Saturday, 10 March 2007

Fake Shamen

Interesting article about fake healers problem among the Navajo nation of course since there is no such thing as an official traditional healer certificate (an we hope there never is such a thing) the problem can be found all over the American continent. Its a problem inside the Indian communities, and it is also a problem that the communities have with outside people, mostly white new-agers (such as Sedonia Cahill's THE GREAT ROUND organization) who use ceremonial pipes, Indian names and paraphernalia, chanting, sweat lodges, and other offerings of Indian spirituality... but without the Indians.

Helene Hagan in her fantastic article states:

"Like Bird Brother and Sedonia Cahill, the people in such networks all purport to have a spiritual calling and to be legitimately trained in one or more Native American traditions. The fact of the matter is that they are not legitimate in the eyes of any Native American community, nor do they hold any seminar, conference or ceremonies among Native Americans. What they have in common is that they steer away from real Indians, do not interact with them and absolve themselves of any responsibility toward the Native American community, locally or nationally.

Furthermore, some have the audacity to claim that the Native American medicine people and elders are "jealous" of their "powers" (comment by O'Shinna Fast Wolf in the same issue), a ridiculous notion which only reflects the low level of esteem such commentators hold for Native American spiritual leaders and elders who are concerned about the proliferation of fake medicine people. Such statements deny Native American intelligence and wisdom, and ignore the very real possibility that legitimate traditionalists would know how dangerous the manipulation of partial ceremonial knowledge can be to the individual and collective psyches.

Traditionalists know how damaging someone who is not trained properly can be when manipulating psychic forces or invoking spirits of the depths without adequate preparation. It is this knowledge which impels the real spiritual Indian leaders to warn against these "plastic medicine people"-whether they call themselves "medicine" men and women, "shamans" or any other name. No Indian spiritual leader speaks of ownership of spirit, as they have been accused of recently in publications of The Great Round, as such notion is idiotic. To even advance such a notion can ony stem from very ignorant people in matters of Native American spirituality. It also reeks of racism, for it belittles the intelligence of a group of people in such a way that can only be called racist.

When Sedonia and Bird Brother write or speak about ownership of spirit, they are showing childish ignorance of spiritual matters. Indians are not seeking to protect their ceremonies from being practiced by others who hold more "power". The issue of power is a very misunderstood one, indeed. It is one that involves the shadow of all individuals engaged in the healing professions in the western world. To know how to relinquish power is the first step to spiritual understanding and the step missing from all New Age Indian teachings. People are getting very rich indeed in misleading others into quests for "powers" toward false values.

Rather, Indians are concerned that bits and pieces of their ceremonies are used and manipulated without discretion, in an ignorant manner as to their consequences. They are concerned that such actions, based on slavish imitation and improprieties, can cause damage to others, and that the very people who speak so loudly of their concern for mental health are engaging in unauthentic spiritual practices. Psychic damage has been known to result from such experiences. The individual may not be able to link it directly and it may show up in unpredictable ways months and years later. Native American spiritual leaders are fully aware of these dangers.

To belittle the knowledge of Indians, and to pretend that their practices can be taken over by non-Indians harmlessly are indications of non understanding and arrogance. To fabricate new ceremonies out of bits and pieces of various Indian rituals, out of the full ritual context in which they are embedded, is to create psychic monstrosities. This, the fake medicine people are unaware of. Rituals have a context. They are a part of an entire fabric of a given society, and one ritual is only a part of a whole. The balance is in the whole, not in the parts. And the whole is still the full practice within Indian circles, founded on ancient Indian traditions, for Indian people. Others can pretend to achieve identical results with only outward paraphernalia and a patchwork of gleaned information as to the steps of certain rites, but they do not have the key to the whole meaning, the whole context, and how the parts complement and fit each other. They are crippling other human beings by subjecting them to only bits or parts of a whole system, without having the keys to the entire mental system.

This is truly what is at stake and why Indians are concerned. They know these people do not have a clue and through arrogance, greed for money, for results, for power, for prestige, for followers, for validation of their fantasy trips, or from simple ignorance engage in improper behavior. As to the claim that rituals are "generic" and not specific to any group of people, one must indeed be a trained anthropologist to speak to that issue. Sedonia and Bird Brother are not. Rituals have contexts, are context specific and emerge from the collective unconscious of a particular group.

