Shamans and Mystics: Surrender to Grace
In the last several years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the ancient Earth-honoring traditions across the globe, including the path of the Shaman and the Mystic. These terms are being re-defined in popular culture and scholarly writings alike, from books, handmade and commercially produced products and films, to workshops and budding practitioners of all sorts.
While there have been many positives, including renewed interest in being good stewards and caretakers of the Earth, there has also been a great deal of misunderstanding, misinformation, commercialization, cultural appropriation and colonial entitlement in how these ancient traditions have been approached and their knowledge shared.
What many refer to as Shamanism—seeing the interconnectedness of all living things, including human beings, plants, animals, trees, stones, mountains, lakes and rivers, and that all of these beings contain a spark of the Divine—is actually Animism. Many traditional cultures across the globe, including the Eastern traditions, ancient Europeans, Africans, North and South Americans and others, have had this similar perspective and belief that we are all connected—to each other, to the Earth and all of nature. In this view, we are interdependent and are much better working together and in harmony with nature.
Somewhere in all of us this wisdom exists, and we know more recent societal disregard and destruction of the environment is wrong. We are hurting our relatives, the trees, plants and many species are dying off each day. We have more technology at our disposal, yet we have worse diseases and more depression than ever. We know we have gone astray and are trying to find our way back.
Many of us have lost the ancestral wisdom of healing plants, sacred Earth-honoring rituals and ceremonies, our relationship with our ancestors in spirit and how to honor the change of seasons. This massive separation we have felt for many generations due to our disconnection from nature and our own Divine Source, has helped create this massive state of dis-ease.
We need to also acknowledge and remember that for many of these original practices and traditions—the ones that were not stamped out by governments or churches, or other tribes—many of the people and healers belonging to these tribes have suffered greatly; some were even killed because of their beliefs and practices. We only need to look as far as our own backyards here in the Northeast, to see the history of murder and displacement of the First Nations tribes that lived here on this land we now call home.
These traditional tribes and cultures all had their own unique rituals, ceremonies, healing methods and social structures. They had unique titles for their healers and spiritual leaders. They are not all called “Shaman”, which is a title for a very specific type of healer from the Evenki region of Siberia, derived from the term Saman. A Shaman goes through a very unique process of initiation, often from childhood—of mysterious illness, visitations of powerful and often disturbing ancestral spirits and a surrendering of their own wishes and desires for a normal life—to honor the path that the spirits or their ancestors have chosen for them. It is a path often of great trial and suffering.
The Shaman goes into a repeated trance state, often with the living being of their drum, sometimes known as the Windhorse, to travel into the spirit world to connect with their powerful spiritual allies—an ancient ancestor who was a healer—to facilitate healing for their community. Shamans do not do “self-healing” through their Shamanic work; their work is in service to their community. It is a path of personal sacrifice and very specific cultural traditions. To show respect and honor to those who have been chosen for this very specific role in these tribes, it is important we avoid taking the name “Shaman” for ourselves as contemporary practitioners and spiritual seekers.
The contemporary practices of Shamanism from the West are often based on Core Shamanism, created by anthropologist Dr. Michael Harner. These practices are simplified meditation and trance-inducing methods without a cultural overlay that most folks can learn to various degrees of efficacy. It is a wonderful tool, and many folks have flocked to workshops and training programs alike over the past few decades. However, it is important to remember that the traditions of the original Shamans are based on thousands of years of wisdom and practice—not something one learns in a weekend workshop, or even after a few years.
Today, we see the title of Shaman used as a name for everything including soap, oracle cards, crystals, courses and books of all sorts that may or may not bare any resemblance to the original traditional practices. It’s important in this age of consumerism and materialism to remember the sacred, and that people given this title properly by their tribe and community have died and suffered.
Even though Shamans and Shamanism seem to have made it into the limelight of recent popular culture, there are many other types of healers both in traditional and contemporary cultures who work with a spiritual foundation of healing. One is not better than the other. Mystics are one such type of healer.
Mystics find the voice of the Divine everywhere. They seek to surrender, or open themselves completely to the experience of the Divine. They may or may not go into altered states of consciousness to make the connection. They can find the supernatural in the natural, and the Divine in the mundane activities of everyday life—from walking to the mailbox, to drinking a cup of hot tea, to folding laundry. However, Mystics also honor the beauty and sacredness all around them, and may feel a strong connection to the Divine within nature, such as the fiery colors of an evening sunset burning across the sky or a majestic mountain pass with a recent luminous snowfall dusting.
The Mystic can also form strong connections to the spirit realms just as deep as the Shaman. They may not travel through the various dimensions of the spirit worlds, but rather stay fully conscious in this physical world and communicate and connect with the spirits of the trees, mountains and plants all around them. They might facilitate a healing session or a ceremony, praying and calling on their ancestors, spirits of nature and other beings of Light that support their connection to the Divine source, such as guardian angels and spirit guides.
Those feeling called to reconnect with a more spiritual way of life have many choices and paths to follow. Some may find a more traditional path within a specific tribe, if they are welcomed into it, or it may be a more personal spiritual journey that may not look like anything anyone else has seen before. Each of us is unique and is called by the Divine and nature in our own way. The path of the Shaman is one that is specific to a cultural tradition, despite the re-defining of this title by some recent anthropologists, authors and teachers. Studying or learning a contemporary Shamanic or Shamanistic path is something else entirely, but knowing and respecting the difference is important.
Both the Shaman and Mystic know the importance of humility and respect, and the concept of surrendering to a power greater than themselves that can support deep connection and healing. We have much to learn from both spiritual paths as well as others. We each have our own unique spiritual gifts and connection we can cultivate, which we can do by honoring ourselves and what resonates for us, and by respecting ancient traditions and titles. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
Deana Paqua, MA, LMT is a teacher of spiritual and holistic health, shamanic practitioner and teacher, licensed massage therapist, Reiki master and adjunct professor at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury. She has a private practice at Turning Point Healing Arts & Education Center in Ridgefield. Connect at EmbodytheSacred.net. See ad, page 23.
Q’ero Tribe of Peru: Shaman or Mystic?
The Q’ero tribe of Peru have lived for hundreds of years at high elevations in the Andes Mountains and are highly revered spiritual healers across the globe. They are mostly herders and farmers, living generally very simple lives, but lives that are also sacred and spiritual. They are referred to in many cases as Shaman, but technically this is not correct, as they do not journey into the spirit realms to meet the Divine. They are actually more Mystics than Shaman.
They communicate and form deep bonds of connection with the Earth, known as Pachamama, and with the local incredible Andes mountain range, whose grand spirits are known as Apus. Each Q’ero healer forms his or her own connections to Pachamama, the Apus and other cosmic beings and spirits of nature. They build these relationships over decades and generously share what they know with others, whether from their own tribe, other Andean tribes or from anywhere else in the world.Edit ModuleShow Tags