A Word About Shamanism

A Word About Shamanism

Although it might be somewhat contrary to the way my wife Tina and I were originally trained to work with ayahuasca, it has become our opinion that it is not culturally relevant to apply the term or title “shaman” to spiritual healers in North and South America. We have answered the calling of God to administer ayahuasca to assist others in their healing and spiritual growth, and we follow our hearts as to how best to express that calling within the current context of our society and culture. Because of our education, training and experience, the council of elders for Oklevueha Native American Church has honored both of us with the title of medicine person, and we carry the responsibility of that position with great sincerity. For our independent branch of the Peaceful Mountain Way, we feel that the title of minister is also a more culturally appropriate designation, as we carry out a ministry of healing and spiritual development primarily through counseling.

While they may be very similar for all practical purposes, we have come to feel that it is culturally inappropriate to refer to all spiritual healing arts as shamanic. Shamanism was first encountered by westerners in northern Asia in the 16th century, and the term has become applied by anthropologists and archaeologists to other similar practices and traditions in other parts of the world, even though these other cultures may have their own more appropriate titles and descriptions in their language. We feel that referring to all spiritual healing and energy work as shamanic would be like going to China and referring to lo mein as spaghetti simply because that’s the word you know for “noodles”.

Traditions from Siberia and Upper Mongolia may have practices and cultural perspectives of spiritual healing, which may appropriately be called shamanism, that are different from other parts of the world. For example, in northern Asia it is a commonly held and widely understood perspective that there are “greater” shamans and “lesser” shamans. The lesser shamans are those who are raised in the shamanic traditions from childhood and are trained in that culture’s practices as a way of life. The greater shamans are individuals who have experienced divine revelation as the result of a crisis of personal identity, often because of some extreme physical or mental illness. This type of individual discovers the cure for illness and identity confusion within themselves, and becomes compelled to share their discovery with others either with or without training and guidance from existing cultural traditions, but rather through a spiritual empowerment that transcends social perspectives, thus they are the “greater” shamans.

Although some may call what we do “shamanic”, we simply do not feel it is culturally appropriate to refer to practices in the western hemisphere in these terms, and we certainly do not encourage the members of our congregation to refer to us by any such title.

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