Tag: paganism

Plight of the Spiritual Renegade: Finding a Respectable Soul Worker

I’ve been sitting with this article on the shaping of shamanism as a dangerous industry in South America, particularly with the use of entheogens as induction into ecstatic trance. I don’t condemn or condone the use of substances in trance work, though everyone I know who uses them never does so alone, always with a trusted master of such approaches to the spirit realm. The use of such chemicals is the focus of the article, though I’m not convinced it should be.  I think something more compelling is at work.

That said, I’ve written several blogs and articles on the pattern of believing enlightenment hides in some far off land, and that trend concerns me deeply. Again, whatever works for you. Whatever gets you there. It is with all caution in mind that I say, the trade of spiritual tourism isn’t limited to tribal nations or economically oppressed countries. A thriving business of spiritual healing exists right here in the US, with potential wonders and dangers of its own. Recall 2009’s James Arthur Ray sweatlodge fiasco. The truth is, we’ve never had to travel far and wide to find charlatans, anymore than we’ve had to in order to find enlightenment.

Culturally, we are perched on the border of very interesting territory. We see old regimes falling, organized religions crumbling. Many seekers readily identify a hunger to connect with deeper meaning in life, a need to caretake self at every level available. Yet, even though many are leaving those old systems, we still carry with us old engrained truths. Foremost is thTheosophie & Alchemiee belief that we cannot, should not,  find enlightenment for ourselves, that we must defer to a schooled master of esoteric truths, who will instruct us along the journey to find our own.  Punishment for seeking enlightenment through ourselves is deeply engrained. As well, so many are deeply hurt or turned off by the established institutions that we run to anything that doesn’t resemble them for help. We don’t believe that enlightenment lives in our backyard–literally in the faces that look like ours, the Nature that graces our every day, the circumstances of our own creation.

These seem like small concerns, though they actually manifest as widespread cultural spiritual emergency, leaving people vulnerable to all manner of healers, energy workers, shamans, and exotic adventures that promise great release. Coming from historic frameworks that taught us no spiritual autonomy, the senses to intuit what is in our best interest are often undeveloped. Particularly for those in pain, every healing modality sounds promising, every practitioner is a saviour. Given that, I think it’s important for spiritual renegades to feel supported in finding the path and soul healing approaches that are right for them.  In fact, I think the following considerations are good guidelines for anyone taking their spiritual path, direction, and healing into their own hands:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Just because a modality is spiritual doesn’t make it magickal, or honest. All healing approaches take work, usually of the disciplined mindful variety. They also take time. Anyone who says you can be fully healed in one session and offers no support for processing the results of the work after that session likely will do more harm than good.  As well, anyone who says s/he can heal you is working through ego more than soul.
  • Seek services from practitioners referred by someone you know. If you don’t know how to choose a practitioner best for you, ask a deeply trusted friend for insight.
  • If you have no referrals, do lots of research. Read. Study. Ask tons of questions. Any practitioner who won’t give you free insight into their work and how they do it isn’t worth your time, let alone your money.
  • Work only with practitioners who honor you. If you feel disregarded, manipulated, further hurt, insulted, or otherwise compromised by a practitioner, this person is not acting in your best interest. Please also know that this person is not representative of other such practitioners.
  • Above all, honor your gut feeling about a modality, as well as the practitioner. If a modality is right for you, but the practitioner isn’t, find someone else. If the practitioner feels right but the modality doesn’t, ask if the work can be done a different way. Wherever you are on the path of cultivating your intuition, you have deep signals that tell you when something isn’t good for you. Honor them. They are your best ally.

Though many of us have been on alternate spiritual paths and/or held the role of soul wellbeing facilitator for decades, this road still looks wild and daunting to those who are newly seeking support and direction. I encourage other spiritual healing practitioners to become involved in an active effort to educate clients and the general public about your work, why you do it, how you do it. Education will be the thing that not only informs our culture of its shamanic legacy and potential, it will also be the force that heals us all.

The Darker Side of Lightwork

Kelley, The spirit of Tara, my ex wife and dear friend, has appeared to a new psychic friend. She seems to be warning me of something harmful that is coming. Three days ago was the seven-year anniversary of her passing, which was very unusual and unexpected in the jungle of Ecuador, while doing Ayahuasca with shamans. Any insight? Thanks, Flash.

