Monthly Archives: November 2014

12 Neo-Shamanic Myths (or 12 Thoughts about Shamans that are Not True)

Shamanism has been around for tens of thousands of years. The modern-day Shamanic movement (or the bringing of the techniques and the cultural/spiritual commoditization of it) began in 1980 with Michael Harner’s publication of Way of the Shaman. This movement began earlier in scholarly circles, however, through Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy published in the 1950’s and Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan in the late 1960’s but did not achieve mainstream spiritual circles until the 1980’s with the publications of Harner, Villoldo,, and others.

Much of the accounts prior to Harner were anthropological and historical, meaning that people went and studied Shamans in varying cultures and reported back on them, mainly from the perspective of an academic documenting the “other” as a curiosity or from the lens of academia. Harner, Villoldo, and others were different. They went into cultures and from sitting with Shamans from these cultures created their own “spiritual systems” to import back into the U.S.- these systems integrated psychology and the creation of techniques that could be easily assimilated by mainly white, middle/upper class people who were looking for something to fill the modern-day spiritual vacuum that is in many of our lives.

But herein is where the problem lies. Most people in contemporary society believe Shamanism to be about the techniques and spiritual systems that were created by Harner, Villoldo, and others. Many people have also romanticized the cultures that Shamans are from as well as have romanticized the figure of the Shaman, bestowing on them characteristics and new-age ideologies that no real Shaman could ever live up to. Here is a no-holds barred discussion of some of the myths that have been created by new-agers about Shamans:

1. Shamans don’t call themselves Shamans
Shamans generally didn’t call themselves Shamans in tribal cultures because they didn’t need to. In many tribal cultures the midwife would announce that the baby would be a Shaman, or the traits of becoming a Shaman were evident in early childhood. Shamans have a certain energy about them that is quite easy to spot. Shamans in these cultures didn’t need to call themselves a Shaman because by the time they were born or by early childhood everyone would already know. They were marked. At the appropriate age the Shaman would apprentice with the local Shaman and then be a Shaman, be called a Shaman, call themselves a Shaman (or whatever the cultural equivalent was for Spiritual Healer), and so forth.

In contemporary society most people who engage in this type of myth are not Shamans nor have they ever really read about one, visited one, or worked with one. Being a Shaman is a job, it is a calling. If you are one there is no reason not to call yourself one. You have gone through the initiations and special kind of difficulties that being a called Shaman in modern society entails. If you are truly meant to be a Shaman you will fit all or most of the criteria, including initiations, near-death or death experiences, and the ability to traverse worlds. Your experiences are so intense and people react to you in such a way that you know that you are a Shaman. There is no question. All of this mental posturing is silly. Shaman is a job just like Teacher, Plumber, Astronaut, Barista, Lawyer, Massage therapist, and so forth are jobs. We need people called to all sort of jobs to make up a community. Shaman is one of those jobs that a community needs.

2. Calling yourself a Shaman means that you lack humility
Nope. If you are a Shaman, you are a Shaman. Although Shaman originally was a word meant specifically for Spiritual Healers from Siberia, the word (like many words) has grown to being a generic term for many different types of Spiritual Healers, whose job entails helping people in the community with their spiritual issues. The Shaman (or Spiritual Healer) simply means that you have the ability to traverse worlds, to negotiate (or spirit lawyer) between the mundane world that most people would agree upon and the layers and layers of energies, spirits, and beings that most people cannot. It is something that you can do or it is not. Most Shamans would rather not be Shamans, actually. The romanticizing of the figure of the Shaman has created this powerful, enlightened yet utterly humble being in neo-Shamanic circles that is much different than what any Shaman I have met or read about (beyond what the work of Harner, Villoldo, Castenada, and other modern “core” Shamanic writers offer) is or does. Being a Shaman is a job. It is a calling. If you would have no difficulty calling yourself a Painter, or a Writer, or a Plumber, or a Physician if you are any of these, you should have no issue calling yourself a Shaman if you actually are one. It is not a source of pride- it simply is what you are and the type of work you do based on your abilities and calling in life.

3. Shamans would never accept money
I always think that this one is really funny because it so highlights both the fact that people have never read about Shamans beyond the pop-psychology “core” versions and have never met or studied with one, as well as the issues that the spiritual community has with spiritual bypass and anything that is Earth-based, body-centered, and focused on mundane reality. I hate to break it to people, but by tribal standards Shamans were well off. Many had their own compounds where their entire family and extended family lived. They were well-fed (even when others in their community were not) and were given gifts of food, household items, animals, and herbs by those who they served. Most were actually quite wealthy by tribal standards. This is because being a Shaman is a dangerous job, Shamans were outcasts, and it was best to keep the Shaman who talked to the weather spirits (for example) to ask for rain so you can grow decent crops happy. Of course you didn’t pay an indigenous Shaman money (as in dollar bills). You provided for their whole existence- what did they need money for? Most modern Shamans from tribal/indigenous cultures are happy to accept money nowadays. They either will have an agreed upon price or it will be assumed that you will provide them with a gift or money for their services.

It is of course a bit different with modern Shamans. We do not live in a tribal culture so it is unlikely that a Spiritual Worker is going to be provided with housing, animals, food, and other items needed to survive (although I do appreciate cookies). Modern Spiritual Workers and Shaman get paid. In money. Their work is still dangerous and deserves payment- payment for their abilities, skills, power, time, and supplies. If you are participating in spiritual bypass in which money or anything related to the mundane world is “evil” or “negative” it is time to look at your life and your relationship to money and your feelings about living in the consensual reality we all must operate in. If you would pay a Plumber, a Physician, a Teacher, a Waiter, a Therapist, or anyone else for their work you should have no issue paying a Shaman. They are no different because they are “spiritual”. Money is not evil or negative, it is not anything really. If you argue that Spiritual Workers shouldn’t be paid you are saying that either their work isn’t important, you have romanticized and new-aged yourself into thinking that Shamans are these magical mystical creatures that somehow don’t need to pay their mortgage, eat, have families and pets, or you are so engaged in spiritual bypass that you think that the spiritual is separate from the physical. Basically, if you don’t want to spend money on a Shaman don’t go see one. If you don’t want to spend money on a Plumber deal with your own broken pipes. No job is more or less important.

