Shamanism is a practice that has existed for well over 40,000 years in every country, on every island, and in every culture throughout the world. Yes, some of that has morphed into various religions. At the base of every religion, however, you will find a foundation that is Shamanic in nature. I say, “Shamanic in nature,” because Shamanism is very Nature-based.
As a species, we all have roots in Nature. We did not evolve from technological roots. No-one’s family tree extends back to only urban roots. We all come from a background that existed purely in Nature itself. As such, this is what most spiritual beliefs started with…the cycles of nature, the phases of the moon, the seasons of the sun. Plants and animals were considered to be a part of this structure of experience, as were rocks, rivers, mountains, streams, clouds, and so on. Everything in Nature was known to have an “essence,” or “Consciousness,” if you will. And THAT is what we communed with. It was not some intangible phantom deity in the sky. The sky, the earth below, and everything in between was the deity.
Just as there is dogma in various religions, there is also dogma in Shamanism. It is important to know what the teachings are based upon in order to know what is reasonable and what is not. For example, some people in today’s society believe that using sage to create a cleansing smoke, called a “smudge,” is strictly a practice belonging to First Nations people on North America. While certain types of sage grow predominantly in North America, other types can be found on other continents. As such, there are many cultures who have used it in smudges around the world. Although I would not sell bundles of sage, even though I grow it in my own garden, I do use it from time to time when required. I am not, to my knowledge, First Nations. Thus, I will not sell it. It can be gifted to me, or I can grow it. Before knowing anything about “cultural appropriation,” I used to sell it for a nominal fee to help pay for my time harvesting it. I no longer do that because we all learn and grow and do better as we go. The act of using a cleansing smudge is something that is universal, and it need not be restricted to sage. There are many cultures that use them and make them up of various herbs. So, using even an incense as a smudge is perfectly acceptable. The trick here is to know what you are using and to receive training from a practitioner so that you are not doing anything inappropriately. Training is essential. It is not cool to just pick something up and try it because, “it works for them, so…” This sort of thing communicates disrespect for the thousands of years of gathering information and of practice that go into whatever it is that you are simply “trying out.”
Having said all that, I have often been asked why it is that there are so many differing traditions that fall under the umbrella of “Shamanism.” When we look at the world religions, we will often see what appears to be major differences. But with looking closer at them, the only time that major differences occur is when humans begin to radicalize the faith. Up until that moment, most world religions have extremely similar teachings. These teachings were simply brought to the people by different spiritualists. I feel that it is more important to look at bridging the similarities than it is to point out the differences. If more people practiced bridging, the world would likely have a lot more of the peace that every religion says it wants for us.
As forementioned, Shamanism is universal. It has been in every culture in one form or another through the entire world throughout all time. Because it is so vast, it must be allowed to evolve and develop according to the people who are following its teachings. Again, there will be many similarities. There will also be some differences. For anyone to expect that there should be only one path up a mountain for the entire planetary population to follow is simply the voice of ego speaking. Whenever I hear things like, “There is only one way to God,” or, “There is only one true tradition,” I walk away. There is never just one way, and there is never just one tradition. Finding a tradition that resonates for you, and then receiving teachings in that tradition is a way to God. But you can also follow more than one tradition and do very well finding your way to God. You can even follow traditions that honor the Divine Feminine and still be on the right path. There are so many paths up Sacred Mountain. It does not matter which one or ones you choose. It only matters that you are making your way up Sacred Mountain.
So, the differences between the traditions are something that is connected to the evolution of each tradition in its own region. For example, in Medicine Wheel teachings (and there are many of those) there are certain colors associated with each cardinal and non-cardinal direction around the wheel. However, what those colors are will depend upon which tradition you are associating with at the time. The fact that there are varying traditions does not negate the basic truths of any of those traditions. They are all correct, for their own reasons. Understanding the reasoning behind the colors helps one to connect more deeply with the teachings. But you will find, if you explore Medicine Wheel teachings, that all the teachings are extremely similar. So, when one is following the Cree tradition of Medicine Wheel teachings, one will encounter identical teachings to those of Lakota, or even the teachings in Celtic Sacred Circle practices. The directions that the teachings are associated with may vary, as might the colors that are associated with them. But the core teachings are the same.
What I find interesting is that humans tend to look for the differences instead of the similarities. What does that say about the human mind? Are we so hung up on categorizing things in separate piles and bundles that we cannot see that they are similar? Does this feed our egos in some obscene way? Is this perhaps even an innate aspect that leads us to horrid things such as racism, sexism, ageism, and any other “ism” that we can name? Or is this a part of scientific dogma? By that I mean the ideology that the only valid reasoning comes from science, therefore science wins! We forget that science is a process of discovery. As such, there is no one truth within it, because it is constantly changing with new information and data. It never holds all the answers and likely never will. Our modern society, however, tends to constantly defer to science and view all else as unreal, imagined, or “fake news.” And then science “discovers” a truth and changes everyone’s minds about it. But those truths have often been held within Shamanism and world religions for thousands of years. It is just that science has perhaps unravelled the “why it works” details…or thinks that it has. Don’t get me wrong here. I have nothing against science as such. I do have problems with its arrogance. But the process of trying, testing, and discovering is invaluable in a world that has so much to yet be explored and discovered. What science needs to do, however, is understand that it may not have the practice or the tools to try and test and discover at hand now. Perhaps years down the road those practices and tools will be discovered or invented, but until then, science has no business declaring anything as unreal or fantasy or impossible. And it might do science well to give credit to the many world practices that have known this stuff for thousands of years, instead of trying to take credit for a discovery that is thousands of years late to the game.
So, as a practicing Shaman, I encourage you to look more toward the similarities of practices instead of the differences, and to perhaps not worry so much about who “owns” the many practices. Find what resonates with you and get teachings in that. Invite yourself to create bridges instead of canyons between the many practices of the world. Our planet needs you to do that.