Monday, September 27, 2010

For Andrew: Still More Intellectualizing About Shamanism

My earlier post on the linguistic uses of Shamanism inspired some questioning on Visionary Shamanism from Andrew, an enlightened being from Great Britain. I thought I'd share my response to his words of wisdom here. 

This is all an attempt to intellectualize!

If we are going to use words, perhaps we should first have some idea of what we mean by those words, n'est-ce pas? This is especially true when dealing with words that have multiple meanings.  And why would intellectualism be a bad thing? Anything worth doing should be worth examining.


a) It is not really a faith!

For some people, shamanic practices are an integral part of their spiritual life. Others see them as something which can be separated from religion and culture. But I'd argue even those non-theistic/atheistic shamans engaged in personal exploration are practicing it as a spiritual discipline. (Belief in God need not be an integral part of religion, as any Buddhist might tell you).  If you're seeking and finding mystical experiences, then you're a mystic. And any mystical experience worthy of the name involves jumping out past the comfortable realms of logic and coming face to face with That Which Transcends.  When reason is no longer of use, one can only rely on faith.  (A Danish guy named Søren Kierkegaard wrote about this at some length: you may find his work enlightening). 

b) Who says practioners should be subjected to tough questioning?

Hopefully the practitioners. If you have no beliefs worth defending, then you have no beliefs. If you never subject your beliefs to any challenges, then what distinguishes you from the wild-eyed fundamentalists who Know with unquestioning certainty and are ready to die and kill for their Knowing?

c) Where do 'prophets' and 'ego crutches' come into it?

If you believe shamans are born, not made, then you have a Priestly Caste, a Chosen People.  That can be an enormous ego-crutch. Saying "I'm an Ascended Master who has come to dispense wisdom to the masses" is much more soothing than admitting "I'm an ill-educated chav who lives in my mum's council flat."  This is an issue which advocates of the "born shamans" theory must address: how do you distinguish the born shamans from those who are seeking a badge of Enlightenment.

d) WE do not choose who is chosen by the gods-there are no gods, only man-made assumptions!

Says you and a few other people. This is not a belief which has a long history, nor is it a majority belief today.  I'm trying to find a definition of "shamanism" which encompasses both "the Gods are real" and "there are no Gods."

c) Escape from reality? Which particular one of the many are you referring to?

I don't want to see "shamanic reality" become an escape from the reality where said "shaman" is just a dysfunctional dumbshit with delusions of grandeur. I prefer an approach which seeks to better one's lot in life to one which says "you don't need to worry about your problems, just tune them out and accept a Higher Truth."  That way of strikes me as more akin to addiction than self-improvement or spiritual development.


Wes said...

Good responses. I was particularly interested in what you said about "born shamans" vs. "made shamans." I hear a lot of arguments about this, and two thoughts come to mind.

1) For me, shamanism is a way to surrender the ego. I'm sure some would find something wrong with this, but it's a way to allow other parts of myself to take a turn at the helm--and I think that's good. So it does me no good to consider myself a born shaman. That terms carries all sorts of baggage, and I have no interest in carrying all that weight. I think anyone can call themselves a shaman if they want, just as anyone can call themselves a Christian. But the real test comes in whether they can apply themselves over the long term and really learn what being a shaman means. Once they "earn" their badge, then what? The proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

2) For me, part of practicing shamanism is recognizing the trickster aspect. I'm referring to that ancient archetypal figure that spans various cultures, the one wearing multiple masks, the one that changes form constantly, shifting here and there to avoid labels; the trickster defies our banal expectations, trips us up and also keeps us on our toes. The moment we think we understand the trickster, he/she morphs again; the lesson here is the pervasiveness of illusion, the relativity of perspective and the need to continually learn. Unlike some other spiritual practices or faiths, shamanism allows room for the trickster, and his/her role is to deflate ego.

Pallas Renatus said...

Damn I miss being a teenager. Presumption and ignorance made so much sense.

Raven said...

Re: "born shamans" vs. "made shamans." As with many other careers, one might be born with the potential, the talent, but one must still work at developing that potential, honing talent into skill, else one "coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which [one is]."

Let Igjugarjuk, the shaman of a Caribou Eskimo tribe in northern Canada, speak to this: "The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering. Privation and suffering alone open the mind to all that is hidden to others."

Well, you might say, he was born to the tribe and to his own talents. But was that all he needed? (I quote Warren Jefferson's summary of a longer text.)

As a child, Igjugarjuk was disturbed by visions and dreams of strange beings. The dreams were quite vivid, and he could remember every aspect of them. His family was very concerned for him, and the shaman Perqanaoq was consulted. The shaman met with their son and determined that he was destined to become a shaman, and so the parents gave him over to Perqanaoq for training.

So began his initiation. In the depth of winter, when the temperature can drop to –40 degrees Fahrenheit, Perqanaoq put Igjugarjuk on a sled and took him far out into the Arctic wilderness. There he built a small igloo for the boy, just big enough for him to sit cross-legged in. He took Igjugarjuk off the sledge and deposited him in the hut on a small piece of animal skin. He was left there alone and told to think only of the Great Spirit.

After five days, Perqanaoq returned and gave the boy a drink of warm water and left. After fifteen more days, he returned and gave Igjugarjuk another drink of water and a small piece of meat. This was to last him another ten days. At the end of his ordeal, which lasted thirty days, he was brought back to the village, where he fasted and continued his training.

Raven said...

And as a young boy's month-long initiation, it makes a fully grown god-man's "hanging on a windy tree for [a mere] nine long nights" seem rather mild by comparison, doesn't it?

Raven said...

d) WE do not choose who is chosen by the gods-there are no gods, only man-made assumptions!

Says you and a few other people. This is not a belief which has a long history, nor is it a majority belief today. I'm trying to find a definition of "shamanism" which encompasses both "the Gods are real" and "there are no Gods."

Well, you may recall back in Usenet discussions a decade or so ago my being the resident atheist (Humanist) on soc.religion.paganism et al, non-hostilely, as I also contributed to several of the newsgroup FAQs and provided frequent research services. For me, as a poet, gods are a metaphor. Other atheistic religions and philosophies have gotten along just fine with theistic religions -- e.g. Buddhism with Shinto, Confucianism with Chinese folk religion, Stoicism with Greco-Roman temple polytheism -- so why not let at least the present minority religions here be good neighbors? It's the present majority here that's being the bully on the block.

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