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Path of the Shaman
Copyright © 2004 Peggy Andreas
(Disclaimer: The author has given permission for use at Spirit
Lodge - Thank you Peggy)
This is the third in my series of articles about Tribal Paths.
The first is Path of the Sacred Warrior
and the second is Path of the Sacred Clown.
The Path of the Sacred Warrior heals the Spirit. The Path of
the Sacred Clown heals the Soul.
And the Path of the Shaman heals the Body. The Body? Haven't
most of us been conditioned to
believe that the Body is somehow inferior to the Spirit, to
America's Elders - the Native Americans - have always taught
that the Body, our personal
connection of substance and spirit, is sacred. An ancient song
of the Salish Women's Society runs:
Who cannot love her Self cannot love anybody.
Who is ashamed of her body is ashamed of all life.
Who finds dirt and filth in her body is lost.
Who cannot respect the gifts given even before birth
Can never respect anything fully.
A Shaman's Path begins with her own Body and involves the generation,
channeling, exchange, and release of energy. Principles recently
"discovered" by modern
scientists have been known to Shamans since ancient times, for
example: Entrainment ("If two
rhythms are nearly the same and their sources are in close proximity,
they will always lock up,
fall into synchrony."); E=mc² (the interchangebility
of energy and matter); and Wave/Particle
Theory (Energy can travel in either waves or particles). A Shaman
perceives her Body as a
luminous cluster, a sacred act, a whirling act of power and
beauty. Exploring her Body, she
becomes a specialist in vibration, harmony, and balance. Curious
to bridge other dimensions, her
awareness reaches out like a lightning rod. When that awareness
is illuminated, her own Body
grounds the energy and releases it into the Earth so that it
does no harm.
Some scientific principles have not yet caught up with shamanistic
knowledge, for instances, the
principle of Gravity. A modern-day Shaman puts it this way,
"The earth is calling to you. It has
something for you. This great creature upon which we live wishes
to give you its energy to
empower your life." Westerners shun this gift. They call
it GRAVITY and think it's a force that
wants to pull us down to the center of the earth. Instead, be
like a tree, sinking roots down into
the earth's magnetism. Reach out with your branches and leaves
for light and air from above!"
The image of a tree is a great model for Shamans. A Tree is
a very efficient energy-being. It uses
every bit of energy and wastes none. The wood of a tree is a
conductor of energy from both
below and above; and as such, is often used by the Shaman to
conduct her awareness upon
journeys of discovery. A drum, made from hide stretched over
wood, becomes "the shaman's
steed." Gourds, rattles, and other rhythmic devices can
also be used as energy conductors. The
Shaman tunes into the rhythm and rides it to other worlds! Then
the rhythm brings the Shaman
back to this, her beloved Earth. "Like a living tree, the
shaman is rooted deep within the earth,
reaching and growing into spirit."
Shamans heal themselves (and serve as a healing catalyst for
others) in three main ways:
Removing blockages in the energy flow;
Balancing and centering; and
Attunement and harmony.
Shamans are described as having keen intelligence, a perfectly
supple body, and an energy that
appears unbounded. Their memory and self-control are above average;
and their bright eyes
reveal a shy cunning. Often, their inner power advances with
their age; and they display great
strength, flexibility, and stamina throughout their elder years.
As Old Ones (a term used with
utmost respect by Native Americans), they can perform amazing
acts of balance and agility.
Often, they are splendid artists (especially abstract/mystical
art), musicians, dancers, poets,
singers, craftswomen who use their art to bring the spirit to
earth. All these qualities proceed
from years, even lifetimes, of suffering, sacrifice, and impeccable
As shamans, the women in many tribes perform in all ways
that male shamans are known to.
They perform healings, hunting ceremonies, vision quests and
the guidance for them, acts of
psychokinesis, teleportation, weather direction, and more. In
the various tribes according to each
one's custom, the shaman also creates certain artifacts - clothing,
baskets, ornaments, objects to
be worn in pouches or under skirts or sewed into belts. She
officiates at burials, births, child
naming and welcoming into this world, menstrual and pregnancy
rituals and rites, psychic
communication, manipulation of animals, metamorphoses or transformations.
She does much of
this through dancing and chanting, and a large part of the method,
symbols, significances, and
effects of her shamanic efforts are recorded in the stories
she tells, the songs she sings, and the
knowledge she possesses. Much of this knowledge she transmits
to others in ways that will be of
use to them, and much of it she keeps to herself, teaches in
formal settings to her apprentices, or
shares with other shamans.
Acquiring shamanic power involves a kind of death/rebirth experience.
It involves letting go of
the self, eliminating habits that make up the personality, dispensing
with the "self-dialogue,"
getting out of the way and letting the universe do the talking.
