Shamanism for Our Culture and Time

It was the last day of The Way of the Shaman: The Shamanic Journey, Power, and Healing Basic Workshop that I was attending. Dr. Michael Harner, an anthropologist and founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies who was conducting the workshop, had been teaching us shamanic techniques of “divination”. Dr. Harner instructed us to choose a partner with whom we had had no previous contact during the weekend. We were to think of a question about which our partner would “journey” to seek an answer. Journeying is a process of attaining a Shamanic state of consciousness or trance, to access non-ordinary reality and ask spiritual guides for assistance and instruction. As newcomers to Shamanism, we were nervous about “performing”. There was a “buzz” of small-talk and nervous energy as we searched the room of approximately 150 participants. As I surveyed the room, I made eye contact with a middle-aged, scholarly looking gentleman, who was hurriedly approaching me from across the room. His demeanor was one of intensity and “no nonsense”. As I watched him approach me, I was listening to snippets of conversations around me between fellow partners who were exchanging their questions. I heard some straight-forward questions concerning job opportunities and relationship possibilities and I heard a few trivial questions about the best color for a new car and “How many cats does my sister have?”

In the brief moments as my “partner” was crossing the floor toward me and as I was listening to the hubbub of questions around me, I began to experience a familiar feeling of anxiety… fear of performance. What if I didn't do this right? What if I failed to get an answer that was appropriate? What if I were lacking in some way? What if…? In the midst of this maelstrom of worries, my partner arrived in front of me. He strode up to me, looked into my eyes with a piercing intensity and said, “My question is…What is the basis of morality?”

Thinking that surely he was joking, my first inclination was to laugh, which I quickly stifled. There was nothing frivolous about him. He was serious about his question. My knees were weak My heart was pounding. I frantically thought, “Gee Might I suggest the library. Why ask me a question like this?” My fear of performance slapped me in the face, punched me in the stomach, and kicked me in the butt, all at once.

As I was reeling at the question that I had received, Dr. Harner spoke to the group and said that whatever question we had received, trust that we were meant to get that question and trust the process that we would receive the answer. I looked into my partner's eyes and saw an urgency and expectancy. I chose to trust. I chose to honor the process. I chose to honor that I would be guided by the wisdom of my new spiritual guides, teachers, healers, and power animals to whom I had been introduced during the workshop. I settled down and journeyed.

In darkness, listening to the steady beat of the drums, I journeyed to what is referred to as the Lower World in Shamanic cosmic geography. There I met my guide and asked my partner's question. The answer that I received was:

“The basis of morality is: The Truth of Love in balance with The Love of Truth.”

When I related to my partner what I had been given, he looked away from me, unable to respond for a moment. When he was able to speak, he told me that he was an author, currently writing a book about morality. He said that he had exhaustively researched, taught, and written about the subject for several years, but had felt that the essence of its meaning still eluded him. His search for an answer had led him, in desperation, to attend a workshop about Shamanism, about which he knew nothing and had never felt an interest in.

He told me that he was awed by the beauty and simplicity of the answer and asked if he could quote me and use my name in his book. My response to him was “yes”, but only if he described and honored the Shamanic process by which I had received the answer. He agreed and related that he had been profoundly affected by the entire process.

I, too, have been profoundly impacted by that workshop and answer to that question. I realized that the question and answer that I received in that shamanic workshop truly were meant for me. I began to look at my life experience in a different way. I looked at the ways that I had not lived my truth and the ways that I continued to live a “lie”, as it was clear to me that living a lie is the flip side of not living my truth. How many times had I refused to be myself? How many times had I refused… to take a risk? To be adventurous? To be vulnerable? To say what was in my heart? To dance my dance? To march to the beat of my own drum? How many ways had I not valued and honored and loved myself. How many ways had I not valued and honored and loved others, but instead, captured and held them in my web of lies? I vowed to begin living my own truth.

Shamanism for our culture and time is not an easy path. It requires commitment, courage, and the anxiety provoking, gut-wrenching, throat tightening, heart pounding process of CHANGE! Change involves work. Change involves facing the unknown. But…change is also a natural process in the cycle of life. We must love ourselves and others enough to change and to live our truths. Truly, what else matters but love and truth?

The following books are recommended by Sue Jamieson

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Bollingen Series) by Mircea Eliade

The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner