From the countryside to the concrete jungle
Spend any amount of time in spiritual groups on the Internet and you'll quickly see that the community-at-large has arrived at decisive conclusions concerning shamanism. Users have strong opinions about what a shaman should be in this modern age. Arbitrary rules concerning behavior, dress, practice and ability have been established without any clear reason as to how this came to be. And if you dare ask questions about why any of this is the way it is, you'll get banned, blocked and may even be called names. And you may even be bullied into silence.
You'll often hear cries of cultural appropriation whenever shamanism is brought up in these communities. That white people are stealing from people of color. But is that what is really happening? Is it thievery or celebration? Do shamans from indigenous cultures even care what we are doing in America at all? Self-appointed stewards of cultures that they are not a part of often say that urban shamans are stealing from other cultures and are illegitimate based on their race, heritage or practice. While it's true that Mongolian Shamanism won't exactly be effective in Western culture and even Mongolian Shamans adapt their rituals to fit the needs of Westerners. But Shamanism is the state religion in Mongolia and in America we have the benefit of religious freedom...except when you are a shaman. You are not free to practice as you see fit. In fact, the "Shaman Justice Warriors" are wringing their hands over things that might not even be real.
If other cultures had not wanted Westerners to use their ceremonies, then they wouldn't have shared them with us. No one is stealing anything. With this attitude, no one outside of Japan should eat sushi and people in Germany should not listen to Taylor Swift. And did anyone ever stop to ask an actual shaman what they think about this at all? Well, no. Because this attitude assumes that any shaman in our culture is not really a shaman and they can't be a shaman and anyone claiming that they are is a fake shaman. Assumptions? Contempt before investigation? Accusations?
Now you may be asking yourself...is that shamanism? Shouldn't this withstand just a fair amount of scrutiny? Why not allow a healthy informed conversation about this? Are people in these groups so easily triggered that words must be carefully chosen so as not to upset delicate sensibilities? Are the leaders of these groups appropriate? Especially if they are so ban-happy disallowing tough questions at the same time allowing name-calling and unfair criticism. Is that where these rules came from? Just a handful of people who aren't shamans who just so happen to moderate the most popular groups on the Internet?
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So many questions but we can't get answers because there are strict rules in these communities about what can be said and what can be revealed. And the attitudes formed in these communities have spilled out into the real world like a toxic poison. These beliefs about shamans in the west are so rigid and absolutely no one could be a shaman in our culture while also adhering to these nonsensical arbitrary rules. And yet, despite these rules shamans still exist in our culture. Their job is just made more difficult due to the cultural misappropriation that these false beliefs engage.
Where did these beliefs come from? Certainly not our culture. Our culture simply has not had the time to have developed anything involving a shamanic hierarchy so these attitudes have been stolen from other cultures and then shoe-horned into ours. They don't belong here. They don't serve us. As Urban Shamanism in its infancy, it's a bit premature to have these established rules and customs. In the article "Shamanism Without Beliefs" from Shamanportal.org Michael Drake writes: "When a practitioner has rigid beliefs about shamanism, they aren't practicing shamanism." And Shamanportal.org claims to be a resource for everything shamanic but it's clearly not. Other cultures are overly-romanticized and treated as if they are delicate and fragile and need protection from Americans. And that's true. But we in America are prevented from establishing our own traditions while at the same time roundly criticized from using rituals from other cultures. Yet it's happening anyway. So why are some shamanic customs allowed to be used in our culture that have a squelching effect on the spiritual practice here in America? Is silencing people shamanism?
My personal story involves being banned from the largest shamanism group on Facebook. I was called "mentally unstable" by the moderator and banned. When I revealed this in another shamanism group on Facebook, I was also banned from that community as well. I have talked to other people who have been banned for similar reasons. And what were we doing? Trying to learn and figure out what was going on with us. That's all. Now, I can withstand being called mentally unstable but what if I actually was. I was told to "get help" by the moderators but wasn't I in the right place to receive that help? Is banning so-called "mentally unstable" people the right way to go about something like that? And when I spoke up about this, I was publicly criticized even more by certain members of the group. While some members of the group said privately that they were sad this had happened but they also not dare declare their support for me publicly less they incur the wrath of those moderators and get banned as well. And if it hadn't been for some wise and knowledgeable shamans to help guide me, I might have succumbed to something really awful like suicide or drug overdose. Rejected from the community-at-large, where is a shaman-to-be supposed to go?
