on Shamanism, Secrets and Stuff
I have had much experience of late of the manner in which indigenous shamanism is appropriated and subsumed into the Judeo Christian framework of the western “practitioner” and reinvented as a pale approximation of it's actual living experience. There's plenty to say on that subject, and many wiser, more erudite folks than I have done so.
"Shamanism has thus come to connote an alternative form of therapy; the emphasis, among these new practitioners of popular shamanism, is on personal insight and curing. These are noble aims, to be sure, yet they are secondary to, and derivative from, the primary role of the indigenous shaman, a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to it's patterns and vicissitudes. Mimicking the indigenous shaman's curative methods without his intimate knowledge of the wider natural community cannot, if I am correct, do anything more than trade certain symptoms for others, or shift the locus of disease from place to place within the community. The source of stress lies in the relation between the human community and the natural landscape"The Spell of the Sensuous
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a Bön master who now lives and teaches in the West says
"If we relate to the natural world as a collection of lifeless mechanical processes, it is lifeless for us. If we relate to our bodies as machines, they are machines to us. If we relate to religion as a fantasy, it is fantasy to us. But if we relate to the natural world as alive, full of spirits and elemental beings, the natural world speaks to us. Generally, shamanism deals with forces and entities understood as being external to the practitioner. Practitioners work with the raw natural elements and their energy, and they also work with spirits, deities, healing goddesses, ancestral spirits and other non physical beings...The shamanic vehicles are not primarily concerned with enlightenment but with the removal of obstacles in life, the enhancement of positive qualities, and the lessening of the suffering we experience through interaction with external forces."
Even further debased, “Shamanism” the word has been applied to any number of imaginative flights of fancy of the manner which Israel Regardie (who's Middle Pillar exercise has been widely adopted in the New Age movement) referred to as “New Age cosmic foo-foo”.
"What the modern world calls Shamanism is not at all Shamanism.....the westerners have this idea that a shaman is a guru, but shamans are technicians. They are lovers of the sacred, but are no way looked upon as being exemplary. They are not 'holy men'. They are technicians of the holy You'd never say to your kids: 'Grow up and become a shaman', like you might say: 'Grow up and become a farmer'. It's like telling someone to be like a fighter pilot!...People say: 'You want to be a shaman? I want to be a shaman!' And it's like, 'Oh no you dont!''"....
Shamanism is not to be confused with entertainment - like people taking drugs and getting high. Shamanism says everything is alive. The spirits are alive. You really can't be naive about this. The problem with people that are dabbling around with so-called 'Shamanism' is that they think they can sit there on some hill that was used long ago or ceremonies, and take flowers and go up there and say to some unhappy spirit 'I love you', and that that will make things OK. It's like going back to an old girlfriend and saying; 'I've decided you are the most beautiful after all.' Well, the girlfriend you have abandoned a long time ago, she is not going to say; 'I knew you would come back'. It will be like - 'Well! Hey sucker!' And then BAM! You get hit. And you have to be awake about this. This is what the shaman does. He is not naive."Martin Prechtel, Tzutujil Mayan Tradition
Anthropology professor Michael F Brown says;
"When in my role as curious ethnographer, I've asked Santa Feans about their interest in this exotic form of healing, they have expressed their admiration for the beauty of the shamanistic tradition, the ability of shamans to "get in touch with their inner healing powers", and the superiority of spiritual treatments over the impersonal medical practice of our own society. Fifteen years ago I would have sympathised with these romantic ideas. Two years of fieldwork in an Amazonian society, however, taught me there is peril in the shaman's craft...New Age enthusiasts are right to admire the shamanistic tradition, but while advancing it as an alternative to our own healing practices, they brush aside it's stark truths. For throughout the world, shamans see themselves as warriors in a struggle against the shadows of the human heart. Shamanism affirms life but also spawns violence and death. The beauty of shamanism is matched by it's power-and like all forms of power found in society, it inspires it's share of discontent."Michael F Brown
As there are more than enough words in the datasphere I have maintained a silence of sorts of late regarding this issue, but the most recent example of this to come to my attention has prompted a public utterance.
An acquaintance of mine is studying “Transpersonal Counseling” at an institution that shall remain unnamed. Expressing an interest in working with the Sacred Medicines he was told that not only were the chances of such work having any benefit very slim, but the dangers of adverse “side effects” all to real. This from an institution which uses “the shamanic model” as it's philosophical underpinning!
Whilst I am aware that work with the Sacred Medicines is not without it's perils, nor for everyone, the same can be said of bus driving or golfing. Admittedly this information is based on a second hand account and I have not direct and ongoing communication with the naysayers involved, but it all too closely matches the nature of my own experiences.