4. Shamans are Enlightened
This is a funny one. Somewhere along the spectrum there is this assumption that has developed that Shamans are enlightened. Shamans can traverse worlds, they can work with the spiritual, they can see, feel, and sense many things that most people cannot. They can see behind the masks people wear, they can communicate with spirits, energies, beings, and the different layers of reality. They remember things about the world, about themselves, and about their communities. Due to a focus in pop-spiritual culture on enlightenment being this elusive end-goal Shamans have been romanticized as this enlightened mystical being. There is a difference between walking between the worlds and being able to see and communicate with a bunch of different energies, beings, spirits, and so forth and being enlightened. I have met Shamans who were what I would consider enlightened and some that were jerks. Being able to see and know so much along with the abilities that true Shamans have as well as the initiations they have to go through with the understanding level that most people are participating on a very surface level in life is difficult knowledge to have. This can lead to isolation, or being a jerk. This can also lead to enlightenment. This depends on the Shaman and the path they walk.

5. Shamans are all about “love and light”
Similar to the last category, the idea of a Shaman being all about “love and light” is currently very prevalent in modern-day spiritual circles. Ideas like a Shaman would never do anything wrong, or anything against the will of another human being, that they don’t think negative thoughts and that they are all about healing and light and would never say or do anything dark. This again comes from people who have never read about or met a Shaman. Shamans often have to make difficult decisions in their work- they work with death, power, and community and individual issues that are not black and white. It is easy to idealize this situation and think that the spiritual is “out there” and must be traveled and journeyed to and anything dark or negative can just be ignored or transmuted into light, but real Shamans know that this is not true. When you are a Shaman you have to make decisions where none of the options are that great, you have to work with beings and energies that aren’t the cuddliest, and ignoring anything “dark” is actually quite dangerous. When you have power, as in actual power, other Shamans may try to steal it. They may try to attack you out of jealousy. Other beings and energies will be attracted to you. Most people will be afraid or ostracize you. This is an ordinary thing that many Shamans have to deal with. When you do not have any power you don’t have to worry about beings, energies, and other living practitioners. You can form a whole tribe of “Shamans”, take workshops at a Holiday Inn or at some vacation spot, venerate cultures and ancestors and spirits not your own, and self-create all sorts of spiritual scenarios out of thoughtforms and your own belief systems. Aspirational shamans can pretend whatever they choose. Real shamans have to deal with energies, with events, and make decisions that may prove dangerous to themselves to benefit the individuals they are working with or the community they are part of.

6. Shamanism is about Self-healing
Again, no. A Shaman is specifically a member of a community, one that can work with the spiritual layers, energies, and beings to benefit the community and individuals of that community. The mixture of pop-psychology with the spiritual systems of Harner and Villoldo has turned Shamanism into a series of techniques for self-help purposes. Real Shamans may work on their own stuff but really they have the abilities and experiences they do to benefit their communities and the world.

7. Shamanism is about the techniques
When Shamanism was popularized in the West by Harner and others they created spiritual systems. These systems were to engage modern-day people who had interests in Shamanism but not the calling of being a Shaman to learn how to do techniques purportedly from Shamans. The difficulty with this is that many of these techniques, like Soul Retrieval, are more creations of the Western psychological movement than techniques that any Shaman would actually do. Shamans know that the spiritual is all around them- while they may journey or meditate to gain a stronger connection or communicate in a deeper way there is no ability to create this weird divide that is in modern “core” Shamanism of thinking that the spiritual is somehow “out there” in order to feel safe and in control of it. What the modern spiritual systems have done is taken healing abilities and techniques of Shamans, mixed it with a Western psychological mindset, and taken any sort of spirituality out of it. In modern “core” shamanism you do not need to believe in any specific deity, have any specific spiritual path, or be a part of any specific religion. These techniques are practiced outside of anything spiritual (which is still really odd to me and I wish more people would question). You always have to go somewhere and journey to access anything spiritual, and the “middle world” (as in, the world we all are supposed to function in) is dangerous.

Any Spiritual Worker or Shaman I have worked with (and in my own practice) utilizes divination methods to figure out what is going on with you and then works on you. No separation of techniques. Whatever needs to happen spiritually for you will. You do not book a “Soul Retrieval” with a Shaman. A Shaman will look at your situation, see what you need, and do whatever work needs to get done. This may be talking, a ceremony, herbal medicine, massage, or any number of methods of healing intertwined.

8. Everyone can be a Shaman
No. Again, another new-age myth based on the entitled “everybody can be or do whatever they want” movement that is prevalent in modern spiritual circles. Everyone can be a Shamanic practitioner, though. For more on this read this blog…

9. You can be your own Shaman
Anyone can learn the techniques of core Neo-Shamanism. These are self-help tools based in psychology that people can use to better their lives and understand themselves on a deeper level. They can be quite helpful. For self-help purposes meditation, learning how to journey from core Shamanic courses, and taking care of yourself in terms of diet, exercise, sexual practices and more can improve your health dramatically mind, body and spirit. If you are not a Shaman, you cannot be your own Shaman though. And if you are a Shaman you will need an outside healer, Shaman, or other health practitioner to help you out, be a catalyst, teach you, or heal you at some point. If everyone could heal themselves, they would. Many times we need an outside look at our situations, an outside source to help us heal. I still go to practitioners and I have studied and worked with some of the best healers, educational institutions, teachers and gurus out there and have worked with people worldwide through my practice.

