Wanted to learn more about this..
What is Shamanism?
The practice of shamanism is not easily defined. The best I can do to get you started is to define a few parameters.
A shaman is one who goes into an altered state of consciousness at will. While in this altered state, he or she makes a conscious choice to journey to another reality, a reality which is outside of time and space. This other reality is composed of three layers: the lower world, the middle world and the upper world and is inhabited by helping spirits. The shaman is able to establish relationships with these spirits and to bring back information and healing for the community or the individual.
Most importantly, shamanic work makes a practical difference in this world we live in. The work brings about a change. The journeys are undertaken with a specific purpose in mind.
A basic principle of shamanism is the belief that everything has a spirit and is alive. The tree has a spirit, the rock has a spirit, my drum has a spirit, and yes, even this computer has a spirit. If everything has a spirit and is alive, we humans then find ourselves in a position of equality rather than dominance. If you follow this logic, you begin to realize that shamanism is a radical act. Shamans donít follow the laws of man; they follow the laws of spirits. They donít dominate the earth and its creatures; they strive to live in harmony and balance.
Shamanism has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the last twenty years. Sandra Ingermanís book Soul Retrieval, Mending the Fragmented Self and The Foundation for Shamanic Studies (directed by Michael Harner) have contributed to the heightened interest. Many indigenous shamans have come forward in recent years to help train others and share their knowledge. Their prophecies have urged them forward; the time is now.
Another answer to "WHAT IS SHAMANISM" comes from The Foundation for Shamanic Studies:
"Over tens of thousands of years, our ancient ancestors all over the world discovered how to maximize human abilities of mind and spirit for healing and problem-solving. The remarkable system of methods they developed is today known as "shamanism," a term that comes from a Siberian tribal word for its practitioners: "shaman" (pronounced SHAH-mahn). Shamans are a type of medicine man or woman especially distinguished by the use of journeys to hidden worlds otherwise mainly known through myth, dream, and near-death experiences. Most commonly they do this by entering an altered state of consciousness using monotonous percussion sound.
What we know today about shamanism comes from the last living bearers of this ancient human knowledge, the shamans of dying tribal cultures scattered in remote parts of the world. Few of them are left today, due to the destruction of their peoples and cultures, and to deliberate attempts to eradicate the shamans and their knowledge, even though shamanism is not a religion, but a methodology.
Now, at the last moment, open-minded Westerners are beginning to discover for themselves that the shamanic methods can yield astonishing results in problem-solving and healing, for themselves and for others. As a result of their use of the methods, they are acquiring a new awareness of their spiritual unity with all beings, with the Planet, and with the Universe. They are also discovering that there is a dimension of reality beyond that ordinarily perceived."
What is Shamanism?
Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. There are many variations in shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism:
- The spirits can play important roles in human lives.
- The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the community's benefit.
- The spirits can be either good or bad.
- Shamans get into a trance by singing, dancing, taking entheogens, meditating and drumming.
- Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message-bearers, as well as representations of animal spirit guides.
- The shaman's spirit leaves the body and enters into the supernatural world during certain tasks.
- The shamans can treat illnesses or sickness.
- Shamans are healers, psychics, gurus and magicians.
- The most important object is the drum; it symbolizes many things to a shaman. Sometimes drums are decorated with rattles, bells or bones to represent different spirits and animals, depending on the region and the community.
Its practitioners claim the ability to diagnose and cure human suffering and, in some societies, the ability to cause suffering. This is believed to be accomplished by traversing the axis mundi and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over, spirits. Shamans have been credited with the ability to control the weather, divination, the interpretation of dreams, astral projection, and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistic traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times.
Some anthropologists and religious scholars define a shaman as an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world, who travels between worlds in a state of trance. Once in the spirit world, the shaman would commune with the spirits for assistance in healing, hunting or weather management. Ripinsky-Naxon describes shamans as, "People who have a strong interest in their surrounding environment and the society of which they are a part."
Other anthropologists critique the term "shamanism", arguing that it is a culturally specific word and institution and that by expanding it to fit any healer from any traditional society it produces a false unity between these cultures and creates a false idea of an initial human religion predating all others. However, others say that these anthropologists simply fail to recognize the commonalities between otherwise diverse traditional societies.
