True Life Spirituality – Shamanism…What Is It Really?
Shamanism – What It Is
To many people the word shaman is a stereotype which conjures vague images of an archaic and crude form of earth based magician. Oftentimes this word has dark connotations, ones of black magic or things relating to the underworld. Oftentimes people feel as though it is a native American title that most directly translates to “medicine man” or “witch doctor,” and refers to someone known for eccentricity, schizophrenic fits and other wild behavior who speaks of spirits and the spiritual realm in misty, ambiguous metaphors and far out aphorisms that don’t really apply or make sense to the rational mind of the average well grounded person.
These stereotypes exist because it is in fact the form many shamen have taken in cultures famous for it, however they do not represent the general definition of shamanism. They only have become stereotypes because for reasons other than that outward appearance, that form of shaman worked very well for that culture. And though all of the stereotypes of what a shaman is may be true in certain context, they are extremely limiting to it, and are in fact just stereotypes and do not represent the truth about the figure that is the Shaman. Though many people get an image in their head (often taken from a movie) of a shaman when they hear the word, and have a vague idea of what a shaman is, most do not actually know what the term shaman, or shamanism, mean. And these are very complex subjects, and not at all characterized by eccentric ambiguity, flimsy spiritualism and ungrounded or misty mentality. Rather the opposite, shamanism is something that, in the merging of world cultures by the modern age, and especially its academic institutions working towards the furthering of society, has become known to have a very definitive scientific and otherwise scholarly basis, and in the academic world of psychology and psychiatry; medicine and diet, as well as health, wellness and healing; astrology, metaphysics and philosophy; sociopolitics, anthropology and culture; among other very important scientific institutions, is nothing to be taken lightly or at (a grossly misunderstood) face value. At a superficial first glance the figure of the shaman may indeed appear to be weird or somewhat crazy by the very sterile standards of this day and age. However, shamanism is something that has become extremely enlightening to the international scientific communities and despite being archaic has in fact afforded the modern academic world very great leaps into the new era of higher knowledge and the progress of civilization.
In the academic sense, what shamanism is is the practice of metaphysics and mysticism in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes that serve the shaman and his community. Shamanism brings about higher/greater knowledge and power in both general spiritual ways (such as enlightenment, knowledge of metaphysics, blessings, etc.) as well as very practical ones (such as healing, divination, and effectuating sociopolitical changes in the world, etc. which is what the shamans role really came down to per his functions within the community. This is why most shamen are within their culture not known as a shaman but as a curandero (curer) or healer, diviner, or any number of forms of practical magician or sorcerer, and even a sociopolitical figure as part of the tribal court, as many shamen with their divine knowledge were). The function of shamanism is the altering of average brain functions into much greater ones for the attainment of greater knowledge and power which is then directed towards a specific purpose, often involving an elaborate practice combining many different scientific aspects. This afforded ancient cultures to make progress and gain knowledge of physics, astrology, health and medicine, etc.
What a shaman actually is, is any type of spiritual initiate, from ANY culture, not one in particular. The word shaman actually is an academic term, not a cultural reference. If it was a reference from any one culture, that culture would be Siberia, where the word shaman was derived from by the academic scholars of mysticism years ago, because the most ancient roots of the practices they wished to term “shamanism” were traced back to there most originally. The word Shaman was meant to define someone who practiced and was initiated into the realm of spirituality and mysticism in virtually any way that caused them to gain higher knowledge and power than the normal brain function usually allowed. Furthermore, this would usually also come with certain practical functions or prowess as well. However, anyone with metaphysical knowledge or powers, be they practiced or latent, due to a shamanic initiation by a near death experience or other similar experience does in fact fit under this term. Christ and Buddha were both in fact Shamen in the academic sense. They come from the few cultures whose scholars have largely still not given them this term, but by definition they were two of the worlds greatest shamen, (though not popularly known as such).
By general rule, anyone who has mystical knowledge, intuition or experience, even someone who may not think themselves a shaman but has had vivid spiritual dreams, experienced miracles or the granting of prayers or wishes, practiced divination or experienced powerful intuition or even just premonitions, or ever had any profound spiritual or mystical experience whatsoever could in fact have been technically experiencing shamanism and even possibly be a shaman and have been undergoing an unplanned shamanic initiation. Even (and especially) during a very imaginative childhood or during a very extreme situation in their life such as an illness or time of great change which would have caused a change in perspective and even brain chemistry, or an experience that could have been caused by drug experimentation as a teenager can academically be defined initiation, which could be delineated to any number of these experiences, or if someone always had a higher spiritual sense or prowess, they could be called a natural born initiate. Shamanism is the practice of experiencing mysticism and its metaphysics and effectuating its knowledge and power in ones mind and life, and if this is the cause of a permanent change, that could be called a shamanic initiation. Under these general parameters of course so many people who do not actually practice shamanism, much less subscribe to it, could be termed shamen. This is where things become more technically complicated for one who wishes to formally call themselves a shaman, however the point is that just as physics makes up and permeates our reality, so does metaphysics, and thus spirituality, and in its relationship to our fundamental world we have here, hence shamanism does as well and anyone can experience or practice it (and many do without even knowing). For people have certain faculties in their brain which can correspond to spiritual experiences happening from outside of oneself, or even causing them from within. With facts such as these, about the nature of physics, as well as brain chemistry, we can conclude that we are in fact living lives in a reality that, though physical, is also very spiritual, hence the hundreds upon hundreds of religions dedicated to explaining spirituality.
