Shamanism is a dimension of human experience that can be found in every culture in any age. It can be observed in a variety of forms, ranging from a fundamental spontaneous experience, derivative culturally shared practices, or as veiled motifs of spiritual, medical, artistic, scientific, and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Paradoxically, as shamanism becomes more culturally shared, it may become less authentic—less culturally challenging—and degenerative. Provoked by an experience of everyday life as a sort of “half-truth,” shamanism is a method that focuses on the erroneous belief in a separation of human life from nature. Shamanism focuses specifically on remaining alert to the creatural dimensions of human life that can be overridden by cultural, socio-psychological dimensions of everyday life.

Shamanism is an expression of an enduring wild state to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence and integrate into the natural world that continues to design and express human life across the long run.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

All Is New: Or What Is Enduringly Wrong With Shamanism, Or Science, Or Psychic Energy

latest NASA Earth photo

THERE IS A PREDOMINANT belief that shamanism is an old way, and “ancient way” that may or may not have value for modern life, depending on one’s point of view.   There is a sense that a “return” to Old Ways is either of value—more authentic “original thought”—or a misguided fantasy.

Such a belief is just that—a belief—when in reality there really neither old nor new when it comes to human development.  Human life is still very young in the evolution of the Earth, having appeared only in the last flashes of the history of the Earth.

“Old ways” are replete with superstition, prejudice, and even a sanctioned presence for  murder [e.g., an especially high murder rate among young men as a response to injustice].  Illness and death might be skewed toward perceptions of having offended the spirits or hexing by enemies.  And “new post-modern, cybernetic ways” may not really be an improvement and continue this prejudice in different clothing.  Still, old ways can offer some rich emotional technologies that are expressed in activities such as listening to stone, presence/identity in stars, and taking/desiring less in material things.  And the material technology of “new ways” can offer deeper subtlety, such as micro- and macro- and astro perspectives that are still only just beginning to open.

In such a context, living shamanism has always been and continues to remain “no-thought,” a process of “seeking more than knowing and interpreting,” connecting, and entering.  This is essentially a wordless strategy that aspires to be non-conceptual and be a method of access rather than an answer—a method of remaining in contact.

The deepest poetry is beyond words.  “Plants speaking” is conceptual, and across the long run perhaps appealing in the sense of hearing answers or information, yet facile at best.  But the drum sound or grinding a small stone in a circle on a larger tundra boulder or looking into a stone or into burnt wood can open.  It opens, not by getting an answer as much as challenging conceptualization.  Shamanism that becomes culturally shared is likely no longer shamanism, but rather has become a motif in a cultural religious or medicinal practice—an element of a belief system.  The snake means this… and the plant says this and does that…

Shamanism knows nothing.  It is perhaps a pulse or a repetitive act or a calming and stilling, turning these sensations into gateways.   We want answers, but the authentic “warrior” practice involves existence in an unanswerable context. 

“Plant says this to me.”  Good luck with that.  Shamanism says human life in any era is wild, and the essence of wildness is the capacity to remain alert.  No more than this.  And this capacity to remain alert (which implies a movement toward coming into balance or “fitted-ness” is a wondrous dance that is more than enough to ask.

Alertness is an experience of which all living events have some degree of consciousness.  It is present at the bird feeder and in the growth of a plant and even in the seasonal rock of the Earth in its star-dance.  Cultural life can be convinced that it has answers, but all of the clear views of reality proposed by a thousand human cultures are soon overturned.  Stars that are gods dissolve to galaxies to a universe in perhaps multiverses and what is that.  If anything is known, it is perhaps that you and I are really not you and I but rather an expression of all, and all itself—more the dazzling, miraculous appearance of all in this place in this moment.

Shamanism does say in a strong way that we need the Earth.  We need modernist Henry Beston’s “fire before the hands” [The Outermost House], and we need an indigenous sense of mitakuye oyasin—“all my relations” that is heartfelt, and perhaps not unlike Siddhartha’s experience of dropping off self and the discovery of E=mc2 or DNA.

A feral return to a pastoral is a concept, and a link of sound with charkas to heal is the same.  It is an attempt to break the barrier, but a facile waste of life.  But sitting down with a steady pulse or stillness and a heartbeat can be revelatory. 

So, teaching shamanism might begin with a drum pulse and largely stay there, and when words are introduce, they are used to tell us what not to do rather than what to do, (1) in order to reduce the repetition of same-old romantic pitfalls, (2) to criticize what we have come to sense that shamanism is or science or the high life of poetry or cyber-technology is.

There is an enduring dimension of human experience that is, essentially, the enduring experience of human wildness—something that seems impossible, something that we have left behind in modernity.

Old is not, in itself, better, but there was this beautiful view of the wide-open star-full sky then.  And new is not, in itself, the clarified, finally anti-superstitious way forward.

So sit down, perhaps with sound in an urban basement, or after two days of solo camping under the stars, and listen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


DUIR: Celtic reference for Oak that means :"doorway."

Just outside the south-facing back window, a white oak doorway into "world," and what is that?  And why this separation of self and world?

A cluster of white oaks, once part of a savannah ecosystem, but with young oaks beginning to rise, in close communication and nurturance from the larger "mother" oaks--already here long before me. [The first house here, next door to the West, where the inhabitant at that time found North American Indian artifacts overflowing in the creek below. And the backyard of this house being largely a sandbar for the gushing waters of the melting glacial ice of the Des Moines Lobe, some 10,000 years past.]

6/23/2015:  The Oak King has ruled the "waxing of the year with strength, courage, and endurance."  Now, in this Celtic Old Way, we enter into the waning part of the year.

For all of its age-old similar conceptualization with our post-modern, post-industrial, cybernetic intelligence, we still clings to this here and that there--so very narrow a view.

We still argue over whether or not there is a climate change that we have caused.  But there is no question that we could erase the battle and look at how we are destroying the Earth, period.

Shamanism, at its heart, is not conceptual, not a feel-good, not a healing--more of a responsiveness, more of an opening.

Why something framed as ancestral, primitive when we are inside a mass extinction of eco-diversity?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Non-Conceptual Experience

from Shaman Tube

A WAY FORWARD IN SHAMANISM: naturalist, direct, non-conceptual experience

Not listening to, as we tend to hear/see our expectations, but rather, opening, following

Even in primal cultures, tight conceptual experience is the norm, because culture tends to be conceptual (-e.g., the forest pygmy, having lived in deep forest his entire life under canopy, travels with author on the culture to the edge of the forest and "sees" a puddle [common in forest] that is, in reality, a lake).

But if we FOLLOW, and open rather than discriminate, perhaps something is offered.

Mongolian shamans now incorporated, dancing around like idiots at their convention, practicing psycho-relief, of course, cultural now--derivative rather than original, and likely degenerate, which is to say, superficial, but well-costumed, and facile at best.

Mongolia is such a deep core place for shamanism, but, really, next-to-nothing but B.S. now, like almost anywhere on Earth where "shamanism" persists.  In Mongolia, medical, religious, and nature cult phenomena: Tengerism (highest god, Tenger, god of heaven with the nasty killer Genghis Khan as the highest embodiment) or yellow shamanism, an "expressive Buddhism."  Interestingly, the shaman's drum there, often a horse skin, becomes the "saddle" that the shaman rides.