Shamanism is based on the premise that the visible world is pervaded by invisible forces or spirits that affect the lives of the living. In contrast to animism and animatism, which any and usually all members of a society practice, shamanism does not require specialized knowledge or abilities. It could be said that shamans are the experts employed by modern, animists or animist communities. Shamans are, however, often organized into full-time ritual or spiritual associations, as are priests, being the unordained priests of instinct.
So, you want to be a shaman
"It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air -- there's the rub, the task." -- Virgil, 'Aeneid'
Let's start with the word 'shaman'. Shaman is gender neutral, there are no shamen or shawomen, only shamans, big ones and little ones.
The word itself was taken from the Tungis tribe in Siberia by 19th century anthropologists. The name, which in Tungis means ghost talker, was then applied loosely by other scholars to any indigenous native religious tradition. There is more than a small element of racism in that, but this is what was done.
Shamanism is the oldest form of human spirituality. In a very real sense, it is the grand daddy of them all. Recent discoveries, of new caves in France put actual artwork representing shamanic themes back at thirty seven thousand years ago. Tell this to a shaman and watch the flicker of a small smile play across their lips, because they know it is much, much older. They have existed in every culture, every civilization, since the dawn of man. They have traveled under many names from the High Priests of Isis to the Delphic Oracles, from the Hebrew prophets to Nostradamus. To the Celts they were the File (fee'lyee), the vision poets, to the Scots they were Tailbshear (tah'shar), the vision seers, to the Welsh they were the Awenydd (ah-wen-ith) the inspired ones. They are the walkers between worlds, the bridge between this reality and the unknown. They are, in short, just plain nuts.
Shamanism is not a religion, it is important to understand this, despite what new agers and some faux shamans try to create, it is not a religion, though it is a religious practice. Shamans are tied very intensely to the earth and to creation in general. All shamans are unique; no two are alike even though there are similarities. The shaman of old was the man or woman living at the edge of the village in a mud hut, off to themselves. They were usually shunned by the communities they served, until of course, they needed them. Some things never change.
So how do people become shamans?
I'm glad you asked.
When people ask me seriously how they can become a shaman, I always respond with a simple question: "Why would you want to?" Let me outline what is going to happen to you, if you ignite this spark. You will have no friends; they will shun you because you scare them now; they will tell you that you're insane. You will experience love, at its core - love so intense and so selfless; touching upon it makes you want to die. But, you will never have anyone in your life again to share it with. Your family will become strangers to you. Everything you own will be taken away. You will live, in some sense, in constant pain, alone; you will truly become the wounded healer. People will treat you like a dime-store psychic. Now, your spark is becoming a tiny flame and the bad stuff starts. Visions you can't control; illnesses that are serious yet seem to have no cause or cure. You will become depressed, a depression so deep and dark, you feel as though you are eating your own soul.
Now your tiny flame is growing into a small fire and the real trouble starts -- spatial lapses, missing time, time distortions and things that go bump in the night. Your awareness begins to grow, but what is in that awareness provides no comfort. New creatures will enter your world, not all of them are nice. In fact, some of them will try to kill you, literally. You will feel naked against the full force of ancient energies. Something is driving you at this point, you no longer feel in control of anything. Fear will seize you. This isn't normal fear, but the kind of fear that steals your breath and stops your heart. People will become transparent wraiths to you. When you see them, it will be in their totality. You will feel their pain, anger and misery. Not in terms of a casual observer, you will live it, in that instant. This is unimaginably horrible. But now you know, somewhere inside, a fire is raging.
Somehow, through all the pain, sweat, blood, misery and tears, you survive (most do not) to see beyond yourself and the world. You're standing toe to toe with death -- your own -- and you suddenly slap it in the face and laugh. What appears next in your vision is one golden moment, one instant in a sea of time. You will risk everything for that one chance to stare into the maw of eternity, to see, to know, because you are burning now with the fire from within. You will leap into that chasm, not wanting to, but because you can do no less. Now you are just a streak across that vastness, one small insignificant part of an immense whole. In the end all you can say with that final desperate act is: "We mattered, we were here". Perhaps you'll come back. Perhaps you won't. But now you can carry the name . . . shaman.
