A while back I chanced upon the following blog post. In addition to an introductory essay, the writer went on to post articles by several notable writers. The title of the piece was , “WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS: The Case Against “Shamans” In North American Indigenous Cultures.”
The writer of the blog, “The Wanderling”, says, in part, “My Uncle was well accepted by most spiritual members of the indigenous people of the desert southwest he interacted with as a person at one with the Earth. He was married to a Native American of the Little Shell Plains Ojibwe who was a fourth level Midewiwin medicine woman that was held in awe by most that came within her presence. He himself moved with an almost cloak-like and uncanny nearly invisible ability, passing among people and places without disturbing the environment. Some say he was a Cloud Shaman and it may very well be the case. However, for the most part, he felt it was an impropriety to usurp for ones own gain or any other reason the traditional spiritual realms of others. Plain speaking, from a very young age I was, by example, both shown and taught by my father and uncle two very basic concepts: “When walking in the woods, never leave tracks,” and “when you depart from a campground, always leave it better than you found it.” Both concepts, although worded specifically in context, were meant to be expanded to the world and ones life as a whole, the philosophy meshing perfectly in my later teen years when I began study practice of Zen under the auspices of my Mentor.
It should be brought to the attention of those who may have an interest as well, that the word Shaman is meant to mean in the English language, by definition, that a Shaman so identified, understands that ALL things have a spirit, which in turn would imply within that definition, that each of our words and thoughts are thus endowed. As I have treated the words of the authors below appropriately, so too, it is hoped the spirits of my words are granted an equal treatment. I bow in deference….”
It is very difficult to know whether “shamanism” was traditionally practiced by First Nations peoples in what is now the United States. Certainly, the word “shaman” has been used by social scientists to cover a vast array of cultural practices. Practically, many of my teachers identify themselves as participating in shamanic lineages. This may be, in part, a result of cultural disbursement and interaction; most of my teachers learned from healers from other cultures, as well as from their own. (There is much evidence to suggest that cross-cultural contacts were the norm well before first contact with Europeans.) It is also worth noting that genocide has created enormous cultural disruptions, and made generalizations about past cultural practices suspect.
The contemporary term “shaman” has lost specificity. We can only understand healers’ conceptions of themselves and their worlds within specific cultural contexts. I also agree that it is simply unacceptable to usurp culturally specific ways of practicing healing, and to sell that information in the global marketplace; such practices contribute to cultural genocide. At the same time, there is much information about healing practices that is not culturally specific, or that has been transmitted between practitioners of various cultures. We healers of many traditions are now working to simultaneously protect indigenous cultures and disseminate tools for addressing the crises facing our peoples and planet. There is great need to do both.