Read this blog post if you want to know more about shaman, whether or not you are one. If you know that you are a shaman, enjoy this perspective, and I hope that you will leave a comment with your wisdom. If you don't know whether or not you are a shaman, this article will give you a framework to find your answer.
The term, "shaman" invokes different images for different people. Likewise, people have different thoughts about how the term is used, who may apply the title, and who may be a shaman.
The reason for the confusion is the layman's limited understanding of a term used in cultural anthropology and archaeology. The term comes from the tribal cultures of Siberia and the surrounding regions. However, anthropologists use the term "shamanic" to refer to spiritual leaders from primal cultures across the world who have certain traits in common.
"Shaman" come from different cultures with often radically different beliefs from one another. These cultural differences are the heart of most disagreements on the modern use of the title, "shaman." What is absolutely true about shaman from one culture or group of cultures, may not be true for those from other cultures. In our global, often culturally blended modern world, a conclusive definition becomes even more elusive. So, here is a cross-cultural view to help you understand the heart of what a shaman is, the common thread which connects all.
Unless you are living among a culture with a primal religion, you probably do not think that you have much of a cultural context from which to draw. However, you do. While it is good to learn from shaman, past and present, from other cultures, you are not them. They drew from their culture, though they were unique among their people. In our multicultural world that means probably drawing your beliefs and practices from a variety of cultures. However, ultimately shaman are unique people, and don't often fit into any cultural boxes.
Can you name yourself a shaman?
This question is, perhaps, the most contentious question in modern shamanism. The simplest answer is yes, depending on circumstances.
Many cultures which have shamanic like traditions have strict rules for the passing down of their spiritual leader roles, and often only another shaman can name one as such within the context of that culture. Thus, many modern shaman believe that one cannot name oneself a shaman. They see it as a spiritual leadership title similar to "priest." (Though, even priests are often such in spirit and calling long before they are titled and gain a flock.)
However, if you return to what the core of being a shaman is, the common thread, it becomes free from the restrictions of those titles, and becomes descriptive of a person with a certain kind of life calling on a certain kind of path which crosses both primal and modern spiritual paths.
In fact, in some of the cultures from which the term "shaman" originates use it more as a descriptive term than a title. Sometimes there is one, sometimes there are many, sometimes even most or all of the tribe. Sometimes they are regarded as sacred spiritual leaders, and sometimes they are reclusive and do work mostly for themselves or for the spirits. They are often feared.
Shaman must always recognize for themselves that they are a shaman before any other recognition has any meaning. Some shaman are lucky enough to have another shaman recognize and guide them, and some have to walk their road alone. The latter are becoming more common in this disbelieving, strife-filled modern world. Even a shaman who is self (and spirit) raised and trained is wise to seek out other shaman, and to be careful in so doing.
How do you become a shaman?
A person who will become a shaman is chosen before birth. You cannot choose to become a shaman unless it is who you are, and not everyone who is called will become a shaman.
The Divine knows that humans, on their free will, make life full of strife for one another. Those souls who are selected to be shaman ate placed into lives which will experience that strife to a great extent. A traumatic event is most often the means of shamanic awakening. Sometimes it is a childhood illness, or epilepsy. Other times it is a loss of a parent, sibling or someone else close to them at an early age. Still other times they are abused. In some cases a shaman is awakened purely through an experience with the Divine, whether or not it is aided by natural hallucinogens. (Use of hallucinogenic substances is not necessary, and is not usually recommended by modern shaman, outside of a cultural context.)
Regardless of how they get there, the next step is the same for most, if not all, shaman, and is reported by shaman from around the world. It is the shattering. The soul of the shaman is shattered, left in pieces, sometimes ground to dust and scattered to the winds. The shaman is broken, lost, often quite insane, during that period of time. In some cultures, one who is recognized as a shaman is exiled for that phase, which can take months or even years.
The shaman spends that time analyzing themselves as they gather all of their pieces of their soul to put it back together. The fact that shaman must go through that process is why shaman are skilled at helping other people with soul retrieval. Each shaman has their own walk, their own process, and it is private and sacred. It is not shared, except with another shaman whom they trust. The one common thread which can be shared is that it involves an extended series of journeys into the spirit world, introduction to guides, and a lot of hard work and deep analysis. The shaman experiences more in that time than most people experience in a dozen long lifetimes. (S)he comes away with great knowledge, great wisdom and a very different outlook on life.
Many who are called to be shaman don't make it through that process. Some go permanently insane, others die. All shaman are scarred by the process and may seem incredibly odd, or act randomly unpredictably from time to time.
Do the spirits make bad things happen to shaman so that they will awaken?
No. Shaman are placed into lives where awakening is likely to be triggered. People have free will, and sometimes a shaman doesn't awaken until later in life.
The spirits did not cause the heinous event which triggered my awakening when I was a child, but they did cradle me, comfort me, teach me, encourage me and guide me back to wholeness. In other words, they used the effects that horrible offense had on me to trigger my awakening.
As I noted earlier, some few shaman awaken purely through visions, without a traumatic trigger.
Is everyone who was once broken or who experienced trauma a shaman?
No. Just as not every shaman has trauma, so is it that not all who have trauma are called to be shaman. Sometimes humans are just horrible to one another, and sometimes awful things just happen. Many people are shattered, and there are many ways to become whole again. Those people who are not shaman often need the help of a shaman to be whole again, and sometimes there are other ways to be whole again.
What differentiates the shaman is that the shaman comes back together through the help of spirits, angels and the Divine. A shaman takes a special path to wellness, which only those who are called to be shaman can take. Through that road, the shaman is prepared to help others and/or to do other important spiritual work for the world which only another shaman would recognize is being done.
The shaman spends most of his/her time in spiritual work and learning, either in the physical world or the spiritual world; often both at the same time. They are prepared and trained for their work, most or all of that training is often by God and the spirits and angels.
Are shaman better than everyone else?
Shaman are better at some things than anyone but another shaman. If you need to heal your soul, a shaman can help. If you need spiritual cleansing of your home, yourself, etc, then a shaman can help. If you need spiritual guidance or wisdom, a shaman is a great source for that kind of service.
However, shaman is just a description. It describes something about a person, and doesn't necessarily define them. It likewise doesn't make them more important than other people. That said, they are sometimes the most important people in their community, only because they end up filling many different important roles.
It is not a title used to boast nor to gain status. One is a shaman because that path is the path which one walked and continues to walk. The best shaman do their work humbly and only see themselves as one small part of the machine of humanity, which is part of the machine of the Universe. Each part of the machine is as important as the others.
Should you call yourself a shaman?
That answer is almost entirely up to you. No matter what term you use, if you are a shaman you are a shaman. Just don't go using the earned, inherited or passed down titles of other cultures, unless that culture formally recogizes you in that role. While I like the term shaman, I use it only selectively when referring to myself, mostly only among other shaman to whom the spirits guide me.
It is a unique descriptive term, and there isn't much to replace it. Priests and other spiritual leaders are sometimes also shaman, but not all shaman hold official titles. If you do decide to call yourself a shaman, be prepared to fend off nastiness.
Most modern shaman I know are fantastic people, but some few are jealous, judgmental, and back-biting. Some treat shaman as a title of prestige, an elite club rather than a humble, deep calling. Some are just, understandably, wary of other shaman because of the insane number of scam artists and just plain nuts who use the title to sound mystical. So, use it if it fits you, but I wouldn't recommend putting it on your business cards unless you are recognized as such by a community, or you just don't mind putting up with the derision from people who think that they know better than you. You'll run into people like that anyway, in anything you do.