The purpose of this paper is to explore how a shaman becomes a shaman. What are the teachers and teaching methods that a shaman encounters as they develop their identity? The information shared will be applicable to many spiritual paths as we are all seekers, and the teachers are often same and merely wear different masks.
If the lesson is how to be a shaman, then the question must be asked, “what is a shaman?” A shaman lives in and understands the unity of life as it is expressed in the physical life and the planes of existence beyond. The shaman very much feels the physical, and sees it as a place of service. However, the physical is seen as a portion of all that there is. It is the schoolyard where we begin our lives. The rest of life, in its recognition of unity, is open-ended as it is lived consciously and freely.
Heather Hughes-Calero writes that the shaman lives as a Soul in a physical body rather then a physical body/mind with a soul. This differentiation is very important as it conveys a wonderful freedom in the statement “all is spiritual”. If all is unity, and all is spiritual, than unity is spirit. The shaman’s life is based on these principles. Heather also writes that, what is phenomena to the uninitiated, is only a matter of reality to the initiated, and we are limited only by our perceptions. Do you perceive from the Soul or from the mental? Where are your perceptions?
Before I read the above words of Heather, the teachings of Rolling Thunder and Tom Brown conveyed to me the sense that the magical is the reality of the ignorant. The shaman experiences the same reality as an everyday thing. The magical is possible because it is natural. Aleister Crowley is credited with saying that every act done with intent is magic. This is true, but many of our discontented and disconnected intentions are harmful and destructive. The shaman mixes in an understanding of the spiritual connectiveness to make every intention not only magical, but also healthy and natural in its effect.
How does a person learn to be a shaman? How does a person learn the soul connections? This paper will explore a few facets of this wondrous puzzle. Pay attention. There is a shaman in all of us.
Are these initiations practical, or even possible, in today’s age? I would submit that our modern times rival the initiations of the past. We must initiate. We are given the challenge to either throw off the fears or die a living death. The death we face is more horrific than any death the shaman faced in initiations of old. They were faced with the lost of the physical, while we as a society are faced with the death of our souls. The fight to regain spiritual unity is a painful experience, filled with as much drama and pain as the initiations of the past. There is a certain amount of pain when we are disconnected and not know it. To be aware of our disconnection, and not be able to achieve it, can be maddening. This madness can bring people to take their own lives in a variety of ways – suicide, gluttony, addictions, abusive relations, and so on. The benefits of a successful initiation are wondrous, and the person becomes a valuable asset to lead others along the path.
Training and initiation of the past took many years and was a solitary event with experienced guides. Our modern society is not one of waiting and cultivating. We rush about. The rushing of a modern initiation increases the probability of perceived failure, thus leading to actual failure. Spiritual initiations have a component of despair and loss. Those who have walked the path before are there to tell the initiates that it is normal. They cannot reduce the pain of the initiate, but they can keep the fragile soul on the path. A combination of hurrying our initiations and the lacking of experienced guides can be devastating in our modern age. There are answers. The universe can and does provide guides for the seeker. However, be warned that the guides cannot heal the pain of the initiate. If they do heal the pain, the initiation is postponed and the seeker may even be returned to the starting point.
THE TEACHERS AND THE LESSONS
Who will guide us in this modern age? Who are our teachers that will prepare us, and then guide us, through the initiation and beyond? The answer lies in the goal of the shaman: unity of the spiritual. If the spiritual is the lesson, and all things are spiritual, than all things are our teachers.
All things are my teacher. All things includes all the events and people that are encountered. The judgment that an event or person is not worthy of being a teacher comes from fear. So, the acceptance of the concept that all are teachers moves the shamanic student away from fear and further along the path. The crass, ugly, bigoted and hateful are seen as teachers. The wise man and the simpleton are held in equal reverence for what can be learned. How is this possible?
Each teacher has a different lesson. Every lesson has its own time, place, and goal. No lesson is more valuable than another when the goal of understanding and living unity is achieved. Gaining from a teacher’s lesson is a matter of being fully present to receive the message. We must be ready to receive the message of a lesson, and ready to honor the teacher of the message in their own divine clarity of the moment. This is done by withholding judgment, and listening to the connecting truth that is presented.
The horrors of mankind are legion. Atrocities are common. Even in the dictators that direct the sufferings, and the grand suffering they inflict, there are lessons and the dictators are teachers. The lessons may be about the lack of compassion that a disconnected living produces, and may point to our own disconnections. Judgment of a wrong is often merely a projection of that impurity that lies within ourselves. The person that condemns the killer holds seeds of death in their own soul. Recognizing these seeds by recognizing the condemnation is a valuable lesson, with the killer being the teacher. With the lesson learned, the killer is seen through eyes that come from a soul that has let go of that small piece of death. The lesson learned, the killer is no longer a teacher about carrying death within us. They transform into a teacher of compassion and forgiveness. A new lesson replaces this one in the next moment and so on.
