Have you read or heard something and now you are asking yourself, “Am I a shaman?” You are the final authority on your reality. No one can answer that question for you, however, let me provide you with some things to think about that might help to make this clearer.
What Is a Shaman?
“Shaman” is a Tungus (Russian) word that describes their name for a person who walks in the spirit world for the purposes of helping the living. It really doesn’t have any meaning outside that context because culture matters. What the person does in that role, and how she does it, varies from culture to culture, so using the word “shaman” generically isn’t all that useful or accurate.
Some indigenous or animist cultures have healers that don’t work in the spirit world, yet they are still called shaman by outsiders. So perhaps it is more useful to call each culture’s healers by the name that they use. For cultures that no longer have this tradition, I usually use the name spirit walker.
How are Spirit Walkers Chosen?
The answer to this question varies from culture to culture. Generally speaking, spirit walkers are chosen when the person is young. In some cultures, women can be chosen after child rearing is over and menopause sets in.
The initiation often follows a severe illness, near death experience, or some life changing event. During this process, the old person dies so that the spirit walker can be born. After this process, the old personality’s life is over. He or she may not care about the things they used to care about, may not like the things they used to, and has a radically altered personality and lifestyle. After a transition period, he is generally much wiser.
Spirit chooses spirit walkers. One cannot decide to become one. It’s a demanding and often painful life. These people tend to be isolated and strange. The work they do demands a lot from them. Although they are respected and are a part of the community, they often live on the fringes because they have one foot in the spirit world. As such they don’t have the same cares as other people. They don’t tend to be materialistic, egotistical, or business minded. In no culture that I know of does the spirit walker do this as a business. It’s a calling, a service.
Some cultures say that a person can refuse the call. Some say that to refuse is to die. In some cultures, if the gift is abused, the spirit walker spirit leaves the healer.
How Are People Trained for This Role?
Shamanism is an animist practice. It’s the belief in animism that gives power to the healer. The animist training for this role comes from culture. From birth spirit walkers are taught how to have relationships with Nature, people, plants, animals, and the ancestors just by watching how those around them live. Spirit walking is the ability to function in the nonmaterial world. Without this foundation, none of the work, love, or understanding required to do this work can exist. Everything is relational to animists.
The skills required to do this work come from the spirit walker spirit that now inhabits the human body. The person is not the healer. The person is the hollow reed through which the spirit walker works. As such, there is no “training” that happens. Some describe it as being downloaded with the information from all spirit walker incarnations that ever served the community. It’s like the spirit walker spirit never dies, but continues to learn and grow, finding different bodies to inhabit to do this service.
These are generalizations. They do not apply to all people in all cultures at all times. There are always exceptions. When the spirit comes to westerners, they need guidance to understand what is happening to them. They may need guidance to learn the basics of how to connect with their spirit guides.
Words of Warning
There are many people teaching shamanic skills now. Learning shamanic skills does not make one a spirit walker. One can have very effective healing skills without being a spirit walker. There are many forms of energy healing and faith healing that work very well. Spirit makes one a spirit walker.
In most indigenous cultures, this is not something that one desires or pursues. It is a burden, a responsibility, a sacrifice. If you feel called to this path, I urge you to consider what it means. Ask yourself if you have the necessary relationship with your ancestors and all of creation to do this well. The primary role of the Healer archetype is to heal oneself. Are you balanced enough in ego and health to serve?
Lots of people are on the shamanism bandwagon. Many people say that pathologies are spiritual. They say crises are calls to initiation. For example, I hear that highly sensitive people are very spiritual. Psychics and past life readers are telling their clients that they are shaman or were shaman in a past life. All symptoms are signs of dis-ease, however some really are mental or physical issues and should be treated as such.
So be careful. Consider the source and motivation of anyone who is saying they are a shaman or is suggesting that you are. If spirit choses you, you will know it. You will hear it from the spirit themselves. If you have to ask, “Am I a shaman?” the answer is probably no.