This is an ongoing US and global project to help enthusiasts, scholars, practitioners, and curious parties learn more about shamanic living in a contemporary culture. The space here is devoted to sharing info, experiences and opinions about all forms of shamanic expression covering shamanism's multiple permutations. Among subjects explored are traditions, techniques, insights, definitions, events, artists, authors, and creativity. You are invited to draw from your own experiences and contribute.

What is a SHAMAN?

MAYAN: "a technichian of the Holy, a lover of the Sacred." CELTIC: "Empower the people...by changing the way we think." MEXICAN APACHE: "Someone who has simply learned to give freely of themselves..." AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL: "...a teacher or healer, a wisdom keeper of knowledge... (who) takes people to a door and encourages them to enter." W. AFRICAN DIAGRA: "views every event in life within a spiritual context." HAWAIIAN: "...human bridges to the spiritual world and its laws and the material world and its trials..." QUECHUA INDIAN: "embodies all experience." AMAZON: "...willing to engage the forces of the Universe...in a beneficial end for self, people, and for life in general."

-- from Travelers, Magicians and Shamans (Danny Paradise)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On not having a tradition

I have no regrets whatsoever that I am not owrking within the framework of a single tradition.

In our conference call, I mentioned suggesting to a client that she use salt to help detoxify a room with negative vibrations. It was a technique suggested to me years ago by a QiGong teacher from Korea. I also suggested smudging the room in a native American tradition. Neither of these traditions are ones in which I am fluent, but tyhey were in my "toolbox" and popped out when I asked Spirit for help. My client agreed with these suggestions and will try them.

I would contrast this with an experience I had two years ago when a much loved teacher of mine came in clearly inhabited by another entity. At that time, I could deal with this situation, but I needed my extraction crystal which I did not have that night. I simply had no idea what to do, and a colleague who was willing to act "as if" did the work. Now, I would ask, is the crystal a tool or a hindrance? Clearly it is a tool when I use it, but if I dont think I can do the work without it, I've got a problem.

I'm thinking of tradition in the same way - very rich very useful, very full and comfortable IF you can address all your needs within it and IF you do not have to distort your situation, your request to Spirit or your answer to fit within the tradition. Certainly it helps to have a core of belief for stability and for ongoing work with and contact with Spirit, and it certainly helps not to have your work or your belief system become a grab bag where you pull something out and hope it fits, but too tight a system distorts perception and limits possibilities, and the ability to address the novel situation (and we will certainly be seeing more that is novel in the future).

It is also frequently the case that as traditions age, they become more rigid, formal, and structured. The Tibetan Bon tradtion was originally (and still is) Shamanic, but it is overlaid with Buddhbist iconography and belief to an extent to which it is barely recognizable (same Deities, same properties, different names, etc.) Increasingly we will need to be flexible and able to accomodate rapid change. Shamanic work and teachings that are not tied to a single way of doing things, and consequently a single way of seeing things, would not seem to be a disadvantage here.


walksinsacredspace said...

Thank you fearless woman for your thought provoking post. I realized I have some knowledge of many traditions regarding sacred rituals and healing ways and am not partial to any. I continue to honor and embrace the sharing of this ancient wisdom however the medium. My primary learning on this path for many years has been guided by Spirit through books.

Rainbow Warrior said...

I want to add that I think we're also at a place right now where we don't have time, as shamanic apprentices, to enmesh ourselves in one particular tradition. Spirit is calling us to act NOW! I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed into one tradition. As Fearless Woman said, new challenges as well as the varied dogma of our clients force us to be on our toes and seek out alternative methods that may not be part of one particular tradition. Our planet (the Earth itself and her inhabitants) is suffering and the desperation for healing is palpable. As contemporary shamen, we don't have time to study at an ashram in India, or in the juggle, or a monastery in Tibet for years. We all know from these first six months of our apprenticeship, Spirit is working with us now, and is always working with us no matter what tradition we've studied.

Walks In Two Worlds said...

Rainbow Warrior--you are really getting it. Yes, yes, yes! Robin

Allowing the light said...

About Traditions & Rituals

I agree with all of what has been said in the two conversations about traditions but… at the meantime, I am concerned about the temptation of closing ourselves and becoming intolerant, in a position of “being right” vs. others who would not have understood the urgency of the situation or whatever. We have no right to offend those who feel geared towards one specific tradition, whatever their reasons. I have never been able to follow one specific model and could not follow something that would not sound authentic to who I am now, so necessarily different from any kind of “tradition”. When I work with people, I also pay a great deal of attention to adapting the rituals to what might be meaningful to them, to being open to what speaks to them now. But I know that, de facto, often without knowing it, I borrow from many traditions, re-inventing some aspects of them, and relying on the power of thousands of years of sisters and brothers repeating the same gestures, the same words, the same silence… I am thankful for that heritage and honour it.

