Shamanism is the oldest recorded spiritual practice there is. It is a way of life for Indiginous culture people the world over, from Europe, to Asia, to North and South America, Australia… It is an ancient path of spirituality that sees the Divinity in all living things. The word itself is believed to have its origins from the Tungus people of Siberia. True Shamanism is about the existence of and interaction with the supernatural. It accepts and embraces the concepts of benevolent and malignant spirits, the spirits of the elements, animals, and the Earth itself, the reality of co-existing planes and dimensions, and of alternate realities. In this ancient practice, a Shaman is seen as an intermediary, a priest, a walker between the worlds, trained from childhood through dreams, visions, a near death experience or illness, and oral traditions handed down by a mentor through an apprenticeship that may take years. The training is extensive, and includes learning the ways of plants, stones, helper spirits, protocols for leaving one’s body, speaking with the spirits of the dead, exorcisms, dealing with demonic entities, as well as healing the souls of the living. Soul injury through trauma is seen as the root cause of diseases. Ancient Shamanism accepts the existence of the light and of the dark, good and evil. Whether we are looking at Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Celtic Shamanism, all of these Indiginous culture traditions have much in common when it comes to understanding Earth magic and the supernatural.
This brings me to Neoshamanism. Neoshamanism is a construct of the New Age movement. It has become popular over the last two decades. It is based on cultural appropriation, which is an ongoing form of genocide. It has no connection at all to true shamanism. It is the weakest imitation of it. Anthropologists, archeologists, and others attempted to study and catalog some of the beliefs of these cultures, without an in-depth training or apprenticeship in any one of them, assuming that they are all the same. They aren’t. They then began to write about “Shamanism”, adding their own beliefs while deleting others that didn’t match their limited understanding of the supernatural. Native Americans and First Nation People have no respect for these New Age Neoshamans, referring to them as “Plastic Shamans”. They see them as frauds, fakes, and con artists, appropriating Native Sacred ceremonies like the Sweat Lodge, the Vision Quest, and others, for financial gain. Thousands of dollars are charged for ceremonies that Native people do not charge money for. This type of exploitation of Sacred ceremonies resulted in the deaths of three people in Arizona a few years ago, conducted by a self-proclaimed “Shaman”. Workshops, books, and lectures are conducted by people who are not psychics or mediums, ( which all true Shamans are), and who have no actual experience with the supernatural. None. (The word Shaman does not even exist in any language spoken by the Native American tribes in the U.S. )
A true Shaman is born a Psychic or Medium, capable of achieving a deep altered state of consciousness AT WILL. One should be able to enter the trance at will, journey between dimensions safely, determine the trauma causing an illness, address it, and have the training and tools needed to deal with malignant and harmful entities if necessary. The idea that this psychic ability is teachable to a large group of people SIMULTANEOUSLY would be laughable if it wasn’t dangerous. No Indiginous culture teacher would take on 30,40, or 50 apprentices at one time, guiding them into the Void, while keeping them anchored and shielded from harmful entities. By removing important key beliefs about the nature of magic, power, and the supernatural, including the existence of evil, these Neoshamans have taken bits and pieces of many different traditions, blended them into a more glamorous package, and marketed them as shamanism. What is tragic is that no one benefits by this, and Indiginous culture people are further victimized, their traditions not only stolen, but completely misrepresented.
A Taoist Master is allowed to take 5 disciples or apprentices in their lifetime. Not hundreds. Five. No Indiginous culture person takes dozens of apprentices, it would not be possible, there is simply too much to teach. The teacher accepts an apprentice with great respect for where that soul is on their journey. The teacher and apprentice share a bond of trust and love. How that bond would be duplicated in a classroom of 50 souls, all at different levels of consciousness, with different levels of psychic ability, from the beginner to the advanced, is beyond me. The narcissism of an individual that believes themselves capable of shepherding a number of people safely through the Void at one time defies description. This culture of instant gratification, short cuts, and appropriation creates the perfect storm when it comes to Neoshamanism.
A person who needs any kind of a crutch to alter their consciousness, who cannot achieve the trance state without a hallucinogenic drug, is not a real Shaman, no matter what they may believe. It is not possible to force the opening of psychic abilities with drugs. Having drug-related visions does not make someone a psychic. Clubbing the left brain into insensibility through substances to achieve the trance is both dangerous and unnecessary. On the other hand, you can’t teach what you don’t know, so if you can’t achieve the trance state naturally, how are you going to teach anyone else to do it? You can’t. Shamanism is about Earth Magic. Some of the plants used to achieve an altered state are said to have a type of “medicine” or “magic”. Riding the plant into a dream-like state and having “visions” induced by the plant can certainly provide one with an interesting experience, especially if you have no way of achieving that experience on your own. But these experiences, like dreams, should not be confused with the actual psychic and supernatural abilities a real Shaman has, to enter the Void and arrive at a specific destination and achieve a specific outcome. Disabling the mind through the usage of LSD, Peyote, Ayahuasca, Mescaline, or any other hallucinogens limits some levels of awareness that are essential for certain types of shamanic work. One would certainly not attempt an exorcism of a demonic entity, the cutting of luminous fibers, or undertake protection work on anyone’s behalf, while in that kind of compromised state. Far better to learn how to suspend the left brain organically, and cultivate one’s relationship to the heart, which is the portal to the Void, and the portal to the Divinity within. No drug builds the relationship to the heart, which is the seat of the Divine Spark.
True Shamanism is the path of the Mystic. It is a path of love and humility, of our oneness with All That Is. It restores our direct experience of Earth Mother, while also opening us up to our own magic and our own gifts. Shamanism is a spiritual path anyone can walk, in safety and in beauty. But just as anyone can practice Taoism, yet not be considered a Taoist priest, trained in all of the rites and rituals of that priesthood, Shamanism as a spiritual practice does not make one a Shaman, a medium or psychic trained in all of the rites and rituals that define that. Neoshamanism blurs these boundaries, encouraging the egos of New Age followers, whose egos may not need more encouragement.
Given the popularity of Neoshamanism, and some of the dangers inherent in it, it seemed timely to delve more fully into this. Do not be confused by the two of them, as I said, they are not related in any way. This is why I took the title of “Shaman” out of my bio a while ago, I do not wish to be associated with Neoshamanism or the New Age movement. All of my teachings and material comes directly from Source, and is not appropriated from Native cultures, which I deeply honor and respect. I hope this explanation clarifies the differences between the two paths, and contributes to keeping people safe. Blessings, Judith
** Art by Charles Frizzell **