And so it is that in this realm of shamanism, everyone is given a window of opportunity to become a spiritual individual, called a shaman, either in a formalized and highly functional context or in a more casual personal way. This is perhaps the greatest point that the study of shamanism proves – that we have the innate ability to gain spiritual knowledge and prowess. That spirituality is in fact something everyone can “know” and “do,” either by outside influence or from faculties they have within; be it an abstract intuition or a concretely defined function of the pineal gland, different brain chemistry involving levels of acetylcholine, serotonin, melatonin, dimethyltryptamine, etc. as well as the neurological wiring and function itself. Shamanism is what gives everyone, usually at an early age or during a time in their life of change and need, the window into the spiritual realm and ability to become a spiritual initiate called a shaman in any way shape or form. Which brings us to our next, more formal debate on the topic of shamanism, that of the forms of initiation.
Introduction to (The Debates on)
What a Shamanic Initiate Is
There are several debates on shamanism’s practices and especially its initiations amongst its scholars, practitioners, and initiates. Perhaps the most acute is the debate on who is a valid and true initiate and who is a mere practitioner, and among initiations, whose form of initiation is “right” and whose is “wrong”. These debates abound here in America where many shaman who are not practitioners of Eastern forms of shamanism where humility is synonymous with enlightenment and humbleness with power, but rather tend to consider their one cultural form of spirituality and way of shamanic initiation to be the right one simply because they have had such a profound experience with it and are so proud of it. It is understandable that feeling so empowered by their spirituality they would have pride in its practices, and feeling that they as an initiate are one whose knowledge and power have great credence that they would share it with the utmost conviction, but of course one could also see how this could easily border on pretense and spiritual transgression into baser social tendencies.
This fine line is especially noticeable in simple tribal societies, where oftentimes boasting is a shamans only real way of advertising their abilities. The line becomes even finer when one learns that many cultural forms of shamanism, especially in South America and Africa, are infamous for their wars amongst shamen, who will kill each other with everything from weapons to magick, and being a warrior is synonymous with being a spiritual initiate or shaman just as being a politician is, and warring is in fact part of their spiritual practices (and in many archaic shamanic/tribal societies such as the ancient Aztecs the shamanic function of killing goes hand in hand with that of curing). Mere verbal debates or social challenges are even more commonplace, and when they are between shamanic initiates they are seen as a more symbolic model of battle and a fundamental example of ones power and validity as an initiate. And though this sociopolitical protocol may in theory be reasonable and generally allow for progressive social interactions (as the inIans demonstrated with their advanced sociopolitical structure), there is a transgression of the law where bullying occurs not infrequently. This is of course an opposite view held by the spiritual masters of the east, who believe that ones ability to be physically peaceful when confronted with an adversary is the greatest show of power which may in theory seem to work better in most everyday situations where its opposite would cause bullying, but when it comes down to life or death situations turns masters into martyrs. So of course each sides stance is valid and has ways in which it works and also may not. I am not here to take sides in this debate, rather to illustrate it in full and make note of the fact that in all actuality, every one of the spiritual initiates involved, on all sides of the debate and from all cultures, are in fact valid shamen. The best way, as the Buddha demonstrated, is often found in the middle ground.
I myself have had many interesting situations arise when I meet with someone who wishes to take a side in one of these cultures and their debates, in usually a self serving and sometimes an arbitrary and ironic or paradoxical fashion. One such instance is when one man once raised his hand to my son jokingly and I told him that it angered me. When he defended himself and denied its inappropriateness I further told him in a more militant fashion that if he wished to stand behind his action I was prepared to ensure my sons safety and honor with martial defense. I may have been over-reacting but at the time I felt justified and he felt as though I was being inappropriate, and told me that I am a shaman and a shaman should be peaceful, which I found ironic because I was simply reacting to his show of violence. I simply told him that half of the cultures of shamans out there are warriors on the front lines of the battlefield and will do anything to protect their families and ways of life and though I also believe in peace, I am hardly an exception and that the martial arts were meant exactly for such instances as these. However from certain eastern points of view which I also follow I may have been in the wrong, and should have simply been an observer of the ways of the universe in meditation, accepting of its perfection and perhaps viewing this threat as a test of my peace as a shamanic warrior and trust in the ways of the universe and perhaps waiting until at least the very moment when he initiated violence (instead of the moment it is threatened) to react with martial defense (rather than reacting like an Mayan warrior who’s average sociopolitical functions were sometimes possibly more like a Mafiosi than a spiritual master).
Neither perspective is ever absolutely right or wrong, because the situations are not absolute, they are abstract, and there are many politics involved which make all arguments from all sides very well balanced and almost entirely equally valid. Taking into consideration the relativity of the different right vs. wrong debates that occur within the sociopolitical realm of spiritual initiates, the conclusion that can be reached is that the only thing that is truly “wrong” is one spiritualist or shaman saying “my spirituality and way of shamanism is right and yours is wrong.” In such a relative world of paradoxically opposing extremes and the many trade offs and balance between them, how could that possibly be? This is the thing that a truly enlightened spiritualist is supposed to know and see, that the world is a paradoxical place, and in this paradoxicality, is perfectly balanced and quite systematized. In its relativity all things are equal and abstract, nothing is absolute, and so there is no real right or wrong in that sense, because there will always be two sides to a story which compliment each other and are equally valid. Thus a spiritualist can never tell another that their beliefs are wrong, especially in reference to their initiations or mystical/spiritual experiences. In fact, they may very well all be right! Who is anyone to judge and say that they aren’t? After all, spirituality and its truth is also an intimate personal thing, and is not absolutely the same for everyone.
