Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Shaman Sickness, Scholarship, Discernment, and the 'Oh noes, someone I don't know on the internet said I'm not teh realz Seidrworkerz'

I don't often post about more esoteric items on this blog. For the most part, I'm very private when it comes to this stuff and far more comfortable talking about more 'tangible' subjects, at least with strangers, and especially on the internet.

However more recently, I've found myself participating in groups focused on Seidr and Shamanism (even though I don't practice Shamanism in any sense - traditional or Harner-style, of the word). I dunno, I just guess I miss not having people around that I could talk to about this stuff, and bounce ideas off (once an appropriate level of comfort has been reached, of course!). What I've found for the most part, however, has been a complete trainwreck. Seriously, it's no surprise that mainstream Heathen communities generally consider those involved in the more esoteric side of things to be absolutely batshit crazy. This blog post, controversial as it is, is going to look at what I consider some of the most damaging and ridiculous aspects of this type of group.

N.B: While I generally disagree with the use of the word 'shaman/ism' outside of an Evenk context, for ease of reference in this post, I will however use the term.

Shaman Sickness and the Wounded Healer Archetype

Shaman sickness is one thing that I've seen talked about a lot in these groups. I would even hazard a guess that the percentage of sick (either physically or mentally) people in these groups is far higher than in more mainstream groups. However, if this is the case, why could this be? Moreover, in many cases that I've seen, why is it that the same kind of resolution recorded in traditional societies that have forms of 'shamanism', don't also seem to occur in these people? Why is it, that in spite of their alleged 'shamanic' status, these sick stay sick?

Traditional accounts of 'Shaman sickness' tend to speak of it as being a way for the spirits not only to get the attention of the would-be Shaman, but an elder shaman who would then train the shaman. To quote the Circle of Tengerism website (http://www.tengerism.org/becoming_a_shaman.html):

"The near-death experience of the shaman’s sickness is very traumatic. The would-be shaman suffers both mentally and physically. This is how the spirits get the attention of not only the afflicted, but of the local shaman. When the elder shaman is called to help, they would recognize the shaman’s sickness and take the afflicted as a student.

This does not mean that everyone who has a near-death experience is a shaman. It means that some people who have one have the potential to become a shaman. Those with the potential are called butur. Butur means “cocoon” in Mongolian. To grow into a shaman, they must accept the calling and be recognized and trained by an elder shaman."

Similar can be said of the Korean Mudang (shaman), and the shinbyeong (spirit sickness) that they exhibit, with the cure being the naerim-gut (initiation).

In other words, they don't stay sick, the sickness is temporary, as opposed to chronic, serving only as a vehicle for bringing a person to Shamanic practice.

However, in this new age sewage world, rather than being this vehicle to bring someone to the spirits, people seem to delight in the 'Wounded Healer' archetype, completely misunderstanding the original intent behind Jung's archetype. The person doesn't remain sick, the person is not constantly wounded in the sense of continual sickness or being physically affected, instead, to quote Jung's colleague, Kerenyi, the Wounded Healer refers psychologically to the ability “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepius, the sunlike healer.” In other words, those that have not already suffered, cannot heal as they cannot understand suffering. It doesn't mean that the person still suffers personally (except perhaps through memories and striving to help others). It is not some kind of beacon for sick people to gather round.

Moreover, physical feats have been recorded of Shamans in various cultures, especially during trance. There is also an inherent danger recognised in traditional forms of shamanism, be that the exposure to danger of attack from other shamans or spirits, or death from some of the entheogens used. This suggests to me that the Shaman in these societies needs to be physically, as well as spiritually healthy and strong. Aside from issues of race and culture, I would posit that many apparent Western shamans wouldn't be considered as colleagues by shamans from traditional groups, simply on the basis of physical and mental health.

In my view, this also is bourn out from a Heathen perspective in that a person who is unhael physically cannot be hael spiritually. It's haelu across the board - but I'll get into more detail on that in the section on discernment.


Another trend I've seen in these groups has been a disdain for any kind of scholarship with regards to Seidr or shamanism. Obviously, one cannot practice Seidr and Scholarship, they're apparently not inclusive of each other...

Oh yeah, says who?

I see the charge that we can't possibly know what the Seidrworkers of old ever did, that we have no information about Seidr, and that no one ever asked a Seidrworker. This is one of best cop outs EVAR.

Because as we all know, NO ONE has ever relearned an ancient skill based on the descriptions or paintings produced by non-practitioners. The Danish archer Lars Anderson of course never learned how to fire arrows at a speed that modern master archers previously thought impossible, through looking at old sources and experimenting:

Go Legolas, go!

No, it's far better to go off UPG and the work of some white guy that basically ripped off a load of different shamanisms based in different cultures, and then plugged them into a framework provided by early 20th century scholarship by people like that Romanian fascist Eliade.

And of course, in order to sell more courses and books, you need to make it as inclusive as possible, right? Can't tell entitled rich Westerners that they can't be part of something that looks cool because of reasons like culture, and such like.

Once again, to turn to the Circle of Tengerism site (something which was founded to try and educate and preserve the native traditions of Mongolian Shamanism):

"One should also note that shamanism cannot be separated from the culture that it serves. It is interwoven into every aspect of the life and world view of the people. To take it out of its cultural context robs it of its power and meaning."

And perhaps more ironically:

"If anyone claims they can make you a shaman in one weekend for a fee, you should think twice. If you were to walk into a martial arts equipment store and buy a black belt, this would not make you a black belt. There are no quick fixes. Beware of spiritual consumerism."

