Michael Harner, who trailblazed core shamanism, recently crossed over. This sparked a flurry of debate online over the benefit of core shamanism vs shamanism within its cultural settings, and hey, what about all those weekend workshops?

Almost five years ago, I took a workshop with a semi-local teacher, which grew into a monthly study group, led by another woman who studied with a non-local teacher. We started as a group of twelve, then over time, we each would lead a class. And last year, down to five people, I gave it up. If it sounds like the teachings were watered-down, well, that’s something I wondered about too.

My reasons for leaving were clear to me. I was bringing poor energy to the group and getting little out of it. If you’ve been part of any kind of circle, you know these things tend to wane over time, or atrophy.  But the bigger picture for me, became that without some kind of cultural framework, the study had become pretty dry, or in some cases, pretty ego-driven.

And so I watched the Michael Harner tributes/dismissals with interest because it was mirroring a discussion on cultural appropriation taking place in many spiritual circles and if you follow sports, in the area of logos and team names.

Can we draw from other cultures respectfully, if we don’t have any cultural underpinnings to frame our spirituality? I struggle here. Most of my family emigrated from Ireland in the 19th Century and were Catholic. But one of dad’s ancestors was born in Massachusetts in 1790. I perceive the land spirits as Native American. I honor my ancestors as they asked, by saying a rosary and lighting candles in the monastery for them. But I’ve never connected with the angelic realm (that I know of). I have connected with animal spirits, thanks to the techniques of core shamanism (journeying).  I practice witchcraft. I blend what works for me, but make no claims of any special lineage, so it did not sit too well when someone said drumming was cultural appropriation from NA and no one else may use it.

Honestly, I rarely talk about how I come to my spirituality. There have been some really derisive comments about who can practice what kind of spirituality. Maybe this is why the Mystery Schools were just that – selective and secretive. And maybe there shouldn’t be weekend workshops that award certificates, with the expectation the graduate will be able to charge money and claim a certain skill.

What do you do, in America, when your ancestors came here and were so eager for their kids to blend into their new society? You study what you can, and ask your ancestors for guidance, I guess. Yet, isn’t there something to be said for working with the land you are living on? If I connect to the trees and indigenous spirits in my town, am I appropriating what is not mine?

That’s rhetorical, because I’m going to do what works for me as I am guided (at nearly 60) yet it’s a fair question when people spin the wheel of spiritual paths and seek to connect to a culture that they may or may not be a (blood-related) part of. Who is their elder, who is able to kindly direct them to a proper and respectful study of something? Unless a seeker is very discerning they either shunned and derided for inquiring, or sucked into a marketing pyramid scheme.

My opinion, as a kindness, is if you feel someone is out of line, take them aside and explain what their transgression is, and how they can remedy it. Don’t shame and deride them, or worse, talk about it behind their backs as they continue to err. Online, use that DM feature and set the record straight, for all concerned. If your path is important to you, and it should be, show it, and yourself, some respect.


2 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation

  1. You really touched on something here, and it still bugs the hell out of me. It is the whole Cultural thing which is usually shouted against from white middle class who think others should not be doing anything outside of the culture of Western Europe, depends on where their Ancestors came from.
    You are lucky, Your’s came from Erin, but you live in the US, so you really do have the right within the Path of Shamanism to honour both the Irish Ancestors and the Local (to you) Spirits and Divine because that is where you came from. If you find someone from the Tribes to teach you the ways of Medicine Wheel then you are lucky, (age not an issue at all) but you will be contacting the Local Spirits, you have no choice, they are there, same as you are there.
    As for the Drumming, most Shamanistic Cultures around the world use drums, even the Irish have a “Native” Drum, same as all of the Native Tribes within the UK, dating back about 12,000 years.
    Finally as for the schools which charge to teach someone Shamanism, to give you a certificate to say you can do it, and then expect you to do the same, that, to my mind, is not how the Great Spirit, nor the Path works, Shamanism is not Christian, with ridiged dogma and rules, It flows, changes as the seasons, wheels within wheels, circles within circles, forever evolving. You know this as well as I do, maybe that is why you were not feeling the conection, and why there ended up only 5 people before you left.
    We on the Shaman path do what we are guided to do, conect with who we need to at any given time, and use which ever tools (such as a drum) we need to use, just because the Local Spirits have guided you to do that, and that is why it is your Path and you really can not learn this is a school, because everyone will be different at any given time.

    Always with Respect,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you SO much Dave, for hearing me and for replying. There is a disconnect between authentically walking your path, and the work that needs to be done to be shown that path, and the American need to monetize everything. I am speaking for myself when I say that the level of commercialization of anything (everything?) is bring forth a shallowness-where skimming is more important than seeking a depth of knowledge of something. Again, this is just my opinion. I can understand the mystics who go off into the desert to commune with their spirits and seek some purification. Lately, I receive more peace from watching Brother Turkey Vulture catching an air current, or sitting with the trees.
    Be well,

    Liked by 1 person

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