The Debate on Shamanic
Initiate Vs. Shamanic Practitioner
Another political debate in the field of shamanism is that many initiates do not like the fact that there are people who throw around the term shamanic practitioner, referring to someone who practices shamanism without having been initiated. This again has validity on both sides, for as I have already illustrated, the faculties of shamanism are there for virtually everyone to practice, both within the mind and here on earth as well as in the surrounding universe. However this argument also has some ground on the other side, because initiation is a purposeful rite which is meant to be the right of passage into being a shaman. It is the initiation into the shaman’s knowledge and power and thus their ability to hold that status and execute that role. The purpose of the shamanic initiation is to grant a person this knowledge and power, which is given to them by the gods/goddesses of the cosmos or the spirits of the earth, and thus by the power that be this person is given not only the ability to practice it but the right to in accordance with cosmic law.
The argument is that a person who practices shamanism without being initiated is in great spiritual danger because they have not received full empowerment and protection by the powers that be nor have they received knowledge of the ways of the universe. They may not only be practicing it improperly and making great mistakes, which could either anger the powers that be or malign the metaphysical forces of the universe, but are spiritually vulnerable to many adverse forces as found in the underworld of the Earth, not to mention certain other universal forces or even gods which can be very overpowering to a mere human. For similar reasons it is said that a shamanic practitioner should not attempt to service others either. Hence one could see the validity in the argument that an uninitiated person would not have the right to practice certain forms of formalized shamanism which operates by cosmic law just as how one would not attempt to go to court and practice law without a law degree, much less pay a someone as a lawyer who does not actually practice law. The same goes for a chemist or machinist who is not actually trained and certified in operating as such, which could get quite danegerous and is why training and certification is the qualifier, and the same goes for shamanic initiations.
However, most of these practitioners are careful about not using the title “shaman” or practicing it in its more hardcore and formalized manners, which they do understand they do not have a right to the entitlement of, and they do call themselves simply shamanic practitioners because they are practicing their form of shamanism in a very informal and personalized way often dealing with milder universal forces and gentler spirits and more basic practical protocols with simple goals such as living a more blessed and auspicious life. To the best of my knowledge they operate with the best of intentions and concern for shamanic protocol, which is why they use the term “shamanic practitioner” and not just “shaman” to begin with and because they have shown such concern for the differentiation between the two I see no harm done. I have actually found that many of these shamanic practitioners are not interested in initiations, which can be quite hardcore and set one off on an intensive path of shamanism on a permanent basis. These individuals are only interested in practicing shamanism on a more casual, basic level with only certain comfortable formalities—enough to help make their lives more positive, progressive and prominent without the added weight the average shamanic initiate has to carry—and obviously having been introduced to those practices somehow, and finding themselves physically capable of practicing them and in doing so having the level of success which affords them the ability to continue practicing, I would have to delineate that the powers that be are allowing them to practice shamanism in that specific way that they are and that no one can say that they truly have no right to be functioning as a spiritualist even if they do use the word “shaman” with the word “practitioner” in front of it. As I have said, the way of spirituality is not about who is right and who is wrong. These practitioners can not and do not call themselves shamanic initiates or practice certain forms of shamanism that only initiates can it until they have undergone initiation and that is that, there is no real right or wrong. However this is where we come to the next debate, that of the different forms of initiation and their validity.
Further Debates and Facts on the Methods of Shamanic Initiation
Among the initiations and their debates, some Shamans like to invoke the name of their master, lineage, and cultural form of shamanism and the way in which they were initiated into it. The debate here is that one way is better or perhaps more “right” than another. In some cultures such as the great Incan civilization it is traditional social protocol for when two shamans meet in any given sociopolitical situation they will become confrontational and assess the person and challenge them in the realm of spiritual power. In this way their possible relationship is established and progress can be made through teaching, or some sort of sociopolitical accord, or perhaps a spiritual debate or battle which challenges each to be at their best ensuring that they only have their best to offer those they meet with in such confrontations. This manner of meeting can oftentimes be very revelatory, but usually these people in confronting one another with a challenging assessment were able to reach a greater level of interrelation towards a higher shamanic purpose. However, as illustrated earlier such things can easily border on bullying and when one begins to say, “Oh you call yourself a shaman? What gives you the right? I am a shaman too, a REAL one, so what makes you authentic? I was initiated by so-and-so, who did your initiations? I was initiated in this grandiose and highly recognized way, so how were you initiated? Oh, well the gods and spirits who give me my power are such-and-such, so what are yours? I am at level four, are you still only at level three?” It becomes somewhat of an interrogation and quite an immature bragging match, which is inappropriate for the advanced level that a shaman is supposed to operate at.