Ecuador Butterfly 5707 Thanks for your note, Flash. The anguished aspect of Tara that I met was still in the jungle. You and I have done work around her death years back, though something that became evident this time was that this aspect of her was being held back on purpose, through no efforts of her own. I realized this as when I met her this time, she pointed behind me to a seething spiritual presence of indigenous magick that draws on the abilities of others. It appeared as a group of men dressed in plants, wool, and body paint.

My understanding from the altercation that transpired between myself and the men was that Tara wasn’t being held only for her intuitive abilities to be usurped by them, but everyone who energetically reached back to the point of her death in an attempt to understand what happened to her or do release work around her death, was being wicked of their abilities, as well. I don’t pretend to know what this presence was, it’s particular method, etc. What was clear is that they were a local force that had long-mastered the ability to draw on the spiritual abilities of others for their own use. They recognized Tara as a powerful intuitive, and they decided to keep this aspect of her soul there for good, to continue using and attract other intuitives to come find her. As these innocents came to help Tara, they would be leeched of power, possibly rendered unable to help Tara. In other words, this magickal force attached to those who have attempted to help Tara, and remained attached, drawing on power from many people over the years–including you. Especially you.

My guides intervened and took over the whole situation. They bound that presence to Nature, such that it can be gradually healed and released. It didn’t feel right to just yank it out and remove it. There was a need for this presence to come to know a more connected, balanced way of holding magickal power. Until such time, it is bound to Nature. Healing was done for Tara, whose final words upon her deathwalk were, “Heal Flash.” All healing that could be done for you and those who have attempted to help Tara over the years was given, and rooted into all present lives.

For you this means a steady return of power you haven’t felt for a long while, or felt but couldn’t hold onto fully. What was being taken from you is now able to be fully possessed by you. There may be emotional healing needed around this, as its return could stir some echoes of grief and longing. Overall, nothing is coming, Flash. It was already there, and needed to go. A light you’ve needed to see for a long time is flickering to life.

Edited to add: This article on ambiguous spiritual tourism and the use of ayahuasca just came out this week.

Everyday Journeying: When the Ecstatic Becomes Mundane

About Soul Intent Arts - Intertribal Shamanism“Journeying” is the term most often used to describe the process shamans go through to engage the spirit world. Some call it ecstatic journeying or shamanic journeying, starwalking, skywalking. The journey process encompasses setting an intention, then traversing the layers of the spirit realm with one’s spirit guides for healing or insight retrieval. Often done with drumming or other rhythmic induction, specific tempos induce a theta, or light dreaming, brain state.

Journeying is often confused with pathworking, in which participants are guided in what to see and do. When learning to journey, a general framework is followed to access the ecstatic state, though what occurs once in the spirit realm is entirely organic. Upon mastery of theta trance, the framework used can be as unique as what occurs in the journey, itself, if a framework is necessary at all.

In the beginning, for most eager shamanic students, journeying is vivid, lush. Deep emotions stir and challenge how we hold our changed psychology in waking reality. For many, those first flights out fulfill a deep longing to connect, or reconnect as it were, with the unseen, that other belief systems or practices don’t provide. In those early stages, journeying seems to provide answers to everything, and for that reason it can be addicting, even escapist if not done with care.

Inevitably, though, the journeying process begs to deepen or to expand in some way that challenges the shamanist. Perhaps getting into trance becomes more difficult. The devices that facilitated it at first no longer smooth the path. The sensual experience internalizes. We begin to see that the spirit realms aren’t wonderland, serving up what we want to see, comfort, companionship. Its messages become less clear. Guides are absent or not as forthcoming. What happened? Why would a process that so fulfilled and provided stop working?

Traditionally, in indigenous and ancient cultures, shamans were chosen by heredity or transformation of a trauma (also called a shamanic death), while some were self-appointed. How they are revealed isn’t as significant as noting how shamans developed and were supported by their communities. Most modern students of shamanism come to it out of personal need, be that trauma or a sense of needing “more.” However, we are not a shamanic culture. We haven’t been surrounded from birth in an animistic life view that fosters our connection with the spirit world in and out of trance. As a result, we leave shamanic circles and classes to return to a mundane that doesn’t support our experiences. We don’t have the network of support to help us sustain the miracle of the ecstatic state beyond the journey. Thus, the journey process, itself, becomes strained.

