in defence of SHAMANISM

Q: How many shamans does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None – the light bulb is perfectly capable of changing itself!

In further response to Andy Webster’s Phd presentation and the fearfully limited and dismissive conception of the shaman as artist – one held within the dominant hierarchical power structures of the ‘first world’, rather than one of channelled energy, altruistic ego, communal balance and understanding; universal, ephemeral, communication and animate world appreciation, and affirmation of purposeful perfection in nature and power from within – he seemed not well versed with such spiritual concepts or indigenous process, trapped as his argument appears within the postmodern post-structure of empirical truth, logical thought and meaningless meaningfulness.

bundle of sticks – pine bound with rushes; mount edgecombe (pward 2011)

Despite such modernist opinion the power of the shaman is not determined or exhibited by her separateness, distance or aloofness from society but from the opportunity of holistic understanding and integrity created from a position within the ecological community of which they are a part. The traditional shaman is an artist, a scientist, a doctor, a healer, a hunter, a pasturalist, a gardener, a performer, a keeper of records, a psychologist and a counsellor; their power comes from their broad and implicate understanding, knowledge and perception of the relative dynamic of the immanent ecology of which they are an integral part. They are appointed and elected through an individual aptitude and sensible responsibility exhibited through an attitude of communal behaviour, rather than through any acts of dominance or peculiarly competitive rights of passage. In a sense, the community as a whole entity is its own ‘shaman’, guided by an openess and integrity of communication and trust, allowing for a harmoniously symbiotic relationship with itself as its own environment. The dedicated shaman is simply an empathic mouthpiece, an ecological choreographer appointed to reflect, maintain and affirm a community’s harmonious continuity and fluid evolutionary form.

The role of the shaman is not to correct or criticise from a mythical place of assumed perfection and power, but to suggest, remind and affirm and hence align their audience more fully as relational individuals and ecological communities, to the bioregion within which they exist, and about which the shaman’s opportunities, aptitudes and developed skills have made him or her privy. This is not to say that such gifts are exclusive or particularly special, akin to a Christian priest, for example, or that these perceptions are always right (this would after all be an ecological anomaly) but that the bravery and wisdom of shamanic energetic interventions may assert and engender an open-ended variety of appropriate actions to a given situation, and that the celebration and empowerment of thought itself may inspire a resolution. The humble shaman merely exhibits an ability to listen, empathise and communicate within the elegy of animate form.

On a recent visit to the Embercombe Community in South Devon ( I was informed of a rotating position designated within the dynamic of their holistic lifestyle – that being the role of ‘dreamer’ who will spend the day ‘listening’ to the land of which they are a part and reporting back their ‘observations’, which are then taken into account toward the further practical applications of working within their environment. This adoption of the shamanic role of listening to the animate world within a communal structure clearly admits to and affirms the latent abilities within us all to respond to our sensual and sympathetic connection, while also affirming the importance of such relations. So if we are all willing to accept the responsibilities of power within our communities – to listen as well as share, to dig and carry as well as create – and to exhibit attitudes of holistic altruism and animate egalitarianism, then maybe the role of shaman as artist is not such a threat.

“By affirming that other animals have their own languages, and that even the rustling of leaves in an oak tree or an aspen grove is itself a kind of voice, oral peoples bind their senses to the shifting sounds and gestures of the local earth, and thus ensure that their own ways of speaking remain informed by the life of the land. Still, the membrane enacted by their language is felt, and is acknowledged as a margin of danger and magic, a place where the relations between the human and more-than-human worlds must be continually negotiated. The shamans common to oral cultures dwell precisely on this margin or edge; the primary role of such magicians, …, is to act as intermediaries between the human and more-than-human realms. By regularly shedding the sensory constraints induced by common language, periodically dissolving the perceptual boundary in order to directly encounter, converse, and bargain with various nonhuman intelligences – with otter, or owl, or eland – and then rejoining the common discourse, the shaman keeps the perceptual membrane fluid and porous, ensuring the greatest possible attunement between the human community and the animate earth, between the familiar and the fathomless” from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abbram

So to return briefly to Frederick Sommer’s statement…

“Some speak of a return to nature.

 I wonder where they could have been?”


Shopping maybe??!!

(pw 2011)


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