Modern life is lived cut off from our souls, our ancestors, the earth and other elements of what once made life worth living. Our souls still yearn for these missing pieces, causing what the author calls the Invisible Wound. This wound is responsible for much of the grief of modern life – through soul hungers displaced onto addictions and self-destructive behavior. Post-Tribal Shamanism offers a means of reclaiming many of these pieces, not by a return to the past, but by moving forward into a deeper understanding of our place in the universe.
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About the Author
Kenn Day is a working shaman, with a full-time practice since 1989. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his beloved wife and daughter and offers workshops covering the teachings used in his practice.
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A New Look at the Old Ways
By Kenn Day, Candace Walkup
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Kenn Day
All rights reserved.
Definitions and Destinations
The role of the shaman has drifted, along with all other societal roles during the thousands of years of human cultural evolution. Our role today, in the context of post-tribal culture, is narrower than perhaps ever before. The process of specialization has picked away at this role, breaking out into priest, scholar, storyteller, doctor, psychotherapist, and such, until what is left is the task of healing the soul and acting as psychopomp for those who are dying. So it doesn't make a great deal of sense to look to traditional tribal cultures for the whole picture of what a shaman is for us. At the same time, I have yet to meet a traditional 'shaman' with whom I didn't have an experience of mutual recognition, including a Sangoma from South Africa, elders of the Quero from Peru, a BønPo from Tibet, Lakota elders, Cherokee Medicine People, even a Tuvan shaman from near Mongolia. While much is changed, the root remains the same.
This common root is the stance the shaman takes in service to community, acting as a bridge and sometime guardian between the people of the community and the mysteries of the unknown. While how we view the unknown has changed dramatically, this root paradigm has been the determining factor of shamanic practice through all its permutations.
Today, in our culture, the shaman stands between the postindustrial, high tech world of television, computers, cell phones and the equally invisible world of Mystery, Spirit and soul. Unlike the cultures before ours, which placed a high value on these unknowable things, ours barely acknowledges them. So the shaman's position is made more difficult by the belief that we are standing for something that doesn't even exist. The benefits we receive from the post-tribal shaman's work are substantial and profound, connecting us with our root of identity, healing soul wounds that cause addictions and destructive behavior, and a wide spectrum of ailments arising from soul loss or trauma.
Many of us have ideas about the invisible world, but we have been so deeply influenced by the attitudes of our surrounding culture that, even if we think we believe in the invisible and ineffable world of Spirit, it remains only an idea. Only the direct experience of spirit beings can change that deeply rooted opinion, and even then, it often takes many experiences over an extended period of time to really shift things.
This narrow focus of the post-tribal shaman supports deeper movement into the realm of the spirit than that of a traditional shaman, whose roles include more responsibilities for maintaining the physical, emotional and spiritual health of their community. The traditional community views its connections with ancestors, spirits and the earth as a part of everyday life, part of their natural world. Our modern culture has spent so long cutting itself off from these elements of the natural world that we are left adrift, and so our post-tribal shaman's work is often concerned with bringing us back into connection and balance with these very important pieces of the whole which provide a root to our identity and sense of belonging.
In observing traditional shamans, I have found that they often share very little of their own personal journey with those they serve. They already have a whole world in common with the rest of their tribe, including a rich internal world in which they are at one with their ancestors, tribal guardians and the spirits of their land, so their focus is on maintaining the identity and cohesion of the tribe. They keep the individual members of the tribe in good relationship with the ancestors, spirit, earth and the numinous or divine, as experienced by that tribe.
The post-tribal shaman serves people from a wide array of cultures, with very little grounding in their ancestral heritage, encounters a different internal landscape with each new client, which means that some of the focus is on exploring that landscape and, in most cases, helping the client to explore it as well.
The tribal shaman is in service to the tribe as a whole. The health, well-being, strength and survival of that whole take precedence over the needs of any of the individuals within the tribe. Further, the role of the tribal shaman is essentially conservative. He strives to keep things as they are, as they have been for generations. He will only work to help the tribe change if the survival of the whole tribe is threatened. The spiritual health of his charges is addressed by keeping the tribe as a whole on good terms with Spirit. The idea of assisting in the personal spiritual evolution of an individual doesn't appear in his job description.
By contrast, the post-tribal shaman is in service to and necessarily more focused on the process of individual transformation, integration and awakening the soul – both in themselves and in their clients.
These changes are an evolutionary shift in what is needed from the shaman to maintain the health of their charges. In a tribe, the health of the group is maintained by keeping things from changing. In a world in which change is an inescapable reality of everyday life, the health of individuals is supported by helping them to change.
In my own work, an increasing number of clients are seeking support in awakening their soul. I could offer any number of theories, but since I view shamanism as an essentially phenomenological practice, I will try to speak instead about what I observe and the teachings I have received that support these observations.