That lack of network also tends to create the pattern of journeying only when something is wrong, when we feel a lack in our lives, or on behalf of others. In this way a constant pattern of taking is established, creating an imbalance in how we relate to the spirit realm. Without making it a daily practice as part of our personal spiritual discipline, we can’t evolve to be truly proficient at journeying, and we can’t begin creating ourselves as an animistic culture. We can’t become solid anchors engaging in waking what the spirit realm guides in trance.

Should journeying lose its initial luster, instead of forcing it to suit expectation and demands, dig deeper into formed being. Find a mentor and community who can support soul travels. Connect with the the spirits of immediate surroundings — familiar space, daily relationships, Nature. The more grounded we can be in the awareness that unseen reality is with us all the time, not just in trance, the more we lace spiritual interconnection through everything we do, the more readily trance comes.

Normalization of the journey experience isn’t failure. It’s natural, it’s progress, integration. The act of journeying is a relationship, not just the connections we make from it. At some point, it is right for the experience of trance to integrate, for us to become the embodiment of the community, connections, and wisdom we gain from it. Yet at the same time, we must hold our journey experiences loosely. Let the process unfold as it desires. Along the path of ecstatic journeying, we learn to trust the inner compass, not just to show direction, but when to be directionless, when to become the direction.

Originally published at The Huffington Post.

Gift of the Dreamtime Reader’s Companion

Gift of the Dreamtime Reader’s Companion

Buy it now!

Thank you for taking this journey with me through the Gift of the Dreamtime Reader’s Companion for the second, revised edition of Gift of the Dreamtime. I created this Companion to discuss what changes were made to the original text, detail peripheral events and processes brought up in the book, and to respond to reactions I received when Gift of the Dreamtime first came out in 2004.

The book was first published by Spilled Candy Enterprises. I’d spent a year to the date shopping the manuscript when publisher, Lorna Tedder, acquired it. I was thrilled to work with Spilled Candy and remain ever grateful for the experience.

At the time that I wrote this book, the publishing industry didn’t allow much expansion on the understanding of shamanism beyond academic and anthropological assessments. In short, they only understood, thus published, what I call “rearview shamanism,” a perspective that accepts shamanism as a thing of the past and not a thriving spiritual practice of the present. Books that had managed to be published extolling modern shamanism generally fit the formula of self-help books. They followed the formula of introspective memoir, followed by interpretation of shamanic events in mundane life, then closed with insights to engage the reader’s personal reaction to the text. None of them shared their shamanic narrative. None of them offered a glimpse into the other world experiences that brought healing.

I chose to write Gift of the Dreamtime from within that journey space so that reader’s could understand how shamanic healing really works, and Spilled Candy understood that purpose when other publishers didn’t. I remain grateful for Lorna’s insight and professionalism.

Thank you for taking that first formed trek with me into the Dreamtime. Thank you for returning.

For those of you new to the journey into The Dreamtime, welcome and blessings along your way.

I’m very excited to present this new edition, along with this Reader’s Companion. First off, if you haven’t met Christina Pratt, who wrote the foreward for the second edition, you need to. She’s author of An Encyclopedia of Shamanism, and the founder of The Last Mask Center. She’s an amazing shaman and wonderful person. Know her. Listen to her radio show, Why Shamanism Now, and you will find great support on your path, as well as direction.

If you’ve read the first edition, you will notice subtle changes to the text. The most evident change is the removal of the introduction to ecstatic journeying at the end. I chose not to include this section, as to really do justice on soul travel requires an entirely other book, which no doubt, others have already written more eloquently than my hurried end notes. Instead, for this edition I chose to stick more closely to my original intention for the text, which was to provide grounded insight into my process in creating initiations into shamanhood, thus leaving some sort of map for readers to do the same. The book now closes on an introduction to the role of the shaman in a community.

