About five or six years ago now, I was given a cryptic channeled message during a healing session. It was in a language I did not recognize and it wasn't until I worked with a Shipibo Shaman that I had the idea to ask him if he was familiar with the phrase. So I asked him, with the assistance of his translator, and he explains to me that it means "leader of the Shamans". I thought that was pretty cool at the time and became excited that I was visited by the leader of the Shamans. Who knew there was someone "in charge"? It still makes me giggle when I think about it. As things have unfolded on my personal path over the years and I continue to step into my role as a community leader, it has become clear that this message was actually letting me know that I was to be a leader of Shamans.
I am sure there are probably others like me out there, but today I will speak here from my perspective only about a few topics that come up around being a Shaman. Specifically about Shamans of the West.
One of my roles here on earth is to help other people who want to walk a Shamanic path. I help others to be their own Shaman, to cultivate a personal practice and help them step into their true self so they may be of service to the world in whatever capacity they came here for. I also help those who feel called to serve their communities. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is one of the reasons why I started Sacred Heart. If you have a Shamanic calling, and you aren't sure what's next on your path, that's where I come in.
So I haven't written about this because I have received quite a few hate emails about this topic from people over the years and I had a horrible mindset of being ashamed of calling myself a Shaman. How dare I! I have received literal curses, racial slurs and hate from people who have never met me or worked with me in any capacity. While it has been a challenging experience to read these emails, I am so grateful for each one, as they have required me to look even deeper within myself and inquire about who I am. Each one has helped me further stand in my personal power or leave something behind that no longer suits me.
More recently, the message has been getting pretty loud - a Shaman is indeed one of my many names and my job here in America is to lead Shamans of the West.
Misconceptions and Judgments about being a Shaman
There are a few opinions/topics I am going to address here that are brought up to me quite a bit. Some are more delicate or controversial than others and I hope to keep this conversation going as I continue to grow and as my perspective continues to shift.
Let's bust some Shaman myths using phrases that have been sent to me over the years!
"Shamans don't call themselves Shamans"
First, let's address this idea that Shamans can't call themselves Shamans. This is some deep low key shaming and dis-empowerment that no one deserves. It is not appropriate for us to see someone walking their spiritual path and make judgments (or insults) against them for doing so.
This whole situation feels like: "We deem that you don't know who you are, therefor you must wait until we judge you as a society or community and we get to decide who you are".
Hah! What a joke. That may have made sense in tribal culture, but it doesn't work today. There was no need for mass embodiments of Shamans and other highly experienced healing beings because the world didn't need the type of assistance it needs today. The healer of a tribe was obvious and there was no need to go around claiming it. Most of us are also not hiding out in a cabin in the woods waiting for people to find us for healing and spreading our message by word of mouth only (unless we are called to do that sort of thing). In this loud and crowded world, people have to be able to locate a Shaman when they need one. And there are a lot of people in need.
Additionally, there are very few words in the English language that accurately describe what people like me are. The list of words is extensive, and yet still not complete. At this point, I know I can be considered a Shaman, Folk Medicine Woman, Sin Eater, Healer, Ceremonialist, Container Creator, Divine Feminine Channel, Spiritual Doctor, Witch and Witch Doctor, High Priestess, Curandera, etc. There are probably more words that I haven't even learned yet that can fit right in.
I'm also not saying there aren't a significant amount of charlatans out there calling themselves Shamans, because there definitely are. However, if you need to be taken advantage of by a charlatan, then that's a lesson you are destined to learn in this life and nothing I can say will change that. That is a certain kind of Medicine in itself. The only thing I can say is to choose a practitioner with your heart, not with your ego or your head. If a Shaman calls themselves a Shaman and you are triggered by that - it's something that you need to address within yourself.
"How are you repaying the tribes or indigenous people that came before you? Do you donate to them?"
I keep hearing about this concept that we "owe money the people who have come before us". I'm sorry, but the idea of owing, tithing or contributing to something in the distant past is crazy levels of toxic.
Medicine people honor their ancestors and teachers in their prayers and by keeping the Medicine alive and respected. They honor them in their Ceremonies and on their altars. I honor mine by following my path and working with them in the spirit world, carrying on their messages and work. If I can help someone who requests it, I do, but that is as far as I take it. Most of the elders I have worked with do not want anything in return other than for me to answer my calling, do my work authentically and for them to have a student to pass the torch to.
