Shamanism in Tribal and Post-Tribal Contexts

I am going to address a couple of the things I hear most often on Facebook pages and other forums dedicated to shamanic traditions. 

“No real shaman ever refers to him or herself as a shaman.” and “No real shaman charges for their services.”

Let’s consider tribal culture for a moment. First off, the primary unit of this culture is communal – the tribe itself. This is something that is simply impossible for most modern Americans to grasp. Your very concept of “self” is radically different from someone growing up in a tribe. Further, the community of the tribe is quite closely knit – much more so than small towns in our own culture. Even more so that extended families. These are cultures in which everyone knows what is going on with everyone else, to a degree that would be quite uncomfortable for folks from our culture. Now, if someone is chosen by the tribe’s shaman as an apprentice, everyone knows this. They know how that person is doing with the process of learning and initiation and they know when that person receives the blessing of the shaman to begin working. For the initiate to go around proclaiming him or herself a shaman would be ludicrous. They already know. 

In our culture, in shamanic practices, we have clientele who we have never met before they come to see us. There is no community net of people who already know what we have been through and that we have received our teacher’s blessing. What we have is word of mouth – and business cards. 

You see, not calling yourself a shaman has everything to do with the tribal context, and nothing to do with shamanism. 

The issue of charging for your services is another case of the same thing. The tribal communities still function on barter and exchange. They don’t use money in the same way that those of us in the post-tribal culture do. So naturally the shaman doesn’t get paid in money. However, the shaman does get paid in food and labor and whatever else he or she needs. 

Once again. Charging money for anything is a matter of cultural context, not shamanism. It is important to be able to view shamanism as it is, separate from the tribal context, if we are to be able to practice it in a meaningful way in our post-tribal context. 

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 © Kenn Day 2017