Such a unnecessary challenging would be a signifier of a person who is not secure enough in their role as a shaman or enlightened and empowered enough to feel unchallenged by others (or thankfully humbled by such empowerment and at peace in their enlightenment), but feels the need to substantiate themselves by comparing themselves to others in such a challenging and pretentious way. But like among politicians, businessmen, and others of high stature, this is somewhat commonplace. A shamanic initiate of a tribe in the Andes Mountains I spoke to recently said that a shaman can only be initiated by another shaman who is part of a lineage. And though I did just say that calling someone wrong is wrong, this is in fact false, because again, there is no one way of initiation that is the only right way, just as there is no one way of believing in god or practicing spirituality that is the right way. Now I am not saying that his cultural beliefs are wrong. Indeed, he is probably part of a tradition that says that a shaman should be imitated by another shaman who is part of a lineage, or that this is the best way, or most appropriate and formally proper, and in the relative yet sociologically and politically specific sense this has weight and this tradition may be a great one in that culture and in their tradition it may be seen as the right way for good reason. For the sake of argument it may even be the best way in many/most situations, but to say that it is the absolute universal way is not an appropriate statement for that would be calling many other cultures wrong, and a spiritualist who must substantiate themselves as right by calling others wrong, is in fact an insubstantial spiritualist, for faith is faith, and power is power, and if you have it, you do not need to define or substantiate it by comparing it to one that you call its converse which is “wrong”, or much less by condemning, others as wrong and blessing yourself as right.
To illustrate this debate in a more conclusive fashion I can delineate that although being initiated by a shaman of a formalized shamanic lineage with all of the knowledge and power of that lineage may be great for those formal political reasons but that being the ONLY model of shamanic initiation is an erroneous conviction, for then how did the lineage start? How were those shamen who were such great spiritual masters with such great knowledge and power that they were able to start the lineage itself FROM SCRATCH, with no one to teach them, initiated into the ways of the shaman? Obviously they did not do so by the hands of a shaman, much less one from a lineage. And These were in fact supposed to be the greatest shamen, which is why all of the shamen in the lineage after them were following their original teachings and ways. Yet by this belief that a shaman can be initiated only by lineage, the person making said argument then discredits and disqualifies their own lineage, because it had to start somewhere, and by this belief the shaman who started and initiated the lineage below them was a fake because he was not initiated in this manner. Luckily however, this is not true – these shamen were true initiates, and great shamanic masters, and both their initiations as well as the initiations of the members of their lineage, by a member of the lineage, are both valid forms.
The real truth is that there is more than one way to be initiated as a shaman, and sometimes the best ways are not planned, but are spontaneous, and not at the hand of another man, no matter how great of a master he may be, but are naturally occurring and thus at the hands of God, the universe, and the gods, spirits, and powers that be/forces within the universe. Having undergone a natural, spontaneous initiation means that you were specially chosen by these powers, not by your own rational minded political decision making processes or that of another mans, and given that these higher powers of the spiritual realm are the very ground of shamanism and its concerns. This could very well be seen as the best way to be “chosen” for initiation, and in the general academic community of shamanic scholars it is the foremost in the list of ways of shamanic initiation in pecking order of auspiciousness. This initiation like most others is by death or similar experience causing ones mental faculties to go through the same or a similar chemical procedure (causing permanent changes) as does in death, such as in a great sickness or accident.
The most auspicious way for a shaman to be spontaneously/naturally initiated at the hands of the gods is by lightning strike, because not only does it afford an intense death experience, but a charge of powerful energy to the persons body, mind, and spirit, and an electronic recalibration and rewiring of the brain into great shamanic faculties. This is however very rare, so there are other forms which are more common and perhaps equally effective, otherwise by this day and age shamanism would be extinct, rather than being such a prominent aid to the progress of civilization. These other forms of naturally occurring initiations are by illness, which can cause a death experience, out of body experience, or other mystical experience and is commonly is caused by food poisoning (which sometimes involves a psychedelic chemical reaction such as the anticholinergenic or other deleriant effect of many toxins, or any other mind altering interactions between the constituent molecules of many plants which have medicinal effects) or severe fever which often causes psychiatric delusions and mystical dreams or even a deep delirium in which one experiences hallucinations. Any of which could introduce one to the spirit realm in a very profound shamanic experience, and even permanently re-calibrate/wire ones brain.
Another great way to be initiated is by a severe physical accident or near death experience. This could be as simple as going ice skating and falling into the freezing waters and going into shock, causing an out of body experience or psychological trauma (and re-calibration). Another common example in this day and age is by car accident involving head injury (and re-calibration), or any accident involving blood loss (in shamanic tradition a blood letting or sacrifice to the earth), which also would cause one to go into shock or loose consciousness and possibly even have a death experience.
The archetype to be seen here in these initiation models is that of extreme physical misfortune. The reason this is part of the initiation is for a few reasons: the mortification, or pain, causes a shock to the nervous system and ones state of physical being, initiating ones state of being not only into a greater level of strength and power—that of a warrior—but oftentimes forcing one into a state of medical shock, which can be seen as a meditative/hypnotic state of shamanic entrancement causing an experience of spiritual transcendence and sometimes the characteristic shamanic death experience. Whether or not the person “goes into shock” in the medical term, any extreme shock to the nervous system will cause its recalibration and rewiring. When these instances happen to fall under the spiritual/shamanic protocols the nervous system is being re-calibrated, re-wired, and re-engaged under new spiritual light. As with hypnotic suggestion the more shamanic formalities and spiritual/mystical/metaphysical elements present, the more ones consciousness and state of being are then initiated into the hidden spiritual reality underlying the physical and its function and application which is shamanism.