Shamans can be quite the life of the party - it's just a matter of why? They choose their actions; they do not allow them to be chosen for them. All of this comes down to the issue of why, why stalking, why dreaming, why intent and movement? Shamans are using all these things to move their own energy to places that frankly, are crazy. But people in general can use the techniques to help them in their lives. Shamans are both ignorant and amazingly wise.
A shaman is created in any two of the following three ways: they are born to it, they are trained in it as a tradition or they are called to it at some point in their lives. Shamans act from a place that isn't quite the same as other people. If a shaman loves you, he or she comes from a place where love is unselfish, unmotivated, they would love you only because you are you and for no other reason, no expectation, no sense of loss.
Not all awakening is Kundalini awakening, although it is a commonly used term.Shamanic initiation is probably the least understood of all the spiritual processes. Despite the recent (disrespectful, erroneous) New Age idea that Shamans can be created by courses and workshops, true Shamans are born, not made. A Shaman does not initiate other Shamans, as occurs with Yoga and Wicca. Rather a Shaman may recognise that another has been chosen or born a Shaman, and assist with the unfolding. The primary teaching happens through the spirits directly, although it is not unusual for a new Shaman to be drawn to a more experienced one, to have a hand to hold to make it easier to accept the process. Usually one is also lead to information and Spirit provides a commentary for enhanced understanding.
In tales of Shamanic training such as those by Carlos Castaneda, the human guide chooses a student who is already a potentially Shaman, the gift is within them waiting to be actualized. Carlos often wrote that Don Juan would become frustrated because he could see the power within Carlos, but the logical Western mind of Castaneda was slow to actualize. Carlos had Don Juan to explain things, but much of the teaching was a result of Don Juan creating situations for Carlos to interact with spirits directly, and learn from them.
Shamanism has some things in common with Kundalini, and they may go together, but they are *not* the same thing. Shamanic training makes Kundalini feel like a walk in the park, by comparison. I would not wish Shamanic initiation on my worst enemy!
While all Shamans may become K. awakened as part of the training process, not all awakened people become Shamans.
Shamanism is much more intense than Kundalini., and it also involves a much more hands-on training as to nature of the illusion of the physical, and a deeper relationship with death, nature, and the underworld.
Being taught by the spirits directly is one aspect of Shamanism that some Kundalites share. Most Shamans are also K. awakened, but few Kundalites are also Shamans. There are many different definitions of what makes a Shaman, but my own consideration looks for several specific aspects and experiences.
For Shamans, Death shows up as a spiritual being, an ever present spirit teacher-guide whom you get to know, and eventually integrate with. It is an ongoing relationship.
My definition of a Shaman is pretty simple: if the spirit who claims you does not do its best to kill you with a severe, life threatening sickness shortly after you meet, then you are not a Shaman.That is not to say that all life threatening illnesses are shamanic sickness, of course. CFS, malaria, flu, pneumonia, fibromyalgia, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, or suicidal impulses are not Shamanic sickness.
The basic pattern is that there is a "First contact" with the spirit, usually taking the form of a psychic or paranormal experience and an interrogation by a spirit. The interview is followed by a severe life threatening illness. Shamanic sickness usually includes visions, high fevers, transient comatose states, delirium with hallucinations of visits from the spirit that claimed you, etc... the sickness may last weeks or months, however long it takes you to surrender to the training, or die. Medical intervention is usually of little use, as the cause of the illness is supernatural, not physical. (See a doctor anyway, just in case your illness is physical and treatable, and not Shamanic sickness!! Better safe than sorry. ) It is estimated that 1/3 of those who are called, do not survive the sickness. The sickness is a cleansing and a testing.
The key to survival is to consent to their plans for you. Surrender to becoming a Shaman and agree to be trained.
There are exceptions. There are cases where the subject was already dedicated to another God, such as Jesus Christ or Goddess, and they asked that Divinity to then you can claim prior allegiance and ask for your God to intercede for you, however if the Shamanic initiation is part of your God's plans for you, it will not work.
