“Shamans were the first psychologists”- I am not sure where this exact quote came from, and there seems to be a bit of controversy over who first said it (it seems to be Stanley Krippner through rough research)
It is easy to understand how this quote was spread, and how it is believed in contemporary spiritual practice. In the United States particularly, but really anywhere in the Western Hemisphere shamanism was first brought back by anthropologists and psychologists. When these people “brought back” shamanism to the West, it was through the filter of their own understandings and training. The anthropologists saw the shamans as proverbial “other” and documented this other as something to write extensive research papers and books about (some of this work is excellent, by the way, like the books of Holger Kalweit). The difficulty with this is that many did not have the direct experience of being a shaman, they were just a documenter… and when they did have the direct experience of participating in spiritual activities of various sorts it was life-changing for many of them, but they were still lost in the sea of intellectualism and collegiate level discourse. Basically, it was from the outside looking in.
When psychologists and mental health professionals went to study shamans and spiritual practices they also looked at it through the lens of their own experiences. To them, shamanism was created and filtered through psychotherapeutic principles, and to them the shamans looked like were working with the mind, or the mental realms. Many of these psychologists may not even have had the belief structure or openness (or readiness) to believe that there is anything outside of the Self, or anything beyond the mind and body (the classic Cartesian and allopathic split). Many of these psychologists while they met the criteria of being the “explorer” or “other” archetype in their field were struggling with their own limitations in a culture or situation that was so “other” that they were overwhelmed. Many of them had simply never experienced anything spiritual, so they just thought that it was all mental, or all metaphor, story, thoughtform creation, and guided visualization.
These psychologists then came back to their various countries and began writing, teaching workshops, and combining the tools (as they saw them) of shamanism with psychological methods with some degree of success.
Much of modern shamanism is the simplified tools of various spiritual healers (many times misunderstood by minds perhaps that were not open enough to be able to process spiritual stimuli), combined with modern psychology, combined with easily digestible new-age self-help material, combined with enough of a shimmer of “other” so that people will think that shamanic work is mysterious and romanticized, but not too much “other” so that the average participant does not feel unsafe.
There is a basic misunderstanding here, one that is difficult at this point to expel from the public consciousness that is involved with modern shamanism.
Shamanism is not self-help. It is not a set of tools or techniques to utilize. It is not psychology.
Yes, it works with the mental realms sometimes, and does have specific and direct psychological effects. The mind-body-spirit is on a continuum, and a spiritual worker will know how to work with the spiritual and ground the work in the mental and physical realms. In fact, it is important that the client, who may or may not have any sort of spiritual abilities, be able to process spiritual work through the mental and physical realms so it effects their outer world and day-to-day reality. Yes, spiritual work works with thoughtforms that are the basis of our reality. But no, it is not psychology.
Let me explain. Shamans traverse the worlds. This is not just a saying. It is not visualization or guided imagery, it is not mentally creating something or destroying something. Shamans work in the spiritual realms. If you have never experienced the difference between something spiritual vs. something mental, chances are that you are not a spiritual worker or shaman. If you do not or cannot tell the difference between something self-created, or something that is a disassociated aspect of Self and a real live spirit or being in front of you, you are likely not a spiritual worker or shaman.
It is somewhat rare that people have real (as in actual) spiritual experiences. Most “shamans” or “shamanic practitioners” are solely in the camp of workshop shamans, meaning that they have taken a few workshops and been involved in the series of techniques handed down to them as self-help and psychological mechanisms. Many of them are not able to see past this point, or even reflect on the fact that the are solely and squarely working in the mental realms. They are not open enough and do not have the ability to see or walk into any spiritual realms. They are solely self-creating a slew of spiritual helpers, angels, demons, and allies out of aspects of themselves or from imagery of what their romanticized version of a “spirit helper” should look and act like. These spiritual helpers are often singularly compassionate, always interested in the practitioner, and will always tell the practitioner exactly what they want to hear. Real spiritual beings or helpers do not act like this… and if you are talking to your “Native American” spirit guide and he is from the 1800’s and he talks exactly like you and says exactly what you want to hear from him, chances are you made him up.
One of my favorite terms for a Shaman is “spirit lawyer”. Because that is essentially what most spiritual workers do on a daily basis. You look at the various energies, beings, and spirits coming together that are creating a situation that is not in balance, or is making your client sick (or whatever reason they are coming to you) and you work with all of them so they get what they want. In some cases, you create a contract or pact that all of the energies agree to, even if they do not all get exactly what they want. This is most of spiritual work, to tell you the truth.
The mental realms do play an important role in this. Many people block themselves from healing, they are creating thoughtforms or stories that continually play out in their lives. Working within the mental realms, with shamanic “tools” vis a vi psychological self-help shamanic practitioner-ing is helpful for these people.
But it is not spiritual work. The spiritual realms are entirely different than mentally creating a journey, or creating thoughtforms. Meeting with actual spirits and beings is much different than working with ones that you create. True shamans are rare, and we have created a climate where pop psychologists and self-help manuals teach you that you can “be your own shaman”, where we are taught that anyone with X amount of dollars can purchase becoming a shamanic practitioner.