I also share some of the sense of urgency stressed by Rainbow Warrior but with some limitations. We know enough about how relative the notion of time is… At every single period of our human history, some human beings have felt that exact same sense of urgency (human beings are not humble enough to think that they are so small and insignificant in the face of the universal life that they know very little about what is meant to happen, but this impulse has also contributed tremendously to our collective growth – nothing is ever “good” or “bad”). Others may feel differently. If one feels that she needs to spend years, even an entire life (or several) in a monastery or an ashram to study before being ready, I respect that. I have never felt that it was my path in this life but it may have been in previous lives. Even among us, in our group, our rhythms of initiation, training, calling, etc. maybe different. I know enough at least to recognize that my own rhythm is anything but linear! So while I constantly experience the fact that I do not have anything but HERE and NOW (which actually are only one), I recognize that others may experience this differently.

It happens that I have been writing a lot about “traditions” and “rituals” lately (but also in the past) for my other job on peacebuilding (right now, I am building a portal of resources on peacebuilding – a mix of online encyclopedia and data base of resources for practitioners). I deal with those topics in particular in relation to justice and “reconciliation” mechanisms, memory, psycho-social recovery processes, etc. So I thought that I would share a few quotes and “definitions” about these topics. In particular on rituals, looking at what different disciplines say about them show how more fluid things are.


“What are labeled ‘returns to tradition’ may in fact be inventions, recalled or resurrected ideas layered on and informed by new information. They should be understood as such and not romanticized. […] n all cases, it is important to note that the term “traditional” does not mean static or unchanging, but rather refers to mechanisms which, by essence, are susceptible to almost continuous change.[…] Innovation is part of every culture’s reality, and […] borrowing and grafting ideas from the outside and reshaping old concepts to new experiences are also important local strategies.” (Roberta Culbertson and Beatrice Pouligny, “Re-imagining peace after mass crime: A dialogical exchange between insider and outside knowledge,” in “After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities”)

About the notion of “Invented Tradition” (I often use myself the notion of “re-invention”; it helps understand what traditions are in the real world), I recommend Eric Hobsbawm, “The Invention of Tradition”

“These practices, far from being dislocated in a past that no longer exists, have always continued to be situated socially. They are called upon and performed to address present concerns. Of course, like any culturally informed practice, with time they shift in meaning and appearance.” (Sverker Finnstrom, Living with Bad Surroundings: War and Existential Uncertainty in Acholiland in Northern Uganda)


Bobby Alexander (anthropologist), Ritual as Social Change: Ritual is a planned or improvised performance that effects a transition from everyday life to an alternative framework within which the everyday is transformed.

Robert Bocock (sociologist), Ritual in Industrial Society: Ritual is the symbolic use of bodily movement and gesture in a social situation to express and articulate meaning.

Charles Laughlin, Eugene d’Aquili, and John McManus (neurobiologists), The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis: “Ritual is an evolutionary, ancient channel of communication that operates by virtue of a number of homologous biological functions (i. e., synchronization, integration, tuning, etc.) in man and other vertebrates.”

Erik Erikson (psychologist), The Development of Ritualization: “Ritual is a special form of everyday behavior.”

Clifford Geertz (anthropologist), The Interpretation of Cultures: “In a ritual, the world as lived and the world as imagined, fused under the agency of a single set of symbolic forms, turn out to be the same world, producing thus that idiosyncratic transformation in one’s sense of reality.”

Theodore Jennings (theologian), On Ritual Knowledge: “Ritual action is a means by which its participants discover who they are in the world and how it is with the world.”

David Kertzer (political scientist), Ritual, Politics, and Power: Ritual is action wrapped in a web of symbolism.

Peter McLaren (educator), Schooling as a Ritual Performance: Towards a Political Economy of Educational Symbols and Gestures: “As forms of enacted meaning, rituals enable social actors to frame, negotiate, and articulate their phenomenological existence as social, cultural, and moral beings.”

Lida Shirch (sociologist), Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding : “Some rituals reinforce the status quo by forming People’s worldviews, identities, and relationships. Other rituals mark and assist in the process of change. People’s worldviews, identities, and relationships may be transformed in a ritual process.”