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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shamanry vs Shamanism

Lets look for a moment at then suffix after the world shaman.... ism... this designates that the term shaman is a belief system. Indeed is is not a belief system and there never was of will be a real shamanism. Which is quite the thing to say in the face of multiple books, workshops, and new age mystics talking about it, even college text books... but there is no such thing as shaman'ISM'. There are animists and there are shamans... but I want to get to that in a second...
The etymology of the word shaman means some one who knows... whats the difference between one who knows about basket weaving and the one who knows about say spirits and the cosmology of their people. They are both ones who know... but the basket weaver is not going to be called a shaman. So what do we mean when we say that someone is one who knows? What we are talking about is that someone knows perhaps more then us about life as an animist.
the term shamanism has in some ways really held us back. It has prevented us from seeing the forest from the trees... we see shamans instead of the cultures and belief systems they emerge from. We see them divorced from animism. In honesty we cannot have shamans with out animism, for an shaman is one who knows much or enough to be said they know some something ( and any one that knows more then you is an expert) about being an animist!
one who knows
In some ways this demystify's the role of shaman a bit, it also rids us of the notion that the role of shaman is a belief system and redirects our attention from the bells and bone whistles to the actual belief system that shamans participate also places animism as well as knowing much about animism into our laps... this to me is empowering, and takes us out of the fraudulent messiness we have found ourselves in with silly new age neo-shamanism and disjointed psychotheraputic practices. We can all be one who knows as much as we motivate ourselves to know, and those that know more become teachers, guides and helpers. Knowing this allows us to cultivate our own relationship dynamics with nature and spirit, life and death, and inspires creativity, co-creating new emergent forms of being in "relationship" with life. We can find inspiration from other animist, learn from those that know more then we do about their own relationship, but seeing full well that our relationship is ultimately very much up to us to create, cultivate, and nurture.
This also places the relationship in our hands... and right "smack" in front of us, as they say. If animism is a relational ontology and shamans are those that know much about relational ontology then we can see that there cannot be a lack of relationship between this cosmology and its integration in how we live our lives... weekend warriors and office space practitioners of shamanic arts in the middle of the urban landscape don't make as much sense as they once did, the relationships seem unstable and shaky and ineffectual.
You start want to have a relationship with your food, with your housing, and clothing... all of the other than human persons that give you life and a sense of meaning and purpose have a relationship with us... taking the 'ism' out of shamanism forces us to take a deper harder look at those relationships.
It is perhaps the need to do just that that draws modern western minds to shamans and animists, and why we find people rediscovering that one can just be an animist by developing respectful relationships with life again. They don't need to culturally appropriate or imitate the relationships of others to be an animist. They do not need workshops and sage burning gurus and they don't need to line the pockets of coyotes to establish these relationships if they don't want to.
Some academics have pointed at shamanry as being a better coinage for the work of a shaman or "animist that knows much about being an animist". I prefer this word. It makes a good point... since when has there been carpenter-ism, teacher-ism, dentist-ism and doctor-ism. Because the word shaman is etymologically unknown to many folks... it would only make sense that we would botch this one up fairly good. My hope though is that we begin to see the difference between shamanry and shamanism, the interconnected relationship between shamans and animists and we start being able to cultivate a more grounded and integrated shamanry and animism then what the new age profiteers and misled academics have provided us...