Big Rowan Ackison (greensh) wrote,
Big Rowan Ackison

The Shaman and Suffering


Suffering is a tool that is used in the testing and attainment of a shaman's power. Suffering through self-deprivation (fasting, lashing, etc.) are practices that are held by many belief systems. The topic of suffering is a worthy one for any spiritual path, and this paper will focus both broadly on these spiritual ramifications while touching on associations that are specifically shamanic.

The material presented in this paper is drawn heavily from the works of Carlos Castaneda. He presented the four enemies of the person of knowledge in his first book, THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A YAQUI WAY OF KNOWLEDGE. The material on petty tyrants can be found in Castaneda's later books. Several words have been substituted for the cohesion of this paper. 'Self-importance' has been replaced with 'ego' and 'warrior' has been replace with 'shaman'.

The overall purpose of this paper is to give an overview of how the shaman overcomes the trials and tricks of an mundane spiritual existence to become a shaman: one who sees and serves the unity of all things.

The Four Enemies of the Shaman

The shaman, as a person of knowledge, faces four enemies that can disrupt the shamanic path.

The first enemy of a shaman is Fear. A terrible enemy which is treacherous and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the shaman, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest. Once a shaman has vanquished fear, they are free from it for the rest of their life because, instead of fear, they have acquired clarity of mind which erases fear.

And thus the shaman has encountered the second enemy: Clarity. That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds. If the shaman yields to this make-believe power, they have succumbed to his second enemy and will be patient when shaman should rush. And the shaman will fumble with learning until they wind up incapable of learning anything more.

The shaman must defy clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; they must think, above all, that clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when the shaman will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes. And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm the shaman anymore. It will be true power, the third enemy of shaman.

The shaman at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in. And suddenly, without knowing, the shaman will certainly have lost the battle. The enemy will have turned the shaman into a cruel, capricious person. The shaman must defy his power, deliberately. They have to come to realize the power that has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. The shaman will reach a point where everything is held in check. They will know then when and how to use his power. And thus the shaman will have defeated the third enemy.

The shaman will be, by then, at the end of the journey of learning, and almost without warning the shaman will come upon the last of his enemies: Old age. This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one that won't be able to defeat completely, but only fight away. The shaman's desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge. But if the shaman sloughs off his tiredness, and lives fate through, the shaman can then be called a man of knowledge - simultaneously a master and servant of the shamanic vision, if only for the brief moment when they succeed in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough.

The journey through the enemies of the shaman is an analogy of the affect of personal ego as the shaman walks the medicine wheel. The South holds fear of the past. The shaman is called to remove links to the chains of the perceived traumas and pleasures in the echoes of what has been. Only then can the shaman be as a child, and have the healing laughter of spirit of the child. The ego fears removal of the past, and fear is the result.

The West holds the knowledge that all things must past, and that death and transformation a necessary element of the shamanic path. While we know death comes in small changes at every moment and a larger transformation when we pass, the ego would hold this knowledge in a place of false clarity. The ego feeds false assurance that all is known, that there is more than enough time, and that there is no need to hurry. The ego lives in this place, and presents the enemy of clarity.

Mystical knowledge and abilities reside with the influence of ancestors and the elders in the North. The ego, seeking to sustain itself in this place, pacifies the shaman with visions of power used for the ego's ends. The male and female meet in the North, and here they blend to androgynous mind, the creative principal that we personify as God, the union of Sun (masculine) and Earth (feminine), from which all life claims a common ground. The use of the power by the influence of the ego prevents this union and chains the shaman to be little more than a tyrant.

And lastly the East, a place of returning to the tribe with knowledge and ability, is a place that few tread. The knowledge and power gained in the other directions are seen as gifts and tools, and not seen as the goals of a lifetime. They cannot be seen as goals, for the fourth enemy, old age, is not influenced by knowledge or power. The ego would like to use knowledge and power to battle old age as a last attempt to sustain itself. The shaman answers the call of Spirit to share and serve, and in this place of no-ego, the shaman finds their true place in the web of life even as they seem to give way to the last enemy.

The Ego

What is this thing called ego that exposes the shaman to four deadly enemies of the spiritual path? Ego is our greatest enemy. It stands between the shaman and unity with Spirit. While the shaman serves the whole of Spirit, and seeks to maintain harmony and balance, the ego only serves itself.

So what is ego? Ego is the part of ourselves that defines the "me". The ego a tool for survival and is the core of everything that is both good and rotten in us. Without ego, a person could not truly say they are an individual with preferences, fears, needs, and dislikes. With ego strongly in play, a person cannot feel harmony in the place of unity with all things.

Ego weakens us by creating offense at the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Whether our ego sees an individual as master or slave, the ego requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone. Ego can't be fought with niceties. Ego is not something simple and naive. The ego has many survival tactics as seen by how it takes positive attributes and transforms them into enemies of our spiritual growth.

Dualism is the foundation of ego. The establishment of "ME" creates the separation between "US" and "THEM". There are things to hate and things to love. There are things far from us and things close to us. All of these, love and hate, far and near, are contrary states to unity.

Adoration and pride are the products of self ego and group ego. Doubt is the product of reality and non-ego. Doubt is the product of awareness and is the place where the shaman exists. There is awareness and true power within this place of doubt. Doubt is the key to defeating the four enemies of the shaman. As the forces of fear, clarity, power and old age move in to trip the shaman, the response is one of "maybe that is it, but there is inherent wholeness in the unity of things and the harmony of the universe." The ego lead perceptions cannot exist in this light of divine oversight and love.