10. Shamans are special magical creatures
I say this one as a jest (sort of) but the idealization of what Shamans actually are and do has reached a sort of absurd level these days in modern culture. Shamans are unique, they are. They are on a different wavelength than most people. They have spiritual experiences that are so far outside the normal realm of possibility that if they talk about them most people wouldn’t understand or would have cognitive dissonance in reaction (basically, they wouldn’t be able to process the info). This has translated into a sort of idea of a Shaman as being this special magical creature that literally cannot be human, and is unlike any human that has walked the face of this Earth. This idealizing of the “other” and the uniqueness of the Shaman has led thousands of people to want to be one as well. This is funny because being a Shaman is dangerous, it is extraordinarily difficult, and being on a different wavelength than most people, having experiences that nobody else does, and being able to work in the spiritual realms like Shamans are able to is extremely isolating and difficult for most actual Shamans. Most Shamans experience a great deal of grief and anger about their path, as do their families (in tribal cultures) when they find out that their child being born is going to be a Shaman.

11. Shamans are mentally ill
There is a current meme going around about “What a Shaman sees in a Mental Hospital”. It is all about how mental illness, or the mentally ill can be or may be Shamans, Shamans who either failed initiations or were not recognized in modern culture. This is the sort of crass generalization that is extraordinarily dangerous. Some people classified as mentally ill may be Shamans, or may have failed Shamanic initations, sure. But some people are mentally ill. To say that all people in mental hospitals or who are mentally ill are Shamans is one of those romantic things that people who have mental illness or those who surround them comfort themselves with. There are thousands of people out there, and many people who have contacted me who believe that they are undergoing some sort of spiritual process. Some of them are, but many of them are not getting help that they desperately need (for things like homelessness, total lack of functioning, drug addiction, believing that the number 13 is out to get them, that they are cursed when they are not, that aliens or beings have invaded their space, ISIS is reading their thoughts, that they are Jesus, etc) because they are stuck on this idea that they are having a spiritual experience. The practical and mundane should always be taken care of before the spiritual. If someone is severely bipolar or schizophrenic to the point that they do not realize that they need to wear a coat in ten degree weather they do not need a Shaman. They need people to watch over them in a hospital.

12. There are no modern Shamans (or Suburban Shamans)
There is a belief that Shamans can only come from tribal or indigenous cultures. Some take this a step further and announce that Shamans only come from Siberia. There are Shamans being called in every community. Most modern Shamans do not know how to answer this call. They do not know how to find apprenticeships or appropriate teachers so they can become skilled. Often modern Shamans are so overwhelmed by their experiences and their experiences are so far from what other people report that they just don’t speak about them. There are modern Shamans all across the world. Many of you may feel more comfortable calling them Spiritual Healers or other transmutations of the name that are appropriate and specified for the culture or region (Curandera, Conjurer, Rootworker, etc). But there are modern Shamans. There are Shamans in the suburbs. Many of them just don’t know what to do with themselves and get lost in all of the information and workshops that are meant for aspirational or “core” Shamanic practitioner types.

A note with this last one: I have talked with several Native Americans over the years about the term “Shaman”. Some of them do not feel it is right for anyone to utilize the term in modern-day and become angry about it. This is totally understandable because of the history of Native Americans, the atrocities that occurred, and the subsequent renaissance of modern-day spiritual sorts taking the spiritual aspects of Native Americans (or thinking that they are), turning them into a commodity, and creating a whole host of puritanical beliefs on top of them. The spirituality of people who look through a puritanical lens and have a fascination with Native American spiritual practices without understanding the modern day realities of Native Americans, the history, and the surface level B.S. of most whites doing “pipe ceremonies” and “sweat lodges” with nothing more than a surface level understanding and a fake Native American teacher of some sort understandably creates a great deal of anger.  Many others object to people specifically using the term “Shaman” while appropriating NDN culture and ceremonies, inventing fake “grandmothers” and teachers, fake ancestry, saying that one was a Native American in a previous life, and using sacred objects in ceremonies without permission. I completely agree. While I do think that there are modern-day Shamans and Shamans in suburbia since the term has now encompassed what “Spiritual Healer” means, utilizing the ancestors, practices, and objects of other cultures without their permission is hideous. Claiming ancestry that is not yours will only lead to trouble. Learning about your own ancestors, developing your own power, understanding what spirits are calling to you as an actual Shaman is incredibly important. I have seen time and time again people getting into a lot of trouble by being fake about their credentials, their spirits, and by utilizing practices that are not their own and they do not have permission to use. Ignorance is not helpful. If you want to find out if spirits are real piss them off. Honor your own ancestors, your own spirits, before you honor ones from Peru, Native American, etc. ones.

Pragmatic Spirituality…. Or Why I Do What I Do

There was a point in time that I was a seeker. An intense seeker- as in I gave up a solid decade of my life towards finding my “Truth”, my holy grail, enlightenment, why the hell I am the way that I am, etc. During a time period when most people were establishing solid careers, having children, dating, drinking, and working I searched. For teachers, gurus, workshops, books, online, and across the world for someone to help me.

At the time I had no idea what I was really looking for beyond answers. For something that resonated with my experiences and for someone who knew what they were talking about to assist me. I was really looking for a book, a teacher, or a resource that would tell me who I was and what to do with myself. For someone to tell me how to ease the pain, work with my sensitivities and abilities, and for someone to give credence to what I was experiencing which was so outside of what most “normal” people experience of reality that for portions of my life I was truly frightened that I was either crazy, not meant to be here on Earth, and that there was something seriously wrong with me.

For most of my life I was not in my body. Due to significant early childhood trauma as well as genetic predisposition my solution to the overwhelming stimuli coming my way was to simply not be in my body. The traditional advice of “grounding” was laughable because I was floating outside of my body- there was no ground. The other advice of utilizing sage to clear my surroundings was also laughable. I knew that there were spirits, energies, beings and spiritual experiences all around us. Later I realized that they should be around us (and if sage and “thinking light” actually did much I would likely be out of at least part of my job these days) and that clearing methods are best when things are troublesome.