The second aspect of this physical misfortune to take into consideration is the actual damage caused, and thus the need for healing. By shamanic protocol the initiate must be dismembered spiritually, either in a more literal sense or a purely symbolic one. This physical misfortune causes ones physical existence to be taken apart symbolically analyzed and re-examined in a new spiritual light. And as ones being is opened up and exposed to the otherworldly forces of the higher spiritual realm, these new energies then infuse and permeate the individual. This all usually happens during some form of mystical experience, be it a fantastic shamanic journey through an enchanted ethereal land, a nightmarish experience of death or the underworld characterized by great darkness, a higher celestial ascent, an self observation or inner psychological journey, or a meeting with guardian angels/spirits, gods/goddesses, ancestors, animal familiars (also known in Aztec shamanism and other forms of American shamanism as Naguals), or any manner of spirit, force, or higher power. Then, when the spiritual knowledge and power is gained through these mystical experiences, the individual then goes through a spiritual re-birth, in which they are reconstructed with this new constituent spiritual/energetic makeup (and brain re-wiring). None of this is possible without the initiatory archetype of physical misfortune, and furthermore first and foremost task of the new shaman to fulfill this initiation and set himself out on his path is that of healing himself, (hence the popular term “wounded healer”).
Regardless of any of its debates, these archetypes are the general formal criteria and protocol for a shamanic initiation. As you can see, many people can fit into this criteria with or without severe physical trauma and death experience, for as I have said in true spirituality, there is no right or wrong. Even a pregnant woman’s childbirth is technically a form of shamanic initiation that a huge portion of the population have undergone, and though it is not usually a death experience, the aspects of physical shock, spiritual experience, and chemical recalibration are still there. Also, as I have said, even many young children, be they conversing with imaginary friends, daydreaming of a fantasy land, or fooling around with a Ouija board are in fact practicing and being initiated (or have already) into the ways of shamanism. And many other life experiences including most hardships and intense changes can be delineated into qualification as a shamanic rite of passage. The point is that there are protocols and formalities involved in traditional shamanic initiations, but we do not live in a tribal setting anymore. These archetypes will always be present in peoples lives just as the spiritual reality that underlies the physical will, and your path of spirituality is your path. As a human with a brain and a universe around you, you have the capacity and ability to function in some way, shape, or form as a spiritual being at whatever level by whatever capacity or formality/protocol. The window of opportunity to see into that world and bring it into your reality and have it be a functioning part of your consciousness and lifestyle will always show itself, all you have to do is accept the calling. Most people in this world do have spirituality as a part of their lives, because its reality is in fact always there. However most of them are not doing so by the personalized “do it yourself” protocol of shamanism, where your experience equals your initiation and your direct relationship to the powers that be and their realm of spirituality. Instead most people have churches and priests which function as their mediums to this realm, and even some shamen will permanently act as such. A real priest or shaman is supposed to usher you into this relationship, not be stationed in your way as a permanent intermediary (which is oftentimes more like an obstruction).
This brings me back to the other end of the initiation debate to address the other ways of initiation, which are all done by someone else’s hand. These may be better, more formalized initiations because they may be planned out very well by a master shaman to adhere to a complex metaphysical protocol and involve many elements of spirituality. They may be elaborate ceremonies that take a week. They may be planned out on the most auspicious of astrological occasions and arranged by the laws of feng shui and executed with the utmost mastery and precision, or may even consist of several stages of initiation to bring ones consciousness and spiritual state of being to the highest level possible. Thus many of these initiates do attain a greater technical knowledge and power within that one cultural tradition and perhaps even reach a higher level. But none of them can say their initiations were “better” than a natural/spontaneous initiation because they cannot say that being chosen by a shaman for initiation is better than being chosen by god and the other universal powers that be, though many shamen will claim that they choose their initiates because they are intermediaries of the gods/spirits/powers that be who have pointed out this individual to them. This of course may (and ideally should) be true, and the point is that in the end there are some trade offs, but Initiations are all largely equal and none are any more valid than any others.
Furthermore, the archetype of initiation remains the same. The other forms of initiation, by someone’s hand, will always have to consist of the death or similar mystical experience and the spiritual elements and changes involved. Whether a man is born into a lineage or is chosen or seeks out a shaman, that shaman will always be initiating him by the archetypes of initiatory models. This is most often done by poisoning or the administration of a psychedelic plant drug (known in the academic world as an “entheogen”, which literally means “god within”), or by instructing the initiate to do something very extreme (a feat of a warrior), such as diving off a high cliff into freezing waters and swimming down to touch the bottom of a lake. Anything bringing ones physical existence to the edge of this realm where it meets death and mysticality/spirituality, such as many the renowned practices of fasting, vision quests, asceticism and corporal mortification, or any manner of ceremonies conducted in order to drastically change ones life and state of being by opening one to higher powers and conducting higher more powerful energies into ones body, such as with the widespread practice of baptism in most western religions.
