As I talked about in the previous post I am revisiting my previous studies of shamanism, which is loosely defined as a way of living in which one examines and tests the connections of all things in nature. There are many different concentrations of the practice, some with healing priorities, some with teaching priorities, some with storytelling and tradition preservation priorities, some with fortune-telling and counseling priorities, and many others. One shaman can fulfill all of those functions or any combination of them. It isn't quite right to think of shamanism as specifically segmented as the medical profession with all of its specialties because shamans look at the whole as well as the parts and how all of it moves together harmoniously or not. A healer will need to teach and counsel and guide as part of the healing process. Sometimes storytelling and divination are vital aspects of the healing and guiding too. When I say fortune-telling/divination that means looking at signs, oracles, and all the "moving parts" of a situation and using all the mental tools (intuition, associations, common sense, basic "rules of nature" and so on) to predict the likely path of events. But surprises can also happen in that process.
In my previous studies and interests in shamanism I focused on the more occult, or mystical aspects of it - knowing the unseen and reading of signs and developing the intuitive sense - the fortune-telling aspects. Those are important things to study but I've learned that they are difficult to work with because it isn't always possible to get the feedback needed to know if the messages are mixed up or just plain wrong. And shamanism really depends upon the same kind of testing of ideas, treatments, etc. as scientific study. Shamans do not want to continue any action or course of treatment that is not working. Psychic knowledge is only useful if it is confirmed. I've heard a shaman use the term "direct revelation" to describe her approach, and that resonates with me. I found myself very frustrated by feeling like I was stumbling in the dark not knowing for sure if I was on the right path. That uncertainty was an important lesson in itself because the vast majority of our universe is darkness. Whether you call it dark matter, dark energy, the void or whatever name or concept for it, it is there and there is a lot of it. Our human existence is in the realm of light and it is really rather tiny in the grand spectrum. Trying to see into the dark can be fascinating, scary, frustrating, disappointing, overwhelming, addictive, thrilling, and so many big feelings. But focusing on the vast darkness can make one blind to the light and the subtleties it can illuminate.
My time with the dark and arcane sometimes led to some real mindfuckery, for lack of a better word. It's easy to fall into some delusional thinking when everything seems to have a deeper, hidden meaning, and when certain synchronicities, serendipities, and other ethereal entanglements seem substantial enough to be mutually experienced without actual solid confirmation. These mind games can be entertaining for a time, and sometimes they even cause real limbic, visceral responses. Those who practice phone, cyber, or whatever other "virtual" sex there might be know that just thoughts can be very physically arousing, and a good shared imagination can create fairly satisfying mutual experiences. I am willing to admit that I can't recreate that experience with just any random person. For me it has been rare to have a physical reaction without being in physical proximity but it has happened. Shamans have to learn how to deal with these energies because we view thoughts as things with their own energies and effects. We have to ask for confirmation so that we don't fall into delusions. Mindfucks aren't healing unless they are accompanied by supportive verbal communication. Always making others guess your real thoughts and feelings and making them second guess their own interpretations of interactions is a form of control, and sometimes even abuse when done maliciously. Usually, people are just trying to protect themselves from being hurt, but shamans are already hurt and learn to live with the pain that truth sometimes causes. But truth is ultimately less painful than delusion. Trying to manipulate people energetically (through thoughts but not "real" communication) is an illness that unethical shamans, or other ill people, might develop, but that kind of mindfuckery always backfires and needs to be corrected.
Now that I've lived through a lot more stuff and have a little more understanding about how the world works I am less interested in solving mysterious puzzles and trying to guess what this sign or that message really means. Not so much looking for hidden messages anymore. What hides itself is not of much use to me. I've grown beyond that hide and seek game and now want to concentrate on real actions, real solutions, real healing. Knowledge is all good and fine but this short life on this planet is incomplete without real engagement with it.
Shamans usually go through painful initiations. I've been through several. While we heal and learn we remain somewhat wounded because that keeps us sensitive, open and compassionate. Scar tissue is tough and somewhat numb, so there is a constant struggle to heal without becoming too armored by the physical and emotional scars of these initiations.
