Shamanic Q & A

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Questions and Answers

What is the difference between shamanism and neo-shamanism in today’s world and how would you describe your work? Can anyone become a shaman? If so, what is the proper credentialing for such work? What do you see as being the benefits/dangers to neo-shamanism in today’s culture?

The topic you raise is rather big so here I can only make a few comments on this here.

Shamanism represents the practices of many indigenous groups with ancient traditions including sets of ceremonies, rituals, healing practices, as well as sorcery techniques. Neoshamanism is a collection of approaches that borrows heavily from basic ideas of shamanism, New Age practices, quantum physics, and the influence of various mystical paths, theosophy, and the like. It covers such a broad spectrum and such a variety of people as to defy definition.

My wife Lena and I apprenticed for ten years with a Huichol maracame from Mexico and have spent the last twenty years working with the Shipibo people in the Amazon, learning their ways and practices, as well as Andean shamanism as represented by the Qero people of Peru. While we practice much of what we have learned from them, we will never be Huichol, Shipibo, or Qero. That is impossible and the cultural divide is too great to do so.

While they each have powerful practices, many of which dovetail, they all have their own superstitions that we cannot subscribe to. The Shipibos for example are afraid of the dead, even their own relatives, and do not believe

in life after death. There is also much fear of sorcery in all three traditions. I personally believe that while sorcery exists and may be harmful, the more one dwells on it the worse it becomes. While they believe that energy follows thoughts, they have not put these things together to see the lack of logic here.

Therefore, even though we practice many aspects of authentic traditional shamanism, and although I don’t like the term, we would have to place ourselves in the category of neo-shamans simply because we cannot totally embrace all old fashioned shamanic values. From my point of view, some of these are just superstitions and not helpful. I have no interest in primarily fear based belief systems nor do I think they are integral to shamanism even though some indigenous groups think so. On the other hand, confronting and challenging the ego can and does produce terror in the personality and this cannot be avoided in the long run.

The Mayans, in their prophecies have said that the future belongs to a marriage of ancient indigenous wisdom and the cutting edge of modern science, namely quantum physics. I believe they are right.

There is no point trying to argue who is right, the old shamanic ways or the neo-shamans. We are an evolutionary species and we are always moving on to whatever is appropriate for our times and breakthroughs.

Theoretically anyone can become a shaman but in actual practice I don’t think it happens because some people have no interest or no real talent for it in this lifetime. To become a shaman requires a certain kind of person. Many more people can practice shamanic techniques but may not make good shamans for others.

There can be no proper credentialing for this work. One must merely look at the training, experience, and expertise of the shaman in question and decide whether they want to work with them or not. Being a credible shaman is not the only question. There are some excellent shamans that would gladly kill you for a fee. There are others who would never dream of such a thing. Therefore values are a significant factor regarding shamanic practice. One cannot legislate that like they can with a physicians license.

The problem with neo-shamanism is that it is subject to the fad nature of our modern culture. It’s cool to call yourself a shaman, especially in some circles, to dress like one etc. In the news I have heard all kinds of people being called shamans, including rap musicians, so the term is used for practically anything and therefore it loses meaning. I do like the old notion that if someone calls themselves a shaman they are probably not one. None of the powerful shamans I have worked with would ever call themselves one. I call myself a student and practitioner of the shamanic way and this is absolutely true. I am a lifelong student.

On the other hand shamanism has an amazing amount to offer the world and should not be left in the hands of politically motivated indigenous groups most of whom have lost their roots. There are many people who have been

shamans before and who have the right to pick up where they left off in former lives. Some of them know more than those who cloak themselves in self righteousness or deception. For example there are many Mongolian and Amazonian so called shamans who are in actuality just drunks looking to pick up some tourist dollars. So it is a very complex question, this whole shamanism thing.


What value is the tradition of holding the Winter or Summer Olympics every four years. Isn’t it just a big ego fest?


The Winter and Summer Olympics are theatre on a grand scale just like Shakespeare’s plays. They have a little of everything in them and are therefore enormously instructive. Yes, you can clearly see the machinations of ego clearly displayed in some athletes and even in nation’s medal counts. Yet you can also see displays of great courage, humility, and service. Some outstanding human beings role model for the world selflessness and the power of cooperation.

The Olympics can also be quite instructive regarding the different roles and all the overleaves. For example it is quite entertaining and interesting to watch the warrior sports such as the bobsled athletes, the downhill skiers, and the hockey players. Artisans excel at figure skating and ice dancing while sages dominate the snow board sports like the half pipe. Most of the ski jumping and Nordic track is made up of scholars. There are a few kings and priests sprinkled in here and there like the men’s figure skating Olympic gold medal winner for the United States.

Naturally soul ages are clearly evident among the athletes with the mature souls putting their hearts and souls in their performances while the young souls go for appearances without heart and technical prowess. A few baby souls are evident putting on big religious displays and some hearty old souls are there to teach the world good sportsmanship and detachment. Karma and old rivalries are also quite on display and create some of the more dramatic moments in the Olympics.

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