People have approached me claiming that I must make monetary contributions to all the tribes that have come before me and handled psychedelic plants. And they have lost their minds. No specific tribe carried me to where I am today and those elders who have helped me have been compensated for their time and wisdom. As healers and Shamans, we not "owe" anything to anyone beyond our own sincere and deep devotion to the work.
Paying for training or Apprenticeship is a completely separate conversation.
Do I donate to organizations? Absolutely, and I do so every month, but they are not tied to my work in any way. They are causes that pull on my heart and I donate out of love and personal passion - not out of obligation.
On another level, there is something else I want to point out. One of the things we learn to live alongside in Shamanism is the death and rebirth of all things, and this includes cultures and peoples. As the world changes, the people who inhabit it change and this is a natural part of the life cycle. We cannot rescue a dying culture, because they are not victims needing to be rescued. What we are here to do is carry forward the wisdom and knowledge that has been passed on - whether is was passed in person or in spirit. If someone thinks shamanic healers need to somehow donate money to or rescue a specific group of people out of obligation, they need to evaluate their own inner victim wanting to be rescued or paid respect.
"You have to work with a specific tradition to be a Shaman"
Not all Shamans are here to carry on the knowledge or practice of a specific tradition. There are many different types of Shamans in the Western world and each are here with a slightly different role. None of my roles involve carrying on a specific tradition, but more the core knowledge of the universe that is the undercurrent of all Shamanic traditions. I have knowledge and training in many traditions, but only because I need them to understand the bigger picture.
"You should only use Traditional Medicine Song in Medicine Ceremony"
Similarly to what I mentioned above, the world changes and so does the way in which we practice Shamanism. In the old world, many songs were shared around circles and between tribes, others were delivered directly from spirits or plants. Both of these occurrences still exist, but so does the invention of the radio and internet. There are modern day people singing Medicine Songs, probably without even realizing it, and the world of technology has made them available to all of us! Why wouldn't we use that?
Additionally, we all have very deep and fond attachments to music to some degree, often from moments in childhood where a song was playing during an emotionally charged or physically impactful moment.
The truth is that sometimes in Ceremony you need Shamanic drumming, sometimes you need Icaros (Plant Medicine song) and sometimes you need Clearance Clearwater Band because it will bring up old emotions from your childhood driving in the car with your father. All of these have their place in Medicine Ceremony and it is up to the person conducting the Ceremony to know what everyone needs.
Hearing songs that are reminiscent to your childhood will trigger the emotions and memories attached to that time period, allowing them to come up for processing and release. Since healing is literally the digestion of emotions, this is pretty significant. It may also assist in a Soul Retrieval of your childhood self. Hearing drumming can help you slip into a trance state more easily if you are struggling at the barrier or it is used to keep things moving in a certain direction. Singing Icaros is one way call in beings, energies and healing that need to be called in to assist in the Ceremony.
We don't have to do away with the old ways as we move into the modern world, but we do have to be open to adapting in order to deliver healing on the deepest level in the way we are being asked to do so.
"Drinking Ayahuasca in Peru is superior to drinking it here"
If you have the desire to travel to South America and experience this medicine in it's native land, I am happy for you. Is this the best way? Well, if it is for you, that's all that matters.
The truth is that it Ayahuasca has become a huge tourist draw, as well as a charlatan draw. I have worked with far too many people who have massive spiritual or physical damage from sitting in Ceremony at some retreat center in Peru (or Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, etc) and in America alike. I honestly hear less about good, grounded and healing experiences as the years go on, regardless of where they are sitting in Ceremony.
This medicine is a beautiful and powerful thing. There are many wonderful Medicine Carriers and Shamans out there in the jungle - and there are many who are not. There are also Masters from Peru who are teaching people how to carry these Medicines here in the West because they know we need it in our own way, sometimes outside of their traditions. You have to keep in mind that the Western body does not experience Ayahuasca the same way as someone who was born and raised in the jungle. The type of complex trauma we physically carry, and are subjected to regularly, is significant and can sometimes require a Facilitator with the same complex trauma to properly deliver it and hold the space.