I would argue that recovering the practice of Seidr needs to be a threefold process that involves experimentation, UPG, and yes...study as well.


Another curse of these boards seems to be the lack of discernment. Indeed, I would consider discernment to be a key skill for those involved in any occult activity - a skill that's as important as protection. And yet, it doesn't really seem to get much talk time.

There are so many angles to this topic too, it's really huge, and covers everything from discernment in more esoteric work (e.g questions like 'What does this entity project itself as vs what is it really?', or 'what is really going on here, is another practitioner pulling the wool over my eyes in order to make a claim?'), to discernment in the people you work with (e.g their motivations, their actual abilities, their knowledge basis, and their intentions).

In other words, discernment is one of the most basic and important skills we can learn to protect ourselves - yet we often overlook it for things like a sense of belonging in a group.

Scholarship can also be very useful when it comes to discernment in a more esoteric sense. For example, your UPG says that the Morrigan is a kindly old grandmother that rides on a unicorn, but all the lore on the Morrigan says she's a battle goddess. Chances are, in cases like this, you're deluding yourself. You're not discerning between your own personal fantasies and genuine spiritual experience. This doesn't mean you're a terrible person, just your monkey brain got away on you and you need to work harder on more basic skills designed to harness the monkey brain.

You know, as opposed to having a temper tantrum that nothing is how you want it to be, and then blaming the 'inaccuracies' on 'those damn Christians'...again.

Other types of esoteric discernment are harder, and not really something that can be rendered in text. This is really where having a teacher of some kind would come in handy, and this leads us to perhaps the most important type of discernment of all - the discernment of people.

People involved in esoteric practices are often possessed of complex motivations, some of them are good, some not so good. For example, the 'teacher' of a friend basically used 'teaching Paganism' as an excuse for having sex at lots of different burial sites. These stories of people being taken advantage of are ten a-penny too. When it comes to people that you may end up working with on as intimate a level as esoteric work often demands, the need for discernment grows one hundred-fold. So, how can you tell the real 'teachers' from the fakes?

Here are my main questions when it comes to discerning people that would be good teachers:

* How are their lives? Messy? Productive? Is there growth in their lives or only decay? Are they healthy and robust, or are they constantly sick? Are they always having to 'fight spirits' or claiming to have been cursed over the most minor slights (real or imagined)? Generally speaking, good teachers have their lives in order, they're hael. Never follow an unhael teacher under the misguided belief that they are some kind of wounded healer, as we've already said, the wound doesn't continue, it's more of a reference point for helping to heal and build.

*How do they deal with disagreement? Do they cast the person they disagreed with out, or do they take the disagreement and respectfully continue to disagree? The reaction a person has to disagreements gives you a good clue to the egos involved, and whether or not they need validation from others to feel good. This need for validation and to be considered a great _____insert title here_____, may also point to a narcissistic personality. Pro-tip: These are to be avoided at all costs, because they often turn out to be worst abusers.

* How often do they employ 'Checksums' in their work? Be those Checksums from historical sources, or in terms of follow up/questioning of witnesses to different events. This can also go for a tendency to blame all things on spiritual causes and a lack of acceptance that 'shit happens', or even any kind of rational explanation.

*Have they ever claimed to speak for a god in order to tell people what to do (especially if what the 'god' is telling you to do is suspiciously what they themselves have tried to tell you)? If so, run like hell.

"Oh noes, someone I don't know on the internet said I'm not teh realz Seidrworkerz

Finally we come to the final thing I've seen on these groups - that of trying to discredit the abilities of those you disagree with. Of course, when ego is attacked, it's an easy fix - as good as claiming those you disagree with are really sekrit Christians in more mainstream Heathen groups.

And really, it's pathetic, it screams a level of butthurt and injured ego on the part of the accuser, that one almost has to feel sorry for. I mean, if your ego is so delicate that you need to try and remove a person completely from the equation because you can't deal with them being around, then you have issues. Moreover, what the hell is this need to be validated by strangers on the internet that have nothing to do with anything concrete in your life? It's ridiculous. If they don't contribute to your house, or your life (and you theirs), then why the hell should you care?

Really, why do they matter?

Simple answer: They shouldn't.

This rant from a random nameless person on the internet that you really probably shouldn't listen to was brought to you by the letters 'K' and 'X', and the numbers '3' and '9'.

Toodle pip!


Rebecca Sheehan said...

Since I know you are real, flesh-person and not just an Internet energy being, I will consider what you have said.

Thank you for the comments about discernment. It is something that lingers in my mind but not always at the conscious level and it helps to have it made part of the conscious conversation.

Sometime when we are having that cup of tea around a fire and talking of lots of things, I do want to talk about the role of the shaman-like practitioner in the modern world. I have my own thoughts (and they are still developing) and they are far too complex to go into here.

And thanks for ranting into my day. :)

Megalithix said...

"Eliade was a fascist"??? WTF???

Liz Kirby said...

This is a really thoughtful piece and I welcome it. Anyone who wants to work Seidr should practise intelligence and discernment- and work on making themselves heathy. Well said.

Birka said...

Rebecca: As always, I look forward to our campfire talks. I think we should really make a list though because we forget to cover so many topics during our sadly brief hangouts lol.

Megalithix: Eliade wrote in support of quite a few far right and fascist ideologues in his day. His far right tendencies are well known among scholars. Hell, you can even find that aspect of Eliade mentioned on the Wiki.

Liz: Thank you! :)