If adoration is incorrectly equated with love, and adoration with the highest forms of ideology, those that you consider terrorists are the most loving people you know. When we see someone as a terrorist we can say "They are attached to a selfish idea that is destructive." This is very insightful. Now consider the truth of ego comes from this:

I am an ass, you are an ass

People are all terrorists in that their own ego born out of survival and the need to feel good. Terrorists have something else in common. They have approval, appreciation, and attention in their society. Appreciation and attention are an addictive drug given to us when we are very young. Ego was instilled in us when we were very young, and as spiritual adults, it must be harnessed instead of seen as master. The shaman takes strides around the Medicine Wheel and harnesses the ego to make magic and become magic.

Suffering as a Initiation

The past shamans knew of the four enemies, and they knew the price that the tribe would pay if a shaman did not faithfully move through the Medicine Wheel. Suffering presents the future shaman as somebody who is willing to walk the path more then they wish to live and that everything they own, even themselves, is sacrificed and dedicated to the path. This is very much along the lines of hazing in institutions involving people depending on each other. A person must prove their willingness to put the individual ego aside for the good of the group. The future shaman is putting aside their ego, and avoiding the ills of the ego, for their community or tribe. A strong ego, one that spawns the four enemies, will hurt both the shaman and the group the shaman is sworn to serve.

Traditionally the shaman must "attain to intimacy with the supernatural by visions of death". The old must die so the new can be reborn. The shaman must cure himself of the initiatory suffering, and only afterwards can the shaman cure the other members of the community. Guides, spirits, allies, power animals, and other helpers are gained as the shaman puts their own ego aside and says "I need to be healed". The healing comes from the world beyond, the very world that the shaman will later walk as a participant and partner with the forces that lay there.

Initiatory suffering is also a path for the modern shaman. Pleasant experiences make life delightful, but there is no change. This is not the shamanic path. Painful experiences lead to growth. This growth occurs through understanding. Understanding through awareness of pain will allow the modern shaman to break the attachment that causes the pain. Focused observation reaps the rewards of suffering. This breaking is not a separation, but instead it is the ceasing of the grasping of illusions the modern shaman must evoke and pursue.

Suffering as an Omen

Suffering is a sign of being under the control of ego. Suffering is useful because it points to falsehoods and clashes with reality. Becoming sick and tired of it all pushes us to the point of getting relief to get out of situations.

Suffering is a doorway to awareness. For the shaman, the experience of suffering is a sign of being unaware and not open to Spirit. Suffering is useful because it points to falsehoods and clashes with reality. Suffering is a path to the shaman's awareness. Suffering is a result of being disconnected from the unity of nature, and at the same time it is the guide to removing those things that keep the shaman from achieving the unity of physical and spirit that is their path.

As an omen, suffering takes place on both the physical and spiritual levels. Indeed, a physical pain is the sign of a misbalance in the spiritual. The physical ailment can result from an individual disconnect from the harmony of the divine or it can be a local manifestation of a larger group disconnect. In either case the shaman sees the omen and treats it on a level (individual or group) as training and Spirit dictate.

Suffering as a Teacher

We have already said that ego is our greatest enemy. Shamans make every effort to eradicate the crippling ego from the their lives, for without ego we are invulnerable to suffering. To get rid of the ego that is rotten requires a masterpiece of strategy. Those on the spiritual path fight ego as a matter of strategy, not principle. The petty tyrant is part of a masterful strategy with suffering as a teacher and guide.

A Petty Tyrant is a tormentor, someone who either holds the power of life and death over shamans or simply annoys them to distraction. The petty tyrant is a clever device for the shaman, for it not only gets rid of self importance; it also prepares the shaman for the final realization that impeccability with the unity of things is the only thing that counts in the path of knowledge.

What turns human beings into petty tyrants is precisely the obsessive manipulation of the known. Anyone who becomes victim of their ego and joins the ranks of the petty tyrant is defeated. To act in anger, without control and discipline, to have no forbearance, is to be defeated.

Humor was the only means of counteracting this compulsion of human awareness to take inventories and make cumbersome classifications. Petty tyrants take themselves with deadly seriousness, while shamans do not. Inventory taking is the realm of the ego and not the realm of the shaman. The shaman takes no inventories and makes no judgments of distinctions. Instead they see life with humor and an understanding that separations, when view with the wisdom of discernment, are the illusionary covering in front of the whole.

If shamans can hold their own in facing petty tyrants, they can certainly face the unknown with impunity, and then they can even stand the presence of the unknowable. The average man's reaction is to think that the order of the statement should be reversed. The average man believes that one must face the unknowable before facing the unknown, but that's not so. The path through the medicine wheel is a path of the unknown, and it leads to the awe inspiring realm of the unknowable.

The idea of using a petty tyrant is not only for perfecting the shaman's spirit, but also for enjoyment and happiness. Even the worst of petty tyrants can bring delight, provided, of course, that one is a shaman. The mistake average men make in confronting petty tyrants is not to have a strategy to fall back on. Shamans not only have a well thought out strategy, but are free from the entanglements of ego. Shamans always have a chance to recuperate or retrieve and come back later. What restrains their ego is that they have understood that reality is an interpretation we make.


This paper was focused on the shaman, ego, and the four 'enemies' of the path. I feel that the material presented is valid for many paths with the substitution of another word (warrior, saint, seeker, etc.) in place of 'shaman'. The information provided is applicable to any belief system that holds that there is a unity of all things. The necessity of sustaining the balance 'within' and 'without' depends on the removal of these distinctions. This removal is accomplished by harnessing of the 'me' as a adoption of a divine 'we' with no ego-driven 'them' present. Embrace the 'we' of unity as you overcome your own inward spiritual enemies along your own path.

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