I had no idea where my foray into shamanic healing would take me. As such, resources for mentorship were slim. Gift of the Dreamtime tells my personal story of soul healing. At the time that I wrote it, I didn’t realize that it also chronicled a collective tale of finding initiation along a broken path, as many modern shamans have done. I’ve written extensively about this cultural quest in my column on The Huffington Post and at my blog, Intentional Insights, and look hopefully toward the future of what modern shamans bring to The Dreaming.

Enjoy the ebook, available at SmashWords and Amazon. Gift of the Dreamtime is also available on both sites, as well as the print edition is available on Amazon. It can be ordered by any local book shop. If you would like a signed first edition, please contact me directly.

Read an excerpt and praise for Gift of the Dreamtime.

To Heal or Not to Heal: Shamans in the New Era

“Rivers know this; there is no hurry, we shall get there some day.” – Winnie the Pooh

“Too many times we confuse motion with progress.” – Albert Einstein 

Soul Intent Arts, shamanic healing practice of S. Kelley HarrellA growing pain in the maturation of neoshamanism is the instinct to heal everything, that where there is energy imbalance it must balanced. Imbalance can occur in a person, a place, an animal, or an era. The inclination to heal at all cost can be viewed as a proactive model of health and wellbeing, no doubt the mindset many modern shamans bring to soul work. To indigenous healers, the ‘must heal’ mindset is very modern, and it embodies fear, isolation, even aggression. Because of its emphasis on the healer, the instinct carries with it arrogance, presumption, and idealism; thus is incomplete. It perpetuates the notion that imbalance is something to be viewed as broken, something unnatural, ideas that disregard the constantly changing state of Earth consciousness and experience. We are always in flux, and most of us realize profound growth not from balance or being out of balance, but in the process between the two. A task of the modern shaman is to embrace the full circle of Life, and in doing so, to impart that while perhaps uncomfortable, no facet of it is unnatural. More…

Wise Voice, Author and Modern Shaman–Dawn Paul

I learned about Dawn when I read about the December release of her book, “Healer of Souls.”  Based in St Albans Hertfordshire, she has a thriving shamanic practice as both a healer and teacher.

How does one become a Healer of souls?

Much time has passed since I received a vision of the Inca while at Machu Picchu, Peru, who told me in no uncertain terms that I was to follow the path of the shaman – and that they would help me. And now I see that they have kept their word, as for many years now I have run a thriving shamanic practice, assisting thousands of people from all over the world. These people have come from all walks of life and from all religions; the youngest has been seven months, the oldest 87. Some have been following a spiritual and personal development path of some sort, others have been desperate mothers, stressed out business professionals or even people from other healing professions who have never even really heard of shamanic healing, they just know they need help.

Dawn Paul and Don FranciscoOver those years my work has developed, with the assistance of my spirit guides and sometimes through sheer need. As is common to all in the healing professions, the more I have worked on my personal and spiritual development, the more my work has transformed and improved, for it is widely recognised that the healing received by the client is only as good as the levels of development and vibrational resonance the healer has attained, and I take this very matter very seriously.

A spiritual business is not like any other kind of business, for it is not run by spirit. They decide which clients to send, who I can help the most, with my blend of shamanic healing, general spiritual teaching and personal development methods. I found very early on that I could do a thousand soul retrievals and a person would still stay stuck in their old patterns, with their limiting beliefs and in their comfort zones, even though those zones may be very uncomfortable places indeed. In order for a person to truly heal and transform, change needs to occur on a massive level, ultimately, even down to the way a person thinks about themselves, their lives, and the world.

Although I am and will always remain a general practitioner, I specialise in healing sexual abuse, – which is currently a hot topic in the UK at the moment following the Jimmy Saville allegations – and I have seen wonderful results occur for both men and women. It is important to remember that when trauma occurs to a human being it occurs to them on all levels of their being, not just the mental level i.e. in my view, merely talking about something is not sufficient for full healing to occur. The great benefit of shamanic healing is that it works on all of the levels of a person.- not only the mental, physical, emotional, energetic, spiritual and soul levels, but also the conscious, the subconscious, the unconscious and the superconscious levels, as well as with the inner child.

