Shamanic Journeying
August 4, 2016 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for about 3 years now for depression and anger issues. It has worked well. My therapist thinks I'm ready for something new. In particular, for Shamanic Journeying. I just read Journeying by Jeanette Gagan, and I agree that I think I would work for me.

As it happens, there is a well-known Shamanic person in town, so well-known that I suspect she doesn't take clients. In fact the only way to contact her is via snail-mail.

I guess my big question is: Do I start this on my own (with a recorded journey) or should I have a guide at first?

Anything you can share about your experiences with Shamanic Journeying is appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A therapist suggesting something new that is not a clinical treatment is a little surprising to me, FWIW.
posted by listen, lady at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2016 [18 favorites]

Everything I google about is appropriated from Tibet's indigenous religion and what appears to be the religion/s of indigenous Americans.

Nothing I can see is run by a Tibetan and there is no acknowledgement of Tibetans in the links I clicked on. This gives me grave concern that it is 1) not a tested treatment and 2) horrifically appropriative and culturally insensitive. I can't speak about the indigenous American side. I don't think wanting snail mail means much in terms of credibility. They could equally be conspiracy theorists or hipsters or in witness protection.

[/my family practices what white people call shamanism. (I'm an atheist).]
posted by taff at 3:54 PM on August 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

Seconding taff.

As someone with a Jungian + post-Jungian feminist background (i.e. readings and analysis, I am neither an analyst nor a psychologist), and knowing "shamanism" (quotes because that's what it's called by white people) as used in a couple of Pacific Northwest tribes as well (I prefer not to say how, just that I myself am not shamanic), this sounds like a mashup. sorry for all the parentheses.

You could get the same fundaments from reading Jungian works, and it would have the benefit of encouraging you to connect with your personal spirituality. This is indeed why I prefer not to say how I know PacNW tribal beliefs – they're theirs – and why I never quite say what spiritual beliefs I hold. They only apply to me. This works well for me. I don't expect other people to acknowledge, agree with, or understand it. I live it, it exists, it works for me. This is also how I consider spirituality in others. They live it, it exists, it works for them... and they're not pushing it on others? Great.

I would caution against any spiritual path that does not spring from within you. This does not mean avoiding all organized spiritual endeavors; it means, for instance, that this idea of shamanic journeying came from outside of you. You don't give any specifics as to what resonated with you, individually. For this reason, I would strongly encourage you to take more time and listen to what spontaneously arises from you, then take even more time to seek out meaning in it. There are no quick answers, no easy resolutions. If there were, humanity would not be what it is.
posted by fraula at 4:51 PM on August 4, 2016 [9 favorites]

I was not surprised to learn recently that there is basically no such thing as the word "shaman." It's a word someone made up (or misappropriated?) and then a bunch of other people slapped the word onto a bunch of practices and beliefs they cobbled together. As a practice it seems to work for some people, but like, don't go thinking it has some kind of heritage and is a real thing all by itself, because it isn't. I'm sure everyone does it differently, there is no guarantee any practitioner is any better or more ethical or credible than any other. As a movement, it's sorta the hot craze right now with the same sorts of people who are attracted by similar new age type stuff.

That you can only contact the person you are thinking of contacting by snail mail doesn't mean much. Not everybody has to embrace modern lifestyle.

What are you hoping to get out of this pursuit?

If you want to go this route, have at it. I'm of the belief you can use anything as a self-help tool. You could dub a crayon "magic" and use it to meditate on and also use it to write out your deepest thoughts, process your past, or create incantations. A pile of sand could do as a sacred focus point. You could "read" the clouds. i can keep going. You get the point.

If you are drawn to it, you'll surely get something out of it. It's not my path, but if it is yours, have at it.

You might try listening to a bunch of podcast episodes by Christina Pratt to see if it's your jam. I'm not endorsing. I tried listening in an attempt to understand what shamanism is supposed to be about... I'll spare you my thoughts.

Also, nthing Jung.
posted by jbenben at 9:12 PM on August 4, 2016

I disagree and hazard a guess that (in the cases I've just seen) any person using Tibetan iconography, images, practices and traditions without referencing them or acknowledging them or without having worked within that religion's incredibly ancient traditions actually is a deeply unethical practitioner.

