From Under The Editor's Rock
By Sheik Sebir
The New Shamanism


This article appeared in the 'Rap's April 1994 issue. It was not one of my better articles, so I've revised it.

The practice of Shamanism was once thought of as something that belonged to ages past. Anthropologists looked down their learned noses at it, while Xtian missionaries, convinced of their own moral superiority, and being convinced of the need to eradicate "Satanism", did their best to destroy it, often with the covert aid or even open support of the local government. Yet, some people are quietly investigating it, hoping that it will lead them out from the morass of spiritual darkness we've been left with in modern times.

What's Wrong with the Western Approach

        Western Civilization's current religion has had been spiritually and morally bankrupt for quite some time, and it's only a matter of time before the People realize it's also financially bankrupt as well. Science tells us much about the physical world we're in, and its mechanistic view of things is fine for some things, but is quite inadequate when it comes to cultural and spiritual matters. Science was built on the idea that its proofs could be duplicated, thus confirmed or verified, by others using the same methods as the first experimenters. This is fine if you can afford the new and very expensive equipment it now takes to be on the cutting edge of science - most people, however, have to take their word for it. The Scientists and (those who were later called) Xtian Fundamentalists got into several clashes which lasted over several centuries, and the Right Xtians were soundly thrashed in every case. Science has proven that Faith isn't superior to Reason as a way of understanding the Physical world -- so why should it be trusted to be a guide to the Spiritual World -- if there is one ??

No amount of money, censorship, political influence, fanaticism, moralizing, posturing, rioting, or dire threats of eternal punishment will change it. As Science became a strong force for change, Xtianity's (what many people in 'Merca think of as the only True Religion) influence over modern culture has eroded to the point where its practically non-existant.

One possible way out of this morass was for the Protestant Xians was to proclaim that the Good Book wasn't so infallible after all, and that it reflected, not universal Truth, but the ignorance of the people who wrote it and their times, and that mebbe Evolution (a sound Pagan proposition) and the Copernican solar system weren't foul tricks of the baad ol' Debbil after all. The only problem with this is Xtianity itself.

Approxiately 2000 years ago someone best forgotten started a religion that quickly mutated into a social movement for the less noble in Society. Unlike the polytheistic religions that were tolerant of most other beliefs and (unfortunetely) formed a cosy relationship with the social and religious Powers that were, this weed originally had other ideas. Xtianity made fantastic claims about the spiritual world, and mighty promises about what the next world would bring. These promises included Personal Salvation by the god (your very own personal savior, just for you), the Holy Joy of seeing one's enemies fry Eternally in Hell along with the Debbil and the Roast Beast, all on the presumption that they and their Faith were absolutely Right about absolutely Everything. Because most cultures reject such blunt arrogance, Xtianity (as in Xmas) eventually found ways to incorporate not only most of the Hellenistic and Roman religious philosophy and tradition, and liberally borrowed from any other sources that didn't crawl away fast enough -- and STILL managed to become one of the most bigoted, intolerant, ignorant, and murderously superstitious religions in History. Fortunately, the many centuries its been around have made it less so.

The Early Church's wild rantings, doomsday hysteria, rabid ascetism, ritual cannabalism, ritual human sacrifice, and the mindless fanaticism of its hordes of martrys was ultimately irrevelant to why it succeeded in the Western World. Besides becoming the favorite tool of the ruling classes used to subjugate the lower classes, it provided an alternative channel for social interaction that Rome's extreme class stratification wouldn't otherwise permit. The Church provided a place where participants could be theoretically free from their social class, and equal with each other, if only for a little while. In effect they set up a back channel for all of the social interaction that couldn't take place in the main stream society of the day. It's also the real reason why Church (of any denomination) and State have to be separate - they each want to control one another. In less stratified societies this function becomes irrevelant and the Church becomes just another social club. Rome's Pagan religion adopted the "church" model under the Emperor Julian. Therefore, Neo-Pagan religions can adopt the church model if they choose to. Things got so intertwined that the Xtian Pope carries the same title as the old High Preist of Jupiter -- "Pontifex"

Since Faith has proven to be wrong, especially when its declared to be infallible, nothing of their absurd claims, wild promises, and ghastly threats means anything anymore. Because of this, many alternative religious and magickal paths are being tried out by curious moderns -- this has been called may things like the New Age, but its also something else, a return to Paganism or Neo-Paganism, whether one wishes to acknowledge this or not.

