Tag Archives: Shaman

Walking with the Ancestors Part 4-B

Usti strode along the bank of the ancient river, known from the earliest times as the home to his people. Here, for ages long past, and far beyond the memory of the living, his ancestors and their ancestors had made their camps.

He looked around, and pulled his furs tighter around him. He knew well that the cold winds would be coming soon, and the snows of winter. He walked up river, towards the source of the waters, because that was the way that would lead him back home, and to his mate and children.

As he rounded a bend in the river, the camp came into sight. Several of his friends and relatives were busy working on their homes. The nearest of these was erected from the bones of a mammoth, which had been taken during the last hunt. The large, heavy bones made up the walls, and the woman of the house was busy lacing together reindeer antlers, which would be used as part of the roof. Their son was helping too, busy pulling new furs and hides over their home. Everyone in his village knew the cold would be coming soon.

Smoke rose from several of the houses, but he was heading towards the one he shared with his family. He passed by several other houses as he walked, and many people greeted him from around their outdoor fires. As he passed by another house, a man with a shirt of wolf skin caught his eye. Usti nodded, because the man was one of great honor. He was the one who Spoke with the People.

The two men held their gaze for a moment, and then the Old Wolf came over to Usti.

“Have you been walking the river again?” The Old Wolf asked.

Usti nodded.

“I watched the fish as they swam down the river. I came upon a group of deer farther down, and they ran once they saw me.” Usti said. The Old Wolf nodded.

“That is the way of these things. Is your mate well?” The Old Wolf said, and Usti saw something in his eyes. He knew that look well, and he knew that the Old Wolf had knowledge that Usti did not.

“She was well when I set out this morning. She is heavy with child, and has trouble walking.” Usti said, with a laugh. The Old Wolf nodded.

“She will be having a girl.” The Old Wolf said. Usti felt the smile cross his face.

“A girl?! It will be my first daughter!” Usti exclaimed.

“It will be. And she will be a fine hunter, among the finest.” The Old Wolf said.

“The People have told you this?” Usti said. The shaman nodded.

Usti could barely contain the joy that he felt. He would have a daughter, and she would be a fine hunter. He filled with pride, but still he saw the look that lingered in the Old Wolf’s eyes.

“Is there more?” Usti asked.

“Would you walk with me?” The Old Wolf said.

Usti nodded, and the two of them set out of the village towards the west. He walked in silence by the old man, because he knew it was rude to break the silence just for the sake of talking. The Old Wolf was wise beyond any man, and when he spoke others listened. The Old Wolf was not the kind to speak of trivial things, and he was also the kind that kept much knowledge to himself. Usti had only spoken with the man a handful of times.

“There are things you should know, because my time among our people is short.” The Old Wolf said.

“You have many winters ahead of you.” Usti said. The Old Wolf shook his head.

“No, that is not what the People have in store for me. I fear the People may call to me before the coming one has ended. Or maybe the one after next, if they are willing.” The Old Wolf said.

“Why do you tell me these things?” Usti said.

“Because they must be said before I am called away. It is about your daughter.” The Old Wolf said.

“You said she will be a great hunter. What more could a father want?” Usti said.

“She will be more than a great hunter, Usti. In time, she will grow to be much more than that.” The Old Wolf said, as he started to undue the lacing of the old black wolf who kept watch over his shoulder.

“What are you doing?!” Usti exclaimed. The Old Wolf slowly folded the black fur, and muttered to himself all the while. Usti stood staring at him speechless.

At last, the old man held out the fur to Usti. Usti stepped back several paces.

“I can not take this…” Usti said.

“It is not for you. In time it will be for your daughter.” The Old Wolf said.

Usti felt like he was going to faint.

“You will have to give it to her, because I fear I will not linger long enough to give it to her myself.” The old man said.

The Old Wolf pushed the black wolf skin into Usti’s hands, making it clear that he had no choice but to take it.

Commentary;

This one is a little bit shorter. I worried about it getting too long if I kept it going. Admittedly, I had to take some liberties with this one. Give or take 10,00 years worth of liberties. This is because that all we have of the Ust Ishim man is a femur, and while the genome it has given us is nothing short of amazing; there is still a lot we do not know about the time when the Ust Ishim (uncreatively called Usti here) lived.

His femur was not found in the context of a village, and as far as I know, not even in the context of other bones. Aside from the genome sequence from the bone itself, it has little else to tell us about archaeologically. As such, I used inspiration from other similar sites scattered across the Upper Paleolithic. The inspiration for village was from the Malta-Buret Culture, which will appear again in this series. Other inspirations include several years worth of research and study, and I cannot detail them all here.

Join me next time as I take the next step in this journey.

And as always, thank you for reading!

Sources, References;

Malta-Buret Culture

Wikipedia – Upper Paleolithic


Pondering Shamanism Part 2

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?