There are patterns which are embedded in an ecosystem, particular to a given culture and which function precisely and effectively for a particular group. It is Theodore Rosack who emphasizes that we are on the verge of discovering that the deep unconscious is not just sexual (Freud), or spiritual (Jung), but related to the ecosystem in which we live. And in that regard we must understand how Western people have diverged very far indeed from their unconscious in a destructive way. The destruction of the environment goes hand in hand with the destruction of our relationship to the unconscious, which is at its very depth our natural habitat and its indigenous populations. The recovery of this relatedness of all things can be accomplished as individuals, simply, genuinely and honestly without external trappings or borrowed traditions.

Rituals have to do with the careful relationship to these depths and ways have developed among certain people to balance these forces which can affect the individual and collective mental health of a given group. Playing with rituals is a dangerous game and in this regard Westerners who play at being Indians are unaware and unconscious. That is why Indians are concerned. Such "plastic medicine people" are fooling around with mental health and in ways for which they are not properly trained by experts. It is not a question of dispute over who is right and who is wrong and who owns spirituality.

Furthermore, the views set forth by The Great Round publications that "rituals are generic" and can be borrowed from one group or another and passed around reflects abysmal ignorance as to the very specific qualities of ritual as it is elaborated by the collective psyche of a given group of people, and it is valid for them alone. No ritual can be borrowed. No ritual can be created as an innovation by one individual. In indigenous groups, innovation occurs only as it emerges from a vision or a dream of a member of that community and bears all the marks of having a collective meaning, and must pass the scrutiny of experts in that community. The contention, for instance, that the "Prune Dance" began to be practiced by these New Age people because some white man dreamt of the world as if it were dried up like a prune and therefore needed a new ceremony to juice it up, is a severe misunderstanding of the true nature of dream. That white man's dream referred to his white world and not to any Sun Dance, which is an Indian ceremony. It might have meant that this particular man's env-ironment was like a dried prune. The white man's arrogance is boundless.

And while indeed the Spirit exists for each and all, and manifests in many ways, the way a human group relates to the earth is very specific. Each ritual, item, song or action exists in a very real context of family and social life in a group, and carries meaning within this very group, and not for other people. To borrow bits and pieces and create some hodgepodge for one's own benefit, financial or emotional, and as one wishes, is indeed the American way, but it is also very sad. It is as if Americans were so spiritually bankrupt that they did not have any inner resources to draw from and had to borrow from others the source of any inspiration. To peddle such hodgepodge to others for a fee, be it vision quest, sweatlodge or other ceremony, is taking advantage of the gullible and disoriented and to profit by it. This is the true essence of charlatanism.

In Native American traditions, the holy men and women, the spiritual advisors and medicine people hold different functions in society and have very different training. But all are sustained by their community without benefit to themselves. In return, they know that their primary responsibility is to their community, and should they depart from that path, seeking fame or glory or financial gain, they are leaving their true vocation and will be shunned. True humility and service to others are indeed their remarkable qualities. They do not market themselves, do not publicize their skills and do not issue flyers. They work hard in silence and in true dedication to the welfare of others and they know well the dark forces which can overcome them should they depart from their obligations.

Indian medicine men and women train from childhood. They are not allowed to practice until they have undergone a long experience of the powerful spirits or psychic forces they will encounter first in themselves, long before they are singled out for specific healing tasks by others. They do not appoint themselves. Rarely does a medicine man or woman come to practice before maturity, for these very reasons. There is not a hint of this wisdom in any of the so-called teachings passed around in the "circles" forming around plastic medicine people."

Via who owns native culture? which now has an rss feed, do subscribe

6 coments:

Pangolin said...

Cute, Google inserted an ad that claims to test people for native american DNA. For a price of course.

The fake shamans are never going to go away. It's way more fun to go to a fake shaman for a weekend "healing" than a real shaman who might stick you in a hut in a desert for a week with nothing to eat but corn mash and no salt.

Nobody who can see claims the shadow of a tree will produce lumber although it might have the same outline.

Let them be.

LG said...

If you called a plumber, and he did a crappy job that didn't fix the problem, or made a another pipe burst somewhere else. Would you say "let them be" or would you inform the better business bureau?

Anonymous said...

Native Amercian people may or may not be upset.
Having participated in many Sweat Lodges over the years, both traditional and within the "fake shamans" realm I can say that I never paid a dime in either camps.

As a past student of Harley Swift Deer though one of his students lodges, many a Native American came to visit and witness what was done there amongst the "white Indians" The ones I met were quite astounded and praised the work being done. I have seen gifts exchanged, ceremonies done between the Native People and the "Fake Shamans" as you call them.

