without actually having any ability to remove someone’s pain, forecast the weather, or locate reindeer. That goes for pretty much every endeavor in life. In each village, town, and city there are people with advanced degrees who jumped over every hurdle the university presented to them, yet can’t do the work. You know them, don’t you? That’s why it takes us so much time to find a good doctor, a good lawyer, a competent therapist, or social worker, or palm reader, or bartender, or . . . .
OK, back to wanting to be a Shaman. We recommend you start slowly and carefully to examine your desire. If fame, fortune, and status are drivers for you, stop reading now. ‘Cause that dog won’t hunt.
A true Shaman is a servant – they serve the collective good of their ‘tribe’ through courageous efforts to obtain knowledge, and more importantly to acquire experiences that can lead to the ability to assist people to heal at all levels. After they set foot on the path they spend an enormous amount of time purifying themselves, experimenting, turning within, taking stock again and again of their own motivations, and coming up against a shit-load of inner and outer challenges. In other words, it’s no picnic. On the other hand, it is a fascinating adventure, one that can lead to mastery, mystery, and even death. But since we all face that last one, perhaps it is time to take up the Master Game and lean into the call.
You may want to start your exploration here:
Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies
For a fascinating read try Hank Wesselman’s shamanic trilogy Spiritwalker, MedicineMaker, Visionseeker