Occasionally someone will email me looking for a shaman. They have tried traditional medicine and are looking for something different, typically. But what they want isn’t a modern day spiritual worker– they want the shamans they have seen in movies or heard about through books. They want someone in face paint, a headdress, and indigenous costuming. Some want an elaborate ceremony focused on just them or their child (or the person they are inquiring about). They have tried doctors and maybe an “alternative” medicine or two and now want to leap to the other end of the spectrum and have a totally magical experience that fits with their odd, romantic illusions about what a shaman should be.

I do understand this sentiment. There is a boiling point with allopathic medicine. When you have been ensconced in it for so long and it simply isn’t helping. When you have gone to doctors and therapists and you, your child, or your loved one is still struggling. There are millions of people out there who are not helped by “Western” medicine… who have believed in it fervently because it was “science” until they, or a loved one, discover that it has very distinct limitations.

Some at this point believe that they just need to find the right specialist, or begin to explore holistic medicine. Others have traveled the allopathic and holistic path and are looking for something else. They are looking for something magical. They are looking for someone from the movies to wave a magic wand at them or their loved one and have everything be okay. 

This, of course, happens with students as well. They want to be “spiritual” or a “shaman” either because they are feeling called to it, or more likely because they either feel like something is missing in their lives or they want to identify with something non-mainstream in order to forge an identity in this world. They want the shaman they have created in their minds, complete with mystical wisdom and easily quotable sayings, a perfect, indigenous, and preferably local person who will “adopt” them and/or teach them.

Complete with this romanticized illusion of the shaman teacher has come the idea that this perfect indigenous specimen will interact, teach, and lovingly adopt said student for no compensation and ideally little work on the part of the student. That this romanticized “shaman” is in fact looking for students just like them to give away their teachings for free (and by that I mean energetic or financial contributions, but mainly I mean financial) and will tell them that they are the “chosen one”. That the random person who is looking for said shaman teacher is entitled to such teachings based on the simple fact that they want them. Also a part of the illusion frequently is the idea that the student will be taught in record time, learning everything about how to be a shaman in a weekend, or a few months.

While some spiritual healers certainly participate in ceremonies, and wear the appropriate clothing for ceremony, the romanticized ideals of what these people are looking for is often not met to their satisfaction.

Most of the spiritual healers (and I utilize that term because pretty much every culture has spiritual healers, and the term shaman is very loaded these days and not quite correct in many more) I have actually met and/or studied with look just like us. Shocking, I know.

Although I do not follow American Indian teachings most of the spiritual workers in the varying tribes I have met wear blue jeans, khakis, and/or clothes from Target. Most of the Mexican healers I have learned from do the same. Spiritual work is intense, and you want to be comfortable while doing it, quite frankly.

Many of the women healers I have worked with may work in skirts both because of comfort but also because of ideas about how they want to present themselves as professionals and in deference to their teachers and spirits.

And although I do not like to generalize, many of the spiritual healers that I have interacted with that I have deep respect for do not fit this romanticized “other” image that we have created for them, even in ceremony.

So my basic point here is that many people have constructed and are looking for an illusory shaman that does not exist. Even the shamans in books that are held to this romantic ideal have been deconstructed or outright disproven (just look up Castanada and how it was proven he was in the library when he was supposedly visiting his “shaman” … which people oddly still debate because they want this illusion to exist… and how he utilized the hallucinogens was not in accordance to how any local spiritual healer would utilize them).

A spiritual healer can do work with the spiritual realms. They can “spirit lawyer”– or interact with the varying spirits, beings, and energies to allow for balance. That is the most simplistic definition I can provide. It doesn’t matter what they wear, what they eat/drink/chew/imbibe… it doesn’t matter if they are from the middle of Kansas or a tribe in the Congo. If someone can do this, and has learned the skills to know what and who they are dealing with, and has learned how to do this in terms of working for others, they are a spiritual healer. 

It is so easy for people to have this really harsh black/white thinking… if a physician cannot help them they need a Shaman in full regalia to whisper words to them and beat drums just like they saw in a movie. If they meet an actual spiritual worker (as in someone who does spiritual work and not just mental/thoughtform/psychotherapy type work) and they perform an excellent healing service and they do not fit in with this romanticization, these illusions that they have are frequently not met and they will not heal as much as they would have if a much worse/lower quality/less able spiritual worker were to put on some clothing that would fit with their illusions.

It is time to wake up from this illusion and realize that spiritual workers are simply people. Yes, sometimes they dress differently for ceremony. Yes, they are likely to act much differently while in ceremony. Yes, they will, if they are called to this work, have a different “vibe” than most people, be an outlier in society, and so forth. But no, they do not need to fit in to your romanticized, gentrified, and often racist, classist, and ignorant illusions to be of service to you. The important thing for anyone, whether they are looking for someone that has the ability to actually help them with spiritual work, or they are looking for someone of a completely different culture/class/race/spiritual path than them is their abilities, not your needs for them to dress or act a specific way to fit your illusions of romanticized “other”.