So let's practice Shamanism here. Let's drop any preconceived notions or beliefs and get to the heart of the matter. Where did these rules come from and why have they been implemented so swiftly? As you cannot excise a shaman from the culture they were born into, let's not look to other cultures for answers because in our culture shamanism is brand spanking new. And if we want to avoid cultural appropriation, we'll have to create our own traditions to pass down to the next generation.
Shamans Shouldn't Call Themselves Shamans
Maybe in other cultures it's not appropriate for shamans to call themselves shamans. If you are not really a shaman, perhaps you'll be mocked and ridiculed for saying such a thing about yourself. But what about in our culture? Have we examined the heavy burden the urban shaman must face in a culture that's wholly ignorant about what shamanism truly is? The urban shaman must educate as well as perform their duties within their community. Can we leave it up the shaman themselves whether to "come out" or not?
Throughout history shamans have been heavily persecuted. And this persecution continues into modern day. Our culture is littered with failed initiations and it's no wonder with the prevailing attitude that many initiates succumb to suicide. For many initiating shamans, being a shaman is the only thing that makes sense. It explains the visions of being dismembered in addition to the hearing the call to help the community. No one really wants to be a shaman, anyway so anyone daring to call themselves a shaman would perhaps at least have an idea of the huge responsibility facing them. And if not, shouldn't they be educated or directed to elders, resources and community? Saying a shaman should not call themselves a shaman is most definitely cultural appropriation because that arbitrary rule does not serve our community, culture or the shamans themselves.
In our culture, people want to know what you do for a living or what your passions are. An electrician is an electrician and we know exactly what that job entails. You have an electrical problem, you call an electrician. It would be foolish to call a plumber to install a new light switch. But that is what is going on in our culture. People are looking for guidance, healing and development in places that don't serve them. Shamans heal. They don't use band-aids. A shaman fills a role within the community. It's a service job requiring long hours, lifelong training and personal sacrifice. They gain insight into human nature through a lifetime of pain and suffering. If the shaman has healed themselves, then they gain the right to heal others. So if someone asks the shaman what they do, should they say they are a plumber when they're really an electrician?
Shamans Shouldn't Charge Money For Their Services
Shamans in other cultures might be well taken care of by their tribe with housing, food and other necessities provided as long as the shaman does their job. Yet in other cultures, shamans might be required to hold another job and perform their duties for no compensation. But what would best serve our culture and our shamans? We've established that becoming a shaman is no cakewalk and a shaman might have divorced themselves from earthly pursuits such as acquiring wealth, property or seeking fame or accolades. If shamans in our culture should not charge money for their services, then how can they be housed, fed and do their job properly?
Unless we establish a clear way to take care of our shamans, then maybe they should be paid for what they do. Maybe some in our culture feel entitled to the wisdom the shaman gained through intense trials, overwhelming suffering and by defying death. Maybe they think the shaman can handle it. And that's partly true. But making life harder on the shaman whose life is already difficult may not serve our best interests. Maybe we just ask the shaman what they need? Some might be happy to work a full time job and do shaman work on the side while others might be so overtaken by the shamanic impulse that holding a steady job becomes impossible. No shaman is in it for the money and we do have to realize that by taking care of our shamans, we take care of ourselves. And in our culture, rent must be paid. So saying that a shaman should do their job for free is most definitely from another culture and doesn't really fit ours at all.
You Can't Learn To Be A Shaman From A Book Or A Class
The prevailing attitude that people are just taking classes and deciding that they are shamans is based on the idea that being a shaman is a glamorous job full of attention and accolades. Maybe people might have seen gorgeously designed flyers depicting well-groomed people teaching classes and offering workshops on how to be a shaman. Even ShamanPortal.org displays advertisements such as these at the same time condemning them. But we have no idea what's really going on in those classes or even how well-attended they are. In reality, the shaman tearfully and fearfully accepts what is happening to them. If there are classes available to them, then isn't that a good thing? And there are many books available for the shaman to learn from and to further aid their training. The initiating shaman is often thrust into poverty so affording these classes is quite impossible. But any shaman knows that what can be learned in those books and classes can also be learned direct from spirit and in other cultures spirit-led training is considered vastly superior to what an elder can teach.
