Google defines a shaman as: “A person having access to, and influence in, the world of spirits, esp. among some peoples of northern Asia and North America.”
Wikipedia says: “Shamanism… is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.“
And Mirriam-Webster defines it as: “a priest or priestess who uses magic for the purpose of curing the sick, divining the hidden, and controlling events.”
The Truth Is: There Is No Real Definition
The reason for this is that shamanism has existed for thousands of years and what each shaman does is different – based on their own skills and abilities and that person’s personality and perspective on the world. It is understood that the shaman will deal with the spiritual issues of their tribe, but how they deal with those issues is entirely up to them.
Many People Have Asked Me What It Takes To Be A Shaman
There are many answers to that question and they are not all obvious. Some think that it’s about learning the rituals and the practices of shamanism, but these are just the trappings of the work – the spiritual paradigm of an underlying way of being. Others will tell you that shamanism is about developing an ability to commune with the spirit world – that of animal, earth, nature, our ancestors, spirit guides, power animals and the like. And again, this is just a the smallest fraction of the work.
The True Work Of The Shaman
The real underpinning of shamanism is to remove all of one’s assumptions and beliefs about reality to see what IS – without fear or judgement. THIS is the true work of a shaman, and it is tricky, complicated, and sometimes painful work. Because before you can see what is true for others, you have to first unwind your own inner stories and beliefs. You have to be able to take yourself out of the equation to do work for others, which means at the very least, you must have cataloged your own issues so that you can consciously put them aside before beginning work. This is why shamanism isn’t taught as a class, but as an apprenticeship. It requires conditioning your thinking to this new way of seeing the world.
Steps To Becoming A Shaman
As I see it, there are seven stages to becoming a shaman. There may in fact be more, but if there are, I haven’t reached those stages yet. Once I get there, I’ll update this page accordingly. (Did I mention that a shaman is never done doing their own personal work?) All of these steps are important not only for the shaman to stay present with the people s/he is working with, but also for working within the other spiritual realms. Each skill brings a new level of ability on a variety of planes.
Step 1 – Conquering Fear
Fear is what robs us of our personal power. It takes us out of ourselves an into a false persona of either victim or perpetrator depending on our instinctual response to it (flight and freeze response people become victims, fight people become perpetrators). It causes us to make unwise decisions based in false urgency. It takes us out of love and compassion. And because most people’s response to it is to go into an energetic fetal position – shutting down the root chakra’s grounding and the crown chakra’s access to higher power, it literally robs us of our peace of mind, and our connection to ourselves and the divine. Fear is the single most destructive force in the world – yes, even above anger.
Step 2 – Unwinding Your Own Stories
We all have stories. Stories are the way we store our personal history, they are the foundation of our beliefs about the world and ourselves. The problem is that all of our stories (and all of our existence really) is based on imperfect information and therefore the conclusions that we draw are often flawed. If you ever hope to become truly present, you first have to let go of the stories that overlay your experience of the world around you. You have to let go of the boxes into which you categorize people and step back into the curiosity of a child. This includes letting go of the stories about your own internal self-definition.
Step 3 – Developing Courage And Presence
Courage in its original form was about the ability to show your heart – to open completely to those around you. This is the form of courage that I speak of here. It’s not about squelching fear, it’s about allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and not have to do anything about it. It’s about allowing yourself to be fully present in the moment, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging that moment may be. Presence is about being with what is. It’s about staying out of your head, out of your stories, out of wondering about the past or worrying about the future and just being here now.
Step 4 – Centering Your Personal Power – Caring For Yourself
It is of no use to have power if you will not use it to take care of yourself. If you do not nuture and care for yourself, you will have nothing to offer those who come to you for help. If you fail to take care of yourself, you will lose compassion for others, become distant and negative and you will be open to other spirits coming in to feed on you. Good self-care is the hallmark of a good shaman.
Step 5 – Pattern Finding
Once you get to this stage in your work, you’ll find that finding new parts of the work to do for yourself becomes more challenging. You have already cleared the most obvious issues and now it is a matter of looking for the more subtle ones. This requires developing the skill of pattern-finding – using the feedback from the world around you to locate the source of the disturbance in your energy field. This skill will help you to continue to grow. It will also help you to diagnose spiritual problems in your tribe.
Step 6 – Modeling – Being Seen
The next stage isn’t about teaching, it’s about allowing yourself to be seen doing all of the things above. It’s about being a model for those around you – not because you are trying to be a model, but because you have stopped hiding your process. It’s not about ego, it’s about being seen – in all your glory, in all your faults, in all your pain and your pleasure. It’s about letting it all hang out and learning not to care what others think of you – because you love who you are.
Step 7 – Mentoring
Once you have become a good model, then it’s about mentoring – teaching others what you have learned. But it’s not about teaching everyone – and it’s not required that everyone “get it.” It’s about giving information to those who ask for it and offering it to those who need it – and waiting to hear if they are willing to receive it.
There is a lot to being a shaman. And the rituals, energy work, healing work and spiritual work are all a part of it. But this is the part that is the most important and least talked about of all of it. Without this work, the rest will fall far short of what it could be. As a practicing shaman, this is the work I do every moment of every day of my life. The other pieces are bit-part players. Even if you never learn how to walk the spirit world, or work with energy, or do ritual, if you engage in these practices, you will become a shaman.