A “Small Teachings” series of booklets on the subject of contemporary shamanism, written from a feminist shamanic perspective.
Small Teachings: Booklet One
How Does One Become a Shaman?
by Scarlet Kinney
Have you ever wished there was a definitive explanation of what it actually takes to become a bona-fide shaman in today’s world? What the signs of an impending shamanic initiatory trial and calling are? What forms the various types of such a trial and calling might take? How to determine whether or not you’ve experienced a genuine shamanic calling? And if so, how to deal with the psychological, social, spiritual and emotional aftermath of such an experience?
You’ll find answers to these and many more questions you may have about becoming a shaman in this first booklet in my series of booklets on Feminist Shamanism®. Each booklet addresses a particular aspect of contemporary shamanism from a feminist shamanic perspective. As a whole, the booklets make up a comprehensive treatise on the subject.
SMALL TEACHINGS: BOOKLET ONE How Does One Become a Shaman?
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FROM THE INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS A SHAMAN?
“…A shaman is a person who has been “called” to a shamanic path during a profound initiatory experience of a specifically shamanic nature. The form that the shamanic initiation experience takes may vary from one geographic location or culture to another, and the shaman-to-be may experience one or more of a variety of initiatory phenomena. Such phenomena include auto initiation, which is often experienced among Australian Aborigines; initiation induced by an experienced shaman who has recognized the potential of the initiate; dreams or visions of dismemberment or engorgement, eventually followed by dreams or visions of being physically recreated or reconstructed by powerful spirit beings; strange illnesses; and actual physical ordeals involving the elements of earth, air, fire or water. Whatever form the initiation experience may take, the universal feature of such events is that spirit guides, in both animal and human forms, come to the initiate as empowering helpers prior to, during, or following the onset of the initiation itself. As Drury states in The Elements of Shamanism, “In all cases, however, spirit guides are perceived as crucial to the shaman’s resolve and embodiments of his psychic and magical strength.” (27)
While a genuine shamanic initiation trial and calling may take many forms, the more dramatic trials and callings generally share one or more of these experiences:
• Sudden physical injury or gradually escalating physical or psychological suffering so profound as to cause the person being called to a shamanic path to undergo an emotional experience of perceived ego death.
• If this initial “wounding” aspect of the trial is survived, a kind of psychological rebirth occurs, which allows one to see and experience the interconnectedness of all things;
• Visionary states, dreams, and synchronicities of a specifically shamanic nature may occur prior to, and/or following the initiation trial, during which shamanic teachings are given to the called person by the animal spirits and other shamanic archetypes who are to become her primary shamanic guides;
• A growing awareness of the source of universal love that is to be found even within such trials, and one’s new alignment with it, gradually takes place, and serves as the basis of one’s ethical stance as a practicing shaman.
The initially traumatic crisis of the trial is generally followed by spontaneous and uncontrollable visionary states and powerfully numinous dreams during which the shaman- to-be has unsought encounters with the animal and ancestral spirits who have “called” her, and who will become her primary guides and tutors on her shamanic path.
People genuinely called to be shamans are often initially resistant to the call, and reluctant to accept it. They may even suffer several years of internal conflict and doubt about their calling following their initiatory trial. In many cases, during this period of resistance the shaman-to-be may suffer from vague but persistent and unpleasant physical symptoms that are only relieved by practicing shamanic ways. While there are great dangers inherent both in accepting or rejecting such a call, there are even greater dangers in seeking such a call oneself, for the path is strewn with pitfalls and seductions that are difficult enough to handle for those truly called, and often impossible to handle for those not truly called.”
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A SHAMAN? A MYTHOSHAMANIC PERSPECTIVE
“Earth’s longing had twice opened to Sky’s generative power; had twice called life down unto herself from the limitless reaches of space that arched high above her, sparkling with mystery. Her intent to create had been so irresistibly seductive that Sky had come to her in great rushes of unrestrained longing, releasing first one, then another spark of life into her care in brilliant displays of fractured light. That was how, between them, Earth and Sky had created those first two shamans, fulfilling Earth’s desire.
Those little shaman spirits took the first form of their Becoming in the sacred space between Earth and Sky, in that place where all things have their origins. Those two tiny sparks fell to earth from that place into the twilight hour of the West, when all is still; into the time when shadow and form become one; into the time when power walks the earth, giving and taking away, blessing and withholding, bringing balance to all that is. They fell to earth from the Place of Origins into twilight, high in the Dark Mountains of the West. They fell to earth one after the other into a sweetly scented golden meadow of grasses and flowers, into that place where the Bear Chief sometimes sleeps. There they dreamt together among dancing fireflies, among pale fluttering moths, as the evening mist rose from the meadow.
Those spirits were content and would have remained there forever in that sweet meadow, suspended in the twilight, in that time between awareness of dark and light, had it not been for the powerful drums that had called to them from far beyond the mountains, from the desert plains of the deep West. The drums called to them from a place accessible only to a very few, from a well hidden place where the Bear Tribe calls up the shaman’s tree from its sleep beneath the dry sands of ancient memory’s need. The drums awoke Thunder. Thunder awoke Lightning and the sky darkened, loosing a wild drenching rain upon the shifting sands of the far West in the precise place beneath which the shaman’s tree slept. As the rain fell upon that place, the sand darkened and slowly greened, signaling its readiness to play its part in the drama that was to come. As the rain sank into the parched sand, it nourished the great tree’s roots, soothed its branches, sweetened its bark, awakened it to cellular memory of its timeless purpose.
“…While a newly called shaman benefits greatly from apprenticing under another, experienced shaman, in today’s shamanic environment, the search for a suitable shamanic teacher in the physical world is fraught with very real and sometimes insurmountable dangers. For a non-indigenous person called to a shamanic path, these dangers are especially real. One of the most serious obstacles for a westerner attempting to learn shamanic ways from a Native American teacher is the deeply ingrained resentment towards western culture that so often exists in the hearts of even the most kind-hearted and generous of Native American shamans who might be willing to take on the training of a western apprentice. These obstacles, while sometimes excruciatingly painful, are also sometimes part of the ongoing testing that the initiate is required to survive. But sometimes they are not, and coming to understand this difference can be a very difficult but necessary part of the emerging shaman’s “street sense” regarding the realities of shamanism in contemporary western culture. However, in spite of the difficulties inherent in a shamanic apprenticeship, such a period of study with an experienced shaman is critical to the development of the called shaman’s eventual ethical stance and shamanic skill level. Shamanic apprenticeships may last from two or three years to many years.”
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