So maybe we ask the shaman how they trained rather than project what we think we know about them. Why are we deciding that any shaman today must have learned from a book or a class because we have no clear lineage or council of elders? America is a culture of cultures any many shamans today can trace their ancestry back to a shamanic heritage. There may have been a physical break but the spirit connection is stronger than ever. So maybe in our culture it's appropriate for a shaman to learn from a book or a class since we have no established structure for the shaman to turn to. In other cultures, books or classes are not necessarily needed as the wisdom is handed down orally from generation to generation so bringing that into our culture is definitely appropriation because that's not the way our culture works. In our culture elder wisdom is often dismissed in favor of schools, books and the Internet.
Shamans Are Doing It For The Sex
In addition to being poor and homeless, shamans should also be celibate and isolated. Do what? Somewhere along the way, an attitude took root that shamans were using their powers to seduce women or have sex with the people they are helping. If shamans today have no powers, then how could this be a thing at all? This attitude claims to be able to get into the mind of a shaman and discover his motives. This also conveniently scares people away from seeking a shaman while implanting the idea that a shaman only wants your body. This idea is false. In the age of Tinder and Grindr, anyone seeking sex can easily find it. Becoming a shaman in order to have sex with people is the opposite way of "getting laid" as some have put it. A shaman's sex life is extremely complicated because people often offer sex to the shaman as a way to show affection or gratitude. Maybe this is disallowed in other cultures for good reason but does it serve our culture?
A healing session is deeply personal and romantic feelings towards the shaman can naturally develop. In reality, the shaman might be turning down offers of sex or telling people upfront to not develop an attraction at all. If a shaman chooses to have sex with someone, what is the custom surrounding that? Should the shaman marry or have children? And what of the person who is rejected by the shaman? If they take it personally, they might go about destroying the shaman's reputation in a "if I can't have you no one can" scenario. The shaman, with a deep understanding of human nature, knows this is a factor in working with others. Can we leave it up to the shaman to decide who to have sex with and who to not?
A celibate shaman might have less complications, but it's complications that give the shaman his ability. Most spiritual leaders have messy personal lives because constant self-work is necessary and if their friends and romantic partners cannot keep up then conflicts will naturally arise. While shamans are considered spiritual leaders, in reality they are more mediators between worlds and dimensions. Shamans might also engage in sexual healing. Projecting what one thinks a shaman is all about is not only unfair, it also reveals the belief system of the one doing the accusing. Who does things to "get laid" anyway?
While birds might have to engage in elaborate mating rituals, humans merely have to get naked or pull their genitals out. Every human alive is "doing it for the sex" if you really think about it. A deep understanding of the libido is necessary and the shaman knows that the libido informs everything from appetite, grooming and self-care. This attitude that shamans are doing their job in order to get sex is wholly ignorant of how humans beings are wired. Humans love sex. Sex is wonderful.
Bringing shameful feelings about sex into shamanism is not a good fit for what it serves to accomplish. Shamanism can heal sexual issues such as erectile dysfunction or trouble orgasming. Shamans might be more sexually evolved and they might be using sexual energy in a way that's not easily recognized. People might want to sleep with a sexually attractive shaman so it's more the motivation of the client or the person seeking the shaman. They might be the ones doing it for the sex. But do we really have a right to the sex lives of others at all? If you want your shaman to be celibate, the seek out a celibate shaman. If you want your shaman to be a stud or vixen, then you can do that as well. We should leave that up to the person seeking healing or help. Our culture is sexually repressed enough and shamanism is all about freedom from that.
Shamans Want Fame Or Accolades
Our culture is obsessed with celebrities and famous people. Ordinary people get swept up in this seeking Instagram followers, Facebook friends and YouTube subscribers. Research shows that every time you get a notification on your social media accounts, the brain releases a tiny bit of dopamine. This attention could quickly turn into an addiction. But shamans aren't necessarily wired that way. Sensitive to the energies and projections of others, a shaman is actually trying to hide away from public view at the same time be available to others.
