LAST night I got caught in some Twitter crossfire. I had been minding my own business (as much as one can on a public social media platform!), engaging in some lighthearted banter with a couple of friends.
The trouble started when a tweeter whose bio reads “Curmudgeon. Nehiyaw. Expert at cursing. Calls out Charlatans. Saviours, Earth Mothers & a myriad of BS” decided to wade into the conversation, asked questions about ‘shamanism’ and began to throw some pretty unsavoury language and accusations our way.
This person, I believe, has every right to be mightily pissed off about people – whatever their ethnicity or skin colour – ripping off, stealing, or even borrowing ‘Native American’ (or any other culture’s) traditions and/or ceremonies without the proper training, understanding and, perhaps, permission/blessing to do so. But here’s the problem… none of the people involved in the discussion this tweeter joined is even remotely guilty of anything like that.
For me, there’s a massive difference between unethical misappropriation of another culture’s rights, traditions and sacred ceremonies and people following a spiritual path commonly described as ‘shamanism’. Without getting too deeply into semantics here, shamanic practice is global, with many different threads to be found all over the world. ‘Stealing’ another culture’s sacred practices is not remotely shamanic.
I was relieved and grateful when our Nehiyaw friend tagged in another tweeter. She and I tweeted between ourselves a few times and she asked if I’d be willing to share a video on misappropriation of native customs, and another on sacred ground. Of course, I was happy to oblige. If you want to watch, I’ll include the links at the end of this blog.
So, what’s causing the issue, and how might it be solved?
Firstly, there’s massive confusion about the words ‘shaman’, ‘shamanic’ and ‘shamanism’. I’m not sure there’s much we can do about that, as the terms have fallen into common usage to describe an animism/earth/spirit-based spiritual path. Over the years, anthropologists have discovered traces of very similar practices in indigenous cultures across the globe (including our own), so (very bluntly speaking) it must have seemed a case of ‘same hat, different man’ and ‘shamanism’ became the word of choice.
It’s fairly well documented that the word ‘shaman’ is actually thought to originate from the Tungusic language of North Asia. To save going over old ground, I talked more about this in my earlier blogs ‘Why I’ll Never Call Myself a Shaman‘ parts 1 and 2.
The real issue, for me (and I’ve spoken about this before as well) is our quick fix ‘want it now’ attitude. The threads of our own ancient ancestral cultures were eroded when we were invaded and stamped down by those who wanted to get rid of our ‘pagan savagery’ and convert us all to a more controlled way of living. With the coming of the Romans, the advent of The Church etc,etc, our old ways were buried, hidden or lost. And it wasn’t on a whim. This was about survival.
I do believe people all over the world are feeling a pull to go back to the old ways of spirituality – again, regardless of skin colour or origin – and, for those who want to dive straight in, it’s relatively easy to swipe a credit card and start picking up some of the more visible threads of old, old spiritual paths. Trouble is, those belonging to other cultures often SEEM more accessible than our own, so it’s not surprising that people start picking up on spiritual teachings from other parts of the world, rather than digging deeper back home.
And that opens yet another can of worms, doesn’t it? What if people feel particularly drawn to another culture? What if they feel a really strong energetic pull to Australia, Siberia, Canada, China, Tibet, Scotland, (insert any other country of your choosing here)? Who are we to judge what may, or may not, be their truth? I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure anyone really does.
Personally, I’ve worked with a number of different teachers who would sit nicely under the ‘shamanic’ umbrella. The teacher I’ve worked with most, and learned most from, is Chris Lüttichau, who runs Northern Drum. Chris began studying shamanism in North America in 1982 and spent 29 years studying with indigenous teachers and elders. Chris isn’t Native American, but he does work with the teachings he was given by native people to pass on, and integrity is at the heart of everything he does.
Surely, that’s what what really matters, isn’t it? Having integrity? What matters is having an open heart, standing in your own truth and not judging others from your own world view?
When it comes to my own practice, I do use the medicine wheel Chris taught, because that ‘feels’ right for me, yet the energies I feel most drawn to work with right now are those of my own lands and spirit ancestors. The realisation hit me some time back that most of the animals I connect with either are, or once were, indigenous to these shores too.
To come back to the point, if we’re all walking in truth, if we’re living with as much integrity as we can, if we’re constantly learning all we can, the words we use to describe our practice (probably) shouldn’t matter. And if we could find a way to discover the similarities, to all work together, we could probably achieve an awful lot.
To go back to that Twitter conversation, I believe what’s really needed is more awareness – on both sides. Standing up in defence of your culture (whatever that may be) is to be applauded, but let’s not actively seek people to ‘call out’ without any real cause or justification. With a little more awareness, and a little less judgement, you might just find many of us standing in the same corner, lending all the support we can and helping to spread the message far and wide. What’s more, given that we now know our individual practices may reflect our own cultures and backgrounds (regardless of any umbrella adjective), let’s all try not to judge each other from our own world view.
Cultures across the globe have had their practices misrepresented and romanticised for decades, through TV, movies, books and, of course, the internet. Arguably, First Nations peoples across the Americas have suffered more than others in this regard and that’s (probably) why we do see cases of white people trying to be ‘injuns’, and why there are so many businesses knocking out ‘Native American style’ garb to a booming tourist/hobbyist market, with absolutely no idea of the deep, sacred connections they’re effectively devaluing. There are now even fair trade businesses selling these goods, but they’re certainly not made by people of relevant ethnicity, which confuses matters even further.
And finally, it probably doesn’t help when people have seen a ‘medicine man’ on a TV drama and then go hurtling off, waving their cash, in search of someone to teach them how to become one. The sad fact is that there’s usually someone willing to grab their money and tell them what they want to hear. And that, for me, has nothing whatsoever to do with shamanism.
Here are the links to those videos. Do watch, and please do share.
Walk in truth and beauty,
PS: Do leave me a comment – I’d love to hear your thoughts.