Recently I have had the painful awareness and awakening to some of the truths behind the “Core” or New-Age Shamanic Community. This has been a painful and necessary step in my own evolution as a human being, as I have made friends from all over the world with some lovely people and have had truly wonderful experiences interacting with many of them. Before I move on, I will say that I respect all of the teachers, students, and belief systems/grids that are present in these experiences. My experiences of expanding through and beyond this does not discount that these experiences were a crucial component of my personal evolution as well as my work with patients to this day. However, for years understandings and truths have been bubbling up in me in relation to the modern Shamanic Core or New-Age movement that I can no longer ignore.
The first awakening I had to the truth behind the modern Shamanic movement came about ten years ago and has sharpened into laser focus over the years. Cultural Appropriation. There, I said it. At first I noticed the white people who changed their names to be Native American, claimed to be part Cherokee, or were one in a former life. I thought that it was natural to have people who were perhaps mentally imbalanced or simply wanting to be someone else within the context of such a large group of practitioners. But uneasy feelings followed as I went to workshops where these cultures were picked apart and mystified and I read countless books and articles about modern Shamans who had ventured to Peru, Mexico, and in the United States and were “chosen” to be the next Shaman or receive knowledge by another culture.
The thing is that I am a student of history, of culture. I have always loved having friends from different cultures, loved hearing about thought processes and understandings dissimilar to mine, and have loved mythology, creation stories, and books from other cultures since I was a young child. There is a very clear separation between the glorification of the “spiritual” from the cultures that modern Shamans are appropriating and the reality. This means that it is not unusual for the people who are so in awe of Native Americans to the point of mimicking their culture and appropriating their creation stories in a manner that suits them to not be aware of the fact that (I hope I have my numbers straight here) up to 75 percent of present-day Native Americans are unemployed, a huge percentage live in poverty, and as far as I understand many women were forced to go through horrors such as forced sterilization, brutal sexual assaults, and even the taking away of their children by Americans who wished to adopt someone of their culture. Beyond that, some of the creation stories and understandings of the mythologies and spiritual appropriation that Core or Modern Shamans have done is simply wrong. It is impossible to separate the spiritual and physical. It is impossible to mythologize and appropriate these cultures without understanding their spiritual and physical every-day struggles.
I have deep respect for other cultures. As an adopted, white, (relatively) middle-class American who is mixed Yugoslavian, Irish, Czechoslovakian, and Serbo-Croatian the thought of cultures with deep spiritual understandings and the connectedness that comes from one core culture creates a spiritual longing that I recognize in myself. But the simple fact that I woke up to is that many of these same people who have idolized and appropriated other cultures due to this same longing have never met an actual, physical representative of that culture. And while this is true of the Shamanic movement, it certainly happens in other spiritual healing movements as well. The interest in spiritual healing has grown so that people calling themselves conjurers (Hoodoo eg.) can never meet an African-American, people calling themselves a curandera can never be actually exposed to Latino practitioners, Chinese Medicine practitioners can go without understanding the philosophy and history of China and how it impacts the medicine.
Beyond this commoditization about the “otherness” of spiritual and Shamanic practices, there is a huge divide in ethics, understandings, and judgement by the Shamanic Core community. This is done out of fear and desire for control over spiritual experiences. I remember the first time I went to a Shamanic course. I was taught to journey to the upper world and the lower world. I thought that I was doing something wrong because I did not need the padded eye pillow, the drumbeat, or to lie on the floor. I didn’t need to go anywhere. This actually bothered me for years until I finally had the understanding that this movement specifically creates the illusion that you are “going somewhere” to separate you from the understanding that the spiritual is here. You do not need to go anywhere to access it. You are a spiritual being. Spirits are around you always. You do not need lengthy ceremonies and fancy words to get in touch with spirit. This divide is almost as prevalent as the “otherness” of cultural appropriation. It is also problematic because it encourages people to have these peak spiritual experiences outside of themselves and then when they return to their every-day lives they do not identify them as spiritual. It encourages disassociation from the physical body. It encourages the participant to always look for the next workshop to have that experience again. Real spirituality is here. You experience it in your physical body. It is intended to fully embody you in your physical body. You do not have to go anywhere to access it. You have a physical body for a reason. This idea would be scary for many core practitioners, but hopefully some of them will nod their heads in agreement.