Ask any famous person what it's like to be famous and they will tell you that it sucks. Being recognized in public, having to be nice all the time, having to project an image to the world and having to do things that are against your values and your morals. Lady Gaga revealed that she disliked having a perfume and having to spend more time taking selfies with fans rather than just making music. Most famous people love doing what they do but the byproduct of being good at what you do is fame. That's it. It's a byproduct.
Anyone seeking fame will quickly discover it's not what they think it is. Ask anyone whose video has gone viral and suddenly their Facebook is swarmed with people calling them names. They might find that their private phone number is published and their home address revealed. They might find their friends revealing personal details about them and even ex-lovers sharing bad experiences. Ordinary folks are not set up for fame and anyone suddenly thrust into the spotlight might handle it very poorly. Sudden fame can ruin your life in a matter of days.
Shamans have had their ego completely wrecked so fame-seeking is something completely uninteresting. As somewhat of a public figure, the shaman's reputation is important to a degree. But claims of a bad experience with a shaman cannot be reliable given the intricacies of human nature. If a shaman gets attention, then others will naturally be jealous of that attention. In extreme cases that person may seek to destroy that person getting attention. Projecting that a shaman wants to be famous reveals a deep misunderstanding about what fame is and who really wants it. If no one wants to be a shaman in the first place and no one wants to really be famous, then this attitude is a false belief. And if a shaman does get attention for what they do, then it is just a natural byproduct of what they do for others.
As far as getting rewards or accolades, the shaman doesn't need that at all. The reward is in the work and anything after that is just a byproduct. Shamans don't need praise and attention nor does that even affect them. In fact, the shaman might warn others against placing them on a pedestal or even believing everything they say. The shaman knows that things like that are straight-up ego food and the shaman would downplay anything like that. And if a shaman does receive praise, it's not required or warranted.
Why Not Just Ask An Urban Shaman?
We've identified that some of the arbitrary rules that have been assigned to shamans in our culture have actually been misappropriated from others and they don't fit our culture at all. And in reality, shamans from other cultures are learning from what we are doing here in ours. I personally know shamans from all over the world and we are learning from each other and helping each other grow. I wouldn't mind if an Amazonian shaman stole my rituals to Madonna songs but he probably wouldn't because that's not his culture. He could try it, of course, but most in his culture would think "Like A Virgin" to be ridiculous in the same way that those in my culture would think his songs inappropriate. Different cultures have different issues. The urban shaman is designed and trained to suit the specific needs of the culture they were born into. At not point in the discourse or establishment of these arbitrary rules was a shaman in our culture asked how they felt about them. Shouldn't shamans in our culture at least be involved in the decision making process?
Over the years I've had many cry out to me "you're not a shaman!" and yet that really didn't stop me from doing my job. Yes, I am a white gay male shaman. I can't stop being gay just because some don't agree with it and I spent a large majority of my youth trying to hide it and pretend I wasn't gay in order to not get beaten up, bullied, harassed or even killed. While our culture is more accepting of LGBT people these days, I still get the occasional homophobe thinking it's still cool to hate on gays. Similarly, I cannot stop being a shaman because others are easily offended over it. I've tried not being one and that didn't work at all. And I can't change my skin color, either. I never thought I would receive such a harsh welcome in the spiritual community that purports to be about love, tolerance, compassion and oneness. And even if I was just a deluded individual who just thought they were a shaman, at no point did anyone pull me aside and say that what was happening to me was not happening. The opposite occurred albeit in private. Publicly shamed and humiliated by people who should know better, I learned more from that experience that I would have if I had been accepted outright. I saw firsthand what needed to change.
If shamanism in our culture needs to further establish itself, then it can start with the abolishment of these arbitrary rules that have clearly been stolen from other cultures and they don't fit ours at all. We must inform people that those moderating these very popular Internet communities that voices are being squelched, shamans are being silenced and that maybe those rejected are killing themselves over it all. We are not authorized to deem people "mentally unstable" or even project our own intentions onto others. We must not view each other as competition but rather collaborators. We've got work to do and part of that work is viewing our culture as a celebration of other cultures, rather than a thief. Our culture is The Matrix, Roswell and Nine Inch Nails. These self-hating attitudes towards our culture disallow us from healing what's really going on. And yes, this a call to action. We are all in this together.