Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Filan and Sophie Reicher on Michael Harner and Practice Tips for Newbies

I am hoping to include an interview with Sophie Reicher, author of Spiritual Protection, in an upcoming issue of Witches and Pagans. But some of this info was so good I thought I'd drop a few teasers on my blog.  Hope you enjoy!

You identify as a "shaman." Today many who use that title have been trained in Core Shamanism, a lineage developed by Michael Harner. What do you think of Core Shamanism?

I do not identify as a shaman, Kenaz, though several of my friends and colleagues do indeed claim that job and calling. One of my teachers, with whom I studied for many years, is a shaman but that is as close as I come. I am a magician. I will take a stab at answering this question anyway, because I have often dealt with practitioners of Harner’s “core shamanism” techniques – most often by cleaning up the messes they leave in their wake.

I think the kindest thing that I can say about Harner’s approach is that it’s clueless. The problem doesn’t lie with the techniques themselves –they can be quite effective—rather the problem lies with the approach of those applying those techniques and the fact that they have been taken out of cultural and spiritual context. They are utilized in a manner that is both short-sighted and ungrounded.

I think Harner tries to force a certain egalitarianism on the whole thing that simply does not and never has existed within shamanism. Essentially, not everyone can become a shaman. It’s a spiritual calling, a claiming, a vocation. It’s not as easy as taking a series of weekend workshops and *poof* one suddenly becomes a shaman. Shamanism is about service to Gods, spirits, and community. It’s about serving and restoring cosmic balance on a level that Harner’s techniques don’t even begin to grasp.

Furthermore, he teaches no protections. It’s not clear whether or not he even teaches proper cautions and respect for the beings that one might encounter when utilizing these techniques. The Harner trained practitioners that I have encountered didn’t seem to even believe in the objective reality of otherworldly beings. Nor did those that I encountered (and cleaned up after) seem to comprehend that the techniques they utilized might have tremendous impact on their audience. They had no idea how to deal with emotional fall-out and aftercare. Basically, Harner’s techniques provide just enough techniques to get a practitioner into trouble, techniques presented without respect for the otherworlds, and without piety. He gives practitioners just enough to get themselves in trouble, without ever giving them the tools to get out of it again. His approach is fundamentally flawed and frankly, I think it’s the New Age equivalent of spiritual misappropriation at its worst.
You've written a book for beginners (albeit one with plenty of information that more advanced students may find useful). What advice would you offer to those who are just starting out on their magical journey?
I’d tell newcomers that magic isn’t just about casting spells. It’s about a way of living and being in the world at large. Because the practice of magic will hone and change a person, it’s important to start out rightly: get your mundane life in order. The more honorable and balanced your life, the better (and safer) your first steps into magic will be. It has a siren song and that song can drastically unbalance the unprepared. That unbalance can lead to self-delusion and in worst case scenarios, insanity. The key, is balance: as above so below. As you progress magically, let your daily endeavors progress as well. So do whatever you have to in order to get your mundane life in order: health, finances, life path, relationships and even therapy if necessary. Pare them down, clean them up.

Then I would counsel a newcomer to pay attention to the basics. Learn to center, ground, cleanse, cleanse, cleanse, and shield. Do not rush through the exercises and do not stop doing them once skill has been acquired. They are lifetime fundamentals. I also think it is helpful to develop some sort of prayer practice or devotional practice. Having a relationship with some sort of numinous power can be very beneficial and grounding. I would also say to start honoring your dead. Ancestor veneration is fundamental to an organic, balanced, healthy spiritual practice and having such a practice can only make your magic stronger. Magic is not prayer. Magic is not spirituality. Magic is an art and a craft of wielding personal power. That being said, it is one piece in a puzzle that encompasses one’s entire life and spiritual practice should be an important piece of that life, its necessary humility and piety a counter-balance to the stubborn pride so often required of the magician.