If you survive, then the spirit(s) go on to train you directly. Unlike yoga or other forms of magical training, there is no human hierarchy to Shamans. It is part of the definition that to be a Shaman is to be trained by the spirits directly... although it is not unusual for the initiate to be drawn to a more experienced, 'Graduate' Shaman to have a hand to hold during the difficult bits.
Kundalites may traverse the underworld levels of the Bardo on their journey through it as part of ego-death, Witches may go there in ritual and return, but Shamans get to know it well enough to be tour guides, and actually live in both worlds. Some Kundalites may become healers, but not all... whereas most Shamans become healers, although some may primarily specialize in other activities. Some Shamans, like myself may even have an imperative to do a certain amount of healing work regularly, in order to maintain our own health.
Unlike Kundalini, one eventually "Graduates" Shamanic training, and surrender to the teaching spirit is no longer required. It becomes more of a spirit helper friend. With Kundalini, eventually the separation ends and one recognises "I AM That", but there is still humility.
Shamans having integrated death, have one foot in the underworld. Kundalites deal with ego death, resolving their fear of death and dying, but Shamans have a relationship with the archetypal being that is death itself, and integrate that being into themselves.
One aspect of Shamanic training is meeting, integrating the archetype of death itself. It often first shows up as the "Portal Guardian of the dream time" a great, vaguely human shaped black shadow being, that reflects your fear back multiplied with destructive force. It may also show up as the typical "death" image, a cloaked being with a cowl, no face. You may face it over and over, being utterly destroyed in dreams and visions over and over, till you learn to approach it with unconditional love... at which point you enter the next phase, you become that being, your consciousness a passenger within it, as it goes about reflecting fear and destroying.
The Jungian definition of the Shadow is "that which you think you are not", and once the earlier levels of the training are completed, the teacher may resolve itself into the form of a historical or fictional being which you believe to be the antithesis of yourself. My Shadow teacher took the form of the historical sadistic Romanian Prince that the story of Dracula was modeled on, Vlad the Impaler. I did not recognise him as that right away, and nicknamed him "Armand," after a vampire from an Anne Rice novel.
Those who are born Shamans often have a higher than average incidence of paranormal experiences in childhood, and often night terrors featuring a tall dark, voiceless shadow being who reflects fear back with destructive force unless approached with perfect unconditional love. These experiences gradually decrease with adulthood, and are eventually followed with an experience of Shamanic initiation by a spirit.
I experienced that aspect as night terror dreams as a preschool child, that did not end when I woke up. I shut down the process with prayer as soon as I learned to say prayers at night. It was relief, but I feel it did not serve me, in the long term. I was stuck partway through, being a reflection of fear, and got a lot of abuse from people, adults and peers, alike. If I had continued, the Portal Guardian would have become my friend and guardian in travels through the various dream dimensions.
Integrating the Shadow also happens with Kundalites, but it is a gentle process of facing the Mirror of all that is, and recognising oneself in external, worldly things... not Shadow taking form and manifesting as teacher-guide.
This integration with the death archetype leaves Shamans with a particular vibration that can be felt by other Shamans and some sensitives. It is a little scary, like the death vibration of poison mushrooms, or the all out terror of a bad acid trip. Not that Shamans live in fear, because the energy is integrated, but it does sometimes scare other people.
Recently someone was asking me about it, so I pulled up that aspect of myself for her to see, and she was visibly shaken... I took her fear back from her, and she was glad I did... I could invite readers to look into me, and see what I am describing, but you might get some ferocious nightmares if you do... if your own guides allow you contact with it, at all.
Periodically I get people writing to me asking if they are a Shaman, and often they become quite determined to persuade me that they are Shamans, if I tell them they are not. (Don't ask. I don't respond to that question anymore.) When I get people claiming to be Shamans, or asking if they are a Shaman, that death-vibe is one thing I look for. Ego death does not leave that imprint, but Shamanic training does. I also tend to get kind of hostile to people who claim to be a Shaman because they took a course on Shamanism. It is disrespectful to the ancient forms. Shamanism does not work like that. Shamans are born, claimed, then taught by the spirits directly.