Most of the teachings are pragmatic and practical. For instance, the human soul needs connection. When it doesn't experience enough connection, it hungers for it. This hunger can cause addictions in the realm of the ego, because it doesn't recognize what the soul is actually yearning for. All it knows is the hunger, which it responds to as best it can. These responses generally take the form of alcoholism, drug addiction and other forms of addictive behavior. By bringing the soul back into connection with ancestors, Spirit, earth and the numinous, addictions tend to diminish until they disappear.
The practice of the post-tribal shaman is paradoxical. It is a dance in which one foot remains in the ordinary world, while the other takes journeys into entirely different realities. It is a way of holding the finite and infinite together within the body and soul. This juggling act is essential to the role of the post-tribal shaman.
My own definition of what a post-tribal shaman is has shifted and changed as the process has shifted and changed me. It began with Mircea Eliade's list of what makes a shaman, then simplified to 'anyone using altered states of consciousness to bring about changes (healing) and retrieve information in ways other than ordinary medicine.' Experience taught me that even this definition was too intellectual and didn't speak to the initiatory depth or the spiritual vitality of the role. The definition I use today is 'anyone who, in service to the healing, growth and awakening of his or her community, stands as a bridge between the known and the unknown.'CHAPTER 2
The role of the shaman is as old as humanity itself. Shamans – both male and female, by all their different names – have long been a respected part of tribal culture, both historically and in contemporary indigenous settings. It may seem that this pivotal role was lost when humans moved away from their huntergatherer origins and into cities. This is not so.
While the role of the shaman has become submerged, it is now needed more than ever in our hectic, disconnected life. Most people just don't realize this.
The shaman has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with the community it serves: thus, as that community evolves, so does the shaman. Thus the tribal shamans are not exactly what we need as modern humans, though they can help us find the way to what a post-tribal shaman is today.
In some ways, the need we have for a shaman in our modern world is similar to that of the tribal world. We need the shaman to act as a bridge between the seen and the unseen; to act as a conduit for spirit; to help us to heal the wounds of the soul; and, to help us to move beyond this world with ease, when the time comes to die. In these ways, post-tribal shamans are the same as those tribal shamans who came before us.
In other ways, the need for the shaman is very different from how it is in a tribal setting. The deepest needs that call to the shaman today are the soul's wounds, the invisible wounds that are epidemic in our post-tribal culture. These needs, that literally call the shamans into existence, have a very visible impact on our world. We see the evidence of this wound in the pervasive sense of disconnection and lack of belonging throughout Western culture. We see it in the increasing issues of addiction and self-destructive behaviors. We see it in our own personal lack of connection, with each other, with our world and with ourselves. These issues are a great part of what the post-tribal shaman addresses in her service to community.
To understand these shifts in social evolution and how they impact us today, we need to understand something of the tribal context from which we emerge. To understand traditional shamans and their practice requires a grasp of the world in which they live and work. This world is so fundamentally different from ours as to be beyond comprehension, but I hope to at least give some sense of how far we have come from that place.
Tribal culture varies greatly around the world, and yet there are certain elements that arise consistently throughout. So we can speak of tribal culture, to some degree, as a universal, in that it applies to tribal groups located in all parts of the globe.
In tribal culture, the most important unit is the tribe. The needs, desires and rights of the individual are subservient to the needs, desires and rights of the tribe as a whole. When there is conflict between the tribe and an individual, the tribe takes precedence. Thus the culture of the tribe is essentially conservative, because it seeks to maintain the status quo. This status quo is maintained in a number of ways: continuity of myth, ancestral connection with the land spirits, adherence to social roles and customs, and communal participation in rituals that reaffirm the connections of the tribe to the ancestors, the land, and the tribal identity.
The identity of each tribe is based on its creation and ancestor myths. These myths are learned by children at the knee of their elders, and they are worked into the images and motifs that surround them in their homes, their community space, and in their understanding of the world around them. These stories often describe the emergence of the people of the tribe into this world, from some previous world, through a landmark on their ancestral lands. These stories go on to provide a sense of the relationship the people have with the world around them and their purpose in this world. All of this is quite clear, and all members belong to the tribe through their adherence to their place in the stories. These form the foundation of their sense of identity, both as a tribe and as individuals.
This sense of tribal identity provides a foundation of positive self-esteem and self-regard, based on the sense of belonging that comes with adhering to the structures, rituals, taboos and attitudes of the communal whole. There is no need to ask some of the most stressful questions modern humans encounter, such as: Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose? These questions are already answered, and they look back to the long line of their ancestors, whose success in surviving and passing on life is validation for their answers.