In working with people suffering from sexual abuse ( I do not like to use the word victim), I recognised that they were often crippled with guilt and shame, which made me wonder why? Through my work I came to realise that during the abuse act, the abuser would offload his (or her) guilt, shame and hatred onto the person being abused. This person would carry this energetic burden around, thinking mistakenly that it was their own. I had one client, in her mid forties who completely hated herself, because she had not had the strength to fight off her abuser, and escape from a locked room in order to avoid the abuse. This was an intelligent, professional woman, who had not once questioned how she, at only four years of age, could have possibly escaped from such a situation. Once she realised the hatred was not even her own, a miraculous transformation occurred and she was able to free herself from a lifetime of neglect and self sabotage.

Machu Picchu by DawnOn the spiritual teaching front, I have found many spiritual seekers tie themselves up in knots over judging what is “spiritual” and what is “not spiritual.” Many will say, “Oh, I wanted to be a comedian, but that is not spiritual so now I guess I will have to be a healer.” There is nothing in this world that is not spiritual. We are spirit encased in matter. Even cleaning the toilet is a spiritual act, because a spirit is doing it. Being perfect is not being spiritual either, first of all it is impossible, and secondly, it requires us to disown and discard vast portions of ourselves. So not only do most people have a problem with the effects of soul loss, but they have a greater problem with what I call power loss, because often the aspects of Self that we disown hold our power, valuable aspects of our personality, and most importantly, our energy. Hence I found the need to develop a method called power retrieval, to bring these aspects of self out of shadows and the lower realms of consciousness and back to the Self.

We are living in very important times. Many people are picking up on that intuitively. They may have been carrying emotional burdens, depression or anxiety around with them for years, but now they are arriving on my sofa, saying they have to clear it, now. And they should feel so proud of themselves, because it takes a lot of courage to face our “stuff,” and make necessary changes in our lives, but it is important to know that our pasts need not define our future, we can heal our past and move forward, lightly and freely, and greet our new, happy and fulfilling lives with open arms.

Dawn Paul is author of “A Healer of Souls” and can be reached through her website or blog.

Reiki – Simple Healing, Powerful Ally

Hi Kelley. Some of my Reiki friends get upset because I use Shamanic techniques during my Reiki practice. These same friends, however, will use “psychic surgery” techniques including the psychic extension of their fingers to reach into a client’s etheric/physical body to dislodge or remove energy blocks. My question is: isn’t this “psychic extension of digits” essentially the same as shape-shifting? If so, that is a shamanic practice. If not, I can see little difference between the two, other than degree of transformation of the energetic/physical body. Thanks, R.

Just for today –
I will not worry.
I will not be angry.
I will do my work honestly.
I will give thanks for my many blessings.
I will be kind to my neighbors
and all living things.
The Reiki Principle, Dr. Mikao Usui

Thanks for your inquiry, Roger. Before going into the specifics of your dilemna, I’d like to tell readers a bit about Reiki, as it may not be familiar to them. I describe Reiki as a Japanese form of hands-near energy healing. I’m a Reiki Master and have worked with two different forms of Reiki for many years, one form of which is the original Usui practice, and another called Ascension Reiki (ask me why two approaches in another inquiry). The word ‘Reiki’ translates roughly to “spirit healing.”

There are many takes on the history of Reiki, leaving it steeped in a bit of conflict. As best I can tell from the divergent perspectives on the modality’s origins, it began in the early 1900s, when Japanese ascetic Mikao Usui had a vision that led him to powerful healing. Not an uncommon story in the halls of enlightenment, Usui’s experience spawned a great following that continues to captivate those interested in energy healing.

Heavily influenced by Shintoism, the religion predominant in Japan prior to Chinese influence, Usui honored the spirits behind symbols, believing that incorporating them with other components of etheric healing allowed the practitioner to embody a Universal life force capable of healing. Usui formalized his ecstatic experiences into a system of energy healing called Usui Reiki Ryoho, originally comprised of three levels of study.

