I bring into question the matter of tools and the like, as outlined in the post above: do you really need them or are they props to help you do your job? It seems as though you are setting yourself up for following someone else's dogmatic idea of what it is to be a shaman.This is a really good question. The big answer is that tools, on the vast whole, are props. That said, they do have incredible power for the shamanist or the group the shamanist serves. "Just a prop" is a mantra that should be approached with respect and understanding. While tools are not to be discounted, their improper inclusion in the life of the shamanist student and Shaman teacher can lead to avoidable "tool traps".
Traditionally shamanism is a complex system of beliefs which includes the knowledge and belief in the names of the helping spirits in the shamanic pantheon, the memory of certain texts, the rules for and the objects, tools and paraphernalia used by shamans. The complexity of the beliefs and the tools used are defined by the society that the shaman exists in. Upon first inspection this seems terribly complicated. There is a wide divergence of sacred “props”, each having a specific meaning to each society.
I want to speak to the tools and rituals that are used by the shaman. Traditionally, and by practice, shamanism is a complex system of beliefs which includes:
1) The knowledge and belief in the names of the helping spirits in the shamanic pantheon, the memory of certain texts (sermons, shaman-songs, legends and myths)
2) The rules for activities (rituals, sacrifices, the techniques of ecstasy)
3) The objects, tools and paraphernalia used by shamans (drum, stick, bow, mirror, costumes, etc.)
The expression of all of these elements is determined by the tribe/group that the shaman operates in. The student of shamanism will be exposed and taught according to the tribe/group they instructed through.
There is a trap here. When the tools and rituals of the shaman are seen as dogma, that is, a fixed set of rules, the shamanic path becomes a dead-end. This trap can be encouraged by the teacher. Custom, tradition, and ceremony are just tools for a spiritual path. Once the basics are learned, a person must walk their own path. The teacher who holds a properly prepared student to fixed ways is holding them to a dead thing. Anyone who has their own legitimate tools and then follows the path of others will only meet a dead end and pain. The ancient Chinese parable says:
“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek instead what they sought.”There is another tool related trap that the student sets for themselves. In this modern world everyone wants things too fast without taking their time to learn the tools before setting out on his or her journey. There is a danger for those who do not learn the tools of their group fully and truly walk a spiritual path. They will be thrashing aimlessly in the dark and will eventually hurt themselves and others. Tools have power, and there is responsibility in their power. Teaching will follow a set pattern not because it is dogma, but instead because of consideration to the maturity of spirit and knowledge of the student. Without discipline, the student falls into darkness. Discipline is the path to understanding, and the continued use of discipline maintains understanding. Proper and timely application of shamanic tools is a path to discipline.
The tool traps of the teacher and the student are shared by many mystical schools. However, the teaching and learning of shamanism is more endangered because of the uniquely individual path and experience of the practicing shamanist. Their proximity to the primal forces of the universe begs warnings not given to the common person or mystic.