As you can see throughout this article I have referenced things that are very commonplace in the normal world of today and the normal individual’s lifestyle. The fact that is being illustrated is that shamanism is actually very commonplace. Most people do not realize the ways they are involved with shamanism. Also, many people have undergone an initiation and could technically be a shaman, but have not even realized it. Most of the world today is Christian, who have consciously rejected tribal religions and their archaic spiritual practices such as shamanism. They disregard the fact is that Christ was the greatest shaman of our time, and did in fact come from a tribe. In his day the word shaman was not in use (for as I have said it is a modern, academic term that was not actually used by any culture except for its root word in Siberia), but he was known by words that were much more taboo, such as Alchemist and Sorcerer (which he was in the tradition of Kabala, or Jewish Metaphysics, Mysticism and Magick). Christ was the greatest of these ever known, and by his following was obviously the greatest guru. In this day and age of spiritual sterility and sole physicality such terms are exchanged for more user friendly ones such as messiah and prophet, but the fact of the matter was that Christ was the king of shamen. For, looking at the facts, his death rite was the most ultimate, as was the ascetic mortification and blood sacrifice he underwent. Before that, his powers as a healer, magician, and prophet were indisputable and definitive. He was a born initiate recognized by many priests, holy men, magician and spiritual masters/initiates across the land, and his birth as the spiritual king was symbolized by astrology (which back in those days was the most magical function of a shaman, sorcerer, wizard or like practitioner). All of the technicalities and elements signifying a shaman were there for Christ in the most ultimate way. Was he initiated by anyone? No, he was born a natural initiate, and regarded by many as a shaman because the powers that be signified it, though many people contested and persecuted him because that is the political nature and function of much indoctrinated/orthodox religion (contrary to true spirituality)—dictatorship.
And so the religious/political officials persecuted Christ and put him to death, where he gained immortality and was truly substantiated as a shaman. As his role achieved the greatest success it possibly could and his legacy as spiritual king will always live on, ESPECIALLY AMONG THOSE WHO PERSECUTED AND MURDERED HIM. Those who became the roman Catholics and other forms of European Christians, and decided to change his teachings and bible enough so that it would be politically correct and no one would try to practice shamanism and follow in his footsteps. Luckily civilization has progressed to a point where we can no longer be tried, judged or persecuted for shamanism or other spiritual practices that aren’t meant to harm others but rather to help. And the reason this very ironic and perfectly paradoxical set of events happened with Christ is because true spirituality is beyond right and wrong, life and death.
Such politics which are really only baser elements solely confined to the realm of existence and have no ground in the higher reality of spirituality, and someone who truly lives spirituality cannot be contested or challenged, much less persecuted or killed (for of course as Christ said, the lives of those who exist in spirit do not end with their physical death, but really just begin). So when someone challenges me as a shaman, I do not engage. One Native American became infuriated when we were speaking of ceremonial drumming and a pow wow that I had attended. I mentioned drumming as my practice as a shaman rather than as a formalized musician. He became flustered and said that I “aint no shaman”. So I said “ok”. He challenged me further as an initiate, asking if I had ever done a 4 day fast in a sweat lodge ceremony, as he had, and assumed I hadn’t, which was correct. I said “no”. The conversation then ended with him telling me that only someone of native American blood can truly be a shaman until I reminded him that shamen come from every culture, which he agreed to but then said that even a drop of native American blood in your body makes you better for it. At that point I saw this conversation as a dead end, and didn’t challenge him in return, telling him that I hadn’t just fasted for four days, but in my practice of asceticism I had actually fasted (with liquids) for over two months until I was nearly dead, and I hadn’t done a sweat lodge ceremony, but I had done a three equally or exceedingly intense death initiations that lasted two or three days each. I could have offered a fair comparison but I was not interested in trumping him or his spirituality because nothing he said or did could invalidate my experiences. It just didn’t matter. He didn’t write the book on shamanism, and wanted to bring me into a battle which was actually with himself.
Remember, if someone ever condemns you, they are really condemning themselves and their own guilt complex. Such guilt complex is the reason why people focus on sins, “wrongs” and “evils”, and base their spiritual lifestyles around condemning those who are such as their means of being blessed. It is a self defeating mode of existence because such focus comes from ones own corruption, and ends with it. To truly experience spirituality you must transcend this lower realm and its arbitrary base concerns such as the concept of good vs. evil. I try my best to live outside of the realm of such warring extremes we experience here such as right and wrong. There was no sense in fighting with a native American whose culture was raped by the white man and in return feels the need to defend and preserve their ways by contrarily thinking that they too are the absolutely definitive and right ones (and was probably militantly angered to find that the white man was now practicing a spirituality he felt to be indigenous and sacred to his culture alone). What occurred between us was a step on his path that helped to define him spiritually and his journey of enlightenment and empowerment, and what little I could do to help him up the mountain was to make a few simple remarks, such as “anyone from any culture could be a shaman,” but not to try to intervene in his consciousness and change his way of thinking or indoctrinate him into my way, even if I thought he was caught in a self defeating and incorrect thought pattern or belief.
The facts were that I do not practice his form of shamanism, and so by his standards I could not be a shaman, and in that realm of thinking he was right, though in the realm of truth, he was not, though either way he was best left to his own devices and would either have a very successful life living within his tight cultural confines, or, more likely, being that he actually lives here in America, which is a melting pot of cultures and ways of life, he will be doing the relative and self defeating battle of “I’m right and your wrong” until he looses one way or another and realizes that there are more than one valid ways to exist here on this earth. There is a give and a take and none of them are exactly the same, they are all quite equal.
