Disadvantages of Seidhr/Shamanism/Spae

 

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by Jenny Blain

    Thought I'd throw this in for good measure.. I've just come from yet another pagan conference with people selling feathers and stuff. But feathers do not a shaman make! 'Traditional' is in quotes, because no culture is static, all are changing, and in many, the shaman becomes an agent both of change and of resistance to it, an agent who attempts to blend old and new and find a new working balance.

So - some reasons why people don't want to be shamans in 'traditional' cultures:

  1. Undergoing shamanic experiences can lead to death, death-and-dismemberment, with no guarantee of ever being put back together, insanity;
  2. It's hard to plan career, family, etc. when you don't know what you'll be asked to deal with next and what demands will be made on your life;
  3. Your kinfolk may not like it, particularly in cultures where either (a) it's seen as a low-status job or (b) where the spirits claim a life from among your kin before you can become 'a shaman';
  4. There may be general lack of trust in your stability: the community/your clients swing between regarding you as the one with answers and regarding you as the one to blame;
  5. People look at you funny, and while you may have clients, you may not have too many friends;
  6. You're fingered as a potential political troublemaker. This can lead to death, etc...;
  7. Other shamans regard you as a threat - especially if they've from communities in competition with yours. This can lead to attack and death, etc;
  8. Unreliability and unpredictability of your bosses. Spirits can leave, or decide to drop you in it at the most inconvenient moments;
  9. Did I mention insanity and death?

Some reasons why people feel they have to be shamans in 'traditional' cultures:

  1. You're being called, and the spirits tell you that you don't actually have a choice because refusal will lead to (a) death or (b) insanity, for you or those close to you;
  2. You're being called, nobody else will do it, and the community needs a shaman;
  3. Spirits won't leave you alone, not even when you're sleeping;
  4. People look at you funny anyway, they might as well do this for a reason;
  5. You care about your people's tradition and somebody needs to learn this, though you accept that it's no piece of cake.

    A useful book that Patty and others may want to read is 'Shamanism' by Merete Jakobsen. (Berghan Press, 1999.) I don't agree with her definition of 'shamanism' (as 'mastery of spirits': come on, who's kidding who here), and have reason to believe that she likewise does not agree with mine, but she gives a very interesting account of the job of an Angankok in Greenland, with emphasis on the less appealing side of being an Inuit shaman.

 

Jenny

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last modified 07/20/2003