Tribal culture carries with it an inherent assumption of a divide between 'us and them' in much the way as our modern culture assumes a division between 'self and other.' We still see echoes of this attitude in professional sports, elections and wars between nations, but the us and them divide is now much less important than that between our individual self and the rest of the world.
Post-tribal society has come to value the individual above the collective, and this is nowhere so extreme as in the United States, where the Rugged Individualist has become a national icon of all the virtues that we hold dear.
Some years ago, my dear friend and mentor Elisheva was conducting a workshop with me on building community in our post-tribal culture. She asked one question that brought the essence of how different our culture is into focus: 'Imagine you could live anywhere you wanted, but that you would have to live there, with those people, in that place, for the rest of your life. You could travel wherever you wanted to, but this would be the only home you would return to. How does it feel to picture this?' Almost everyone had a negative response, ranging from mild discomfort to agitated rejection of the very idea. This is hardly unique. Those raised in our culture are taught that putting down roots is the next thing to digging your own grave.
Tribal culture is held together by a web of myth, tradition and ceremony, tying the people of the tribe to the land their ancestors lived on and are buried within. By contrast, our modern culture is beset by contradictory myths and symbols, conflicting traditions and empty ceremonies, with little or no connection to the land we live on and only fading memories to honor those who come before us.
The upside of this evolutionary movement is that we also have unprecedented access to information about the nature of the physical world and how it works. New technological breakthroughs occur on an almost daily basis, which will hopefully lead – eventually – to a greater balance, as we come to respect and honor the place we all came from. However, the most significant outcome of this movement is the idea of personal sovereignty. Every individual in our culture has, if only in the abstract, the same rights, privileges and opportunities – as well as an equal sense of standing in the center of his or her universe, acting upon their world. This allows us to move from one side of the globe to the other, to go from poverty to riches in a single lifetime; to reinvent ourselves with astonishing ease, and to live a life in which change is the only constant. In this sense, individuals now wield powers greater than whole nations did only a few hundred years ago.
The values of the traditional culture are based on the need to maintain the balance between available resources and size of the community reliant on the resources. The values of our modern culture stand in contrast to these traditional values, in that they are based on a need to maintain and accentuate the individuation and sovereignty of the self. Since we are no longer tied to the land by our need to work it, we are also free to move anywhere we desire. If the resources of a particular area are depleted, we move on. If we don't like the job we have, the house we live in or the community around us, we move. This capacity was undreamed of by our ancestors.
To put it most succinctly, traditional culture was about keeping things the way they were, in order to maintain the cohesion of the community. Post-tribal culture is focused on the diverse needs of individuals, which only connect temporarily into anything resembling community.
These would not be problems if individuals were truly ready to engage their lives without significant connection to others, but such is not the case. This evolutionary shift has broken down the traditional ties of the soul with family, community, land and spirit, leaving the individual bereft of these profound supports. But we have not evolved beyond the deep need for these connections, and so our souls hunger for something that is no longer understood or readily available. Everything has changed and everything remains the same.
Tribal culture recognizes the call of the shaman and the necessity of training and initiation in the process of the person called becoming a shaman. The tribe values the shaman and acknowledges the sacrifices made in order to walk that path. This sense of recognition, inclusion and respect for the shaman's service provides a much-needed matrix in which the shaman can work most effectively. The person being called to shamanize in our culture often lacks the context, support and understanding with which to respond to such a call, and yet many of us do respond. It is my hope that the teachings of post-tribal shamanism will help to provide a healthy and effective context for generations of shamans yet to come. Yet it needs to be clearly stated that no one part of this process can make someone a shaman. It is not enough to have the call without the training. The training is not sufficient without the initiatory experiences. Even having a spirit ally does not qualify you as a post-tribal shaman. Only when all of these pieces are integrated into a cohesive whole will the post-tribal shaman begin to serve effectively.
Excerpted from Post-Tribal Shamanism by Kenn Day, Candace Walkup. Copyright © 2013 Kenn Day. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I What is Shamanism? 3
Chapter 1 Definitions and Destinations 5
Chapter 2 Social Evolution 9
Chapter 3 Shamanic Cosmology 15
Chapter 4 The Role of the Shaman 21
Chapter 5 A Link with Our Ancestors 24
Chapter 6 Post-Tribal Shamanic Ethics 26
Part II Techniques for a Post-Tribal Shaman 37
Chapter 7 Journeying in the Shamanic Body 39
Chapter 8 Medicine Body 54
Chapter 9 Working With Spirits 61
Chapter 10 Dream Body 71
Chapter 11 Shaman as Healer 75
Chapter 12 Soul Retrieval 89
Chapter 13 Healing the Invisible Wound 94
Chapter 14 Shadow Work 100
Chapter 15 Ceremony and Ritual 105
Chapter 16 Preparing for Death 108
Chapter 17 Spiritual Practice 114