Shamans also seem to get a lot more training and experience about how to travel to various dimensions, deal with nonphysical entities, and are called upon to relate more directly with various beings and archetypes. Kundalites do experience dimensional travel, through the opening of the chakras, but Shamans experience the unreality of the "real" to a much greater degree.
"To observe an electron is to modify its behavior. Scientists at the Weismann Institute in Israel have demonstrated (applicable to particles of one macron or smaller) that electrons behave differently when observed. The observer influences the energy, thus effecting changes in the environment. The latest research in quantum mechanics and particle physics attempts to understand this phenomenon. But even with their high-tech equipment, they cannot comprehend what is happening because they are locked in their paradigm. To the shaman, on the other hand, there is no mystery. This is exactly what he does in the other world. He goes to different energy levels which are not observable here, interacts with the energy, and effects changes in this world, such as healing. Shamans have been using their awareness of this principle for about 60,000 years."
Centre for Shamanism and Consciousness Studies (http://www.csacs.org/edu/sssyll.html)
I am a Shaman and also a Witch... Witches also take training from the Goddess they devote themselves too, or the one that shows up to teach them... but again, the vibration is different. There is a magical, fey or ritualistic vibe rather than a creepy death vibe.
There are Shamanic elements to the training of a pagan Priest or Priestess, and one can be born a Witch, if there has been a past life initiation... the relationship is similar... but most Witches do not get the same sense of the unreality of the world. One can be initiated as a Witch, in this lifetime by another Witch... not so with a Shaman. Witches may also spend time walking in the underworld, but it does not become an integrated part of them in the same way. Visitors, not residents.
The best book on shamanism I have found is Hank Wesselman's 'Spiritwalker". You might also want to read the "The Cosmic Serpent" by Jeremy Narby.
yeah i'm really interested in this stuff too.
heres a thread where i posted a bunch of good writings on this subject:
i really enjoy little lightning bolts writing...hes a good friend of mine for a long time irl.
i remember way back when we first exploring this stuff, so its cool to see how he has run with it and grown with it....
anyway i really enjoy the writing he has done, and that he collects and posts here:
and really enjoyed this writing:
When people ask me seriously how they can become a shaman, I always respond with a simple question: "Why would you want to?"
Let me outline what is going to happen to you, if you ignite this spark. You will have no friends; they will shun you because you scare them now; they will tell you that you're insane. You will experience love, at its core - love so intense and so selfless; touching upon it makes you want to die. But, you will never have anyone in your life again to share it with. Your family will become strangers to you. Everything you own will be taken away. You will live, in some sense, in constant pain, alone; you will truly become the wounded healer. People will treat you like a dime-store psychic. Now, your spark is becoming a tiny flame and the bad stuff starts. Visions you can't control; illnesses that are serious yet seem to have no cause or cure. You will become depressed, a depression so deep and dark, you feel as though you are eating your own soul.
Last edited by leila; 03-26-2012 at 11:16 AM.
~many hands make the work light~
joy ~rapture even
and much more
the simplicity of it is being able to exist
at either end of the spectrum and still be able to find the middle
yes that is true.
there can be all this fear about letting go and giving in to this stuff, and that fear itself will keep you tied to what you shouldnt be, even if its familiar its not you living your best. and cause you a lot of suffering...so the fear and the trying to hold it back is actually way scarier than the result- if you do just let go.
...only to find if you do...that you come to a much simpler wonderful place....just by letting go...things click and make sense....things come clearly, effortlessly...
possibly more true for an animist, or a "kundalite", as the article above calls them...or whatever else we might call that, someone who goes through a similar experience...but not quite the ordeal of someone who is called or born a "shaman"....not to get to wrapped up in semantics, i mean to say something specific here.
anyone can have the "shamanic" realization of unity, anyone can be healed by this. anyone can get the benefits of this by going through their process and letting go and accepting connection, and unity.
its not something that you have to be a "special" person to realize...or go through horrible ordeals.
even being a "shaman" is not that you are a special kind of person...but well...that is what i am saying too. it is a specific kind of constitution, a specific kind of person, though it is not an elevated status, no not at all. in fact many people would not recognize this quality as being "special" more odd, and even totally messed up at worst.
but i think its important to say that anyone can have these realizations, and should. and get to what you are talking about.