When I began having a Kundalini awakening this all changed. All of a sudden my body was in pain. Severe pain. Disassociation, drugs, and other methods of attempting to cope simply made the process slow down temporarily but not stop. Although I had taken Energy Work and Reiki courses at this point I began being called to study massage, bodywork, and CranioSacral Therapy. I slowly started coming back into my body and processing what needed to process so Kundalini energy was not stuck. I then studied Thai Bodywork and Zero Balancing which made me come back even further into my body. Over the next ten years I studied, became certified and licensed in Acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herbal Medicine, and many different forms of bodywork, massage, and Energy Work. All of this I realize now was to get me to process in a body-centered way the intense spiritual experiences, the Kundalini awakening, and the Shamanic initiations I was undergoing.

During my searching decade I read thousands of books (until Kundalini put a stop to that for a long time), consulted lots of teachers, online forums, and attended so many workshops that my resume looks a bit ridiculous on paper. All of this provided glimpses of either what I needed at best or at worst who I did not want to be and who was spewing B.S. One of the things that comes with being able to see so much and feel so much is the ability to know B.S. when I see it. I have the ability to see the wounds, the inner motivations, and the truth of the person speaking. Most people think that this is a wonderful ability when they hear of it (and it certainly has its moments) but overall it can be very isolating.

Because most people have no idea what in the heck they are talking about. Or they want to sell you something. Or both. I make no illusions that I do spiritual work for a living, and generally find that the people who find me are supposed to, but my sole purpose in relating to people is not to sell them on how “enlightened” I am, or for them to pay me money for my services and programs. I don’t generally have a power trip about how people need to view things exactly how I do, or think that I am superior (although I may know more stuff or have more experience than other people depending on the subject), or because I have attained “teacher” status think that people need to bow down to me. With my experiences I have remained pretty open, which has allowed for me to have spiritual experiences and life experiences that are so weird I don’t generally talk about them, but they also have allowed for me to relate to people wherever they may be in their journey and whatever they may be experiencing on their journey (no matter how weird) without a superiority complex. If you want to work with me as a practitioner, great. If you don’t, no big deal. I don’t need to be thought of as a guru, put my name on my own quotes, or tell people that they need to follow my spiritual system, my way, or else they won’t get anywhere on their journey (this is all the sort of B.S. I heard and saw from teachers and practitioners while seeking, and still see whenever I look at websites, online forums, etc).

My ability to discern B.S. has allowed for me to see where people are. It is not an uncommon ability once you reach a certain point in your spiritual journey- many others report having it, especially Empaths who are skilled. This allows me to see that most of the people who talk so much about how they can see past lives, are undergoing a Kundalini awakening, or can help someone going through intense spiritual experiences as a practitioner cannot. This is not intended to be rude, although I realize that my bluntness can be construed as such. Most people would rather be anyone else than who they are. Most people would like to feel special. Most people create spiritual experiences out of thoughtforms and are preaching, teaching, and working with people as a Shaman, “enlightened” or whatever when they are on the same level of understanding as the people they are ministering, advising, and working with. In fact many of the “seekers” who identify as beginners are far more open than those who consider themselves teachers and have the capability to expand further on their spiritual journey than the people they are seeking advice from. Until they begin to become entrapped in the cosmology of the practitioner or teacher, of course.

So… Pragmatic Spirituality… Or Why I Do What I Do. My response to all of the sheer B.S. that I see is to write and work with people who are ready to see or understand beyond illusions and thoughtforms (their own thoughts and the thoughts of others). Most spiritual teachers and forms of spirituality are mental constructs– this is why you see the endless debates on Facebook, the memes, and the blind leading the blind sort of advice that is so prevalent on social media, in books, and in workshops. This serves to create further illusions, masks, wounds, and rules about what spirituality is, what a spiritual person does, and so forth that are not in any way based in true divinity. Enlightenment is about freeing the self from conditioning. Most of what is represented and sold is further conditioning. I look at my job as a guide, teacher, or spiritual worker as helping others cast away the conditioning, the belief systems, the illusions (even about spirituality), the emotions, wounds, masks, rules and B.S. that is preventing you from understanding this.

I do this in a body-centered, pragmatic, and Earth-based way. We need the physical body. We are supposed to have one. Our senses, our emotions (all of our emotions!) are beautiful. Rage can be exquisite. Our shadow selves do not need to be demonized. Our darkness is sensual. We do not need to stick our heads in the sand any time anything in ourselves or society that is “negative” or “not light” happens. By reconnecting and loving all parts of ourselves and doing it in our physical body we can experience spirituality in our physical body. The spiritual is not “out there”. It is not something you need to do elaborate things to access. It can also flow through and inform your life. Your physical and spiritual natures, your dark and light, and everything else you experience in this world are not separate things. Many forms of spirituality engage in spiritual bypass (or not engaging in anything to do with consensual reality and non-body centered, focusing only on the “light” etc). The world is a beautiful place… emotions, sexuality, our animal natures, our shadow, our light… can all be experienced in and through our physical bodies. We can be deeply pragmatic, logical, mentally-sound, well-resourced, physical, and functional human beings who go to the grocery store, PTA meetings, attend school, have relationships, watch television, eat good food, and more… all while being deeply spiritual.

I do what I do because there is a lack of information for non-aspirational spiritual experiences. By this I mean that there are countless books on how to journey if you are interested in Shamanism. There are countless teachers who tell you that you can become a Medium, or Psychic, or awaken your Kundalini in 6 easy steps. (Most of this is B.S. ) What there isn’t out there are resources for people who are actually having psychic and spiritual experiences that are overwhelming. They don’t need to journey to find their “spirit animal”, to become psychic, or a Shaman, or whatever… Spirits, spiritual experiences, initiations, and more are already occurring. You don’t know how to manage them. Many of you contact me telling me you want them to stop. You are overwhelmed by spiritual stimuli, maybe not functioning well in consensual, mundane reality. There are thousands if not millions of resources for people who want to be more spiritual, who are seeking for a stronger spiritual path, yearning to become Shamans, to become a psychic. When I was seeking this was most of what I found. I went through thousands of books, lots of teachers, educational institutions, teachers, gurus, online resources, chat rooms, and more to find real information. I eventually found what I was looking for (how I stopped seeking a few years ago is another story though), and have realized that my calling is to help others learn how to work with their spiritual experiences, their callings, their psychic abilities in a body-centered, pragmatic, non-B.S. way.