I was personally not drawn to visiting Peru when I started my journey on this path, though one of my teachers did appear for me in Florida and he was from Peru. Since then, all of my lessons and teachings have been delivered directly from the plant spirits and ancestors from the jungle. Might that change in the future? Absolutely. I do know other Plant Medicine Shamans who are called to go down there regularly for teachings and dietas and have wonderful experiences. We are all great at what we do, just different at how we do it, and neither of us are doing it "the superior way".
Also, we do not need to go to the jungle to have a deep and meaningful experience - though I highly suggest visiting the jungle without a Medicine Ceremony and connecting to it spiritually. We live in a modern world with appropriate comforts, there is no need to shame people who want to experience this Medicine in the very comfortable familiar setting available to us. It does not mean the experience will be less, it just means it will be different.
Working with Psychedelics isn't Shamanism
This one I do agree with on some level, but not in the broad sense. There are many people out there calling themselves Shamans who serve some type of psychedelic, but they do not have a genuine spiritual practice outside of the psychedelic realm - let alone a Shamanic practice. Maybe some of them are even good at what they do and maybe the category of "Psychedelic Shaman" is a thing. I am honestly not sure.
For me personally, I do see a very big difference in these two arenas. I learned early on that I can enter this altered state with or without the use of psychedelics and my practice goes far beyond working with Mushrooms and Ayahuasca. However, when I do work with psychedelic plants, I navigate the space like it's my waking world, because it is just like my waking world. This is what makes me good at what I do.
I have only met two other individuals who are both a Shaman in the classic sense of the word and a Psychedelic Facilitator.
White people from America can't be Shamans
Yea, this is the big one and the one that draws the most hate mail to my inbox. I wish we would stop getting so hung up on physical form. I get that this is a very complex thing to understand, but I want to talk about it in a way that may be easier to digest. We all have information contained within our physical bloodline and we all have access to information in our spiritual form, much like what we have access to in our bloodline. In Shamanism, we understand that your current life and current ancestral line aren't your only ones. We can travel to different timelines, dimensions, past lives, etc. and literally have all of these experiences stored within ourselves. We also have the collective experience, which we each have access to. The current color of our skin or location of our home does not determine whether or not we are Shamans.
The point is, it doesn't make sense to only view the narrow window of our current reality and the current form our body is taking. We are spiritual beings in a vehicle that comes pre-programmed with things we will need in order to make the most out of this life. There is still the spirit aspect of self, which is much greater. A Shamanic view accounts for all that we can see - as well as what we cannot see.
On a similar note, the Ancestors and teachers we work with (on the astral plane) are not just those from our current bloodline. For example, I have had Ancestors transmit teachings to me from all different places in the world that are not connected to my physical bloodline. My human form is Eastern European (Ukrainian/Baltic), Irish, French/Basque, Scottish, Spanish, Ashkenazi Jew, and Cyprus. In the spirit world, I have a gypsy from London in the 1700s, a Native American chief from Washington State, a woman who inhabited "an Island that used to be Ireland but no longer exists" about 8,000 years ago, several Medicine Men from different areas of Peru and a Witch Doctor from Africa. In the Shamanic world, it doesn't matter if your teachers and ancestors exist on this plane - they are not any less real.
For some reason we think that you can only be a Shaman, Medicine Person or other similar being if you come from directly from the continents of Africa, Siberia or South America. Not so, my friends.
Ok, so what does it mean to be a Shaman?
Enough about the assumptions and judgments, what does it mean to actually be a Shaman? Being a Shaman means you work directly with the spirit world to retrieve healing and wisdom for the community. It means relieving people of suffering and working from a place of love and compassion. In my life, it also means that I live in a constant state of Ceremony and every move I make is with the greater good in mind. Everything is sacred and everything has a multi-dimensional meaning. It means that I live, eat and sleep life lessons that I can carry on to others. It means I can want what I want in this life, and hope for the best, but in the end I am here to serve a greater purpose. Not in a self-sacrifice sort of way, but in a way that feels true, grounded, and full of gifts in exchange for my time and energy.
Do you have a Shamanic calling? Do you resonate with anything I have written here? Have any other topics we need to de-bunk? Please reach out here!