- Paul Lawrence
The Seven Principles of Shamanism: Part 2
The Shaman: “The One Who Knows.”
Where does the term “shaman” come from? The consensus is that it originates from the language spoken by the Tungusic people who inhabit Siberia in northeast Asia. Literally translated it means “the one who knows.”
The term, adopted by the Russians, was brought back to Europe a few centuries ago and seems to have become the popular term for a ‘healer’ or ‘medicine man/woman’ when dealing with indigenous cultures. Obviously, each culture group has its own term for a person who performs the duties of the shaman, some having more than one.
For example, among the Zulu and Xhosa people of South Africa, the ‘isangoma’ is associated with divination whereas the ‘inyanga’ heals with plants and other medicines derived from animal and mineral sources. This is referred to as ‘muti.’
Similarly, all cultures have their own term for “The One Who Knows.” The term used for the ancient Celtic “One Who knows” is the Druid, who according to historical sources played a variety of roles from cultural wisdom-keeper to the healer, adjudicator, and political advisor
Celtic shamanism has particular significance for many of those raised in the Western ways whose direct ancestors are of Celtic origin. You can learn more about the Druids in Penny Billington’s book," The Path of Druidry: Walking the Ancient Green Way."
Recently it has become convenient to use the term “Shaman.” In the latter half of the 20th century, a revival of shamanic ideas began to take place in the Western world, leading to some interesting movements and concepts such as ‘neo-shamanism.’
From the late 1950s and early 1960s, particular interest in what was termed ‘Native American culture’ began to arise in the west, mainly in America. The reasons for this are numerous and debatable, but what resulted was an almost idolization of the ways of the Native Americans, their wisdom, and their close connection to the natural world.
This persisted among the youth and people who rebelled against the establishment and was strengthened by events such as the Vietnam War. Since then there has been a steady growth in many Western circles in the interest of the religious practices of indigenous people.
The prevailing intention seems to be a need to ‘go back to our roots’ and ‘to be at one with everything,’ ‘to find peace and harmony.’
For sure many of these people are genuine and are just hankering after a simpler life, away from the stress and unhappiness that the impersonal, fast-paced western lifestyle often causes. Many find that modern religion has not fulfilled their spiritual needs and they're searching for meaning in the ‘rat-race.’
However, what has also resulted are groups and individuals who try to adopt a so-called ‘shamanic existence,’ or at least a portrayal thereof. They often get carried away with dressing up in the clothes and adornments of indigenous shamans, flaunting their adopted customs and beliefs at festivals and other events, and generally making sure that they're seen and make an impact.
The intentions and outcomes of this kind of practice, although colorful and intriguing, aren't in the least bit shamanic. More often than not the morals and ethics of shamanic living are not displayed, let alone even understood, by groups that partake in these activities.
They often possess ulterior motives and agendas. For example, to create an image that shrouds the group or person in mysticism, hoping to attract awe and admiration from some. And, anger and revulsion from others.
These kinds of groups have also been the breeding grounds for prejudice and questionable activities such as hate groups and cults to emerge. All far off the mark of what true shamanism is.
Even more controversial, groups such as these have been accused of cultural appropriation by various indigenous cultures. They resent these people adopting certain aspects of their culture and flaunting it inappropriately.
It all sounds very messy! Like any cultural movement, the western revival of shamanic culture has fallen prey to groups and individuals who have twisted, hijacked, and appropriated aspects of it for their own ends: manipulation, control, self-enrichment, and power.
Where does this leave the genuine individual? The person who's been brought up within the modern western culture but has found that its ways have left them unhappy, unfulfilled, lost, and searching. Do they not have a right to be exposed to alternative ways of thinking? Ways of thinking that should be taught from a young age so that people can be aware of their choices.
Guidelines and Principles
I’m going to tell you everything that shamanism is NOT:
It’s not mystical. It’s accessible and practical.
It’s not dressing up in the clothes of other cultures because it looks cool.
It’s not smoking weed and using other recreational drugs to go on ‘trips’ and ‘talk to spirits.’
It’s not decorating your house with ethnic curios and artwork.
It’s not subscribing to certain practices or beliefs of other cultures to fulfill a selfish need.
I’m not saying that one cannot do the above things. We're all free to do as we please and these things can be fun in their own way. All I’m saying is that you cannot do them and call yourself shamanic.