And finally, I am not a guru. I wear no mask. I am a (reasonably) logical human being. This is a difficult one for people, but it is necessary. People want their gurus, they want to be told what to think and do during their spiritual journeys. It is a rare person who is ready to stop doing this. Most gurus and teachers present themselves as “enlightened”, as having all the answers. Nobody understands the totality of the cosmos. They just don’t. Most gurus and teachers act like they don’t have any problems, as if they have transcended all of their wounds and issues. This is yet more spiritual bypass. We all have issues, we all have problems, we all get sick, we all die. I freely admit that I still have things to work through (my grouchiness about the amount of B.S. and spiritual bypass in modern spiritual circles is one of them). Most gurus and teachers will never admit that they have issues, they will not ask for help, they will not admit they still are growing and understanding more and more each day. Divine unfolding, enlightenment, or any spiritual process does not have an end. It is constantly unfolding. What I may know today and what I may know thirty minutes from now may be totally different. This happens to all of us. Unless we stop ourselves by believing our own B.S. about knowing everything. I try my best to be logical- to look at the practical before the supernatural or spiritual. I admit that each day (well, most days) I am growing and unfolding and understanding more and more. And I do not have all the answers. But I have some.

If you are interested in working with me, and are ready to… contact me. I offer email programs, Phone/Skype consultations, and Spiritual Healing work. The work that I do is intense, but typically the people that find me are ready to do so, and are ready to work with whatever they are going through. My work is to teach/guide people and give them the tools so they can understand and work with their experiences.

Can Anyone Be a Shaman?

In modern spiritual circles and communities shamanism is everywhere. There is an active interest in it, Facebook groups in the tens of thousands dedicated to the subject, and a huge variety of workshops, books, and material on the internet about modern shamanism. It is a common question in these groups if anyone can be a Shaman, and each week people email me asking if they are a Shaman.

The basic answer to this is no, not everyone can be a Shaman. I know it is a popular new-age idea that everyone should be their own Shaman, and there are thousands of shamanic practitioners and people interested in shamanism who don’t want to hear this. But like most new-age spiritual movements, the Shamanic movement has a focus on the positive “fluffy” side of Shamanism without any ability or desire to understand what being a Shaman actually entails.

Anyone can be a Shamanic Practitioner, however. A Shamanic practitioner means that someone has learned the techniques, taken the workshops, and has an interest in shamanism and utilizes these practices in their life. This is done without any sort of calling but as a sort of yearning to connect to something spiritual. This yearning is completely understandable in society as people seek to heal themselves and find that shamanic techniques are a valuable part of their path. People may then choose to hang a proverbial shingle on their door and use the techniques they have learned in their courses on others.

It is wonderful that people are attracted to Shamanism. Each one of us that begins to take personal responsibility for our own healing helps both ourselves and the world as a whole. Shamanic techniques deal with mental constructs, thoughtforms (our thoughts and the thoughts of others) and emotional/psychological healing. As a whole we all need a lot of healing at this level and anyone who wants to explore shamanic techniques should be able to. There are a wide derth of classes, workshops, teachers, books, and online forums dedicated to people who want to heal themselves through Shamanism. There are also thousands of Shamanic Practitioners who utilize these techniques to assist others. These practitioners can range from being quite effective to completely humorless and ego-driven using their credentials and amount of workshops taken in an attempt to support a sense of superiority. Many shamanic practitioners are working through their own wounds, their own issues, their own illusions, and are doing their own work utilizing their own energy. Most of these practitioners self-create, or create all sorts of helping spirits, animals, and so on out of their own thoughtforms or the disassociated aspects of themselves.

Being a Shaman is quite different. Being called to be a Shaman is a much different path. Anyone can be a Shamanic Practitioner. Anyone can take a few workshops and learn how to journey, learn how to do a soul retrieval, and so forth. Not everyone is a Shaman. A Shaman is not something that you become. It is something that you are. From birth you are different than others. You are part nature, you are on a different wavelength than everyone else around you. You can see through illusions. While there is a sort of checklist of experiences a Shaman goes through, such as near-death or death experiences, intense dreams, spirit-led initiations, connection to nature, and so forth, my favorite understanding of what makes someone a Shaman is the term “spirit lawyer”. Shamans are able to communicate with the “hidden” worlds, meaning the spiritual realms that are part of all of our every-day existence that only some of us can see or access. Shamans negotiate between the spirits and beings and the “ordinary” world, meaning consensual reality and the people and communities that make up those worlds.

99.99% of us are not meant to be Shamans. New-age Shamanism believes that anyone can be anything they want. Let us think about this in a logical manner. When I was younger I enjoyed basketball. As I got older (and I stopped getting taller at age 12) I went from being a forward to a point guard. I am not a fast runner and quickly found myself on the “B” rather than the “A” team. In high school I found myself benched most of the time. Even if I really, really wanted to I would not have been a professional athlete, or even a college athlete. It just wasn’t going to happen. This is true for most people- there are millions of us out there that wanted to be musicians, artists, CEO’s, millionaires, teachers, astronauts, veterinarians, and more. Most of us are not meant to be doing these things. It is wonderful if we do music in our spare time (and we should!) but most of us are not destined to be musicians.