Usui’s practice moved into western culture in the mid-1900s, where it took off like wild fire. Today it is likely the most-taught “New Age” healing practice. At best, we in the west practice hybridized Reiki, though that statement attracts all sorts of speculation. There is much argument around what Usuis’s true teachings were. That it is a spiritual practice and energy healing modality taken out of its native space, elements, and teaching, shaped in the form that best adapts to our culture–is what we know, and adapt it has. There are as many forms of Reiki as you care to look into. Given that, Reiki is culturally appropriated, a fact that goes without mention amongst many modern energy medicine circles.

To answer your question, my understanding of Reiki is that it is an alignment with the true self–in other words with All Things–in such a way that there is no ego involvement. There doesn’t have to be. Working at that level of awareness there is no intellectual process driving what is done during healing. The job of the Reiki Master is to be out of the way and merely allow the life force to move through.  In that light, that means no elements are brought in from any healing practice, belief system, or viewpoint, because Reiki happens well above the level of those things. I think this unconscious (?) need to bring other modalities into Reiki is why other forms of it were created.  Is it that we can’t stay out of the way of Source?  Must we project ourselves into/onto it?  Or do we need to custom fit healing methods to what best suits our elements, our space, our teaching?

It is not my experience that you can lift a single technique out of a culture, bring it into another, and expect it to behave the same way.  This has been a concern around the appropriation of tribal healing practices for centuries.  This consideration generates questions like is it respectful to the originating practice to append your beliefs/symbols/deities/methods to it?  Is it respectful to the culture from which it came not to honor it at all in your application of the modality?  How do you honor the originating culture if you occlude it with your ego? Are you doing the same “kind” of healing if you change the foundation of the technique?

These are personal questions that require deep contemplation before you undertake working with clients, IMO, and are components that I teach in my Reiki classes.  To me Reiki is a spirit ally, much as a totem or fetish is.  It is a tool that allows us to connect with the Divine in a way that we can consciously process–symbols, movements, chants, often all at once–what might otherwise be too foreign to hold.  Reiki engages both hemispheres of the brain; thus, brings us fully present in our power. It allows us to be part of the process without having to worry about the process. I do not tell my allies what to do. In fact, I do what they tell me, and Reiki tells me to step aside. Can it tell each of us different things? That is the question, though given Usui’s original teachings, we’d never even ask that.

There are striking distinctions between Reiki and shamanism that should be noted. Part of the role of a shaman is to be active in the process.  Reiki in its true application is only passive. The Reiki Master embodies the life force, and that is the only role. A classic quote is attributed to Usui, though I’ve never read that he actually spoke it: “We do not master Reiki. Reiki masters us.” To me, that is what this quote means. We surrender.

Shamans have many roles, depending on what is needed, and those roles call on active knowledge of plants, animals, elements, symbols, so that we can engage our knowledge with our soul work. In shamanism, we engage the physical layer with the etheric. We spend years distinguishing between being active or passive in our work, as needed.   In short, we know the difference and we fall back on the best tool for the job.

Despite difference, these approaches to healing are very compatible. In terms of actual healing and benefit, I find that a combination of modalities is required, each in its own time. Reiki is often best-suited to people who are early in their healing process–those recovering, gaining strength, not ready for the full marathon. In the presence or absence of Rekik, at some point in the healing process, though, we must all become active participants. At that point Reiki gracefully steps aside for more involved techniques.

That said, I don’t mix modalities; rather, I do them in separate sessions.   I am in the camp that the whole point of Reiki is that I am not part of the process.  For me, Reiki is THE go-to tool that I don’t have to consciously direct.  I don’t drive it or tell it where to go, what to do, or how to do it.  In reality, this passive healing is a very Eastern (feminine) approach to accessing All Things, which flies in the face of the typical western push to be the active (masculine) principle in everything we do (which I hasten to add, “forcing” healing is common in modern shamanism, though ancient and indigenous cultures honor more of a balance–again, another article).  Perhaps this is the real reason that mutations of Reiki permeate western culture? As well, perhaps Usui shaped Reiki as a more passive system in an effort to promote healing without threat of spiritual emergency.

In short, I’m not in favor of psychic surgery or the use of shamanic techniques in Reiki sessions, especially if a client doesn’t understand the distinction, or hasn’t expressed a more active approach to energy healing.  There are plenty of energy healing modalities that do allow us to engage, use our intuition, be an active part of the process.  I reserve Reiki as a gift that is just sweetly here to use, without my or anyone else’s interference.

