It has been nearly a year since I posted last, and a lot has changed. I’ve been learning about the seasons of life through the turning of the Wheel. My ancestors have been calling me for a while, a number of years on some level. They have been speaking louder for the last couple years and it reached a feverish pitch during 2013 and 2014. You may have noticed that my posts over the last couple years have changed more toward animism and less focused on witchcraft. This will continue into the future as I am being trained as a spirit-taught Shaman.
There is a lot of controversy in the Pagan community about spirit-trained practitioners, especially Shamans. It is something I’ve struggled with as well. The traditional method of teaching is from an incarnated human teacher to student and the incarnated teacher must declare the student as theirs, and also when the student graduates. This tells the community that the new person is legitimately connected with the spirits and ancestors of the tribe or clan. Unfortunately, the lines of succession have been broken nearly completely around the world by oppression, genocide, and the invasiveness of Humanism. There are a few pockets of unbroken lineage, but even those areas are struggling.
The ancestors want to be heard. They want to help their future generations. The helpful spirits are still there and also want to help. The evil spirits still are wrecking havoc on our lives, even if we translate their work into Humanist terms, such as “mental illness” and other pathologies. The ancestors and spirits are creative in how to survive. Since they can’t continue following bloodlines or traditional teacher/student lines, they are resorting to their original method of teaching. The first Shamans were not taught by other humans, but by the spirits and ancestors themselves. They reached out to receptive people and taught them how to relate between them and humans. These first Shamans then trained future generations to create their lineage.
Unfortunately, due to how long it’s been since Shamans were taught using the traditional method, and due to the skepticism of our Humanist culture, many spirit-taught Shamans are shuns by others of their kind. Part of this is because there is no piece of paper to certify such a person. How do people know if someone is legitimately spirit-trained or if they are simply delusional? Most people claiming to be spirit-trained Shamans are simply confused people who are caught in the delusion of wanting to be “unique” and “special” in the mass of humanity. They long for a close relationship with spiritual entities to fill the void in their spiritual lives. This is a very understandable condition in our Humanist culture that is devoid of anything spiritual.
The way that I’ve come to determine if someone is authentic in their relationships with other beings is to use my ability to sense energy, as such people have a unique energetic signature, and I consult with my guides. Authentic people understand intimately that the ancestors and spirits are separate beings from themselves. They are not archetypes of their own mind, as Humanism teaches. Whether you believe in a spirit or deity does not affect their ability to exist and affect change in the world. Also, a Shaman has a story that is unusual in our culture. There is no checklist to guide you in determining a Shaman’s legitimacy (not even a piece of paper from a human teacher is proof), so it is something you would need to trust your intuition on. And that is something Humanism screams you must not do. Humanism says to never trust yourself and your intuition, but instead trust others such as credentialing agencies, government entities, licensing bodies, etc.
In my journey, I have struggled with following a tradition. I have heard from many that I should follow the tradition of my biological ancestors, which were Finnish, Swedish and Sami. Unfortunately, the Finnish and Swedish shamanic traditions died out during the middle ages. The Sami converted much later, but Laestadianism took over in the 19th century. There is no living lineage left that I have access to from those areas. Also, the land is different where I live, in America, so many of the local spirits would be different here.
I know many try to learn the local traditions based on where they live. Right now, I live near where the Miwok tribe used to live. Unfortunately the Miwoks have been gone for many years, their culture lost to history.
My wife has been called by the Mongolian and Tuvan spirits and ancestors, and this has been acknowledged by an old Tuvan Shaman who is actually from an unbroken lineage. His spirits did not say that I am called by that tradition, however.
I have come to the conclusion that at this point, I am and American Shaman. I don’t follow the Lakota tradition (which most Native American tribes have adopted as their own traditions were broken and lost). I speak with the local spirits, local to where I am. I work with a few of the Gods that transcend the local geography, such as Sun, Moon, Earth, Air, etc. I use my native English when I talk to them, as every tribe has used their native language to talk to spirits. At this point, they are pleased with that.
During the coming year, I will post more of what I learn, as I know there are many who are in similar situations to mine. I pray they may gain something from my journey.
I read a good post from Donald Engstrom-Reese about Elders that brought up something I was thinking about lately. Donald talks about how a true elder does not declare themselves as such; it is a title conferred upon them by others in their community. The same is true for many other special roles, such as shaman, noidi, sangoma, etc. But in our modern culture, there is virtually no sense of community. As Donald suggested, people need to be in a close, intimate setting to really get to know each other to be able to recognize each others’ talents and roles without the use of self-recognition and promotion. But our Pagan community is more similar to a diaspora than a community, except for the fact that we didn’t originate from a cohesive community before the diaspora. Most don’t see each other any more regularly than once or twice/month, even when they are of the same religious group. And many people in our community don’t spend time together more than a few times per year. We live in an age where we communicate electronically and impersonally rather than directly like a traditional community.