Being a Shaman is a calling. It is wonderful if people want to learn the tools of “core” shamanism to better their lives, become better and more whole people. But being a Shaman fulfills a societal role. It really is not about the individual. Many of us not out of the “I” or Self stages (where we think that the whole world is about us and participate in spiritual narcissism) can not comprehend that in society there are people that need to fulfill certain roles. There are people called to be farmers, teachers, archeologists, healers, doctors, plumbers, and every profession under the sun. There is a spiritual reason why a child obsessed with dinosaurs since age 5 becomes a Paleontologist. That child was called. Similarly a Shaman is called to be an intermediary, or spirit lawyer, between the worlds.

Being a Shaman is not something that you would want to be if you actually knew what it entailed. With the explosion of interest in Shamanism comes multiple views and understandings of Shamanism and the Shamanic call from people that have no direct experience or understanding of what being a Shaman is. This is why there is so much discussion about who can be a Shaman, what a Shaman is, and thousands of modern people who aspire to be a Shaman. While aspirational shamans or shamanic practitioners understand that Shamans can see between the worlds, or understand that they go through initiations, they rarely understand how deadly this can be. They do not understand how isolating it is to be able to see things that others don’t. When you are a Shaman you are not part of the community- you are outside of it. You are isolated- not because you want to be but because you see and feel much more than others do. You are different, and no matter to what extent you can get along with people you always have the mark of a Shaman and are seen as different. You do not make up a “tribe” of Shamans. You are not in control of many of your experiences. When spirits and beings are not self-created they are much more difficult to work with. You are wild and not quite human. There is a part of you that is animalistic. When you are a Shaman in modern society there is frequently nowhere to turn, nobody to train with, and nobody who understands you. This is because all Shamanic courses, message boards, books, and more are geared towards the Shamanic practitioner or the aspirational Shaman.

When you are not a Shaman everything is a mental construct. You can talk about how an initiation made you come to a state of reconciling death, how a dream did. But until you have the direct experience of physically, mentally, and spiritually dying to this world these are all just more illusions and thoughtforms. Let me put this more simply. I can talk a bit about what a pilot does, I have been in a small plane and asked a bunch of questions, I have read a few books and a Wikipedia page on the subject. I have been a passenger flying. But I have never had the direct experience of flying a plane (this is a very good thing). I do not feel called to be a pilot even though I am interested in it. I can talk all I want about how my experience of flying has impacted me. But until I fly the plane myself I really don’t have direct experience of being a pilot.

So my simple answer is NO, not everyone can be a Shaman. A Shaman is called by the needs of the community and has abilities and direct experiences that are so outside the realms of ordinary reality that they are unable to fit in to society. They have spiritual experiences, spiritual teachers, and can interact with spiritual energies in a way that to most people, even Shamanic practitioners, would be terrifying. They have spiritual experiences and initiations happen to them not because they go to a class or journey or ask for them but as part of their spiritual training process. Shamans do not get to have control- they cannot neatly divide the worlds and think that the spiritual is “other” or something that needs to be journeyed to or accessed. The spiritual is all around them. It is their daily life. They have to interact with dark and light forces and cannot choose to simply think “light” or say that they will only work with light. They understand that the world is both dark and light and do not participate in spiritual bypass. They cannot do so. A real Shaman is an outlier in society, they think and act differently than most everyone else. They can see under the masks of others and the illusions and memes of the world.

Most of us would not choose this path if we had a choice. If you want to learn shamanic techniques, that is wonderful. They can help you heal and connect you with others who have the same interests. There are thousands of workshops, books, and teachers out there for you. If you are a real Shaman, and not a Shamanic practitioner, the road is difficult, especially with the modern interest in shamanism and life coach, energy workers, therapists, and shamanic practitioners out there offering courses. As a Shaman who has been called it can be difficult to know where to turn, to be overwhelmed, and to be emotional over the sheer amount of new-age B.S. on the subject that is out there by people who do not have direct experience of the path.

My online courses offer the tools (such as Cleansing and Discernment) that thoughtful shamanic practitioners as well as those answering a spiritual call need to navigate spiritual realities safely and wisely.

Near Death Experiences and Spiritual Awakening

In some ways Near Death Experiences (NDE’s for short) are considered as their own category of spiritual experiences due to the literature, first-hand accounts and even scientific research that has come to the forefront about them. Although NDE’s can certainly be in their own category and are a type of Sudden Awakening (meaning that a spiritual awakening happens rapidly resulting a whole host of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual upheaval) they are a part of other awakenings. For example, NDE’s occur in shamanic sickness, which is typically one of the first events that occurs during a shamanic calling. In this case the NDE occurs so that the budding Shaman rapidly understands and gains the ability to traverse worlds and communicate with spiritual, natural forces. NDE’s also occur as a result of Kundalini awakenings- in this case due to the amount of processing material, emotions, physical ailments, past sicknesses, and so forth that are coming up to heal or clear at the same time.

NDE’s are likely to occur any time that we get near a point on our spiritual path that we are ready to take the step forward to reconcile our fear of death. Until we awaken to the fact that most of our belief systems, the physical mental spiritual and emotional barriers that we create for ourselves are out of fear of our own physical demise the fact that we are incredibly afraid of death culturally and personally will not be very clear to us. An NDE allows for us to switch identification- from the physical body that is all about “I”… our selfish wants and needs and ME ME ME behavior that pervades most of our culture- to the identification of our soul, which persists after the demise of the physical form.

So what is an NDE (Near Death Experience)?
In most cases it is exactly how it sounds. We physically and momentarily die. We are then brought back by EMT’s, doctors, and so forth by varying machines, or naturally come back to life after momentarily going into a death state. In many other cases of NDE’s physical death does not occur. Instead an illness, accident, or other physical ailment brings us to the brink of death, enough so that we begin to traverse the planes of death, switch identification from “I” to the eternal soul, and experience a profound series of revelations. In some cases we can get a taste of this sort of spiritual awakening (an NDE) through meditative, dream, and other states. In those cases, although profound, the identification has not switched from the physical body and it is not as profound or sudden of an awakening as someone experiencing a true NDE experience.

