What is Shamanism?
Shamanism is the name (from the Tungus Shaman, meaning miracle-worker) for any tradition of ecstatic worship of the Earth, and the forces that reside and pervade Her.
Most traditions of shamanism worship two deities, the God and the Goddess. In the European shamanic tradition, also known as Wicca, the God and Goddess are most commonly known as The Lord and The Lady, or Great Mother and the Lord of the Hunt. In the Yoruban tradition, they are known as Ogun and Yemaja. In the shamanic tradition of the Chiricahua Teneh (Apache), they are known as Earth Mother and Sky Father, and also as White Painted Woman and Killer of Enemies. In other traditions, there are more deities worshipped, and in most of those named, there are other lesser deities.
Some forms of shamanic tradition can be classified as true polytheism, some, like the tradition of the Australian Dreamtime, are truly pantheistic (the God-force is in all, and all exists in the God-force, or as they put it, the Dreamtime) and at least in the tradition of the Yoruba (Nigerian African) and in most Native American traditions, these Gods and Goddesses are seen as emanations from a Great Spirit.
In the Teneh tongue, this spirit is known as Usení, Who is neither Male nor Female but encompasses both. Joe Wilson describes the difference between the path of the Shaman and the path of the Priest this way: the Priest is the custodian of tradition and rite, the Shaman is the one who journeys within and experiences the God(esse)s directly.
The path of the shaman is the path of healing, direct involvement with ones Gods/Goddesses, and the path of acquiring Power for The Good. Modern Shamanism in America is usually of two currents: Wiccan and Native.
Wicca is a reconstructed system, which is probably similar but not identical to the pre-Christian religion of the Keltoi (the Britons, the Gallics, the Irish and Scottish Gael, the Picts, and the Cymri(Welsh) It used to claim quite an impressive history, but is reliably traceable to people like Gerald Gardner, who designed a system of Wiccan practice from various sources, including, supposedly, a wealthy woman whose family had practiced witchcraft for generations. He obviously had a good grasp of some of the Anthropological works on the subject, but liberally borrowed as well from Crowley, Freemasonry, and fin de Siecle occultism like the Order of the Golden Dawn. Artificial or authentic, it seems to still work.
Native shamanism works with either traditions of a native people like the Native Americans or the Yoruba tribe (present in Santeria), or is a distillation of many practices, as is the shamanism taught by Dr. Michael Harner and by Joseph Wilson of Toteg Tribe. The true native traditions are dying out quickly, and most native Shamans are unwilling to transmit their knowledge. In some cases, the knowledge has died out, and those descendants who remain and wish to embrace the Old Ways must re-invent their tradition.
My teacher, Misha Sacred Wolf of the Naiche-Tosawi band of the Chiricahua, is in that unenviable position. The Apache still exist, and they celebrate some of the old festivals for the benefit of tourists. But much of the Old Knowledge died with the coming of the white man, the reservation, and the missionaries that considered the reservation their rightful "mission field". While it is true that many Native peoples are indignant about any non-Native involvement in shamanism, and the new age movement is full to the brim with hucksters and shysters who if you give them money will teach you "how to become a Shaman", there are two non-Natives who seem to respect the Ways, and have attempted to present the teachings of Native shamanism in a respectful, reverential way.
One is Dr. Michael Harner, author of "The Way of the Shaman" (Bantam) and his "core shamanism" system. His approach is sometimes a little too eclectic, with a glaring lack of the ritual and mythos that makes shamanism so powerful. He has reduced the shamanic experience to a few major elements: The Lowerworld Journey, where the shamanist comes face-to- face with their "Power Animal", which is a representative of the personís basic animal energy; The Upperworld Journey, where the person journeys to contact their "Teacher Within", who is a representation of the personís Higher Self; the Middleworld Journey, where ordinary reality is seen through non-ordinary eyes; and various techniques of healing, primarily the Jivaro "sucking doctor"technique. A non-ordinary state of consciousness is reached through rhythmic drumming, singing, and visualization. Despite the very clinical "self-help" aspect of Harnerís work, it is very valuable.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, you are quite fortunate in that perhaps the most exciting work in the eclectic shamanic way is going on through Toteg Tribe, a shamanic society founded and facilitated by Joseph Wilson. Joseph was a participant in the Neo-Pagan (Wiccan-shamanic) movement for more than 25 years, and is now trying to forge a new shamanic way for ALL people of the Americas. He has built on the techniques of Harner with insight from both traditional Native peoples of this land that he has studied with and entirely new ways of expression that he and others that work with him have spontaneously come up with. He does not claim to teach traditional shamanic ways, but his work is quite valuable and instead of looking behind to the old days of Tribal America, is aimed towards the 21st century and beyond.
Again, I study with a woman who is of the Chiricahua Apache tradition, but I also find Wilsonís work to be exciting and very important.
Hi Dichoóthis is finished (sigh of relief) Enju!
B*B Michelle Klein-Hass (Chihacou White Puma)