Each moment has its own teachers and its own lessons. The teachers change roles; the lessons change directions. The only thing that does not change is the student’s ongoing acceptance of the new teachers and the new lessons. The stability of the moment, in the face of changing faces and events, is a testament to the growth of the shaman toward achieving the unity of spirit that is the shaman’s marking.
SPIRIT ALLIES AS SHAMANIC TEACHERS
The modern shaman does need wisdom and guidance that our modern society seems to not have. The answer to this absence, indeed one that shamans have always had, is that of spirit guides and allies. A willingness to look beyond the physical enables the shaman to tap into beings that have knowledge and wisdom. These beings exist within the expanse of what the shaman calls reality, but outside of what could be considered physical reality. The allies cannot be measured or recorded, but they are very real to the shaman and those who can see beyond the veil of the five senses.
How does one contact a ally? Cultivation of the six sense, the third eye, the intuitive factor, holds the answer. What are these things? Are they magical? No. Instead of expanding our senses, we are instead merely recognizing a sense that was there all along. The spirit world, the elemental world, or whatever you wish to call that place of otherworld allies, was always there. The shamanic student is merely like the blind man who is seeing for the first time.
The blind man seeing for the first time is a valuable analogy. It expresses the thrills and dangers of expanding the perception of the universe. The blind man, while always living in the same world that they can now see, does not readily recognize the dangers that were there all along. Fascination with the colors may put common sense aside and the newly sighted man may walk into traffic, not knowing what a truck looks like. Their safeguards are down and the same, but new, world becomes potentially harmful when precautions are not made. This is the place where a trusted spirit guide comes in. The spirit guide is like the person who tells the newly sighted man what a truck looks like, what fire looks like, what different drinks look like. Their guide has knowledge about the “new” surroundings that can benefit the shaman and keep them from harm.
Spirit allies come in many forms. They can be angels, elemental spirits, ancestral spirits, animals spirits, people spirits, and non-human spirits. The word entity, guide, helper, keeper, and so on can be substituted for the word spirit in the previous sentence. The energies are similar if not identical. The type of spirit ally is dependant on the intent of the shaman. The culture that a shaman comes from can predispose them to animal guides. Another culture may seek angels, while another may seek elemental spirits. The shaman attracts the spirit allies that they seek/intend. Is one spirit ally better than another? No. They have their own relative strengths and weaknesses as people do. Some embrace the idea of spiritual unity more than others, but all are valuable as teachers. A shaman will recognize when a spirit ally is not longer useful. Indeed, sometimes the spirit ally will recognize this before the shaman and the spirit ally will leave by their own free will. Another spirit ally will then come.
THE MAGIC BEYOND
What now of the magical abilities of the shaman? What of the healing and the divination? What of the ability to do the impossible – manipulate weather, transport objects, walk through objects, read minds, create illusions, float, fly, and more? These magical abilities have nothing to do with magic. They are very ordinary events that are merely very improbable to those who don’t have the knowledge and the intent.
The shaman first and foremost sees and honors the connection of all things. The shaman understands that other bodies that exist – energetic, astral, etc., and understands the workings of all of these bodies and the forces that act on these bodies. With this knowledge, practice, and understanding, the shaman can do their “magic.”
The writings of Rolling Thunder were very instructional to me in this concept. He said that there was a time and place for everything. Everything already exists, and the shaman merely creates a situation in which the event may occur. The shaman must have knowledge of the timing, qualities, and dynamics of the event. The shaman must have practiced the knowledge with an intent to succeed. And finally, the shaman must understand. Understanding is the act of connecting with spirit. Understanding brings the knowledge and the practice to a place of manifestation in the proper time and place. The improbable ordinary occurs, and magic is seemingly performed.
Ritual is the gateway to making the improbable ordinary manifest, but ritual without understanding is like shooting fish with a gun. If there are few fish in the pond, or the fish swim deep, the gun will have no effect. If there are many fish in a pond and they are close to the surface, the gun fishing will probably succeed. The shaman uses ritual with understanding. Ritual without understanding may have dire consequences. In the fishing analogy, the dire consequences manifest in a really mad sea serpent coming out of the water and eating the unprepared fisherman.
How do we avoid the sea serpents of life? Do not rush the magical side of shamanism. It will come in time. Seek connection with spirit and the understanding will follow. The dazzle of the magical is merely window dressing to the goal of becoming whole with the universe. There is a saying that magic is in the air. To the shaman, the air is magic. The people, animals, rocks, trees, spirits, and everything else is also magic. All things become ordinary in this sameness of magic, and all share the divinity of the moment.
More could be said about shamanic teachers and teaching methods. One day I will write a paper that speaks to specifics of shamanic teaching. It is enough for now to take in what has been presented in this paper. I am a beginning seeker myself on the shamanic path, and I have merely seeing the outlines and shadows of the path ahead. My own allies have given me revelations. Their advice is to listen to myself and seek the wisdom in the moment. It is not an easy path, and the obstacles I place in front of myself seem great. These obstacles will pass as I learn, do, and understand. Do the same in your life.