Every shaman is trained in three things: specific shamanic practices, the mythic lore of the tribe, and the requirements expected of the personal helping spirits one meets in the course of this training. Of these three areas, the one I found most elusive in my early years of shamanic training was the mythic lore of the tribe, for the simple reason that I didn’t know who my tribe was.
In some sense I come from many tribes. In some sense I have no tribe. I have family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, but no tribe. My ancestral lineage is Irish, Scots, English, and German, but being American for several generations, my family has no clear tribal lore. I did not want to be a “tribeless shaman” with spirits and practices but no lore. Even if I was destined to live a contemporary, wandering, tribeless, American life, I wanted lore.
The harder I tried to be a shaman without the lore of my tribe, the harder it seemed to put soul into my shamanic practice. And this is what shamanism is all about: soul.
Fortunately the core shamanic practices that are nearly universal and effective in almost all times and places can awaken the primal soul, the tribal mind, or what we might call indigenous consciousness. And that’s a start. For where you find soul, mind, and consciousness, you find lore.
Just as there are core shamanic practices, there are core shamanic values and attitudes, and these values and attitudes make up the shamanist faith of every tribe. Including my tribe. All my tribes.
The shamanist faith is what fostered the folk practices of healing, divination, and celebration that became shamanism. It is possibly the most ancient faith in human history. Although more primal than Christianity, it can be found here and there in Christianity because it inspired some Christian beliefs and practices. In many instances, it became interwoven with early Christianity and survived the development of Roman Catholicism and modern Protestantism. The shamanist faith peeks out at us from folklore, fairytales, old healing and divination techniques, and the seasonal folk celebrations and village rituals that are still conducted and in some cases being revived in European nations.
The core shamanist faith can be described as: animistic; earth- centered; seasonally vibrant; rooted in the elements of fire, water, air, and soil; regionally and locally structured; and ancestrally supported and fulfilled. Let’s look at each of these.
- As a shamanist I know all things are alive and spirit-filled, and related to me through the divine structure of creation. All things are, therefore, responsive to heartfelt prayer, petition, and pleasing.
- As a shamanist I ask animals, birds, fish, and other moving creatures to help me live more respectfully of their lives and the life of the earth itself. I have met some of these fellow creatures in my dreams, visions, and daily life, and we have become friends.
- As a shamanist I do not look “out there” for the Sacred. I find the presence of the Sacred and the highest spiritual values on this planet, beneath these stars, in these cycles of day and night, in the woods behind my house, in the creeks and streams across the road, in the birds at the feeders, in the deer in the orchards.
- As a shamanist I try to do what the seasons are doing and live in harmony with each month’s unique rhythms of daylight, weather, temperature, growth, movement, decay, stillness, and darkness.
- As a shamanist I use the following tools for spiritual work and play: stones, branches, flowers, leaves, firelight, water, clay, soil, the wind, and shadows.
- As a shamanist I love the land that birthed me and nurtured me and continues to hold part of my soul, calling me to return now and then to walk it, hear its voices, and breath its many fragrances. I also know and love the land where I currently live, and I honor and respect its features, wildlife, and spirits with whom I share this land.
- As a shamanist I stand humbly at the end of a long line of ancestors who have gone before me and without whom I would not be here. I have met some of them. They take an interest in what I am doing with my life, for it is also theirs. It is a sacred trust.
This is my shamanist creed. These are the core beliefs of my European ancestors. This faith gives soul to my shamanic practice. My training in these beliefs and my ability to understand them may take the rest of my life, for tribal scribes, storytellers, and poets have left impressive accounts of the many varied ways these beliefs have been lived throughout the centuries. They have left a large body of rich and ancient lore. There are contemporary scribes, storytellers, and poets who continue to speak of the many ways these beliefs are still being lived. I try to be one of them.