So what do those called by ancestral spirits do? Many think it’s inappropriate to declare and recognize oneself as a shaman, but instead that is a role that must be recognized by the community. But which community? My wife was recognized by a Tsataan shaman to be a shaman in the Mongolian tradition, which she has studied for many years. But the Tsataan shaman is not part of the community in which we live. On the other hand, does the American Pagan community have any authority to recognize her as a shaman? If so, under what authority? She doesn’t really know anyone in the US personally who follows the Mongolian path. So which community needs to recognize her, for such recognition to be considered authentic?
Another aspect of this problem is with Native Americans. It is a common belief of theirs that only someone of sufficient native blood quantum can be recognized as medicine people, and only if recognized as such by a person of their tribe. But what if their tribe has dwindled so much that nobody is left to officially recognize any new medicine people? Or what if someone’s tribe no longer follows the old religion, as many have been forcibly converted to Christianity or converted to alcohol.
I understand the importance of having someone else recognize another with a special spiritual role, but my concern with that being the only criterion is that it places more emphasis on the authority of people than the authority of the spirits and Gods who are worshiped and honored. If we lived in an age and place where there was a vibrant community who can recognize new healers, the old tradition of community recognition would have no problem. I was part of the Tsataan ritual where my wife was recognized and the manner in which it was conducted showed that the recognition was truly coming from the spirits, not from the shaman himself. But those people are rare and most Americans who may be called by the spirits cannot travel across the world and be blessed to meet someone who is able and willing to help them. What do those people do? What do the spirits do who are truly calling them?
If we say that you must be recognized by another incarnated human as a healer or other special role in a tradition for it to be authentic, there will be many people excluded simply because they live in western society, which is Humanist. The spirits may be calling them, but there is nobody around who has the capacity or authority to recognize them. It is like the spirits trying to grow a plant in the spiritual desolation akin to the salts of Death Valley. But if the spirits have their own will and their own independent existence, who are we to say that they cannot be calling these people?
On the other hand, if anyone who thinks they might be called by the spirits of a tradition, or maybe just wishes it were so, could claim such a role on simply the merits of their belief, that can lead to problems such as delusion and at the extreme, dangerous cult behavior. Who is real and who is not? Who is to say when we all live in a culture dominated by the religion of Secular Humanism, the religious vacuum devoid of spiritual acceptance for that which is not understood?
Considering the dire situation our spiritual culture is in (even His Holiness Dalai Lama suggested that he may break with tradition and reincarnate outside of Tibet), I have a tendency to lean on the side of the spirits being able to break with their old traditions and call to those outside of their traditional blood-lines, tribes, and regions. Like everything, they wish to live and adapt to the situation the world is in. I do believe that spirits can call on anyone they wish, such as Mongolian spirits calling my wife, and more recently, the Saami spirits have been calling to me as well. However, not everyone can be a shaman and it is very dangerous for someone who is not a shaman to be doing the rituals of one, but anyone can worship, honor, and respect the spirits without being a shaman.
So then the question goes back to whether one must travel to meet with a recognized shaman, or similar role, in order to be tested and recognized themselves for that role, or does one need to be recognized independently within one’s own community? What if it is not feasible to travel, due to medical, financial, political, or similar issues? What if one’s immediate community does not have anyone who can give recognition? What if there are no recognized leaders who can give such a recognition left, such as the case with many disappearing traditions?
What recognition, if any, can be conferred upon or claimed by someone if there is no human community able to do the conferring? I believe some titles, such as “elder,” are purely a human title, and can only be conferred by other humans. Spirits and Gods don’t recognize “elders” because they see such things as time, age, and wisdom in a very different manner than we humans do. But special spiritual roles like shaman, noidi, sangoma, medicine person, etc. must be granted by the spirits. I believe a human or human community cannot grant such a recognition without the spirits, since it is the spirits who ultimately choose who they wish to work through. As a result, I have come to believe that the spirits can confer such a role without the use of a human community if necessary, though it is not ideal for either party. It is important that if one is recognized by the spirits and initiated into such a role, one must be willing to offer their services and aid to other humans who are in need of help. That is where the community comes into the picture. If the spirits initiated you as a shaman or other, similar role, and a stranger knocks on your door asking for spiritual aid, you have an obligation to assist them in whatever way you are able.
So let’s say you are not a spiritual healer. How do you know if someone who claims to be initiated by the spirits as a spiritual healer is authentic? I think this is where everyone needs to use their own gifts, which the Gods gave to all people. Does your intuition say this person is a good person who can help you? Or does your intuition raise red flags about the other person? Are your personal spirit guides suggesting you work with them? Do you have a good feeling when around the person? Do they help you see your problems and questions in a new light, to guide you on how to find the answers? Does your gut tell you they are offering to help for the right reasons? If so, regardless of what they call themselves, I suggest working with them and learning from them for what they can offer that you are in need of. If you don’t get a strong, positive feeling, then don’t work with them, regardless of how many people confirm the person to be a famous, recognized healer. They may be a good healer for others, but not right for you, and that is ok. Work with those who are right for you and don’t worry about human titles and degrees.
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