(Back to part 1)
A quick scour of the internet will tell you shamanism is the oldest known spiritual path, that it pre-dates religion by some time and that there are traces of shamanism all over the globe. Trouble is, if we want to be really technical, some will tell you that the term is only properly applied to the traditional religious systems of the native peoples of Central Asia, Siberia and the circumpolar region of the Northern hemisphere.
What muddies the waters further is that the term ‘shamanism’ has become broadly used in anthropology to categorise similar spiritual/religious practices in other parts of the world, including ancient Britain. So, who’s right?
Honestly, I don’t know and, more importantly, does it really matter? Aren’t we just moving into semantics here?
Surely, what’s important is that we get back to our real connections with the land, with spirit, with the energies around us and realise that we really are all connected. What SHOULDN’T be important is leaping onto the bandwagon of the next passing spiritual ‘fad’ in an attempt to find SOME connection with SOMETHING. How you find your connection, so long as you’re doing no harm, shouldn’t matter, but I would urge you to try to find a path that feels authentic FOR YOU.
Personally, I’ve learned from people who’d studied Celtic shamanism, Native American shamanism, European Shamanism, etc, etc, etc, as well (of course) as humbly accepting all the teachings my guides and helpers have to offer. In all those situations learning from humans, I’ve checked in to see what feels real FOR ME, I’ve listened to my own guides, followed their lead and opened my heart and mind to try to find the threads of my own blood past, however feint they may be. And, of course, being a modern-day Brit, it ain’t easy… my pedigree’s as muddled as the next person’s, with smatterings of Irish, Scottish, Spanish etc. It’s not clear cut, but that doesn’t give me carte blanche to just grab a one-size-fits-all spiritul persona.
Fairly recently, I was watching some footage of first nation people in the US trying to stop a white woman emulating their religion. Watching the footage, I felt a little torn, and a lot uncomfortable. One of the native people wore a T-shirt with the words ‘now they want to steal our religion’… well, gotta say, they have a point. For me, it’s one thing following the shamanic (to use the anthropological term) path, but it’s quite another to actually emulate another culture’s path in lieu of discovering your own. So, why did I feel uncomfortable? Well, I don’t believe any one culture can ‘own’ a spiritual path, and although a big part of me was cheering them for defending their culture, I’ve also heard many cases of native peoples referring to white people following a similar path as ‘plastic shamans’and I find it hard to believe that such a spiritual people would dismiss another’s connection to spirit based on the colour of their skin. And here we are, back again at that messy argument about the origins of shamanism.
What I do know is that back in the day – whether we’re talking about early America, Australia, Spain, Finland or Ancient Britain – the path of the ‘shaman’ would have been a difficult one, perhaps even life or death. I know that these early tribal shamans would have lived and died in the eye of the god/Great Spirit/whichever term you’re comfortable using, and I know that today, even the most learned of westerners are probably nowhere close to being in the same league. I know that when I hear of a westerner calling him/herself a shaman, I take a deep breath and wonder why their ego demands they take such a title. Furthermore, if their ego has that much control, they probably have some pretty tough lessons ahead.
So, do I call myself a shaman? No. Will I EVER call myself a shaman? No. For want of a better term, and as the anthropologists seem to have carved out the modern-day recognisable term for the path I follow, I do use the term shamanism and, if I have to use a label, I’m a shamanic practitioner… someone who practices shamanism. Do I refer to other cultures with more visible shamanic threads in my teachings? Yes. Have I learned lots from the teachings shared by those who’ve worked with other shamanic cultures? Yes. Does that mean I should forget my own cultures’ (apostrophe placement intended) worn away history and pick up another more visible one? Absolutely not.
If, one day, another more appropriate term comes to light, I’ll happily adopt it but, either way, I’ll never call myself a shaman.