In our culture, there is a great deal of confusion about what it means to be a shamanic teacher, as well as what it means to be a student of such a teacher, and many people have been harmed because of this confusion.
In feminist shamanic practice, there is no hierarchical structure, as there always is in patriarchal traditions and practices. Rather, the teacher, if healed, understands herself to be like a compass, pointing the way towards a feminist shamanic awakening, but always allowing the student to proceed at her own pace. Needless to say, the dance between shamanic teacher and student is a delicate one, and the bond between them can easily be broken should either the student or the teacher become entrapped in ego-generated thinking.
In the early stages of the student’s experience, she will very likely perceive the teacher to be flawless. To counteract that tendency, the teacher must make an effort to demonstrate her humanity to her students at the same time that she demonstrates her shamanic power. The reason for this is that it is understood that each one of us brings a valuable perspective to the interpretation of reality, even the most raw novice. This understanding must be balanced with the teacher’s responsibility to guide her student correctly, and to counter eruptions of ego imbalance within the student’s psyche that will be detrimental to the student and to those the student may eventually attempt to heal or teach herself. And almost every student, at some point in her shamanic development, will succumb to the urgings of her ego to test her power against that of her teacher.
This is a critical point in the student’s training, and a trial for the teacher, for she must simultaneously realign the student’s ego, while maintaining her stance as guide rather than authority figure. It is at this juncture that the student will either quit training, be released from training by the teacher, or realize her ego-imbalance and become willing to bear the humbling experience of bringing it back into balance under the guidance of the teacher. The successful negotiation of this struggle by both student and teacher is a necessary prerequisite for the student’s admission into advanced levels of training.
As the teacher-student relationship develops over time, the feminist shamanic teacher encourages the student to rely more and more upon her own judgment and direct shamanic experience, and to bring all that she is becoming to the talking circles and councils of her shamanic group. Eventually, the student and teacher stand side by side, working together on healing and research projects, advising and supporting one another in countless ways.
When one fails to completely heal one’s own wounds or to release one’s own sorrows before becoming a teacher of others, one puts oneself and others at risk in particular ways. One such risk, and perhaps the most dangerous one, is that one may overcompensate for feelings of low self-esteem and victimization by perceiving oneself as somehow enlightened or spiritually superior to others. When this occurs, one becomes blind to one’s own flaws, wounds and neuroses, and they are then often projected onto others. We see this kind of thing happening all the time, particularly among cult leaders. The supplicant or student or apprentice is convinced by the teacher or leader that this or that or the other is wrong with him, and that the teacher is the only one who can fix him, or show him the way to lasting health, wealth and happiness. The results of falling into such a trap can be emotionally, psychically and financially devastating.
To anyone considering apprenticing to a shamanic teacher, I urge you to exercise extreme caution and critical judgment about the character, ethical stance, possible hidden agendas, and camouflaged personal issues the teacher may be struggling with before you make either a financial or an emotional commitment to the person. Sometimes two people simply don’t click, for whatever reasons. Naturally, you will want to continue your search for a teacher elsewhere if this occurs, but sometimes there are much more dangerous energies at play. Following are a few good rules of thumb to help you make sound choices. If you experience any of the following symptoms during or after an encounter with a potential teacher, or any other person, you should consider that you have entered a psycho-spiritual danger zone, and you should exercise extreme caution regarding continuing the contact.
1. You are left feeling frightened, guilty, inadequate, diminished, or wrong in some vague way after talking with the person.
2. You feel “high” or somehow seduced by the person’s charismatic personality;
3. You feel confused after reading materials the person has written, or after attending a workshop of having a private session with the person;
4. An attempt is made to convince you that you have some special gift or talent that could or should be directed towards helping the teacher carry out a messianic agenda of some kind.
In all such instances, your body is the best alarm system you possess. Pay attention to what it’s telling you. If you experience fear, unease, anxiety or any other such indicator of danger, especially when it’s accompanied by an unpleasant physical sensation or thrill of fear anywhere in your torso, you should immediately back away from the person who triggered such sensations, and stay away.
Whether or not you ever grasp intellectually what transpired between the two of you, you can completely trust your body’s knowledge of what transpired between you at a psychic level. When you experience physical sensations of danger in the presence of another person, however charming that person may seem, it may mean that at best, you and this person are simply not psychologically compatible, and at worst, that the person has a hidden agenda for you that may not be in your best interests. Such warning signs can also mean that there is some unresolved issue in your own psyche that may not be ready for healing, but which may nevertheless be triggered repeatedly for you by a corresponding unresolved issue in the other person’s psyche. Whichever the case may be, if you continue exploring the relationship, it’s very likely that you will be hurt in some way by doing so, later if not sooner.
Often twistings of “truths” and symptoms of hidden agendas are very subtle and hard to recognize, so you should allow yourself time away from the person to think, to evaluate, to listen to what your own body and heart are telling you about the advisability of working with a particular person. If you are recovering from a profound trauma of some kind, or have recently experienced a devastating emotional loss of some kind, it’s likely that your capacity to engage in critical thinking may have been compromised. In such instances, you must be even more careful and rely upon the input of trusted friends and family members, and perhaps that of a good therapist whom you trust, to help you make a good decision in the matter of choosing a teacher.