Saturday, April 10, 2010

From a Conversation on Shamanism

Galina Krasskova and I are having an interesting discussion on Shamanism on the Yahoo group Spiritual Occultist.  The term "Shaman" gets bandied about a lot nowadays by people who are utilizing some of the traditional practices of Shamanism but who aren't filling the role classically played by shamans.  Some of the people using it don't even think the traditional practices are necessary or even desirable.  I'd be interested in hearing what others had to contribute to this conversation.
This is very true and was what I was trying to get across in my post about healing and shamanism. It’s a Job and there can be a lot of tools in the toolbox that goes a long with that job, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a specific type of Job, which is why I tend to refer to shamans as spiritual technicians. (A more unsentimental bunch of folk you will not find than the shamans that I work with LOL)
And the thing which I would point out is that it is a job which involves clients. The shaman works in service to a community. When s/he wanders about the spirit worlds s/he generally seeks power to be used in service of that community, not "enlightenment." "Enlightenment" is a concept which comes from Buddhism, a tradition which has generally been actively hostile to Shamanism. While there have been a few Shamanic/Buddhist syncretic religions formed, most notably in Tibet, by and large Buddhists have persecuted Shamans for working with demons, being overly concerned with the material world, and generally posing a threat to the established Buddhist order. The Hinayana Arhat seeks to find enlightenment for hirself: the Mahayana Boddhisatva wishes to bring it to the masses. The Shaman wants to ensure the continuing fertility, good health and survival of the tribe. 
Beautifully put. I am primarily ordeal, ascetic practices, and sometimes horsing so my experience with plant spirits (to induce trance) has been minimal. I certainly know it’s a valuable tool though. It really is a matter, as you so aptly put it, of pragmatism and matching the tool to the job at hand.
Plant allies have garnered a bad reputation in the community because of people who equate a "mystical experience" with dropping a couple tabs of MDMA (more likely some crap piperazine derivative these days) and attending a rave.  Don't get me wrong, I support the right of consenting adults to ingest any chemical they please. But there is a big, big, BIG difference between recreational drug use and sacred use of plant allies.

Approached with respect and caution by people who are called to use them as tools, plant allies can give you access to realms which are difficult or impossible to reach without them. I don't know anyone who would say you can recreate an Ayahuasca or Salvia divinorum experience just by meditating... at least not anyone who has actually worked with those plants. Approached as recreational aides, plant allies can help you catch a good buzz. Trying to compare the two uses is like saying that a priceless Ming dynasty vase is no different than a public toilet since both happen to be made of porcelain. 
(from Dorothy, another Spiritual Occultist participant):  Drugs and deprivation are used when the person cannot enter the spiritual world without them. With proper meditation and training, these are not necessary.

(From Kenaz, Responding to Dorothy) How much experience do you have in exploring the spiritual world with drugs and deprivation? And how does that work compare and contrast to your spiritual explorations without them?
I don’t use plant spirits’ help but I do use ordeal and the trip is fast and dirty. Sometimes this is the most efficient way to go (sometimes not). Sometimes it is the safest and most expeditious way to go, sometimes not. Again, it’s all about matching the tool to the job at hand.
I understand Dorothy's trepidations about encouraging the usage of plant allies. I certainly have seen "Shamanic" lists which have degenerated into rambling conversations about various fun trips. But one should avoid judging a practice by its loudest and most visible morons. Thousands of years before we had stoners, we had shamans using various mind-altering tools to accomplish their jobs. The toolsets used were remarkably consistent throughout various times and cultures. I am certainly open to the possibility that someone may have come up with a shamanic system which makes some or all of these tools superfluous. But before I hail this remarkable advance in spiritual technology I'd like to see some evidence for its efficacy and safety.