Just yesterday I received an email from a friend who had decided to sign up for a Shamanism 101 course, wondering if I knew the facilitator and why I myself didn’t offer such courses. It didn’t take much ESP, intuition or magical powers for me to immediately detect the odour of a plague of rats, even over all the copper wire of the internet.
Naturally, I had never heard of this facilitator, and unsurprisingly, even the most exhaustive of Google searches didn’t turn up his name. You may think that a recommendation for a Shaman – surely some sticks-and-herbs man wandering the dark paths of the forests, fighting demons and making medicines is not to be found updating his Facebook profile and so is unreachable by the viral reach of search bots?
Well that’s just the point. Shamans, the real ones, are not wont to advertise their services online, and most importantly, they do not teach their skills in expensive seminars. Shamanism or anything like it is a calling, not a choice, and its usually a difficult and troublesome calling, just like all callings are.
Even though the real ones are pretty rare these days, here in Africa the process resembles that of any trainee medicine man in any traditional culture: it is a one-on-one apprenticeship lasting many years, initiated by a series of invariably unpleasant circumstances that signify the calling. If someone actually wants to do that they are considered as mad as someone who wants to throw themselves from a cliff to see if they can fly.
Whatever your opinion about Shamans per se, you can’t help but recognise that familiar combination of Spiritual paucity and rampant commercialism that drives our Western need to make the fast buck, to imagine we’re doing something relevant and useful for the world, and to increase our importance in the eyes of all around. Magical powers! Second only to the hallowed wizardry of Hacking (interestingly, also taught in dark places rather than 101s!)
It’s been called ‘the cult of the amateur’, but I think it’s even worse. Not only are we dangerously misinformed, dumbing ourselves down and creating a world of intellectual poverty for our kids to inherit, but our spiritual, intellectual and experiential heritage is being usurped by a bunch of self-appointed idiots like Mr Shamanism Facilitator. The ironic side effect of the incredible power of the democratization of information that the internet has unleashed for us.
Shamanism 101: How to destroy thousands of years of human knowledge and experience in a single weekend, and get rich doing it. And we wonder why the great achievements of religion, philosophy, astrology and others like them have vanished?
Let’s celebrate the Net and its unimaginably exciting future, but let’s not forget and bury the heritage from the past.
The first rule of Shamanism: honour the ancestors. Oh, the irony!