but thats not neccassarily the shamans path, this is realizing the animist truth, of unity of belonging, of living within relationship rather than posturing in dominance. or of having the kundalini experience...or any other kind of process of ego death/ rebirth
not only is it totally common sense (though they seem off in modern contexts) but it is a realization that is healing to people, to anyone anywhere. we are one breath.
however, to me, that doesnt make them a "shaman" meaning specifically a healer, a very specific kind of healer.
and i am NOT referring to race or culture...not saying you have to be born into a tribal culture...or any of that. i do think there are many real shamans who are born into modern cultures and not in tribal societies.
ah what am i saying? lol
well i know what i mean, but feeling a bit toungue tied today so.....
~many hands make the work light~
theres been a bunch of threads about this.
so just dug up one that i thought was really good writing, interesting information.
this is something i didnt know of, or hadnt really ever thought about in relation to this, but i think theres defintely something true about it. yeah its odd that it had never occured to me, but when i started reading a bunch in this vein, it made a LOT of sense.
GAY SHAMANS THE GATEKEEPERS
So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person. And, personally, because of the fact that my knowledge of indigenous medicine, ritual, comes from gatekeepers, it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.
I think this is again victimization by a Christian establishment that is looking at a gay person as a disempowered person, a person who has lost his job from birth onward, and now society just wants to fire him out of life. This is not justice. It’s not justice. It is a terrible harm done to an energy that could save the world, that could save us. If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job. They have been fired! They have nothing to do! And because they have been fired, we accuse them for not doing anything. This is not fair!
Let us look at the earth differently, and we will find out gradually that these people that are bothering us today are going to start taking their posts. They know what their job is. You just have to get near them, to feel that they don’t vibrate the same way. They are not of this world. They come from the Otherworld, and they were sent here to keep the gates open to the Otherworld, because if the gates are shut, this is when the earth, Mother Earth, will shake -- because it has no more reason to be alive, it will shake itself, and we will be in deep trouble.
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This particular chapter is going to cover what is probably the most controversial of issues in the entirety of northern-tradition shamanism. Many scholars, magicians, and spirit-workers have skirted the issue, or touched on it gingerly only to back off again. Discussing it angers both homophobic heterosexuals and assimilationist homosexuals, both modernized tribal peoples and researchers wary of projecting modern assumptions about sex and gender onto the ancients. However, like it or not, the constellation of power and taboo that the northern tradition calls ergi crops up again and again all over the world, including among fledgling modern spirit-workers.
I've chosen to use the much-debated word - ergi or argr - even though its meaning is unclear, and it may have had many meanings over the centuries as being Third became less and less acceptable. (Some of them have been conjectured as "morally useless", "perverse", "cowardly", "effeminate", "receiving of anal penetration", and, tellingly, "a sorcerer".) That's not to say that it was ever completely acceptable; even in tribal societies where it is not seen as a terrible or shameful thing - and for that matter, even in places where it is or was seen as a sacred thing - it was never exactly the sort of condition that any parent wanted for their child. Even "sacred" can mean "taboo", which can mean "kept a respectful and/or fearful distance from", a condition that any spirit-worker will recognize. What it doesn't mean, and never will mean, is "normal".
If you look at the research on shamanism worldwide - and especially that of the subarctic circumpolar shamanisms, from Siberia to the Inuit - you find, over and over, the disturbingly frequent presence of spirit-workers who transgressed gender roles and indulged in unusual sexual practices. In some cultures, just showing evidence of these behaviors was considered a sign that a child was bound to be a spirit-worker of some sort.
This was remarked on particularly in Siberian shamanism, specifically among the Chukchi, Koryak, and Kamchadal, and across the Bering Strait with the Inuit. While Siberia may seem to be a long way in the minds of many people, from Scandinavia or even Finland, there are many things that the circumpolar subarctic shamanic traditions have in common, much more so than shamanic traditions from further south. That includes northern Europe, especially during Neolithic times. (I could also discuss gender-transgressive shamans scattered throughout many other cultures around the world, but for the sake of brevity I'll stick to northern Eurasia; anyone who wants to find the other material can do so without trouble.)
