Why we need core shamanism

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Shamanism: Unique & Universal

Everywhere that there are humans, there are plants. And everywhere that there are humans living with plants, there are shaman.

The word “shamanism” is a general term that describes a hugely diverse set of practices from around the world. These practices serve different purposes, but often include:

1) Physical and spiritual healing

2) Communicating with non-human beings (plants, stones, land, animals)

3) Seeking guidance

The practices themselves also vary, but nearly always include:

1) The shamanic journey

2) The use of sound, often a drum, to aid in the journey

Becoming a shaman typically requires many years of learning, experience, and practice. It is no light undertaking.

Shaman serve an important, and I believe, necessary role in communities. They help spirits to move on from this world, perform soul retrievals, help folks recover from trauma, connect with the land and serve as a bridge between the plant people and the human people. They help folks to heal and grow into their best selves.

Shamanism and Cultural Appropriation

Shamanism exists as a living practice in many parts of the world. Shamanic lineages remain intact, and are passed down to carefully selected students who dedicate their lives to the practice and serve their communities.

In much of the modern-day United States, shamanism is not a living practice.

Europe had already undergone a massive and systemic destruction of traditional knowledge by the time Europeans arrived on the continent that is now known as the U.S. Europeans had murdered their shaman, healers, and wise women & men through various means and adopted a philosophy of separation from nature.

These wounded, murderous people arrived on the continent that is now the U.S. and continued their murderous ways by killing and colonizing nearly all of the people who lived here and doing everything they possibly could to wipe out their shaman, healers, and wise women & men, too.

This mess of horror gives us the present moment, in which First Nations/indigenous/native peoples of this continent have tenaciously and courageously kept their knowledge and practices to various degrees, and the descendants of the European colonizers are, for the most part, functioning from that philosophy of separation from nature that has been so harmful this whole time.

There are many descendants of the European colonizers who are aware of this situation and who crave connection to this land. They want to live gently on the earth. They want to live as kindly and helpfully as possible.

Sometimes, this desire can lead to the descendants of colonizers seeking the knowledge of native peoples, seeking their healers and their practices. This can be ok in some situations, but it can also easily lead to cultural appropriation.

Descendants of the colonizers living in the U.S. (henceforth, “white people”) will often gravitate toward the knowledge of native folks due to the authenticity of the knowledge.

Well, it is authentic. Native folks spent thousands of years building traditions of knowledge and practice, and then our ancestors spent a few hundred years doing everything they could to destroy that.

For me, that means that I don’t get access to that. I don’t deserve it. And it’s not the responsibility of the few remaining native shaman to serve me or my white brethren.

These are two beliefs of mine:

1) It is important that there be at least one shaman in every community.

2) It is not right for white people to depend on native peoples for spiritual guidance or shamanic practice.

Which brings us to core shamanism.

Core Shamanism

Core Shamanism is a practice developed by white folks that takes the near-universal aspects of shamanism and teaches them widely — mostly (I imagine) to other white folks who are searching for meaning and connection.

The main, and I would say valid, criticism, of core shamanism is that it is removed from any legacy or lineage or specific tradition. It is not “authentic.”

And yet.

As a descendant of the colonizers, I do not personally feel that I deserve access to a lineage of knowledge of native peoples. And my ancestors destroyed their own knowledge so long ago. So what am I left with?

Core shamanism might not be the perfect answer, but there is no perfect answer to this situation.

Perhaps I do not have access to a lineage that extends back thousands of years, but I can learn and practice and have my own experiences that are authentic to me. I can build my own base of understanding. I can build relationships around me.

Core shamanism is a way for white folks, or for anyone who was not born into a community with a shamanic tradition, to learn the concepts of shamanic practice. It is a way for us to take responsibility for this work. It is a way for us to rebuild the bridges to the natural world that our ancestors burnt so long ago.

I know this topic is controversial. Tell me your feelings below. It’s important to talk about this.