Non Tibetan's (and even Tibetan non practitioners) really don't get to decide that it's ok. But I only speak of this area, not the first people of America. Tibet's indigenous religion has a long and incredibly persecuted history. It's totally crap that white people are also now treating it so shabbily.
posted by taff at 9:25 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have some shamanic spiritual practices myself, and have found them very helpful for transformative personal healing. Though -black box warning- it can be rather intense and disorienting at first, as Western culture is very spiritually evacuated and based in an ontology of separation, which is very different from the experiences that you may have while journeying. As a white person myself, cultural appropriation is something to certainly be mindful about and there are trainings/practitioners of varying quality out there, so use some discernment when you are deciding to work with someone. Historically the majority of the the practitioners of European versions of shamanic/earth-based spiritual practice were killed off or driven into hiding under the spread Christianity in Europe, so most white practitioners are in the position of what is often called "broken-lineage" shamanism. These are certainly ethical issues to delve into and to be mindful of if you decide to proceed further down this road. The beautiful thing about shamanism is that it is direct revelation of what your helping spirits show you, so you will be given practices, ceremonies, etc. and there really is no need to borrow them from other cultures.

A great place to start would be taking the basic workshop with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. This was how I got started. They teach you great guidelines and experiential exercises to have safe and beautiful journeying experiences, based from Dr. Harner's version of "core shamanism." He observed shamanic/earth-based spiritual practices around the world and synthesized what he interpreted were the core components as separated from the different cultural expressions. Another great resource would be Sandra Ingerman's books and online courses. She does several courses with the Shift Network and also has some with SoundsTrue. I'll let you search for those yourself. I've taken her Shift Network courses, and they are great introductions, especially if you want guidance, but do not want to travel for an in person workshop. I'll also second Christina Pratt's podcast as a great way to learn more about shamanism in general if you are curious. Where are you located? If you want to work with someone one-on-one Sandra Ingerman has a list of people she trained and The Foundation has a list of individuals they have trained in shamanic counseling, which is more or less coaching in journeying.

You could definitely jump into trying to work with a recording with some instructions from, for example, The Way of the Shaman. Though there are some ways to do shamanic journeying wrong that could be unpleasant, and possibly a little dangerous. Basically you want to make sure to get all the way to the lower or upper world and not wander around the middle world, until you have trustworthy helping spirits, as spirits in the middle world/spiritual side of our world can be problematic (e.g. unpassed human souls, non-or quasi-compassionate beings of different kinds.) Whatever instructions you are using should be clear about needing to go all the way up or down past a felt barrier until you reach these other worlds. One of the helpful skills that a book, online class, or workshop could help you with is creating sacred space, which aids journeying. Feel free to memail me if you have more questions. I guess I will say that I am not a historically flakey person and was formerly an atheist, before I got into shamanism. It all sounds crazy, I know! But the direct experiences are so powerful that at a certain point I was convinced. Jung is also an interesting case as he was, in my opinion, journeying and created The Red Book out of his experiences. If you are interested in him, here is a great book by another academic and respected shamanic practitioner, who also has an awesome interview on Christina Pratt's podcast too. Good luck with whatever you decide! P.S. I really liked Jeanette Gagan's book - I'd also recommend Dr. Ann Drake's Healing of the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche as another take on psychotherapy and shamanism, if you are interested in the perspective of another psychologist.
posted by amileighs at 10:05 PM on August 4, 2016 [12 favorites]

The word shaman comes from Russia (circa the 17th century). It is a real word, and a real thing -- but not in the same way that it is used in English today. It has become, for better of worse, synonymous with a variety of spiritual practices across a very wide range of cultures.

If you think this person would be helpful to you, there is no harm in contacting them. As long as you are not actually imbibing plant medicines, a guide is useful but not strictly necessary. Do your own research and see if you gain any insight from that. If this person does contact you, ask for a consultation before you pay for their service.

I have spent considerable time with people that could be called "shamans", though they would never use that word to describe themselves. I have found my time with these people to be helpful, full of insight, and deeply effective for personal growth. I am always leery of people claiming to be shamans.

What are you truly looking for? What do you hope to gain?
posted by ananci at 3:32 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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