My Personal Shamanic Archetype
This brings me back to the fact that the term shaman is an academic one. Something most people who use the term do not know this, and think that the indigenous tribes and cultures are also using this word in their respective dialects. Many of them do not stop to think that when they engage in these debates but use the term shaman, why it is a term that is referring to any shaman from any culture, when no two are exactly alike (but of course do share general archetypes). This is because shamanism has always been present in every culture, and so eventually scholars needed a solvent for its ways, and so they came up with the word. This word describes an eclectic mix of practices and signifiers. There are many things that every culture’s way of spirituality shares but many differences that make them each unique. Furthermore, there is a reason why there are so many different ones, and that is because none of them are the absolute right ones. None of them hold the absolute truth, though you can find truth in all of them. Orthodox or indoctrinated religion with its politics and protocols and right vs. wrong/good vs. evil is an adulteration of spirituality. Spirituality, like shamanism, is (supposed to be) abstract, archetypal, and non-denominational. This is why I choose to practice all ways of shamanism and subscribe to all spiritual philosophies. How could I possibly be a better universal being, a better shaman, without being eclectic and archetypal? How else could I be more enlightened than by knowing all ways, and following an abstract philosophy, rather than an (supposed and ostensibly) absolute one? How could I be more empowered and have more shamanic prowess than by practicing all spiritual ways and forms of shamanism in an archetypal manner in which they all compliment each other and combine into one? How else could I better serve EVERYONE as a shaman than by being non-denominational, academic and objective in my approach? This is the way that was shown to and chosen for me by the universe, and which I have continued to choose and subscribe to.
Many say that you can get deeper into spirituality when you find one point of focus to dedicate yourself to and delve into as far as you can. This is true, which is why I do have points of greater focus which I will continue to travel the path of. Some forms of shamanism and spirituality I gained introductory knowledge of, which has served me well in compliment to my general ways but I may not delve any deeper into, especially if I have to choose between giving my time and energies to them or something that simply is for some reason or another better suited to me. But I will never say that one way is generally better than another, and will always steer away from saying that “I am a Taoist” (though if I had to ever call myself one religious “thing” it would be that, because it is the most abstract and was never supposed to be an “ism”, and follows the very philosophy I am illustrating as its way of spirituality). I will always be a non-denominational and eclectic shaman because otherwise I limit myself, and this is the opposite of the purpose of the (my) shamanic path and would be a great disservice to myself and those who need me as a path worker or to be of help to them in any way.
I have been initiated in many ways. The first was a natural spontaneous initiation. Though if you were to ask me, I was always a shaman as a child and always felt as though I was living in the spiritual realm, as many children do. My first initiation was when I was doing some soul searching after a relationship ended and I decided to take some time to myself and retreat to the country and just work on me for a while. While experimenting with a some natural remedies (one of which acted as a mild monoamine oxidase inhibitor) for ones brain function I grew nauseated by one herbal admixture. In my young ignorance I took an antihistamine, which then combined caused a toxic, psychedelic chemical reaction in my system (largely due to the MAOI effect as well as some complexities of the combination that I cannot go in depth on here, but was a very good learning experience to say the least) and underwent a very intense death experience. At the time I was studying philosophy, but knew little about shamanism and what I did know seemed too far out and a bit crazy to me. This experience however led me to some more experimentation with natural plant psychedelics for psychotherapeutic purposes over the course of a few months, before concluding these practices and the research documents I composed on them.
Six months after my first initiation I was contacted by a shaman. After meeting with him and bringing up many life changes and recounting my experiences with death and mysticism/psychedelia he told me that I had in fact been initiated as a shaman, and that was my path now, and that my life and state of being would continue to change. A year later I finally embraced this and began practicing shamanism purposefully. I went through several more initiations, both planned and unplanned. Some were with entheogens and a very well planned initiatory protocol, others were elaborate metaphysical/magickal ceremonies that were planned with astrology and divination and involved many forms of practical shamanic procedures and invocations of spritits/gods and goddesses, shamanic entrancement/meditation and journeying and other ceremonial proceedings. However most of my most monumental initiations were naturally occurring illnesses and changes to my being and life.
One winter I was sick four times, once with pneumonia, once with the flu, once with a fever, once with food poisoning. Two of these caused further death initiations and the fever caused intense mystical states of consciousness with delirious dreams and even some waking hallucinations between them. Also around this time, which was a few months after having initiated myself in the tradition of Bwiti (the original form of Christianity which is a north African shamanic tribal religion in which members eat of the psychedelic plant Iboga, which is the tree of knowledge that Adam and eve (or Obola and Biome, as they were originally known) ate of) I went through an initiation which consisted of my being brutally assaulted at my place of employment and struck on the head several times until it cracked open. This caused a great alteration to my consciousness and both physical and mental state of being, and was quite recalibrating.
Later, continuing my study of Bwiti, I learned that in some sects they actually crack open the top of the initiates head during their rite of passage into adulthood, so that, as with baptism, their will be a clear conduit between their mind and the heavens. All of my most powerful initiations were administered to me not by choice or plan, but by the powers that be, naturally and spontaneously. During my years as a young scholar, I refused to subscribe to any one philosophy or practice over another, and disliked the thought of being initiated by another man, who being a man would not be as objective as the universal powers that be and abstract forces I knew to hold the ways of truth, but rather would be just a mere subjective member of a cultural tradition. Eventually I did find a suitable non-denominational temple, which happened to be one of the best temples in the world, one that was of the ancient shamanic ways of Sanskrit spirituality, which I knew to be not only the world’s oldest way of spirituality next to shamanism, but a very archetypal and ultimate one at that. This temple practiced a form of Hindi Tantra, which was an even more shamanic way of spirituality, and a very great form of it, known as Sri Vidya (which literally translates as Auspicious Knowledge) and worshipped the Goddess Sri Rajarajeswari, a Queen Goddess and consort of Shiva (the god of death and rebirth, destruction and conception). After attending temple casually as an infrequent observer for a year or so, my interest peaked and I decided to get more involved and began to open up to the guru, Sri Chaitanyananada Nantha, and he began to notice and took a great liking to me because of the goddesses such as Kamakshi whom I told him I seemed to have a great relationship with and really liked. After almost another year of attending this tantric temple society I was given initiation by the guru, who is part of a lineage that dates back to mythological times and was started by a three headed deity (known in the academic world as a demi-god) known as Sri Dattatreya. I was formally initiated by a Guru into this lineage. So no matter what side of the debate someone takes regarding what a shamanic initiation should be I have been initiated by it, because I subscribe to all methods and always wished to be fully initiated as a shaman by all of them. The point is that none of them have ever been right or wrong, and perhaps with the exception of the very first death initiation which started it all no one has ever been more important or valid than any other. They have all been integral complimentary parts of an eclectic, great ultimate whole that has been my administration of higher knowledge and power, and my ability to administer it to those whose paths intersect with mine.
