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Articles    H4'ed 6/3/10

Modern Day Shamanism

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The man who drove us to and from the retreat center told us that workshops with "shamanism" in the title really sold. We were concerned that enrollment was down for our weekend workshop and wondered if we should add shamanism into the title. Should we or should we not give into the demands of contemporary culture. I still maintain that we should not. Why can't we use words like "energy medicine" and "spirit-guided healing". I resist the shamanism label for perhaps the same reasons that it has pejorative connotations in Indian country. It seems superficial. It appears to lack depth. I don't necessarily believe that a twenty-something, after a series of weekend trainings, is prepared to journey to the underworld for me and do battle with hostile forces, saving me from near certain doom. Why should I believe that she is doing this?

In a traditional cultural context, I believe the elder. He or she has authority, presence, power that is palpable. I've never heard an elder use the language of "shamanism." I've never heard one of them say that they journeyed for me, retrieved a soul, extracted an entity, etc. I've heard them talk about dreams that came before I arrived. I've heard them report guidance given by spirits for how to help me. I've seen spirits speak through them in ceremony. But I haven't seen anything in North America which qualifies for what is being promoted as shamanism in the contemporary workshop circles.

Large sums of money are exchanged in the pursuit of shamanic healing, but does it really work? Do the weekend shamans help people? I don't know. I have met people who have been helped by traditional healers, but not so many by the contemporary urban shamans.

I suspect that contemporary people are looking for quick routes to healing. I suspect that traditional healers are reacting to this. There are no quick routes. Healing takes time. It takes commitment. It takes immersion in a culture for more than a series of weekends.

I don't believe that I am a shaman or a traditional healer. I do my version of healing. It is inspired by the traditional. Sometimes the people with whom I work hit a home run and experience what could be called a miracle. Sometimes not. I strive for results. I ask for spirit assistance and guidance. I take what I get. I don't claim to understand the extraordinary worlds or to be able to classify them. I haven't found what the Shamanic Studies people describe. I have found an amazing panoply of diverse worlds that have no clear rules for connecting them. I consistently discover that the extraordinary world is more extraordinary than I can ever imagaine.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
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