Into the Mystic:
Before the era of mainstream spirituality and experiential ontology, religion ruled the kingdom of belief. Billions of congregational followers flocked to their chosen church, temple, synagogue, mosque, shrine or sacred monument to seek answers only their Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Imam or Guru could provide. Then, the spiritual revolution occurred and suddenly many seekers woke up to the realization they alone were responsible for their salvation.
Suddenly, the western world was awash with books, lectures, seminars, weekend retreats, weekly classes and You Tube videos selling shamanism as an applicable profession in the “real” world. For hundreds or thousands of dollars one could become a shaman and almost instantly open a practice and facilitate ceremonies to heal and teach others to become one as well. Eventually, common spiritualists came out in droves to answer this inauthentic, materialistic calling of the “new age.”
The shaman movement attracted curious, newly awakened, spirit-starved romantics seeking instant enlightenment through the repackaging of the oldest practices in the world. Enter the opportunist that would reinvent the role of the intercessor to guide the re-born masses to Shambhala. Now, more than anytime in the history of humanity, we see such a buzz and hullabaloo around the spiritual title “shaman,” and the broad range of modalities in which they may perform.
All That Glitters is not Gold:
In the midst of the excitement and fervor, these ancient ways were “modernized” into a form easier to understand, attain and practice. The very essence of these sacred traditions and the experience required to properly practice them were sacrificed upon the altar of spiritual egotism and personal profit. The rituals that had taken decades of time or longer to traditionally learn and perform would take only a matter of months, weeks or even days to the contemporary shaman.
The more this spiritual wildfire spread, the more the traditions were altered and/or re-invented to gratify a popular want in modern society. Millions of people have been introduced to ways aged in the hundreds and thousands of years. Yet, their teachers are not all wise and learned elders whose bloodlines had carried the cultural customs for generations. The majority of the intercessors are merely actors most often playing a role that is far beyond their comprehension, ability, humility and commitment.
Now, it has become a trend to be a shaman. Many mystify the masses with charisma, confidence, a little bit of knowledge and presentation ceremonies that may even harm the patients or participants more than they heal. They have shifted the focus of the practice more upon themselves than on the spirits sourcing the medicine or the people requesting healing. In many ways, the contemporary shaman has stigmatized and discredited the medicine way and caused challenges for the traditional ceremonial healers and their tribes. The spiritualization and glamorization of these ancient, sacred paths have altered them forever.
The Heart of the Tribe:
There is a vital distinction between one who labels oneself a shaman and one who is a traditional ceremonial healer. The ceremonial healer most often has grown up and lives in or around the community the medicine tradition has been kept. The shaman most often has/does not. The healer is willing to conduct a ceremony for very little financial return. The contemporary shaman most often may not. Most people whom practice ceremonial medicine do not call themselves shaman and some do not even know what that is.
In indigenous communities, those whom have understood plants, roots and our relation to the natural world have always held a vital role in the health and well being of their tribe. Even to this day, when conventional doctors and the medical industry cannot treat the direst of situations, many traditional ceremonial healers are consulted and willing to help. More often than not, they are severely under-compensated in comparison to modern-day physicians. Yet, the commitment they made upon first entering their lifetime service far outweighs any concerns of comfort, convenience or status.
For many traditional ceremonial healers their experience began from the time they were adolescents, some from the time of childhood and some even from the time they were born. It was a way of life for them for decades before the elders of their tribe acknowledged them as a leader on the medicine path. To this day, it is a custom and a lifestyle that helps to sustain the strength, wisdom, history and ritual of their culture. It is a tradition that preceded them long before they were born and will succeed them long after they have passed.
Few are called, Even Fewer are Chosen:
With the steady stream of spiritual practices and their accessibility over the last century, a decisive and detrimental shift has occurred. There has been a gradual disassociation between the roots of these ancient ways and how they are conveyed and exist in the modern world. To a great degree, the commercialization and popularization of these traditions has diminished their power and altered the expression of their energy. The contemporary spin of these ancient practices has also provided inaccurate depictions and unrealistic perceptions to the unaware and unsuspecting novice.
The traditional medicine way is not something one may choose to become; it is something that chooses the ceremonial healer. When this sacred exchange is established between the person who vows to help others and the spirits who bring the medicine, it is as natural as the progression of life. They exhibit an awareness, intent and humility rarely beheld or experienced in our modern society. Their commitment and dedication is beyond comfort, convenience, reason, sense and imagination.
As with many ceremonial practices, it is not about service to the self for financial, social or personal, spiritual benefit. It is not about the number of patients/followers or how many referrals one may gather. Rarely, if ever, does an authentic traditional healer consider ceremonial medicine an occupation or primary source of income. It is about service to all without attachment. It is the understanding and practice that the health and well being of a person in need far exceeds maintaining an image of importance or a lucrative practice.
The path of the traditional healer is one of the most difficult ones to walk. There are very few, if any, reference points and it requires an extraordinary level of consciousness, compassion, purpose and dedication. An authentic ceremonial lifestyle requires everything of the traditional healer. There are no shortcuts and no concessions. The ceremonial path may be one of the most amazing lifestyles we as human beings may experience.
If the shaman represents the branch of the ceremonial tree, the traditional healer is its root.