SHAMANISIM: A 21st Century Suburban Wasteland of Ideas
What is a Shaman exactly anyway? If you are a part of the Spirit Vine Scene no doubt people have told stories of this or that Shaman or flying to a remote place in Peru to take the Sacred Herbs under the guidance of some special Ayahuasca elder, teacher, magician. But have you ever stopped to think “What is A Chaman?” I have asked this question to so many people in the DMT/AYA community in the last few years and mostly I am greeted with silence often accompanied by a slight tilt of the head and a blank expression as if I had just asked “exactly how wet is water”
I don’t embrace the idea of modern day shamanism. The word has gone from misunderstood to completely bastardised in the last few decades. With respect to everyone’s opinion let me try and unravel some of the long threads of thoughts that have brought me to this conclusion.
Chaman (Shaman) does not mean what you think it does
The word Shaman does not come from Peru or even South America and has nothing to do with Ayahuasca. The word originates from the tribal Tungus-speaking peoples of what is today know as Serbia. The word more accurately translates as “Saman”
What a lot of people fail to understand is that language does not always translate smoothly and more often than recognized it barley translates at all. So we are left with the task of stitching words and ideas together in an attempt to carry at least the core idea from one language to another. In Japan idioms don’t exist. To say any of the following “on the ball” or “add insult to injury” or even something as seemingly self-evident as “actions speak louder than words” would be completely nonsensical. In Hindi the word Samsara is a blend of fate, destiny, punishment, luck & religious obligation. It’s a call to self-improvement, honest work and honouring the form you inhabit for this lifetime. Acceptance of seemingly unfair and futile fate you have been dealt as this too is a frame in divinely infinite show.
It means all of these things and none of them. A lot of those ideas might seem contradictory to you. They are (and they are not) particularly native speakers of English (like myself) are unfamiliar with single words that are entire philosophies and/or purposefully both their own adjective and synonym. The French language still uses variations of the word “love” that have negative conations. Having studied in India I can tell you even if we were able to port the word over, a perfect translation, it would still loose most of it’s relevance as the implication of “Samsara” has for a person raised in Hindu culture a living presence. The idea of which is felt & understood in a completely different way than you are able to identify and name a table as a “table”
“Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have 30 words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of 30 words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.”
– Robert Johnson, “The Fisher King and the Handmaiden”
This post is about Shamanism particularly “Ayahuasca Shamans” I promise. But if we are going to try and make sense of a word and the concept behind we have keep in mind that we’re already starting on treacherous ground.
“Saman” as spoken by the Tungus had a double meaning. It meant both one that was able to assist people through the transition of life into the state we describe as death. It also meant someone who had gained such knowledge of the natural land & physical body that they were able to diagnose and prescribe cures based on herbs. Someone who communicates with the dead is today known as a “Medium” and someone who prescribes medicine for the physical body is known as a “Doctor” These are very different concepts than I hear from most members of the Spirit Vine community.
The most literal translation of “Saman” from the Tungus tribes would be “One who is moved” or “One who is raised” Which have very different connotations in English. The same way western idioms don’t translate into Japanese, tribal language rarely translates into anything we can identify as intellectually tangible.
Translation is a messy affair. Most Shaman’s are not MD’s nor do we think of them as having the ability to speak with the dead. So by definition modern Shamans are not Samans at all.
SHAMAN’S IN THE GLOBAL CONTEXT
Shaman as an idea for western people has simply become a word to explain a broad range of things they don’t understand. A point I was surprised even Wikipedia touches on. Much the same way Bubba or Guru from Hindu culture are used so broadly by foreigners that they have lost all interpretable meaning. To try to explain what a “Bubba” is today would take several paragraphs of me reexplaining an idea that was not designed for my culture or age. A task I will not endeavour to undertake.
A lot of people feel more comfortable at a ceremony if a “Shaman” is present because they don’t understand what they are getting themselves into. Not a good entrance into any situation. The older and more traditional looking the Shaman the more unspoken knowledge we believe them to have. Paying for the services of an expert in a field you don’t understand is often a good and rational idea. No amount of Yoga and spinach juice is ever going to prepare you to rewire the electricity in your apartment complex. However a tempting & seemingly rational idea it is to want to pay a man for spiritual growth & protection the same way you pay a man to keep the sinks working might be keep in mind to be rational is not to be right. Most unsound theories are based on an enormous amount of logic, bad ideas seem so rational. That’s why we buy them wholesale.
