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.