Shamanism as Spiritual Adveture

Shamanism (FAQ) is the personal experience, and it doesn't need a Mediator between the self and the divine. The Shamanic techniques were developed to allieviate Spiritual Emergencies within a clan or someone's life. When these emergencies happen to someone destined to become a in one's life, there is often a death and rebirth experience. Shamans are often healers, and the seek out help in the other world by ofen ancient trance techniques, and bring back answers to a patient or a community. To bring back these answers they may spiritully travel to the lower or the upper world, into the past or the future and other odd spaces. They exorcize harmful influences they believe cause disease. The spiritual disease that allowed the viruses and germs to gain a beachead in one's body to begin with. These techniques are not exclusively Native American, Siberian -- they've been known for several millenia by most of the People's of the World - part of the spiritual technology most religions and cultures share - including most of Pre-Xtian European cultures. Most of these techniques aren't dangerous, are very easy to use, ad they work just as well as some of the more extreme techniques, such as taking certain drugs.

The old Druidh technique for creating a true Bard, for instance, amounts to sensory deprivation for weeks at a time in a dark cave; The old Druidh technique for estatic trance involves being swaddled in a bull's hide and ingesting noxious substances -- there are better ways... With techniques that can either kill or cure: 'youse pays yer dough and ya' takes yer chances' - desperation need not be that desperate anymore. These things are fascinating to read about, but like a tiger's beauty - it's best appreciated from a distance (hopefully with barbed wire enhanced concrete moats in between) Of course, "we" (those who have medical insurance) now have Medical Doctor and HMOs who glom most of the healing work that's done these days - "Can you say MONE-OP-POE-LEE, boys and girls..??"

itzam_na The truth is, relatively few people, then or now, want to take the time to work with trance techniques, or take journeys to other less ordinary realms - the boss on your case, the mortgage is due, the other bills pile up, and the Ordinary Grind of Mundanity slowly takes its toll. But the general grind of Mundanity, which is safe but often terribly boring, can't protect one from the Spiritual World forever -- it's better to have the knowledge to light a candle than to hide in the darkness.

In most non-Western places, Shamans are valued professionals, and though their work is subjective, its probably more effective than psycho-analysis, psychology, and psychaiatry -- and its results are surprisingly similar across the many cultures that still practice it.

$HAMani$m vs. Shamanism

Carlos Casteneda brought the mystique of Shamanism and Sorcery to the 60's counter culture; while Michael Harner bought back some of the techniques of the Shamans he worked with in native cultures. Shamanism usually doesn't stand by itself, it's usually grounded in a culture that supports it. That's why the New Age Movement's "SHAMmanism" often rings false - it's more of a sham than not! The New Age habits of wrecking the cultures, and stealing the lifestyles, beliefs, and spirit to repackage them for trendy upscale wannabe buyers at outrageous prices; pretending to be an initiate of an "Native American" Tradition, then stealing their art, music and culture and and copyrighting them as original works is something the New Age "culture" has shown little or no shame over. "Missionary work", vandalism, and desecration of holy sites, and raping the Earth for crystals is just business as usual for the spiritual entrepreneur. The New Age Movement is infamous for "borrowing" the spiritual techniques of others, stripping them of their context so they can be mass merchandised as fads, novelties and entertainment for big bucks. The 'Mercan version of Western Culture is decadent and sick, and it'll exploit anything and anyone if it can make a buck off of it. It's a shame that most of the New Age Movement is the same way. These Shamanic techniques aren't that hard to find, they're readily available - it only takes some research time! $ave paying the fancy $$$$$s and do it yourself !! And remember -- Caveat Emptor !

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