Graham Hancock, the well known BBC journalist, has this to say on the subject.
“Above all else, we who say that we are “free” in the economically advanced and democratic nations of the world, and who arrogantly set up our societies as models for others to follow, need to pause and reflect. What do we have to preach about, when we as individuals are not even free to exercise that basic sovereignty over our own consciousness that our ancestors claimed as their birthright? And on what authority do we portray our kind of “freedom” as a universal example, or claim to possess great and useful knowledge about the human condition, when we ourselves are denied the freedom that is still granted today to any peasant-farmer or hunter gatherer drinking ayahuasca in jungle clearings in the Amazon - namely the freedom to investigate the mysterious depths of our own minds?”Supernatural
This assumption of superiority and possession of pivotal understandings comes ready and neatly packaged in such populist productions as The Secret and What the Bleep do we Know. Whilst perhaps useful, these metaphors run the same risk as any other doctrine, that of fundamentalist interpretations. Do we have the right to tell the woman raped in the refugee camps of Darfur that her fate was as a result of the Law of Attraction and an insufficient focus on “the positive”? Do we really believe that the musician in Zimbabwe struggling to survive on an income of less than one dollar a day, and in the face of a murderous regime is poor only if he believes this to be so? I certainly do not have this audacity or strength of denial.
Graham Hancock highlights the fact that we in “advanced and democratic nations” do not have the “freedom to investigate the mysterious depths of our own minds”. If I apply the “Law of Attraction” model to this instance, I come only to the conclusion that we have no such freedoms because we are terrified of the contents therein, and will create great edifices of thought and government and culture, anything in order to avoid the reality of our condition.
In comparative mythologist John Lamb Lash's excellent book, "Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief, Derrick Jensen describes our position thus..
"Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone, taken by this culture. Native forests are gone, taken by this culture. Native human beings are gone, taken by this culture. A spontaneous and free love of our own bodies and our own lives is gone, taken by this culture. The culture is systematically destroying the planet, our only home. It is systematically destroying us. It is time that we put a stop to it. But before we can put a stop to it we must see it for what it is."
Abrahamic, monotheistic religions have convinced us as a species (in fact mainly the male of the species) over the last 2000 years, that our position on Earth is that of landlord, able to exploit the Earth and her creatures as we see fit. They have convinced us that we are ourselves are flawed, despite this privileged position, and as such everything "beneath" us in creation is also flawed, to be subjugated and controlled such that any trace of the much feared chaos of the Mystery, of the Dark Mother is erased.
Alas, elements of the "New Age" teach that we ourselves are capable of manifesting whatsoever we desire, and if we do not it is a result of our own "flawed thinking". This attitude unfortunately feeds very conveniently into centuries of psychic programming, that of retribution wrought upon sinning humans by a wrathful father deity for their sinfulness, leaving those who do not "manifest" their desires responsible for their own failure, thus further entrenching the notion that they are in fact flawed. Within this construct expressing distaste viz. certain external factors, say culture, is defined as an expression of negativity residing in the dissenter, and thus the dissenter's discourse is excluded from that of the new cultural elite, those who know "The Secret". The end result is a further fragmenting of society, and thus the psyche, a maintenance of the status quo, and an increasingly limited space for cultural discourse.
The narcissistic attitude that the universe is geared entirely for the individuals wish fulfillment, that indigenous mythologies and practices can be culled of their more irksome notions and subsumed into a safe, effortless intellectual process to further the spread of an increasingly neotenised global human culture would be laughable, if it did not have the potential for such disastrous consequences.
Even the most conservative of modern political figures are recognising the need to at least pay lip service to the notion that individual actions impact upon the whole, that human action influences it's material environment. Species ARE extincted daily, ecosystems ARE destroyed and many, despite their best attentions given to remaining positive, have bleak and increasingly difficult lives.
There is much debate about "The Environment", and yet there is a knee-jerk response to the act of directly communicating with the environment by consulting readily available technologies known to millions throughout the world. It seems in this culture, despite thousands of years of accumulated wisdom of indigenous and mestizo populations, that work with the Sacred Medicines, with the Plant Teachers is not only decried by those who purport to be transpersonal in their perspectives, but prohibited by law!
I am certainly not alone in my perspective that we are at an increasingly precarious position in our species evolution, and although there is tentative hope, averting catastrophe seems to require concerted and collective efforts, the recognition that there is not ONE way to proceed, respect for all life on the planet, and a vast and immediate reconsideration of our cultural mechanisms. Whilst individual change is imperative, we must pay attention to the unconscious and subconscious forces which drive us, and have driven our cultures if we are to see a way through which affords us, and the other species about us, a habitable biosphere in which to manifest our material desires!