The last realization has come into focus rather recently (although obviously I could talk about this topic for days). Beyond the safety of feeling that spiritual experiences are something that need to be accessed by going somewhere, there is also a strong judgement and fear of anything that is not “compassionate” by New-agers and Core Shamans. This is yet another example of creating an “other” and a safety net- a neat divide in the spiritual realms. I recently had the difficult awakening to the fact that most “Shamans” are pulling from the collective and archetypal layers of reality. Let me explain a bit more. We live within conditioned layers of reality- they are like grids or nets around us. I have had spiritual experiences since I was a child and when I began taking spiritual workshops, such as Shamanic workshops, it felt different. At first I could not put my finger exactly on what was so different. But then I realized that most Core Shamans are actually not working with spiritual beings or with spiritual forces. They are working with archetypes, they are working with thought forms, and mostly they are working with disassociated aspects of themselves.
This thought at first astounded me. But I began to see this pattern again and again. Recently I have been scolded for not working with “compassionate” spirits and that I will somehow get what is coming to me because I do not ascribe to their certain brand of fear and judgement. And while some of the beings I work with are quite compassionate, it is true that similar to my every-day reality I have no difficulty talking to anyone- be they from a different race, culture, class, planet, “dark” or “light” or have different thought processes than myself. In fact, I love figuring people, beings, and energies out that work or simply are much different than myself. I actually have great respect for beings like elementals, ET’s and even “dark” beings who may not be my cup of tea but are much more interesting to me these days than a lot of people I meet.
The truth is that many Core Shamans create their own spiritual experiences and the angels, beings, and helpers that surround them out of their own unhealed wounds and their own egos. They are projections. Of course these beings can be singularly “compassionate” because the Core Shaman created them. Of course these beings would be like indentured servants to the practitioner, appearing when they want, doing what they want, always having “love and light” as well as the personal interests and healing path of the practitioner in mind. If they are creations, they will do as you wish. Real spirits, even the most compassionate filled with love and light beings I have worked with do not act like this. Real spirits and beings are typically as complex as human beings and cannot neatly be filed away in singularly “compassionate” or “non-compassionate”, “light” or “dark”. While these “compassionate” spirits may be filled with love, I am a vessel for them to work through and they may be interested in me. They also may not be interested in me, my needs, my ego, or even my spiritual path. Basically, while I have specific guides that guide me through my spiritual path and have an interest in me, many of the “light beings” have an interest in me because I can be utilized as a tool. I am a specific vibration, I have an understanding level that meets their requirements. And while they fill me with deep realizations and understandings (yes, and love) I recognize that I am very small. In fact, I am a specifically calibrated tool that can be utilized. I am a gateway, I am an access point, I am a physical body that they can send other spiritual healers for me to teach to, for them to send people in need of and ready for major healing, for beings, spirits, and energies of all sorts of complicated origins to receive healing from. I am proud to be such a vessel, to humble myself, and to not let my own judgements, ego, or illusions get in the way of being of service to all races, classes, and cultures of humans, and all beings great and small, compassionate or not. Obviously I have boundaries and protecting spirits, but mostly I work with any sort of person, being, or energy that is called to be healed through me.
True spiritual beings are very big. And very powerful. And we are very small. I love when I witness and see other practitioners who can actually access spiritual beings and spiritual realms. Many Shamans, psychics, and spiritual healers are simply not- they are accessing societal grids which contain knowledge. These can be very healing. But to actually meet and work with these spiritual beings outside of your own unhealed wounds and projected societal archetypes would require surrender, it would require letting go of the idea that you are this great healer or Shaman or whatever and to humble yourself to be a servant and student of such beings. It would require letting go of the safety of created illusions that “compassionate” spirits are your indentured servants and only have you and your unique, spiritual path at heart, the safety of the idea that the spiritual is “out there” and the understanding who you truly are and what sort of tool you were meant to be. You are not that important, your needs and judgements and illusions or delusions are not important. To be truly effective means finding what spiritual capabilities are uniquely yours, what you are meant to bring to this world and submitting to the fact that you are a vessel of spirit which means that you let spirit guide you. You do not guide spirit. This means not mimicking or culturally appropriating other cultures. Yes, you can study them. In fact, please do. Study their struggles, their pains, their physical reality. Study their mythologies, their spirits. Have respect for them. Actually meet them in person! But most of all, find out in what way you are a vessel for spirit- what you uniquely bring into the world (with humility) and then surrender your judgement, your understandings, your need to be right, work on your unhealed wounds, become whole and embodied… understand who you truly are… let spirit flow through you, guide you, and inform you. Know that true spirituality, true spiritual flow is not neatly categorized into labels. It is not safe. It is messy. It is complex and simple at the same time. It defies logic, labels, and control and it will destroy you again and again in the most beautiful ways.
Mary Shutan L.Ac, CST-D, CZB, ABT offers readings, services and programs for people undergoing Spiritual Awakening issues, including Kundalini syndrome, as well as for people dealing with psychic abilities. She also offers Spiritual Healing services. You may contact her to set up a consultation for an appointment or go here for information on readings.