|Master of Shamanism|
By Dennis Zerull
As always I thank the ULC Seminary for offering this very insightful course and thank Bishop Pat for his passion and obvious extensive research on the subject of Shamanism. It is a very resource intensive course and even after completing it, I cannot truly claim that I am a master of Shamanism even if the course title states so. I humbly defer that title to the courses author.
With that being said, I will attempt to add whatever insight I have gained by taking this course in hopes that it may benefit others who may read this essay. Based on my limited experience on the subject, I can confidently say that the teachings and instructions on Shamanism continue to be relevant and useful today as they have been for thousands of years.
As a young man growing up in the four corners area of the United States I spent many hours and even days in the area that is now known as Mesa Verde National Park. I had the opportunity to work with professionals who were involved with discovering the mysteries of the Pueblo or Anasazi people and why they vanished from the face of the earth without leaving any clues whatsoever. To this day Anthropologists and Archeologists have barely scratched the surface of this mystery, however Holy Men or Medicine Men have kept many of the ancient traditions alive passing them from ancestor to ancestor in practice and lore. How they acquired this knowledge may be the secret of Holy Men long gone from this existence. I often wonder as I walk through the ruins of ancient cliff dwellings and Kivas and look at the walls decorated with petroglyphs what secrets they hold. I do so in reverence at this sacred place.
Certainly Shamanistic practices are claimed to predate all organized religions back to the Paleolithic, and Neolithic period. As recently as November 2008 the discovery of a 12,000 year old site in Israel is regarded as one of the earliest known Shaman burials. An elderly woman was found arranged on her side with her knees open and tucked buried with unusual grave goods that included 50 complete tortoise shells, a human foot and certain body parts from various animals. It would suggest that she had a connection with her spirit animals. This grave is just one of at least 28 at this site located in a cave in lower Galillee belonging the Natufian culture.
In this course the author makes reference to the Shaman as being the intermediary between the human and spirit worlds. Certainly the Shaman is a person who is an expert in keeping together the multiple codes through which a complex belief system appears, and has a comprehensive view on it in their mind with certainty of knowledge. The Shaman knows the culture of his or hers community well and acts accordingly. Further given the required degree of self awareness one would ascertain that it would come as no surprise that the Shaman should refer to the minutiae of everyday behavior, all the things that we overlook habitually excusing ourselves with the thought that they are too insignificant to bother about. I would suspect then that in this practice as in Buddhism, it is precisely the small, often subliminal impulses and behavior patterns that require the closet attention.
Because some of us are not educated in the ways of the Shaman, myself included, we often tend to make judgments based on ignorance. There are those individuals who are attempting to pass themselves off as Shamans. They are referred to as "Plastic Shamans" in the southwestern United States. They are "Holy people" or self appointed "traditional spiritual leaders". They have no connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. They are seen as exploiters of some knowledge to attain ego, power or money. They will sell fake artifacts or fake traditional spiritual ceremonies to the legitimate curiosity of sincere seekers for personal gain. They come as fraudulent spiritual advisors, seers, healers, psychics or other practitioners of non-traditional modalities of spirituality. They pose a danger to seekers who place their trust in such individuals and harm the reputations of the cultures and communities they claim to represent.
As I have written in past essays, I believe that there is good in all spiritual traditions and religion's because they generally promote love, kindness, compassion and altruism. But we must approach in the way of the intelligent person who approaches all matters including faith and devotion with the highest spirit of critical inquiry and do so without falling into traps of fixed ideas or extreme views. In about the year 368 BCE Plato wrote in the Phaedrus that the "first prophecies were the words of an oak and that everyone who lived at that time found it rewarding enough to listen to an oak or stone, so long as it was telling the truth". So I think it wise in my particular circumstance that when it comes to Shamanism I obtain genuine confidence in the nature of mind and reality, grounded in understanding and reasoning. After taking this course I still have skeptical curiosity which may lead me to more inquiry. I am grateful that this course was offered. It gave me a greater insight to the history, beliefs and traditions of Shamanism.
"We need a curious mind, drawn toward all possibilities; and when we cultivate that, the desire to deeply investigate naturally arises". The Dalai Lama.
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