Posted by Benjamin Baron on

I once asked my Guru’s partner, “Do you know all the different things that make up [My Guru’s] lineage?” His partner Nicholas responded, “No. It’s a complex web that I could spend my entire life trying to track down and still never figure out.” I tend to feel that I fall into the same demographic as this. It would be apt that being a pupil of my master that I, too, would follow a similar chaotic path of eclectic faith and unique blessings. Insert my piece on shamanism, and you’ll find that I too have created a chaotic mixture of blended philosophies, spiritualities, and faith that I may never fully understand.

My real introduction to shamanism would have been through my root Guru. A Tibetan Buddhist priest who was from Singapore, Victor was the offspring of a Singaporian woman, who brought her own shamanic culture and Christian heritage, and a White American male, who was sort of Jewish and atheist in his own ways, and whom I just so happened to meet as I attended school in the Los Angeles area for my Master’s degree in Divinity. Victor showed me his own tradition in ways of the Tibetan lineage and in a way that also honored his own cultural diversity and deep lineages. Of the many things that I can remember him saying at a time, Victor once said, “So, yea… you begin to take vows, and then you take more vows… and then it becomes vows on top of vows, so you always get a chance to forget and remember your own traditions!” Victor had the biggest cheeky smile and loudest belly laugh in the room, which you wouldn’t expect from this skinny, tall half-Asian man.


When I began to explore further what shamanism is to me I found myself studying for my massage therapy degree in the Tempe, Arizona area. I happened across a set of classes that introduced me to Larry. Larry was a white male from the Arizona area that breathed the “mountain man” vibe. He had long white hair down his shoulders, wore small pieces of beaded or wooden jewelry, and carried himself with a cool certainty. Larry and his student, Brad, who was also my teacher, walked me through a journey of exploring shamanism from an aware cultural lens. Wouldn’t you know it? Larry was classically trained by Sun Bear, and dealt with the same issues of how to sit in the sacred circle and invoke native lands while being a white male in America as I have. I don’t believe I need to remind the reader of American history and the treatment of Native Americans through the expansion of manifest destiny. How could I ever approach shamanism if it was so rooted into a culture that my ancestors helped to eradicate?

We wouldn’t much be talking about shamanism in an academic setting if we didn’t also include the academic backing of who I began to read and learn from. Paul Francis wrote a series of books called his Therapeutic Shamanism series that introduced a cultural understanding of shamanism that wasn’t based in Native culture. In the first line of the first book in the series, Francis asks the reader to identify where shamanism comes from. Let’s look at a few excerpts from that book to put things into a some scientific context.


Generally, people tend to associate [shamanism] with a particular region or culture. Many people associate it with Native American tribes, particularly from North America, or sometimes from Central or South america. Other people associate shamanism with the Mongolian or Siberian people… some people think of it as being african… the truth is that shamanism has been practised literally all over the world… there are cave paintings in Europe that date back to around 33,000 B.C. which are generally thought to depict shamanic practices. This would make shamanism at least 35,000 years old! In the West, being religious is an option. We can choose to be religious or not, and we can look around and pick the religion we want… Shamanism is different. It is not a religion. In indigenous cultures, there were no people in the tribe who were not shamanic. Yes, the tribe may have had a designated shaman or shamans, but everybody in the tribe would have lived and breathed shamanism. The shaman was simply the person who was better at it than most people. [1]

One of the things that I have to swear by is what Brad and Larry taught me. My root guru may have a different understanding, and so do I to some degree, though I have to honor my teachers in this regard. I DO NOT CLAIM TO BE A SHAMAN! Just because I took a few courses, have meditated for some time, and have an intimate understanding of spirit that talks to me through the lens of animism, does not mean that I am what a tribe used to identify as a shaman. A shaman was typically chosen from birth and went through very particular lineage transmission work, sat in sacred ceremony, and performed acts of bravery or spirit (maybe, both!) for the tribe to appoint this person as their shaman.

What I have joked about amongst my innermost circles is this pejorative idea of the Urban Shaman. A paradox in words alone, there can be no claim to the fame of being chosen by an urban society to be their shaman, or to jokingly identify that the urban jungles or urban landscapes that the Western world occupies these days could have some spirit to it. Or, does it? For me? Shamanism is about an intimate understanding of myself as a being born on this planet. Regardless of the religious traditions we call home, our specific perceptive lens, or the way that we have manifested to look in this life, we are all human beings and part of something greater. My shamanism connects me into some of the more subtle, sacred, and slow aspects of life that I missed on a quest of Ego that I still have yet to fully abandon.
Whatever way spirit speaks to us is valid, and I do have a fondness of mother nature and her beauty that I try to always use to ground me back into reality. That reality may have disconnected me from some formal training of being a shaman. However, the reality is that shamanism is just a way of life in the same way that Buddhism is the same. My tradition is inclusive, and shamanism is just a part of it. As a wise master once said? “My religion is love.”


[1]  Francis, P. (2017). Introduction. In The Shamanic Journey: A practical guide to Therapeutic Shamanism (pp. 13–15). essay, Paul Francis.
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Maybe you've heard of Alan Watts? Well, listen to him and a friend discuss shamanism amongst other topics.
Or, perhaps you want a different explanation of shamanism?
Another, differing explanation of the unique cultural nature of shamanism.

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