It is unfortunate, because true spiritual work is beautiful, and it is powerful. It is unfortunate because I get clients who have gone to psychological self-help type shamans who only have the capabilities to work in the mental realms with them when what they needed was actual spiritual work. If I get a client that is mentally unwell to the point where they cannot receive spiritual work, I will send them to a psychologist first (or in conjunction). Unfortunately most “shamanic practitioners” do not know that they do not know… which leads to a culture of people playing shaman because they have taken classes without the ability to do much, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal, except for the fact that it is costing their clients a lot of money, and a lot of people in this world really need spiritual work and cannot find someone to truly help them.
Without direct experience of the spiritual realms most people will not realize this, however. Unless you are experiencing the call of becoming a spiritual worker and are directly experiencing other realms, dimensions, worlds, and are being visited by energies and beings of various sorts I realize that it is quite easy to believe that the mental realms are the spiritual realms. If the mental realms are all you know, or what you have gotten a degree in, and you see something that looks vaguely like what you have studied, it is easy to think you can just lift the tools off of whatever culture and sell it as “spiritual”, and it is easy to think that all of the spiritual world(s) are self-created out of your imagination, and can be worked with through your imagination.
But they are not. And the more that we participate in spiritual materialism, this idea that anyone can do whatever they want simply because they have enough cash and they really, really want it, the more we are participating in creating illusory thoughtforms and creating realities in the mental realms that are simply not there. Not everyone has the genetic capabilities to be a major (or minor) league baseball player. Not everyone has the ability to be a spiritual worker. Not everyone has the capability to be a pre-school teacher, an artist, or any of the multitude of careers and callings where it takes natural abilities and genetic predisposition and natural talent/calling to become. But we all can find out what we are being called to do, and become that. We are all called to do something in this world spiritually, it just might not be a calling to be a spiritual worker (and if you are not being called, and actually knew what it was like instead of the romanticized version that has been sold to you… you will likely be very thankful).
People being called to spiritual work experience things on a regular basis that they cannot turn off after a workshop, that they cannot play with for their own self-help purposes and then let go when something else more pressing comes up. They have intense dreams such as dismemberment dreams, near-death experiences, and constant initiations by the spiritual realms so they can learn. It can be terrifying to open spiritual doors and truly work with the spiritual realms. It is not the safe, cuddly experience that is being sold. Spiritual work is not a part time job… it is not a series of techniques… and it is not something that anyone can do.
There is a degree of openness, there is a calling. Being called to be a spiritual worker is a strange, powerful thing. It is difficult, it is traumatic, and most spiritual workers do not find “tribes” of people to connect with at new-age seminars. They are isolated by society because they are different, they see differently, and they experience the world differently. And most people, despite their interest in energy work, shamanism, or spiritual topics, and despite the fact that in many countries we are far away from spiritual workers being burned at the stake or hunted (unlike our ancestors if spiritual work runs in our family line which for many if not most it does) we are still castigated, relegated to the outskirts of society.
If you are reading this and are angry at me for posting this, it is fine. One of the strangest things I have found in my journey is that “the grass is always greener” syndrome always applies. People being called to shamanic/spiritual work often go through a period of time of anger, or “why me”, of rejecting and resisting the call to become a spiritual worker… sometimes to the point of becoming quite ill because they are not answering the call. Spiritual workers who are called cannot do anything else with their lives, even if they try. People who are not spiritual workers and are looking for that romanticized “other”, they are looking for the pop psychological versions and tools of shamanism to fill an empty voids in their lives want to become shamans. They think they are shamans. They do not realize that what many of them are experiencing is a pale shadow of what actual spiritual work is, and that they are solely working with this pale shadow, this series of techniques, and solely in the mental realms, when there is so much more out there.
And just for clarity, I do see the purpose of the new-age pop-psychology shamanic “be your own shaman” crowd. We have a spiritual void in the West that we are desperately trying to fill. I have no issue with people going to shamanic seminars for self-help or using the “tools” in their psychological practices. The difficulty here is that sometimes people need real spiritual work, and a real spiritual worker to do it, and many of these people go from practitioner to practitioner because they know what is going on is spiritual and all they get is self-help mental realm type help (if that) from people who have taken these assorted workshops and learned the self-help techniques and are now calling themselves shamans or spiritual workers.
But the biggest difficulty is that spiritual workers who are being called have nowhere to turn. They go to these workshops and meet these teachers and they are all for aspirational shamans, people who lack the abilities and calling but want some techniques to make their lives better. They are unable to answer the call because they are left with hollow techniques and pop psychology self-help. They are overwhelmed by the strange dreams, the amount of spirits surrounding them, and are uncertain if they should talk about things because what they experience is far beyond what any sort of message board or Facebook group knows about or can help them with.
If you are feeling like you are being called to be a spiritual worker, I can help. I offer email based programs and phone/skype consultations to help people being called find out what they being called to, how they answer that call, how to find the right spiritual guides, and how to become a powerful spiritual worker. You can contact me with interest. This world desperately needs real spiritual workers, ones that can see and sense and work beyond the mental realms and can transcend the limitations that have been given to us by others. Being a spiritual worker, answering that call, is a powerful thing, it is a rare thing, and is something that is desperately needed in our communities and in our world. Many spiritual workers simply lack the tools and knowledge to do so because they are so overwhelmed and do not know where to turn. If you are being called, you can learn how to work with your spiritual experiences and to come out of a state of overwhelm and into a state of power and be a true beacon in this world.