According to the Oxford’s Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word “shaman” is defined as such:
Shaman (noun) A person regarded as having access to, and influence in the world of good and evil spirits, especially among some peoples of northern Asia and North America. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual, and practice divination and healing.
While this is a decent enough definition, it only touches on what a shaman is perceived to be by outsiders. It doesn’t touch on the idea or process of becoming a shaman, or how a person is recognized as such.
Anyone can choose to wear feathers in their hair, dance around to a rhythmic beat, wear gorgeous crystals and claim to be communing with the spiritual world. That doesn’t necessarily make them a shaman, any more than wearing a purple dinosaur costume makes me Barney.
Anyone can choose to use hallucinogenic drugs, plants, or mushrooms. However, that use doesn’t necessarily mean that they will gain insight into the spiritual aspect of reality.
The truth is, anyone and everyone have the potential to reach out and interact with the spiritual aspect of reality. Children do it all the time. Adults are more or less conditioned to forget how to.
But that does not mean that anyone and everyone who does these things will become a shaman.
Understanding that you are a shaman, or becoming a shaman takes sacrifice, frustration, severe mental and physical labor, and yes sometimes the falling away or ripping away of friends and family. Becoming a shaman means to have everything you have learned, conditioned yourself to know, and experienced is torn asunder, and your reality will take on strange, new, and sometimes terrifying aspects.
It is not for the faint of heart or those of weak minds. Many who start on this journey do not come out the other side, and those who do will forever wear the scars of their ordeals to serve as a reminder of where they have been.
If you look through history and at various different cultures, shamans serve as a liaison between what we know, and what we could learn. They act as intermediaries, negotiators, counselors, advisers, healers, and sometimes even leaders. But despite all these different aspects, one idea remains common.
A shaman needs his or her tribe just as much as they need the shaman. He needs the tribe to watch over him when he goes into trances or focuses on other aspects of reality. He needs the people to question him when his words don’t make sense. She needs to hear their laughter, see their tears, and experience their nature. Even if a shaman travels far away from his or her community, a real shaman understands that she is not the same without them.
The work now is to build the relationship between a shaman and his or her tribe, and the spiritual aspect of reality. It is a slow process, a joyous process, an exhilarating process, a frustrating process and of course, sometimes a painful and confusing one.
And that is as it should be.
© 2016 – 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.