When we decide to go down any healing path as someone who will work with others, we have to consider the origins of the techniques we are learning, how honoring the originating culture factors into our work every time we use that technique, and how we can find integrity in upholding that heritage without undermining our own innate truths. Moreover, we have to consider when we’re doing none of the above.

Learn more about Reiki and energy healing from the following resources:

Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma, revised second edition now available, with a foreward by modern shaman, Christina Pratt.




Pagan Is as Pagan Does

Soul Intent ArtsIn my shamanic practice, I work with people from all over the world. The first decade of working with others, easily three quarters of my clientele was international. That distant acceptance seemed to indicate that other cultures had a more accessible understanding of shamanism and of what someone acting in the role of shaman does. In more recent years the shift toward a wider range of healing paths becoming more mainstream has coincided with my client base being mostly within the U.S., with a good third of those people residing in my local area.

For those who don’t know, I’m a native North Carolinian and acting interfaith clergy. While there is strong support for and a very networked Pagan community throughout the state, half of my clients do not identify as Pagan. Specifically, they identify as various denominations of Christian. For some, stepping into a more mystical expression of spirituality is a comfortable and natural extension of their faith. Others don’t allow such an esoteric openness in their belief systems. Rather, they reach out to me because other venues haven’t brought them balance, including pastoral counsel with their own clergy.

Regardless of how they’re ushered into my work, it is within local circles that I encounter the most powerful misconceptions about shamanism. In talking with clients about how they find me, a startling idea emerged: For many of these clients the idea that I’m Pagan is softened by knowing that I’m a shaman, as if that role somehow makes the truth of my spiritual path somehow more approachable. Upon delving further into that assumption a deeper misconception was revealed: the assumption that I’m Native American. That I have a fine thread of indigenous blood runs entirely independent of my calling and choice to be a shaman. A handful of people besides myself would even know that fact, just as they don’t know that I’m Scottish, German or Irish. They don’t know, because it’s not relevant.

Had this assumption come up once or twice in the years of my work I’d consider it an anomaly — disturbing, but a fluke. The reality is, it’s come up dozens of times, leading to me to explore what drives it. Two base beliefs seem to lay in support:

  • The romanticized ideal of Native Americans being more spiritual than other cultural groups, an assumption that perpetuates the racist notion of the “noble savage.”
  • The replete misappropriation of all things shamanic to Native Americans, indicating a lack in base understanding of shamanism.

Both of these beliefs open a wide arena of cultural land mines, the least of which is cultural appropriation — the claiming of a facet of another culture as one’s own, historically for exploitation, personal profit or gain. Even though I do not claim the spiritual heritage of another culture, a good proportion of my clients assumed that I did, by virtue of projecting their ideals onto my heritage. That’s one problem. The other is that because they assumed my lineage, they rested comfortably in misunderstandings about my path. The message is that by assuming I’m Native American, my devotion to Earth religions is more OK than knowing I’m a modern Druid, Reconstructionist, Pagan.

Do most people not realize that in the animistic “country dweller” definition of Paganism, Native Americans are Pagan, under a diverse umbrella of spiritual traditions? Is there an instant, if not unconscious, distinction made between Pagans who are of European lineage and those who are Native American? And if so, does that not imply a judgement from many in the mainstream soul healing community that certain kinds of Pagans are better?

In the long run does it matter if the people who come to me for help know this distinction? Does it affect our work if they don’t know that shamanism is the tap root of all religions, branching through every culture? Probably not. All they know is something isn’t well in their lives and nothing else has brought relief.

For me it’s a question of how much integrity my path has if I leave clients making assumptions about my lineage and work that aren’t true. In my studies, personal spiritual discipline and work with others, I don’t feed the racist dispersions the western route into shamanism has cast; thus, I don’t want to mislead anyone about my ethical intentions.

For that reason I do take the time to educate clients who don’t understand how we arrived at shamanism in this age, and how I became able to carry a spiritual tradition forward in a new way that fulfills the needs of modern seekers while honoring an ancient tradition.

In the end, Pagan is just Pagan.