What happens during a NDE?
We all have likely heard many stories of what occurs during a NDE. Sensations of floating in the hospital room, viewing loved ones, being present and being able to report back about resuscitation attempts and other details while technically dead, viewing a tunnel, white light, white rooms, guides, God, sensations of love, expansiveness, bliss, having a life review, speaking to someone about our lives, and more. Some people have frightening NDE’s in which they view black or they are greeted by scary energies, hell, or guides, or the expansiveness and idea of leaving the physical body behind is too much to handle. What happens during an NDE, although there are common themes, is often deeply individual.

What happens after a NDE?
The integration after having such a sudden awakening and the realizations that come from being dead or close to death, how ever momentarily, completely change the person. At first there is a period of shock in which the person attempts to return to their old life. I jokingly refer to this as a zombie sort of period because the person is simply going through the motions in what was their old life. The shock of the NDE takes a long time to abate- for some people years or even decades. After that period there is often either a desire to talk about the experiences or a complete resistance to talking about it for fear that nobody would understand. The switch of identification from the physical body can be quite a shock and there is often anger or apathy at being shoved back into the body, about being alive, and about being confined to a physical body. Many of the understandings of the NDE remain and the person who experiences one and gets over their shock finds themselves faced with further spiritual awakening, realizations, and the other issues that come with sudden and drastic spiritual awakenings.

Some people who come out from a NDE find themselves wistfully thinking about the experiences and join groups and chat rooms to discuss their experiences. It is difficult to switch back to identification with the physical body so many of the stories and experiences are about the experiences themselves and how wonderful they were. It is a rare NDE’r who is able to integrate seamlessly into their physical body. Most people who experience NDE’s are energetically outside partially or fully their physical bodies. There is a remembering of the joy and light and expansion that the experience gave and it is hard to want to re-identify with physical life, the physical form, and the sensate experience.

Many people who experience NDE’s have feelings of joy and peace from the experience that remain with them. But there is also a great deal of struggle. The three to five year mark is when the greatest amount of suicides occur and severe depression, apathy for physical life, and a desire to go back to the state experienced in death are unfortunately common. At the very least many struggle with relationships, with family, with work and with the other realizations that came from the experience as well as reintegrating in any way with the physical body.

Unfortunately many NDE’rs do not get help. Because others do not have the direct experience people who have not experienced an NDE are in a state of cognitive dissonance, where they cannot or are unable to process the material and realizations NDE’rs have. Many of the groups and societies out there all tell war-type stories of the experiences and can be wonderful resources to have common ground with some people who have had similar experience. But the constant retelling of experiences and the wistful nature as well as focus on the “light” side (meaning the peace and bliss, the aren’t I special, unique, can I sell you my book about my experiences and wouldn’t we all be in the light if we could and not be here on Earth) discounts the intense integration and processing as well as the sudden issues with being on a significant spiritual path where they might have not been before.

Like most spiritual paths, NDE’s have been glossed over. You hear about the light, the love, and the wisdom. You hear about how special people are who have them. Meanwhile the difficulties of the path are not discussed. How to reconcile the sudden awakening of an NDE and still remain a grounded, embodied individual is not discussed. How to even rejoin or come “back to life” after being dead is not discussed. Suicides, depression, and negative experiences during and after NDE’s are not discussed. For those of who have had an NDE and come back to see popular culture and groups about NDE’s and spiritual message boards focus on the profundity and exhalt the NDE while not understanding the difficulties of the experience can be extremely isolating for those experiencing issues after an NDE (especially one that was not filled with love and light). Especially if you are a NDE’r struggling with depression, with reconciling the physical body, and with spiritual awakening and integration symptoms as a result of the experience.

I (Mary Shutan) work with NDE’rs to help them reconcile their experiences, understand them, and move forward with their lives in the physical, sensate world. Even if we have had an NDE we are here for a reason in the physical world, and can learn to integrate our experiences, our wisdom, and our spiritual paths into our daily lives. You can contact me through email if you wish to set up an appointment or can look at my individual healing and consultation services here.

Spiritual Narcissism… or Thinking the World is only about you

Although I speak out about a variety of spiritual topics that I consider troubling when they become mainstream or repeated constantly by the spiritual new-age type communities, the most troubling topic to me concerns spiritual narcissism.

What is spiritual narcissism? It is the belief that the world revolves and is created just by you. Everything is about you, basically. The whole world. Every person, every country, every experience in this world is about you and only you.

But isn’t this true? Well, sort of. We create a lot of our world. We do this out of our thoughts, through our belief systems, religion, etc… what we consider to be true in this world becomes true. And we reject anything else out of cognitive dissonance, basically a state in which we are unable to process anything outside of our current beliefs and so reject them as being invalid. We all do this. It is a rare person, an awakened person that is able to see things both as true and false and from multiple viewpoints. But I digress.

How is this not true? All of us should work on ourselves. Most of us do see the reflection of our own inner wounds in others and without transcending our own belief systems and understandings of the world we will remain in a state of immaturity. But there is a point beyond this. A point where the world is in fact not about you and only you. What “spiritual” sorts do not see or have not gotten to the point to understand that as a community we create our community, as a world we create our world. It is not just about us. You can be the most enlightened being since Ramana Maharshi and someone will still cut you off in traffic. Someone may still rape you, you may still get Ebola, you will still die, you may still get rejected by that boy you really like and will have to go to the grocery store where there is a screaming kid who really, really wants the marshmallow cereal. And none of these are created by you. They just happen.

See, beyond you is a community dreaming, a world dreaming. And beyond that is the divine. These are all levels of understanding. Once you are able to see that the world is not just about you and simply because you are peaceful and enlightened that means every person you meet will be you begin to understand that the world is not about just you. Once you do not have so many wounds you understand when you see someone and they exemplify your remaining wounds or if they are simply a jerk and are dealing with their own wounds that have nothing to do with you. And beyond that you see that events, circumstances, ideas, movements, diseases, and so forth are orchestrated by the divine. You have nothing to do with them and are not even in the lens of consideration for 99 percent of them. You are very small and not that important. None of us are.