It's also often observed that when it comes to tribal sex-roles and the tasks and taboos differentiated between them, there are really three gender roles - men, women, and shamans. Regardless of the shaman's gender presentation, they are permitted to do what is not permitted, because their position sets them apart, and because doing so gives them power - not just in public opinion, but in the web of maegen and hamingja. Male shamans could be around women in childbirth without harm to themselves; women shamans could touch sacred objects usually restricted from female contact.
Many of the Siberian tribes had third gender shamans, to the dismay and bewilderment of the "civilized" scholars who wrote about them with words like "perversion" and "sexually inverted". Chukchi shamans spoke about the terrible transformation of a man into a "soft man", which all shamans dreaded to be told to do by the spirits. Still, some received the command anyway, and had to go along with it or be killed. (To this day this is the difficult choice of some people with gender dysphoria, and when they are also spirit-workers, refusal can also eventually be fatal.) Some men apparently preferred death to going through this transformation, and received it, although not all who began it went all the way through to the end. It started with a change of hairstyle to that of the opposite sex, and then progressed to a change of clothing. The final phase had them changing their job roles in the tribe, taking on the tasks of their new gender, and marrying partners appropriate to their new role. They would in turn acquire special spirits appropriate to that role, sometimes "spirit-spouses". There were also female-to-male equivalents of the "soft men", and scholars were further horrified by tales of how they used artificial phalli for sex with their female partners....
These words - ergi (n), argr (adj) - are Old Norse terms that we are using to refer to a specific constellation of shamanic-power behaviors, which include the following:
1) Gender-transgressing behavior, from partial cross-dressing to full social gender change;
2) Gender-transgressing sexual activities - for example, men receiving penetration, or women giving penetration or having nonpenetrative sex;
3) Being public about these activities and accepting the social taboos (including being outcast or marginalized) that come with them. One can see this reflected in the shaman's position as not having to accept the taboos of either men or women in their culture, but having an entirely different set all to themselves.
These three things seem to reoccur together in tribal cultures around the world, creating an international sprinkling of third-gender spirit-workers. It seems to be a taboo, or set of taboos that go together, and bring great power at the cost of being even further set apart from other people. (For more information on spirit-work taboos, see Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism.)
You'll notice that I'm not using the words "gay" or "lesbian" or "homosexual" or even "sexual preference". That's because the phenomenon of ergi is not centered around those things, although most people confuse them terribly. An individual can be argr and be interested in all sorts of people sexually - male, female, in between, all of the above. Being argr is not about who you want to be sexual with. It's about who and what you are when you're with them, and what you're doing with them, and if it turns social gender and sexual taboos on their heads.
There's a lot of supposition and argument among intellectuals about the "true" meaning of ergi, but as usual none of them are actively researching it rather than vaguely theorizing. For many of us spirit-workers, it's not just a theory. We need a word for this thing that we are and do (for it's both something we are and something we do), and we see the echo of this same power/blessing/curse/wiring/energy/sacredness in those brief glimpses of the ones called ergi, and whether the researchers like it or not, that word is where our paths lead us.
First, gender-transgressing behavior. When this moves from shameful pastime to hobby to identity to spiritual path, it ceases to become a private thing. For the spirit-worker with the ergi taboo, it isn't enough to be third-gendered internally. You have to be visibly different in that way as well, whether it's only that your ceremonial costume has strong elements of clothing that is socially acceptable only for a sex different from the one that you most appear, or that you must act in a way that is deliberately gender-inappropriate. Your gender transgressing has to be evident to everyone who comes to see you in your professional capacity, and you may never deny it when asked.
I'll now take a quick tangent, because the reader has no doubt noticed that I'm doing a lot of mentioning of social sexual taboos from different cultures. We don't live in the same culture as any of our ancestors, nor are we raised with their taboos, or those of early tribal (or in most cases, modern tribal) societies. We were likely also raised in a variety of different cultures with regard to what we were taught was sexually acceptable/unacceptable and masculine/feminine. Why does this variable social programming count? All I can say to that is: Because it does. It doesn't matter what messages you internalized around these things, it only matters that you violate them, because that releases huge amounts of archetypal power.