True, these activities do form part of the practices of shamanic cultures, but they occur within the context of strict cultural and moral guidelines. They're related to rituals and ceremonies that are key to the safety and existence of shamanic cultures.
If done without true intentions and beliefs, they're merely examples of people fooling around and having fun; often at the expense of other people’s dignity.
What Shamanism Is!
First and foremost, shamanism is love.
It is respect.
It is compassion and caring.
It is kindness, forgiveness, sacrifice, and selflessness.
It's also the understanding and acceptance that to each of these qualities is the alternative: fear, anger, hatred, abuse, cruelty, vengeance, and greed.
It's the realization that all of these qualities, dark and light, exist within us. It's the ‘knowing’ that we have a choice. The Creator has given us the choice of how we can respond to this life.
We can either grow love or we can grow fear. It’s as simple as that.
The universe doesn't judge. You're not necessarily bad if you spend a lifetime growing fear, and you're not necessarily good if you spend a lifetime growing love. All the universe asks of you is to choose according to who you are. Your core being, your integrity.
Live your Truth! Do it for yourself, you deserve it. God will do the maths and fulfill the Grand Purpose, whatever it is. Just focus on yourself and your choice.
Also, be colorful if you want to. Dress up in clothes of your favorite culture. Wear jewelry and adornments that represent who you are or aspire to be. Use words and sayings from other cultures if they mean something to you. Decorate your house or room with ethnic art.
But do these things with humility. Do them with love and respect. Do them with the understanding that you're adopting them because they've real meaning for you and enrich your life. Never flaunt them.
True shamanism is humble before the grace of creation. After all, we merely stand before our naked selves. To seek power is to judge. Remember, we're judging only ourselves.
The Seven Principles
Now the seven principles I'm taking from a Hawaiian Shaman named Serge Kahili King. They're referred to as the Seven Principles of Life in the Huna Tradition.
To me, the principles are very wise and I like to think they're universal across all shamanic cultures and are key to the practice of the shaman.
Take them as you see them, or reject them if they don't speak to you. By highlighting them here I am merely providing a choice for those who wish, to internalize the wisdom and bring about change in their lives. To me they encapsulate shamanism.
The World is what you think it is.
The way you see something isn't always the way it is. Nothing is as it seems.
You need to see beneath the layers of illusion, see what the physical eyes can't see.
See into the deep, hidden spaces that make no sense. See with your soul.
Don’t be attached to the form, structure, or process of things. Seek rather their essence.
Only you can change the way you perceive the world. Respond, don’t react.
Don't judge, but rather see the bigger picture.
See the balance of duality. Acknowledge the ‘bad’ as being necessary for the ‘good.’
Acknowledge a consensual reality but see beneath the layers of illusion.
The closer you get to the light, the bigger your shadow becomes. But, the further away from the light you go, the less light you have in your life. Find the balance.
If we live according to this principle, it'll help us to understand the world more clearly and to accept why certain things happen the way they do. We can't influence the outcome of many things, but we can respond to them in a way that makes positive meaning for ourselves and those around us.
For example, the near annihilation of Native American people and their collective culture was tragic beyond comprehension. Could it be that the cruel and unjust nature of this tragedy resulted on a spiritual level in the re-emergence and appreciation of their culture one hundred years later in the 1950s/60s?
Native American culture will forever be remembered and revered globally. Had they merely been assimilated into western culture, their own rich culture would possibly have just died, resulting in the loss of valuable ancient wisdom.
This theory comes from my own teacher and shaman, Lionel Berman. You may not agree; that’s fine.
Everything has its purpose, otherwise, it wouldn't exist. Take the challenges in your life and ask them what they're teaching you. The ultimate purpose is to grow love. God would not send something that you can't handle. He's obviously challenging you to grow more love. You have the choice.
by showing me the path,
I have only to recognize it,
as we have already
traveled it together
through countless lifetimes.
You would not
show me a path I would not
or could not fulfill.
Please join me soon for Part 3 of this article on the Seven Principles of Shamanism.
NB! Thanks and gratitude to Serge Kahili King for sharing the principles of shamanism far and wide so we may all learn from his wisdom and love as a shaman. Get his book, "Urban Shaman" which includes the principles I'm talking about in this series.
This post was originally published on January and updated on January 24th, 2022.
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