The belief that we create the world is so that we can feel control, to feel safe, and judge ourselves and those around us. When we participate in this sort of spiritual narcissism we can believe that others have created their circumstances. That they are at fault for their circumstances. About a month ago I saw a really silly article by a new-age guru saying that people who contracted Ebola did so because spiritually they lacked self-concept. This was intended to be some divine sort of wisdom from someone who had a very basic, high school Biology view of anything scientific. This allows for us to feel safe. We can look at the latest scary thing and say to ourselves, “well our self-concept is fine, we won’t contract Ebola” and will then judge the people who had contracted it as being less than or having no self-concept.

Can we see how ridiculous this is? Why are we accepting our wisdom from people like this? Why are we not pragmatic about this and see that the five year old child starving in Ohio, the fact that African-American people are getting shot left and right in this country and jailed at alarming rates,  that people die and contract diseases and while it might be a lesson for them spiritually there are also many, many other factors besides for them about situations, even individual situations, at work?

Until we are able to rise out of our spiritual narcissism, our understanding that the world is created and revolves around us, we will not question things like this. We like to feel in control of everything, we like to feel safe, we like to feel like we can judge others even as we are talking about non-judgement and how we all are one. We like to judge anything dark, diseased, or negative, we like to ignore it, we like to give ourselves new-age beliefs that if we are only enlightened enough we will not be abused, cheated, or suffer. None of this is true. There is more to the world than ourselves and our belief systems. Until we grow out of this we will be stuck in the state of spiritual immaturity many of us are in, all complimenting each other because we have enough self-concept that we did not get Ebola and believing that we are important, special, and that the world is about and for us and us alone.

Please wake up out of this and look at the world around you, the spiritual types around you and their belief systems. Are they about finding freedom, or truth? Or are they about making you feel safe and providing more illusions? Are they allowing you to feel control over your whole existence? Or are they letting you know that the truth or freedom from the illusion of control, of ego, of narcissism can be difficult, that freedom from these illusions is well worth it but requires looking beyond the surface?

Spiritual and Cultural Appropriation Part 2

One of the more common responses to my last blog, which you can read here, is that we are all one and so should have access to any sort of spirituality we choose. More than that, if we were to look at our DNA each of us would go back to bloodlines that are likely from Native, African, Indian, or other cultures.

While I understand the response and the level of thinking that created it, this line of thinking is a misunderstanding of oneness and the currents of energy that are present in spiritual work.

Let me explain. Yes, we are all one. But we are not all one homogenized blob. We are one… and we are separate. Oneness in new-age circles has begun to mean that we are all equal, that we all have the same knowledge and understandings, and that we should all have equal access to pretty much whatever we want. If we think about this in a non-spiritual simplistic way, consider if you would give a third grader a calculus textbook. The truth is that although we all have access to divinity we are not all equal, we do not all have the same intellect, the same understandings, and we do not all deserve to get whatever we want when we want it.

Plenty of people out of this movement really screw themselves up because they get their hands on a Calculus textbook when they should be learning addition. They feel entitled to the type of work (Tantra, Shamanism, Magick, etc) at the deepest, most powerful level they can find. This is done without the learning of basic principles and understandings, the realization that people have died and bled and gone through all sorts of horrors and initiations to learn this work before them, and an understanding that practices require depth and daily work, sometimes for decades or lifetimes, to practice appropriately.

We do not all have the same knowledge. We do not all have the same capacity to work with some things. Some of us were meant to be Shamans, some of us were meant to study Shamanism for self-help. Some of us have a natural, genetic talent towards folk practices. Some of us come from families where there were practitioners and that knowledge has been passed down to us either orally or through our DNA. We are not all equal, we are not all the same, we do not all have the same talents, abilities, intelligence, and understandings. Yes, we all are divine. But we are all separate too.

All spiritual paths, all spiritual practices have an energetic current to them. This current defines the practices and is like a wave form of energy flowing through it and giving it power. Many people when they appropriate take the techniques of whatever they are studying (I will use Shamanism as an example because it is so prevalent, but you could certainly put in Hoodoo, Tantra, etc here) without understanding the whole current. Without the current there is no power… it is just a facade, a mere shadow of what was intended. Without understanding the cultural reasoning behind the practices you are doing, the cultural narrative, the archetypes, the history of the culture, the emotions it is like you are acting in a really bad play.

Let me use an example here. Hoodoo (African-American folk magic) has become the new “flavor” of the month for spiritual sorts. People who become interested in Hoodoo do honey jars (to sweeten people and situations), vinegar jars (to sour people and situations) and other “spells” because they sound interesting. Maybe these practices work, or slightly work for them. But without understanding that this work comes from a current of slaves who were in desperate circumstances and utilized whatever would help them to not be noticed and was immediately surrounding them in their environment you do not understand the energy that empowers these practices. Until you understand the collective grief, the anger, the cultural narrative, the stories, and the history you will not understand or tap into the power of this work. Until you understand how Hoodoo actually works and how to set up your work amidst ancestors and the other forces that empower the work, you are simply mimicking and appropriating a pale shadow of what this work actually is.

Each spiritual practice is a way of life. It is not a hat to try on or techniques to do. A pipe ceremony out of Native context without an understanding of how and why such a ceremony would occur, what sort of energies would be present at such a ceremony, and the history and cultural narrative of the pipe, the particular Natives you are emulating, and the emotions of such an act is without any sort of power, context, and out of the energetic current that it should be in. It does not take into account the years, the decades, and the blood, sweat and tears that people have gone through to bring power to such a ceremony and truly learn about it in a non-beginner way. If you do not understand the history of the culture, the triumphs and the tribulations, the archetypes, the stories, and have not studied in depth the spiritual practices and energetic current of the form of spiritual practices you are mimicking, if you have not had a daily practice and fully understand the all that is going on with the culture and its ceremonies or practices you are emulating it is cultural appropriation. Beyond that, it is just rude.