This word “path” is a very significant term. Some of us have paths that intersect and intertwine. Sometimes we share paths with someone for a time. But no one can ever tell you what your path is. The path of shamanism is a personal path of spirituality. Shamanism is not a religion; it knows no orthodoxy or indoctrination. It is dynamic and intimate and individual. It is about you. Not your church or organization. The greatest shaman largely practice alone and need no others to substantiate themselves. As I write in the story about my initiation into shamanism, it is a do it yourself way of spirituality. You are introduced to the spiritual side and ways of the universe through your own personal, mystical experiences and spiritual lifestyle. Your path changes, and I can help you on it, but what it comes down to is you and your lifestyle. It is about your choices and commitment, and your path and what you want it to be. I use shamanism as a way of helping anyone to manifest and live their dreams, because that is the power it holds.
I am not a priest of any religion, so it is not my job to read from a sacred text and tell people what is what. It is my job to help them heal and achieve wellness through a diet that best suits their needs. It is my job to help them achieve a psychological state of objectivity and enlightenment with their consciousness. It is my job to bless them by the powers that be that they wish to have introduced to their life, and introduce new healing empowering energies to them. It is my job to do path work for them in the way that they want and need so that their path will be paved to the destination they desire it to lead to and then help them be able to travel it sufficiently to reach this goal. It is my job to help people help themselves, to become the best they can be, become the person they want to be, and live the life they want, and in the end be able to do it themselves and not need me anymore. I am not a church, I am a shaman, and that is the way of spiritual initiation that I practice, and it may be as simple as a one time blessing, or as elaborate and intensive as an ongoing apprenticeship – the choice is yours.
I can introduce someone to any spiritual ways of the world they want, or to the pure abstract universal realm of it that I also know. I can also keep my path work within the realm of rational philosophy and science, as I have always been a scientist first and practice spirituality as metaphysics for that reason. I use this archetypal way because in my first death initiation I became one with the universe, with Tao, with god, and I experienced a pure abstract truth that was beyond all “things” that we know here, beyond this or that, beyond words. In my delineation as a scientist I learned that truth is beyond the realm of saying what it is in opposition to what is false, and furthermore that you cannot indoctrinate truth. Truth is abstract, your truth may be different than mine, and I know that, because I know what truth truly is.
So when you come to me as a shaman for help, I know that the best way for me to help you is not by putting you on my path, but by putting myself on yours. In this way I can do your path work for and with you and help you to pave it for what it should be for you, rather than telling you that in “This” religion “This” is right and “That” is wrong, and so you should live in “this” way to be right, and not “that” way to be wrong. Frankly, when I hear about people going through this in church, I wonder how the business (and yes, it is a business), or churches and religion can survive, because its no ones business to dictate such things under pretense of words like “truth”, much less “divinity,” and the will of the higher power(s), which do in fact have different plans for us all. No, what I can, and will do is be objective, and tell people facts such as how eating certain foods are generally unhealthy and why/how, while other foods are healthy (and why/how). And what I will do is ask a person what their beliefs and lifestyle choices are and adhere to them and help them to live to the fullest based upon them, because even in an indigenous culture where many shaman think they are right and the next shaman is wrong, if you go to a shaman with a few coins and ask him to exorcise you of spiritual impurities, or to help you better yourself, or perhaps even do something arbitrary such as an adverse spell, he is not going to judge you. He is going to be objective, and give you professional service and facts (such as, of course I can do that spell for you but you should know that it comes with a warning label, or of course I can exorcise these impurities from you. But you should also know that there is a root cause that should also be addressed) to meet your wants and needs, and that is what I do.
Furthermore, beyond helping people as a shaman and holist, it is my even higher goal to teach and give you the ability to be helped yourself, rather than becoming a crutch. For true shamanism is about doing things yourself and becoming initiated into the realm of holistic and spiritual mastery yourself, rather than always being a follower. That is the mark of a true shaman and guru, and the final concern I wish to address in this article: You are only as good as your guru. This is an old Indian aphorism. Thus a good guru makes sure his pupils are as good as he is, for that is his mark. If the enlightenment and empowerment I provide is not permanent, then it is not true, and so neither am I as a shaman. Thus that is the goal of my work, to provide permanent purity, healing and wellness, blessings, enlightenment, and empowerment, in a way that you can carry from your experiences with me into your everyday life and its ongoing path, and learn to do for yourself. And this is True Shamanism.
So stay tune for the launch of the spiritual division of True Life Development in 2016 called “True Life Spirituality”, and if you are interested in a personalized shamanic apprenticeship be sure to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about one! And otherwise good luck on your path to self actualization!