In this way, the ergi taboo strongly echoes one of the pillars of Indian Tantra, where violating sexual taboos are encouraged as part of the power of sex magic. In early Tantra, vegetarian initiates were made to eat fish and meat as part of a "love-feast" before partaking of ritual sex; the breaking of the flesh-eating taboo not only symbolized the male and female energies, but also paved the way to breaking the sexual taboos (sex with someone not one's wife, not for procreation, and not in an "ordinary" position) that were to follow. Tantric yogis were not the only ones to realize that the breaking of sexual taboos created power, although they did not (as far as we know) go so far as to break sexual gender taboos, which is an even greater "offense" and thus a greater power source. That's the job of those of us who were born wired to do it.
Doing it publicly - which can simply mean being known to do such things and not denying it when forthrightly asked - is a greater "offense" still, and thus multiplies the power. Far from making one "passive", it requires a huge amount of courage and endurance. Today, in the country and society in which I live, the numbers of transgendered people who are being violently murdered in the streets is rising to a frightening rate. To defend ourselves not from insult, but from violence and death, we who walk the ergi line need to band together and be proud, and watch each others' backs. We should go down neither to the blows of others, nor the blows of socially-induced self-hatred. As one such spirit-worker said to me, "I realized that this is a perfectly reasonable way for a shaman to be, as we have been this way all over the world for many thousands of years."
That brings us to the third pillar of ergi - being the outsider, the outcast. The idea that social extremity brings shamanic power is well known in shamanic societies, and even non-shamanic societies. Part of what we do as spirit-workers is to see the larger picture, and where our tribe sits in that framework. In today's world, that means sorting through all the cultural pressures brought to bear on men, women, and those not wholly in either camp. You can't see that clearly unless you are outside of it, and stepping outside is not something done lightly...because you can't go back. You may see things that outrage you, or at least make you profoundly uncomfortable, and after that the shoes of "normal" will never fit again.
someone afflicted with gender dysphoria is both born with a brain that expects to be attached to a body of a different sex, and continually gives out distress signals about the situation...and an astral form that differs jarringly from the physical body that it is attached to.
To grow up with such dissonance leads, as pointed out earlier, to mental dissociation from the physical body. Unlike dissociation due to abuse or trauma, in the case of gender dysphoria the individual is actually coping, on an energy level, with a serious difference between lich and hame, something which (especially as a child) they may have no idea how to articulate, much less work with. But when such an individual begins to experiment with separating their hame from their lich and moving it about, they'll discover that they are better at it than someone who has gone their entire life with seamless coordination between the two. "Which fish discuss water?" goes the Zen proverb, and the answer is: "The drowning ones." If the only way that you can survive mentally is to become more aware and more identified with (even if only on an unconscious level) your astral body than your physical one, that's a powerful training ground for being aware of what most people ignore.
In a very real sense, many shamanistic techniques are about using a state of mind which would be dangerous and damaging when induced unwillingly and unexpectedly into the inexperienced, and learning to control them and induce them carefully as tools, thus not suffering the ill effects. In this way, the mental and astral dissociation of the gender dysphoric becomes a useful tool for journeying, pathwalking, preparing to receive spirits, and of course shapeshifting.
Last edited by leila; 03-26-2012 at 02:01 PM.
~many hands make the work light~
is it a bad thing to read that and smile while I think to myself how much fun that could be. to stand there on that edge naked with nothing but your own cloak of power. no regard for love, hate, family, worries, responsibility ect... just you staring into the beyond to see which one of you will blink first.Originally Posted by [URL="http://indigosociety.com/member.php?28188-SoundSleeper"
mmmm....I've always referred to death has a She.Originally Posted by [URL="http://indigosociety.com/member.php?28188-SoundSleeper"
Q: What's the difference between a Sinner and a Saint?
A: Nothing, they both bleed red in the end.
Thanks for an important post.. I don't think there are that many shamans out there as the internet claims..
Personally I have difficulties wanting to accept certain concepts and others that I am getting..but also as one article states ' Why would one choose to be one?" Less than a year ago, I had little interest in shamanism, not even knowing what it really was..I may hear the calling but I am not ready to listen yet..