10 March 2009

The Shaman and the Spirit Worker

In Raven Kaldera's excellent essay Classic Shamanism And Core Shamanism: Basic Differences he defines the difference between Core Shamanism, based on Harner's Way of the Shaman and other work, and what he terms "Classical Shamanism," which represents people who have been wholly claimed and taken by the spirits.

I am not a "Classical Shaman": the gods have not claimed me to that degree and I have not undergone shamanic sickness (at least not yet to the degree discussed), but I also find I have substantial differences with "Core Shamans." As Lupa of Therioshamanism recently stated:

I look at where my path diverges significantly from these two ends of the spectrum. I do experience journeying as being riskier than what a lot of core shamans describe. However, I don’t do the complete submission to the spirits that I’ve seen on the other end. I do my best to not take the spirits for granted, but I also maintain autonomy–as in D/s, I have hard limits to my vulnerability, and ways to enforce them. And that is what has worked well for me, even before I began working with shamanism.

This does not seem to be a binary (or a trinary) system. Some people lean closer to Core Shamanism, others seem to fall closer to Classical Shamanism. Some people who have not been fully claimed as "Shamans" still end up with "Shaman Sickness Light," and taboos can be binding and cause illness. I am not the equivalent of a brain surgeon in performing work for clients (far far far from it), but there are some things in shamanic practice that I believe can be widely learned by seekers who are dedicated and respectful, and that this is one of many paths of service to the gods. Basically landing between "teach anyone who is interested" and to teach spirit work to those "staring down the barrel of that divine cannon." That some things take months or years to learn, let alone master and have potentially severe repercussions (e.g., bloodwalking), and other things the rough basics of can be taught relatively quickly and safely and that a lot of people can benefit from (e.g., grounding), with a lot in-between.

I have to a greater or lesser extent chosen this path, and for a while I think I could have walked away without significant trouble and served in some other way, perhaps not even conscious of my role or task. Now I would have more trouble doing that, and later I might have more trouble still. I am mostly aligned to one tradition, but have debts and associations in several different traditions and have been told to take knowledge wherever I can find it.

I am finding a variety of people in this position. Not quite Core, not quite Classical, but borrowing elements from both. Feeling that Core Shamanism lack of emphasis on safety is worrying at best, that Harner's statement that journeying is safer than dreaming is dangerous (I've been attacked by things that "followed me home" before, and had visible claw marks on my astral body from the encounter), and finding themselves working mostly or entirely in a cultural context, while still not being "tapped" and called to be classical shamans.

I like the term "Spirit Worker," since I think it covers all three of these groups. We're all spirit workers, regardless of whether we are working with landwights, animal spirits, gods of various traditions, or "simply" journeying through the Nine Worlds. It applies to both shamans and shamanic practitioners of various sorts who--for all of our differences--have a lot in common.

One thing I am certain on is that all three groups need to be talking to one another and opening up respectful dialogues of communication. We should be talking about our experiences, about safety, about techniques, and about what each of us can bring to the table. I am also sure that no one's path is "better" and that I make a pretty poor arbitrator over other people's experiences and UPG. Quoting Raven Kaldera in his essay Shamanism and Neo-Shamanism: The Practical Divide:

We need to think about who our allies are, and how many of them we can collect. After all, that’s a very shamanic way of thinking: can I make an ally of that plant? That animal spirit? That piece of woods? That stone? That ancestor? That deity? Unlike the stark simplicity of monotheism, tribal shamans were judged by their having a lot of spirits, not just one or a handful. We can think in the same way for human allies.

What would it take to ally to other communities, even if there are some things we don’t see eye to eye on? Neo-shamanic practitioners? Neo-Pagans? Wiccans? Reconstructionists? Mystical Christians and Jews? New Age folk? Reiki people? Ecologists? Body modification spiritualists? One could spread the net even wider.

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