My first encounter with sweats came to me on a beach in San Diego, lead by Black Foot Indians who had come to present the sweat lodge for those who wanted it. Again Black Foot came to healing gatherings in '76, The Rainbow Gathering in Montana to teach, to guide. To open doors of experience for the spiritually destitute.

I did a weekend class with Oshinna Fast Wolf in '83 in Santa Fe. She was humble and enlightened and she gave me tools to protect myself from invading influences. I remain grateful to her.

Native Americans have the gift of family, and a close society structure that gives knowledge from one generation to another, where they have not been destroyed by the white man and the capitalist greed.

Currently many white people on the the other hand have not been given true spritual guidance and many false religions have been forced upon us. Those who could, who could escape the bondage have sought answers in the Native American traditions when possible.

But access is not easy. So those who have managed to learn have found ways to share the work and some have made it their life's vocation as the need has been so great.

The cultural times they are a changing. I do implore all native peoples to hold on to what they have. Yet I also ask that those who seek a better way, a better connect and understanding with spirit, a better knowledge of the Mother Earth not be condemned for their struggle and their seeking and their practice, even if imperfect.

Ceremony and ritual is not fixed in cement. It belongs to whom ever is doing it and is as good and holy as their intent is. Intention is everything.
The vast majority of 'fake shamans' are indeed of very high intent. Few of ill intend could maintain the energy, and do the work.

There is great spiritual hunger and longing in the country. To condemn and criticize is counter productive. Life and the web we as humans spin is forever evolving and growing and changing. New ways of living and loving the earth with continue to unfold. The old gets wrapped and enfolded into the new. This is not a stagnant planet, nor a stagnant people.

And by the way, I have been sent out for a week with only corn meal. I have laid in the whole in the earth that I dug myself through the dark night with no blanket. I have done the 4 rounds of a sweat, I have done some very grueling tasks to open my path before me. I have weaved the baskets, made the medicine pouches, the prayer bundles, filled them with my prayers, opened my heart and my mind and faced the great unknown of self and the earth and sky.

What I and others have received through the gift of shared teachings is profound and it has made for a better life for me, my children and those around me through being open hearted and finding a way to acknowledge the spirit within and without and in all directions.

All this came to me though asking sprit to bring me to a way. Spirit brought to me the "false shamans" you speak of. This was the access available to me. I do not regret one second of it. It is what I have. It is my life. My experience and you shall not diminish it.

They are only "fake shamans" because you have not opened your mind and heart to the work that they do and are too busy condemning that which you really don't understand.

jeronimo m.m. said...

I mean in no way (nor do I have the power to) diminish your experiences, all I am saying is that many of the things that were passed on to you as “Native American Spirituality” simply are not that. The experiences you had could undoubtedly be spiritual, powerful, and full of meaning…. They were just not Native American Spirituality.

Here’s a long thread about the topic where I participated at length:

Anonymous said...

Well, the experiences person speaks of certainly did not come from the Catholic Church. They are teachings handed down by Native peoples to the white man and that handing down is going on all over the place. How can you refuse to recognize that? Just as things are handed down within a tribe, some tribal elders or shamans are handing down information to white people and most of it is held with great sacredness.

What you fail to see is that there is not a white race or a red race, a native spirituality or a white spirituality, only a human race with one spiritual knowledge intertwined and learned from experience. This fake shaman artilce is really only about racism. A dark force construct created to divide humanity and keep them at odds with each other, not only here in the US but all over the world, as the power mongers, the dark cabal would have it.

Once the heart is open there is clearly seen to be only one race, one humanity all capable of the same knowledge and wisdom with access to the same learnings and forces of nature. The door has been opened and too many have now walked though.

Rather that being in a reactionary mode it would be better to celebrate the spiritual awakening of humanity and serve that at every opportunity. That is where hope lies.

Mario said...

I have to disagree with the anonymous writer who states that he was a student of Claude Regan AKA; Swiftdeer. I was there part of his Karate dojo back in 1976. He was claiming to be the real "Billy Jack".He was passing off rituals from the Temple of the golden dawn (Alister Crowley) and claiming that they were Indian rituals. He would always say that he wanted to be known as the most powerful sorcerer that has ever lived(this should have been a clear message that this guy was no good). He would constantly try to seduce my girlfriends into bed and then make fun of me when I questioned him about his actions.
He left many people in serious and dangerous frames of mind and started to believe his own made up bibliography. I cannot understand why this prefabrication? If he spent the energy to obtain a real PHd. in human sexuality from a real college rather than pay 500$ to one of these degree mills that give you a worthless piece of paper who knows he may of been able to heal the world. OH Yeah that would mean he would have to forget about himself.