Trying to carry over successful modes of function from the physical world into the metaphysical one is a recipe for failure. Or worse. The same way cultural ideas do not translate well between languages , the same logic that keeps your lights on and teeth clean is not going translate into success on a different plain of reality. The Hindu’s believe the Guru finds the student when the student is ready. Something I can say I have experienced in my life. Ayahuasca can be used as an accelerator to spiritual growth and empathic depth of being but if you accelerate at the wrong time you are going to at best go in the wrong direction, at worst hit something…..very hard. Something else I can say I’ve experienced.
My advice is always to encourage people to do their own research and place their faith in their intuition rather than another person. Much like the bible discourages idol worship or worship of anything/anyone that can affect your direct connection with god (It is for this reason Confession to a priest is actually a sin by biblical scripture) we discourage anything that can stand between you and your god or yourself. Whatever your beliefs maybe.
“The kingdom of heaven is already within you”
The Millennial Melting Pot of Misunderstood Ideas
You are not a shaman because you come from Peru or the Amazon, are really old and wise looking or have spent your life living within a tribe. You don’t get to decide “when” you’re a Shaman. The idea that you go around telling people that YOU are a SHAMAN is as preposterous as telling people YOU are a GURU. None the less people have made big business off selling these ideas. To translate the concept in my own inadequate way so if your reading this from a western back ground it might resinate more. Proclaiming yourself a shaman would be like announcing that “I am great sex”
Firstly it comes with an implication of arrogance which would be the opposite position from where would want a teacher or enlightened being to come from. Secondly, it’s in bad taste. Most importantly it’s ludicrous as you are the only one on earth certain of never knowing that. The extent to which you are sexually competent or not can only ever be judged or experienced through another. A great lover to one person is a sadist or weakling or simply not the one they have taken as their true love to another.
“Any man who must say “I am the king” is no true king”
Gorge R. R. Martin
SELF PROCLAMIED SHAMANS
People who claim titles such as shaman are given a lot of respect, (that often boarders & falls head over heels into worship) with respect and admiration comes trust and unfortunately there are those within the Ayahuasca community that are abusing this trust for their own gain.
A key idea that simply doesn’t translate from the tribal community to the digital one is proof of work. You don’t call yourself a shaman, you prove yourself one. And a pretty website with smiling faces and the proclamation of localised charity is not proof of work. It’s assertion of work, again to crudely translate to a more familiar western idea. Money and assets is proof of wealth a cheque is an assertion or claim to it. No reasonable business person anywhere on earth will except a cheque as payment unless the signee is known to them personally. Yet we except the promised cheque of higher power from a person we have never met at the exact point in our lives we will be the most venerable. Strange values we have.
This problem is not isolated to the Ayahuasca (DMT) or hallucinogenic community. There are exploitive creatures that latch onto every crevice of existence. Yoga & the spiritual scene, Hollywood as we’ve recently found out is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not to say that there isn’t any Shaman’s left on earth just that chances are they don’t have website or any need for American dollars. If you don’t feel you are strong enough to take the Spirit Vine and go through the Ayahuasca experience yourself it is probably not the right time for you. A child crawls until it can walk, it’s the natural way of things. Under some circumstances a crutch is helpful even necessary but carry it to long and you will never be strong enough to walk alone. Choose a bent crutch to support yourself and even when you let it go you will never walk straight. And that’s assuming it doesn’t collapse under your own weight injuring you further.
II Cieco che Guida II Cieco (The Blind Leding the Blind)
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
— Matthew 15:13-14
I am starting to skirt around the other topics that I didn’t have time to address today. I have said nothing of black magic, energetical exchanges, spiritual hygiene and parasites. There is also a list simple yet vital questions which I cannot answer for anyone but would like to put forward as a process of ideas so that the reader can undertake the task of answering them for themselves.
Part two of this post will be available soon. I realize the ideas shared here are not popular in the Ayahuasca community today. But growth comes from asking the hard questions, regardless of whether we are willing to do that or not, we are forced to live with answers all the same. The brain is wired to accept ideas that fit our world view as evidence of the fact while ideas that undermine our preconceived notions are treated with extreme scepticism and hostility. If this post has offended, angered or upset you consider why that is. If your faith is unshakable someone kicking the foundations shouldn’t be any cause for distress.
All comments are encouraged especially those that differ from my own. There is a political activist in America that has a rule he follows during every Q&A “If you disagree with what I think raise your hand and you’ll be moved to the front of the line” Conflict is the ideal, maybe the only ground for growth and I wrote this blog in the spirit of sharing ideas and ideals, to conceptualize my own thoughts and hopefully learn from yours.
Until next post “have a safe trip”
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