The popular stereotype of shamans and other types of spiritual "gurus" is that they are always wise and never make mistakes, but that is the fantasy. Most shamans wish to be always wise and knowing and right but if we are honest with ourselves and others we freely admit our mistakes and other downfalls. Sometimes we revisit former attachments. Maybe there is something new to learn or maybe it is just a mistake that we need reminded of its wrongness? Maybe time's passage has evolved misplaced magic into something else? Maybe we have to keep testing everything to make note of changing conditions and other variables? Always learning.
I've had to reread the shamanism tagged posts I've written a long time ago just to see if my recollections are accurate and to judge if my previous statements were completely stupid. For the most part they are all still fair and sometimes even better than I had remembered. I feel a bit more confident moving forward with my current thoughts and plans. My previous focus on animal symbolism and divination will continue to be part of my studies because there are lots of different ideas and traditions still to learn, but I am adding herbalism as a large part of the picture. As I mentioned my childhood experience of knowing that the plants would "talk" to me, I've come to the time and place where I am meant to learn much more about that. Shifting towards plant medicines is more "real" and measurable.
On our farm we have become licensed hemp growers. The State of Tennessee developed an "industrial hemp" program under which people can grow cannabis strains bred to have no THC (or very little) but high levels of CBD (non-intoxicating cannabinoid) that is therapeutic for pain, anxiety, and insomnia. Our first growing season and harvest were complicated and hampered by our daughter's wedding planning and building a new pole barn for that and future events and uses, but we did produce a small amount of a fairly good quality hemp flower. All hemp has to be independently tested to assure that the THC levels are low enough and that the CBD levels are high enough to be therapeutic. Cannabis is an extremely complex plant with many different cannabinoids and terpenes that we are only beginning to learn more about because of its suspect legal status and limited past research. State laws allowing CBD circumvent Federal law which still mostly views all cannabis as illegal though a bill was passed that created this loophole for the states and CBD. Anyway, it is only one part of the herbalism study I am undertaking. There are so many common plants that have medicinal compounds and properties. In addition to the traditional knowledge, we have a lot more scientific research that has confirmed (but sometimes contradict) these traditional uses.
And sure, another common stereotype of shamans is that they sit around drumming and using psychoactive plants to travel into the "dreamtime" or other dimensions, and that can be part of their practice and tools for their work. But so is being able to recommend other plant allies to assist with ailments and other problems at are solidly rooted in this immediate dimension. Our modern cultures and technologies have separated us from nature, and too often we have been told that we humans are not a good part of nature, that we are killing the planet even. This is not true! And shamanism, if it's truly honest, will work to remind humanity that it is absolutely a natural inhabitant of this world. Of course, our greater degree of conscience and self-determination come with greater responsibility for avoiding real abuse and complete destruction, but to say that humans are the worst part of the world is just not right. When beavers dam a waterway and cause habitat, breeding, and feeding destruction to other species those humanity-haters will say, "Oh, that's just what beavers do and all the other animals and plants will adapt. That is nature." Or when large herds of animals leave widespread damage in the wake of their seasonal migrations, that is the natural life. But when humans build our structures it's somehow unnatural or undesirable. Such nonsense is easily ingrained in people who do live their lives separated from nature. They only ever see concrete and other manmade surroundings and never see where their food is grown or where their garbage goes. They've only ever been given manmade pills (usually lab synthesized from plant compounds) to take for their illnesses, aches, or other ailments, never even aware that the actual whole plants might be even more effective because they are in the form that evolved along with us. We are part of nature, and we can care about it and use it responsibly without buying into all the nature-worship-people-hating religions that seek to destroy human development and evolution. I expect in my shamanic studies I will encounter a fair share of such misled souls, but I hope to be able to contribute the perspective of the naturalness of humans and how we have evolved within all of this nature and as such, we are deeply connected, symbiotic, and even necessary.
Well, this certainly ended up a lot longer than I'd expected. I have to say it feels pretty good to be writing things out again. I'm still a little rusty and might not consistently have time to do this like in the past. But here it is.