When the Shaman traditionally dies
to herself, she is born into the larger community of the Tribe
of the Cosmos as a representative of
Earth. "Essentially, a woman's spiritual way is dependent
on the kind of power she possesses, the
kind of Spirit to whom she is attached, and the tribe to which
she belongs. She is required to
follow the lead of the Spirits and to carry out the tasks assigned
her. Native American stories
point to a serious event that results in the death of the protagonist,
her visit to the Spirit realm
from which she finally returns, transformed and powerful. After
such events, she no longer
belongs to her tribe or her family, but to the Spirit teacher
who instructed her. This makes her
seem 'strange' to many of her folk.
Seeking the Body's wisdom, a Shaman continually centers herself
in her womb, her belly, or her
solar plexus, NOT in her head. The lower center brings her to
a better foundation from which to
move. It also anchors her runaway thought processes and brings
her to an attunement with the
Body of the Earth. In order to use her own energy efficiently,
the Shaman must become flexible,
fluid. To do this, she must confront the blockages of fear stored
in the Body. Her task is to melt
the blocks of fear with the energy that she generates; indeed,
the word "Shaman" literally means
"to heat oneself." As the rigid form is consumed,
the flowing form is released; this is the
meaning of transformation. It is a return to the liberating
simplicity akin to the primal nature of
wild animals, young children, and our earliest Earth-ancestresses.
Freedom comes from letting
go and learning to trust in one's Body to find its own vibration,
balance and harmony.
I find myself happier and happier as I get older. I am
simply freer of conditions. This entails
making voluntary sacrifices. Sacrifice comes from the words
'to make sacred.' My shamanic life
is a whole life of making sacred, seeing everything as sacred...
Even garbage is sacred.
The initiation of a Shaman is no easy affair. However, as one
budding Shaman was told, "The
most beautiful jewel is tempered in the hottest fire and dipped
in the coldest water."
Power is strength and the ability to see yourself through
your own eyes and not the eyes of
another. If a person has power, as women do, and she doesn't
use it, power will sit within her and
have no place to focus. It is then that power becomes twisted
and evil. It can turn against the
person who has called it. If a person backs away from her power
(for example), she will develop
back problems and all sorts of physical ailments.
A person may be a potential Shaman if conditions such as these
exist in her life: Her birth is
peculiar, special in some way. Perhaps it is difficult, even
traumatic. As a child, she experiences
some element in her life that sets her apart from other children.
She may simply be left to herself,
or there may be disabilities and restrictive situations. She
feels somehow different than the norm.
Sometimes there are long illnesses, fevers, seizures, even brushes
with death. Because of this
isolation, or simply because she is gifted, she comes in touch
with a subtle world that is foreign
to most of her peers, and her psychic talents flourish. Importantly,
she also misses out on vital
portions of the acculturation process, leaving her to feel that
she doesn't quite fit in.
At a certain point, the psychic energy peaks almost unbearably.
If met with hostility or abuse (as
usually happens in a world that lacks understanding), the potential
Shaman may turn the energy
in on herself, or outwards, becoming hostile and abusive to
others. Some conditions such as
Multiple Personalities, Mental Retardation, Dyslexia, Sexual
Hebephrenia, Schizophrenia, and Delusions can be the result
of this "twisting" of the psychic
flow. Sociopathic or psychopathic behavior, addictions, behaving
in a such manner that one is
literally "crossed-off" by society - all these can
become the path that leads to the shamanic
This is not to say that an initiate cannot receive help. If
she is sincere in her desire for healing,
she will find the proper catalysts and midwives for birthing
the Shaman in herself. In the ancient
tribal ways, she could find an experienced Shaman in her own
community to explain what was
happening to her, and ease her way a bit. This older, wiser
one would give her exercises that
would train her to control the degree and timing of "opening
the flower of her awareness."
These might include instructions in meditation, lucid dreaming,
self-hypnosis and visualization,
recognizing energy fields, practices with sound and color, ritual-making,
sand-painting, crafts of
various kinds, trance-dancing, etc. She would also be taught
how to protect herself from
unwanted psychic and physical intrusions. Techniques such as
purifying, blessing, boundarymaking,
shield-making, and acquiring guardian allies would be part of
Grounding techniques would be stressed as the initiate worked
with plant, animal, and rock medicine.
In modern times, however, the help may come from strange directions,
indeed. For example, the
contemporary Plains Indian Shaman, Tayja Wiger, was born into
an extremely hostile, abusive
urban environment with no exposure to tribal ways. Society called
her blind, crippled, retarded,
insane and delinquent. She was institutionalized in reform schools
and mental institutions. All
this time, she prayed for healing. The psychiatrists didn't
understand her Shamanic tradition
(which she often expressed subconsciously), but they did help
her to find the time, space and
resources that she needed for her to be able to heal herself.
