By Lian Brook-Tyler
Despite my many years of experience of nature-based soul and spirit work, my current devotion to shamanic work, and clients calling me a shamaness for years before it was even something in my own awareness, I don’t call myself a shaman and I don’t know if I ever will.
This isn’t a reaction to cultural appropriation or the degradation of the word “It’s even fashionable nowadays for First World ecotourists to visit remote parts of the world, spend a week or two with an indigenous shaman, smoke a few plants, see a few hallucinations, then come back and declare themselves shamans.” Thom Hartmann, foreword to Robert Wolff’s Original Wisdom (one of my favourite books).
It’s because for me, context is crucial.
I live in a world of patterns. And patterns within patterns (it’s one of the incredible gifts of being autistic).
And context is a vital part of a pattern.
Just like how a wolf needs its pack, a shaman needs to be part of a real community (meaning one of interdependence with humans who live in deep connection with their environment – but that’s a whole other post) to be a shaman because a shaman is a role within a community.
It’s a role which requires the shaman to stand with one foot in the human world, one foot in the spirit world and bring whatever’s needed to create balance on behalf of the spirits and on behalf of their community.
Without a real community, who is the shaman acting as an intermediary for in the human world?
And is what they’re doing creating balance between the worlds?
As one of my favourite passages by Rilke says “…be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
So these are two of the important questions that I’m living into.
And so for me, as I’m still living into them, calling myself a shaman without having that role within a real community doesn’t make sense.
If you feel otherwise about the word, that’s all good with me. These days not all shamans doing great work have a real community – they’ve redefined “shaman” to answer those questions in a way that works for them and I have no judgement about that.
The truth is, I have very little judgement about what people do. I’ve been told by my ancestors that one of my roles here is as a Taboo Breaker… not that I need to break #allthetaboos myself (thankfully! That would be messy and tiring 😅), it’s about bringing my unconditional love to those who do. So really, do what thou wilt.
And if you still feel that I am a shaman to you, feel free to call me that… Because if I’m ever a shaman, I suspect it will be other humans who let me know when I’ve lived some distant day into the answers.