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Monday, March 8, 2010

Making the Shift From Shaman to Animist Healer

As many of us know the term or label Shaman has become a loaded subject, a humpty dumpty word, and a term clouded with so many personal definitions and political associations that to utilize the word is an invitation to an extremely difficult discourse. I have mentioned before the need to revisit the original etymology of the word shaman and work from there. If we closely examine the word we see that it means “ one who knows” and as I pointed out previously here and the back yard shamanry page, it would seem that the distinction is that a shaman is one who knows about the animist cosmology of their people... at least enough to be called one who knows about it!


I have been finding more and more in my dialogs with others, as well as in my thinking and writing that this loaded term may be too difficult to work with any more. It was borrowed from the Tungus people and utilized by colonialism to describe something much to vast to go under one categorized anthropological label. The very vague nature of the term has allowed it to be specific and warped by the motives of individuals that do not always carry the clearest of intentions either.

So what do we do know? What would be and adequate shift in our terminology that no longer carries with it the clouded much debated qualities this term has come to hold? Even the use of the term shamanry as apposed to shamanism, though still a helpful clarification is still such a loaded coinage that it does not allow us to communicate clearly still. Not to mention that many traditional indigenous animists have brought up their grievance with the use of the word in labeling their own cultural practices.

My proposal is simple, and straight forward allowing clarity as well as a much needed opening line to discussing the importance of animism recognition today. The shift I think we require in describing that which has been labeled “shaman” in the past is to center the term itself in animism again. The terms Animist healer or Animist visionary healer, or animist spiritual leader, depending on the context of the relational dynamic a community has with their spiritual practitioners seems to work to create more clarity over all.

Working with this terminology instead of “shaman” helps in several ways. For one it redirects our attention to animism the origin point of what has been called erroneously “shasmanism”, it communicates clearly what we mean instead of working with a vague and cloudy definition that up to as many interpretations in today’s spiritual and academic circles as there are wasps in a wasp nest. It allows people to begin to see the relationship between people and place between being a healer and being an animist ie. having a relationship with nature for the purpose of healing. It also lets go of the potential for cultural appropriation and allows for people to discover their own unique ways of relating as a healer and as an animist.

Making a shift in our language helps make a shift in our understanding as well as our perception and behavior. It is my hope and has been along with the bioregional animism project that this shift occur so that the real strength of animist healing can really come forth in the world in new yet very ancient ways. In ways that are integrated in relationships with place, spirit and community. Essentially when one is communicating to another that they are an animist healer or that they are participating in an animist healing ceremony ect. they are telling some one that they are participating in a healing ceremony that revolves around a relational ontology. That they are participating in a relationship with spirit, with place, with community both human and other than human for the well being of not just themselves but that spirit, that place, and those people, both human and other than human.

It is my hope that in perpetuating this shift we will see practices evolve out of the armchair of the neo-shamaic counselors office space but into the permacultured gardens of communities that work with the land and cultivate not only fruits but intimate communicative relationships that create abundance, health and the ability to thrive, while keeping to our values as animist people.

Time will tell if this catches on... it is my prayer that it does!

4 comments:

Forest Goblin said...

While I agree with your idea and have experienced problems numerous times when dealing with terms that have multiple definitions, I still will probably use shamanism, or shamanry, because a big part for me is finding a community to belong to. I wish to be a part of a community of like minded people. Realistically I will be a shaman, animist healer/visionary, of my own tradition that is based on my relationships with many different types of persons, whom are mostly local to my area. The problem of using a more specific, and correct, label is that it lessens my ability to find a community. If I look for shaman meetups, lets say, I will find some fairly easily. However, if I look for animist healer meetups, odds aren't good that I will find any. Which, since in my definition they are the same thing, is unfortunate as there would be a lot of common ground. I could go on but I am probably rambling at this point. Perhaps my point of view also shows some sort of issue I have that I haven't quite figured out yet. I have to think about that. I liked this part of your post a lot: "It is my hope that in perpetuating this shift we will see practices evolve out of the armchair of the neo-shamaic counselors office space but into the permacultured gardens of communities that work with the land..."

little lightening bolt said...

I see your concern. My hope with bioregional animism has always been to inspire people to co-create their own communities whilst working towards developing a clarification of the urge to participate in this work.
Ever thought of starting up a local meeting of people focused on the subject of bioregional animism and animist healing?

Alice Kytler said...

I can understand what Forest Goblin is trying to say too. As much as we might well-meaningly want to adopt more specific and direct terms there is always a need to speak the language that others understand when we are trying to talk across large barriers of space. I sometimes wish there weren't so many words, and every one someone seems to have a problem with, or it is incorrect in some way.
In my regional context I've taken to simply referring to myself as a 'Folk Healer' because the less precise nature of this term allows me to take in 'animistic visionary techniques' and also herbal remedies and other things I work with.

muzuzuzus said...

I also would like to share this with you to. Years ago I by chance--hadn't been looking for this perspective--a book called Shamanism: The Foundations of Magic, by Ward Rutherford. It is VERY off-the-beaten track because the author presents a critique of shamanism! Not often do we hear this, right? Like you say that term is bandied about SO much, and its use for ALL indigenous healers has seriously annoyed some traditional people (Google WE DO NOT HAVE SHAMANS) It is also often made out that the very roots OF the sense of the sacred begins with shamanism, however the author disagress and says there are at least two streams---the shamanistic tradition and the Goddess ecstatic communal tradition. An example of the latter would be the original (before the Orphic reformation) Dionysian Mysteries where ALL Celebrants partake of the mind-altering sacrament and beong 'possessed'. In this context there is no spiritual leader, healer, or shaman. All the people willingly enter into an ecstatic healing ritual.

Rutherford claims that the male pre-dominant shamans did not like this Goddess communal form of ecstatic possession as he saw it as a threat to his spiritual authority.

These are very interesting and controversial views, and I would have loved to have discussed them with this author but have never been able to find an easy contact for him.

MY spirit is attracted for to the self-healing and/or communal type ecstatic form of psychedelic ritual, although I also respect the shamanic model. VIVRE LE DIVERSITY! :)))