Pondering Shamanism Part 1

First off, let’s start with updates. The new job is going well, I enjoy it and am generally happier. I have been revising some of my previous work. After writing several books (only 2 published at the moment), I am learning certain tricks and techniques that only come with experience. Thus, with my new experience, I can look back upon old work and see what I can do better.

The bow I was working on broke during tiller. Oh well, time to try again. I got to work a little on a couple of knives. They move a little closer to finishing. I am still bothered by my current lack of work space. Some days, I honestly wish I had the means to make my own workshop. The wife and I continue to look at houses, but so far nothing has really struck our fancy. A garage will serve I think. That is one of my requirements, naturally.

This post is the result of a conversation, and something I have been thinking about for some time. I engaged in conversation lately with a member of my small working group, and he raised many interesting points. I asked why he had called me “shaman” in the past, and the long and short he said it fits. When I said I do not consider myself a shaman, he followed up with “why not?” I cannot say I could answer that question. I do not know, frankly. The question has left me confused in a very profound way.

So I decided to explore the idea in a little more depth.

So what does being a shaman mean? In some ways, it is too inclusive a term. I could talk about the Tungus of Siberia, and the origins of the term ‘shaman’. I will not, and that information can be found elsewhere. I am just going to put it out there, I do not agree in any way with Harner’s core shamanism. I have read it, and the anthropologist in me rages at most things he has to say. Shamanism as a concept is a cultural complex, something that is deeply rooted in the context in which it arose. The Tungus shamans are not the same as the Sami shamans, who are in turn are different from North American shamans. Shaman-ism, is the idea of the shaman. The is what ‘ism’ means, ‘the idea of’. Sure, similarities can be found, but it is by no means a universal concept.

That being said, I turn now to Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova for some more detail. According to their book Neolithic Shamanism, they define shamanism as; “a spiritual and magical practice that involves working with spirits and is designed to serve others.” They go on to say that “basically, being a shaman is a job.” An important point in my opinion.

They go on to shape further distinctions. First, they detail a spirit worker; defining it as “A spirit worker is someone who works on a constructive basis. It’s an umbrella term…” It is fair to say I qualify under this definition. As an animist, it is fair to say I am a spirit worker. Moving on.

“Shamanic Practitioners have trained in as many techniques as they have the ability to learn, and with what psychic knack they have, and what energetic “wiring” they have, without the trauma and “rebuilding” of shamanic death.” Her again is another qualifier, the shamanic death. This is often in the context of an initiation crisis, but like all such diverse things, not always. I also think I qualify under this concept, but it is the shamanic death that is the kicker here.

And lastly, the shaman; “A shaman is someone who has been seized by the Gods or spirits (or both), sometimes without their consent, and is irrevocably changed on an energetic level by them in order to do work that would fry the circuits of anyone unaltered. This is usually accomplished through a “shamanic death”, a long illness (sometimes of many years) that can be physical or mental but is incurable by modern medicine and eventually brings the person very close to actual death.” Ok, perhaps at least under this definition I am way out of my league. I have had no such experience, at least in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have some experience, but none I would qualify as this. So, spirit worker? Yeah. Shamanic practitioner, maybe. Shaman, nope. Not under this definition anyways. Though I do concede being seized by spirits, ancestors and gods. Perhaps just not “rewired.” At least, not yet.

There has been much written about shamanism in the anthropological literature, and it would be impossible to recap it all here. However, I would like to touch a bit on some other definitions. The following will come from the book “Studies in Lapp Shamanism” by Louise Backman and Ake Hultkrantz. (Specials characters have been removed from both names.) Let it be said that I will avoid the use of the word “Lapp” wherever possible, as it is an insulting and outdated word for the Saami people of north Scandinavia and surrounding areas.

The authors openly question in the open chapter of the book if “shaman”, like “animism” or “totemism” are useful concepts at all. In their own words; “However, phenomena like totemism, animism, fetishism, and shamanism are today highly debated as facts – do they occur at all? – and as concepts.”

The authors go on to explain that shamanism, as a concept does not point to one particular thing, but more of a range of interconnected parts that make up the concept of the “shaman”. An ideological complex. In their own words; “Thus there are four important constituents of shamanism: the ideological premise, or the supernatural world and the contacts with it; the shaman as actor on behalf of a human group; the inspiration granted him by his (or her) helping spirits, and the extraordinary, ecstatic experiences of the shaman.”

They further detail these “constituent” parts by detailing the shaman’s tasks. These are all supplementing with extra details which I have omitted.
1) The shaman is the doctor/healer…
2) The shaman is the diviner…
3) The shaman is the psychopomp, who escorts the souls of the dead to the afterlife.
4) The shaman is the hunting magician of the group.
5) The shaman is the sacrificial priest.

Given my nature, I can identify strongly with #4, as well as with #5 and #3. It would be fair to say all fit, though perhaps in an unbalanced way.

More to come in Part 2.

References:

Backman and Hultkrantz “Studies in Lapp Shamanism.”
Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova. “Neolithic Shamanism.”
http://www.thejaguarandtheowl.com/2013/06/