Now, it would be easy to pick sources and talk about definitions and examples at great length. I may do so in the future, but at the time being I wanted to take a bit of a different direction. I asked a few modern day shamans their thoughts.
Those that participated in this interview were Marco Cabrera, Jim Stovall, Tim (Sarenth Odinsson) and Heather Powers. I much indebted to them for their participation.
On the general ‘traits’ of shamanism;
Tim has this to say; ” I think that trying to say anything across the board with shamanism is possibly painting with too broad of a brush. The initiations are different from religion to religion, from shaman to shaman, so far as I can see. So too, the duties. One shaman might be called to be a healer and the other a warrior, and another a peacemaker. A shaman might be called to do all these things, being *the* spiritual authority for their people.
The requirements to be called to be a shaman to begin with might be a peak spiritual experience, an illness, or something else entirely. Receiving the call might take place at a holy place, at a shrine, through another shaman, or be passed down from generation to generation.
I can speak from my experience: I was called by Odin during a peak spiritual experience, a guided meditation. After several years of *not* following Him, He finally came back into my life when Anubis handed me off to Him and said our Work would be going on the backburner. That was followed up with a great deal of prayer and other work as Odin molded me to the task of becoming a shaman, reworking my wiring, so to speak. Sometimes there were powerful experiences at my altar, and other times just small tweaks as I prayed every day and developed my relationship with Him, and discipline in my Work I was being called to do.”
I think being a shaman is also about service in another capacity. It is about keeping ways alive, of forging ahead in new ways where needed or called, and helping keep the foundation of a community strong. It is about keeping the bonds between the Gods, Ancestors, landvaettir, and/or vaettir strong. Not every shaman is a healer, not every shaman is a warrior; we may be called to a great many things in our capacity as a shaman, or only a few.”
Marco ” I feel like I have something to contribute. Now I would acquiesce to the insight of Jim or Tim, I trust their insight and experience above my own thus far. But What I would say makes someone a Shaman, is the calling and willingness to assist people where theY are, and help to guide them forward. I have heard the phrase, “Does it help the corn grow?” several times as an indicator of success. I have been seeing the way you can subtly (and more strongly) guide people in a unified direction to help them see the potential in themselves that they had not seen before. Bringing people together for a single common (and in this case beneficial) purpose, is a means of making the corn grow. Giving back to the community you serve. Whether or not, those you help are aware of your hand in it.”
The topic then shifted to functions and duties.
Marco ” On the topic of different types of Shaman. I think there are different types, but I don’t think it is a “Roll the die” and figure out your mana source kind of thing. I think it is like life. We have many roles we play, and some we are better at than others. I am a healer, and I am a warrior. These traits are both very strong, and it forced me to really think/meditate/pray/ponder/ask/answer/etc… at length. I learned that these two things DO NOT CONFLICT. They are two roles I need to play, at two different times, and they support each other. I think we all have multiple roles we are skilled with, and even more we will be called upon to use. Forcing us to grow. And that growth becomes homage to the deities and spirits that help you, and to your community, that you help.”
Jim adds; “A shaman is not JUST a warrior or a healer, but may have to be these things at one time or another. While aptitude, talent or inclination may be a factor, what differs more is a matter of technique. Think of a group of artists. If you give them the same supplies, and ask them to create something to benefit their community, they will each create something different, but they are all still artists. To some degree, there is variance between inclinations or natural talents, or perhaps the spirits a shaman works with. One shaman may defer to another if the question is not suited to his spirits. Though he may be suited to the question at a future time, as time is also a factor.”
On the topic of “shamanic deaths”, initiation crisis’ and other such ordeals.
Marco had this to say; ” You said “ordeal” and it made me cringe. Almost 2 years ago now, I had hardly heard the word Shaman. It was a reference to a “1-trick” magician from a couple of series of novels I enjoyed. And then one day, I came down with a headache. Like, brought to my knees. It was the worst headache of my life. Everyday, the previous days headache was made to seem easy to manage comparatively to the new beast. After 2 doctor visits, weaker, then stronger antibiotics, and 10 days… (2 weeks?) of agony, I had a vision. “Become the biggest Brujo you can become.” I instantly saw Brujo as Male Witch, which guided me to a friend that recommended me to Jim ASAP. I passed on the part about 2 spirits and Rob was like, you need to speak to a shaman friend of mine. So I did. And It was ironic enough that Jim’s lineage is from the same place where “Brujo” was coined.”
So where does all this leave this discussion? In my opinion, with a lot more questions. It would seem there is no single definition for “shaman”, as well as a variety of forms one may take. However, out of this come similarities as well, and most hinge around the idea of service to the supernatural as well as to humans, and mediating the divide in between. There is certainly plenty of follow up to do. This post is little more than a stepping stone.
I feel at this point just as confused as when I started. Certainly, I am left with more questions.
I wonder further about the nature of the ‘work’? How do modern shamans serve there communities? In what ways, and using what methods? I would like to see more about the nature of initiations. Is there a definite point where one becomes a shaman, or is it a gradual process? How do shamans relate to their spirits? How do spirits relate to their shamans? Is shamanism something inherited, something passed down, or something else entirely? So many questions…
Yet, I am also curious to ask if anyone has anything to add out there? Maybe some more questions of your own? Perhaps some of my readers my submit to an interview on this topic?