Friday, April 10, 2009
Shamanism Final Exam
Rev. Jean Pagano
I am not a shaman. I can never really be a shaman. In my opinion, there are two approaches to shamanism. One is to study and appreciate the history, development, and philosophy of the phenomenon called Shamanism. The other is to emulate what shamans do in order to approximate shamanism. The first of these approaches is rather easy – one puts one's mind to it, one does the research, and finally one obtains the knowledge and/or understanding. The latter of the two is much more difficult: how does one emulate a way of life that is so deeply entwined within a particular culture? By way of analogy, does a person become a Native American by emulating one? I do not think so.
The term Paleo-Siberian, when relating to the Koryak and the Chukchee peoples, tells the whole of the story. The term "Paleo" suggests a prehistoric or early context. Paleo-Siberian shamanism is the earliest and simplest form of shamanism, and perhaps the purest form. Simple does not indicate simple-minded, but an uncomplicated approach. Shamanism is an animist religion which believes that everything is imbued with spirit and it is the shaman's job to interact with the spirits. This interaction is used to heal, to portend, and to guide.
The shaman heals by interacting with the spirits in a non-ordinal reality. This non-ordinal reality is entered either by trance, by hallucinogenic drugs, or in a dream state. While in the non-ordinal reality, the shaman can see and reach the spirits that are causing illness or harm in an organism. The shaman can speak with the spirits that are at the root of the problem or the shaman may also extricate them from the individual that is being healed. The methodologies that the shaman employs are handed down from shaman to shaman across the many generations.
The shaman may also portend the future. By entering into non-ordinal reality, once again, the shaman will use his/her relationship with the spirits to learn about the outcomes of some situation in this world. There is no guidebook for this interaction, but the shaman, over time, either learns to interpret these events, or has an a priori understanding of what is seen in the spirit world.
The shaman also acts as a guide – both in this world and in the spirit world. The shaman acts as a spirit counselor. A person may come to the shaman with a question about issues that are not related to health or to future events. The shaman then consults with the spirit world and gains an understanding of the situation and reports it back to the person seeking advice. Additionally, there may be occasions when spirits are lost, in this world or the next, and the shaman acts as a guide, helping them to find where they need to be.
While these skills may not necessarily be unique to Paleo and Neo-Siberians, the approach and methodology is related to their culture. This is not to say that shamanism may not be found in other cultures – it surely is pan-cultural using different names – but, the approach used by the Paleo and Neo-Siberians is unique and has arisen in reaction to cultural paradigms and approaches that have developed over many generations. This is evident in the successions of shamans that are found in Neo-Siberian lineages where shamans are considered true shamans after nine generations of blacksmiths. Sadly, with the advent of modern technology and a distancing from traditional ways, I would venture to guess that the number of blacksmiths, shamans, and especially shamans that are blacksmiths, has greatly diminished.
While I have voiced skepticism concerning the fact that one may just become a shaman, especially the New Age variety, I do believe that some may find themselves called to shamanism, especially if they experience the same events that gave rise to shamans in traditional cultures. I do believe that becoming a shaman is in response to a calling, not a desire. Shamanism seems to have developed in closely proximity to the natural world and must be exceptionally hard to manage in an industrialized or urban environment – in fact, it may be basically impossible to undertake and maintain in such an environment.
This course is an exceptional course. I felt from the very beginning that perhaps the information presented over many of the twenty weeks was culled from a doctoral dissertation because of the in-depth analysis and scholarship of not only the material, but of the sources. I came into this course not knowing what to expect. I leave this course with a wealth of information that I will refer to time and again. This is truly a first-rate course and I would recommend it highly to anyone who is curious about shamanism from a scholarly perspective.
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