Her intense focus on self-healing
propelled her through the dark tunnel of fear and anger to a
place where she could let go, in love,
trusting the Universe. Now, she is sighted, physically sound,
intelligent, sane and working as a
Shaman; "healer, ordained minister, counselor and laughing
friend of the Light." Her story is
an inspiration to us all!
Tribal people believe that becoming a Shaman is a matter of
destiny; and that if a destined
person resists becoming a Shaman, she will become more and more
enmeshed in her own
problems. The story of Sky Woman, a Shaman of the Ojibway Tribe,
illustrates how a woman
who courageously responded to a crisis embraced her own shamanic
destiny. Born into a family
that was disturbed by violent parental disagreements, Sky Woman
fled from this chaotic situation
at 9 years of age and wandered in the northern woods for a long
time until a search party found
her. Among her rescuers was an old woman who loved her and took
care of her, and became her
They lived together happily for many years until one day, the
Grandmother got very sick. Sky
Woman was afraid. While she took care of her Grandmother and
watched over her, Sky Woman
fell asleep and had a dream. She dreamed someone gave her a
rattle and other things Shamans
use when they heal, and said to her, "Try this on your
grandmother. She might get better." When
she awoke, Sky Woman made a little rattle and started to do
the things the dream showed her.
When she finished, the old woman seemed brighter. Sky woman
kept on with her work until her
grandmother was up and around. Then, other people heard about
her and came to her for help.
She became a travelling healer.
Following her inner guidance, Sky Woman later remembered that
in her youthful wanderings,
she had been guided and instructed by her Guardian Spirits for
her life's work. Her loving
compassion for her Grandmother was what catalyzed her own transformation.
Her Spirits guided
her but SHE CHOSE OF HER OWN FREE WILL to follow them.
Modern-day Shamans have learned from the mistakes that Shamans
of the past have made.
Keeping what works, they've thrown the rest away. They have
let go of arrogance and embraced
simplicity. They are not afraid to frolic and have fun. They
have made a commitment to serve the
life-force; they draw strength and unity from that commitment.
It has been said that the first Shaman was Grandmother Fire.
She is the true ancestress of all
Shamans. It also has been said that the first Shaman invented
sex. The Shaman is self-erotic, in
love with her own Body and with the Body of Earth. She heats
herself, burning off the dross,
centering herself in her own luminosity. She radiates well-being
and self-confidence. Her
leadership emerges out of a passion for life and is sustained
by balance. The Shaman's heat is a
centerfire around which a community naturally gathers. Her heat
is engendering; and her own
gender can hold and transcend the tension of opposites, giving
her the ability to operate with
success in whatever world she finds herself. Just by being,
a Shaman gives comfort by proving
that change is possible.
Healers state that it is love that heals, yet it is so
difficult for many to release the fear and anger
that lodge in the subconscious mind in order to be able to ACCEPT
that love. Now it is time for
all of us to cleanse our lives, then turn ourselves inside out
for all to share.
Love is a word for transformation. And there are many
beings worthy of our love. It does not
have to be a man you seek. When you say, 'I love you,' you are
saying, 'I transform you.' But
since you alone can transform no one, what you are really saying
is, 'I transform myself and my
vision.' I am always living in the lodge of love and I share
it with you. 
1. Daughters of Copper Woman by Anne Cameron, 1981, Press Gang
BC, p. 62.
2. Planet Drum by Mickey Hart and Frederic Lieberman, 1991,
HarperCollins Publishers, NY, p.
3. Movements of Magic by Bob Klein, 1984, Newcastle Publishing,
CA, pg. 8.
4. In the Shadow of the Shaman by Amber Wolfe, 1989, Llewellyn
Publications, St. Paul, MN,
5. The Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen, 1986, Beacon Press,
Boston, MS, p. 207-8.
6. Ibid., p. 257.
7. Shamanic Voices by Joan Halifax, 1979, E.P. Dutton, N.Y.,
8. Ruth Inge-Heinze, in Shapeshifters: Shamanic Women in Contemporary
Viking Penguin Inc., N.Y., p. 62.
9. Leilah Tiesh in Shapeshifters, p. 36.
10. Agnes Whistling Elk in Flight of the Seventh Moon by Lynn
V. Andrews, 1984, Harper &
Row, San Francisco, p. 130-131.
11. Channeled from my Spirit Teacher, "Butterfly Woman".
12. Birth of a Modern Shaman by Cynthia Bend and Tayja Wiger,
1987, Llewellyn Publications,
St. Paul, MN, p. 8.
13. The Shaman: Patterns of Siberian and Ojibway Healing by
John A. Grim, 1983, University
of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, p. 121-125.
14. Bend and Wiger, p. 6.
15. Agnes Whistling Elk, in Flight of the Seventh Moon, p. 156.
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