What is a Shaman?
When I say I am a Shaman, what does it mean today?
shaman[ shah-muhn, shey-, sham-uhn ]
(especially among certain tribal people) a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc. (source: dictionary.com)
Imagining what shamans or healers do in today’s world can be challenging – we don’t live in ancient tribal societies any more, and we don’t practice the ancient, indigenous, pre-civilization way of life.
Heck, most of us don’t experience terms like spirits, ancestors, rituals used often. So how can one claim to be a “shaman” and operate in this modern world we live in?
I would love to share my personal view on this question here.
To get started, let’s get a bit whimsy and nerdy…I feel like our modern life and culture show many “shamans” – here are some of my personal favorites.
We are surrounded by “shamans”!
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Oracle from the Matrix
Shamans are people who help with the following:
In human history, shamans served their communities with these responsibilities.
As a wiseman, wisewoman, elder, advisor, mentor, teacher who provided wisdom, clarity, and guidance. (Think Yoda in Star Wars, Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter.)
As a healer, medicine man, medicine woman, someone who healed physical wounds and illnesses as well as emotional or spiritual healing. (Think Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Grandmother Katara in the Legend of Korra.)
As a priest/priestess who led and presided over rituals for ancestors, nature, gods or deities of their culture. They also helped with death rites of those passing. (Think Mo’at in the movie, Avatar.)
As a mystic, fortune-teller, prophet to share prophecy, vision, divination, or spirit channelling. (My favorite is the Oracle in the movie Matrix.)
Maybe not with particular tasks or abilities, but as someone who was there for the hero, someone that listened, encouraged, empowered, and supported. (Think Moana’s grandmother.)
I am a shaman that performs these roles for my community and my clients. I use my intuitive gifts as well as my lived-in experiences – my wisdom is not just spiritual or intuitive, I bring all my training and experiences I have gained in my life so far. I am supported by my ancestral spirits and the deities of my Korean shamanic lineage, though my work is offered to people of broad cultures and backgrounds.
The use of word shaman and cultural appropriation is a much-discussed concern out there. My personal opinion of this complex issue (without going too much into detail) is that when one practices with the right intentions of respecting, honoring, learning and sharing about the lineage and culture, it is divine, regardless of their skin color or cultural origin. On the other hand, the intentions of exploitation, appropriation, judging, policing, shaming, cancelling or attacking is not divine.
At the core of most shamanism principles, we talk about the soul’s journey. Our soul is on a journey, and right now our soul is experiencing this very own human life. Our soul has already experienced many past lifetimes of different cultures, timelines, and stories before this current one, and will continue to reincarnate and journey on. Our goal then, is to try to have as much authentic, meaningful, thriving, loving, joyful experience in this lifetime with grace and kindness.
We’re all just walking each other home.
– RAM DASS
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