New Age Shamans

Hello. I am Mark Ashford. I am a Registered Reiki Teacher and Practitioner and a Usui Tibetan Reiki Master Teacher as well as a Shaman. I am a published author of books and online courses on Reiki, and Shamanism.

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Let’s take a quick look at New Age Shamans and the issues that come with them.

Persecution in Soviet Russia and Communist China was systematic, organised, and state sponsored. Now shamanism faces new forms of denigration and persecution.

Changes are needed to Western notions of shamanism, the shamanic healer, and the role of altered states of consciousness (ASC). Before the Age of Enlightenment, the shaman was condemned as demoniac charlatan. From the mid-19th until the mid-20th century, the shaman was generally considered as being afflicted with a psychiatric or epileptic condition; a notion based on the misinterpretation of altered states of consciousness in shamanic rituals. [1]

It is worth noting that the shaman is not possessed during rituals. Shamanism is not a possession-based belief. Shamanic possession is not actually possession at all, but the intentional embodiment of a spirit with whom the shaman has already developed a working relationship. Possession is unintentional intrusion of a foreign spirit into a person which is considered an energetic illness or unhealthy state in shamanism. Embodiment is an effective, working, altered state the shaman is able to begin and end at will. 

Shamanism and possession nonetheless share biological features in their elicitation of ancient brain systems to modify the consciousness in relation to healing and spiritual experiences.

The word shaman has been misapplied to other indigenous healers. This was covered in detail in the first book of The Practical Shaman series. A Shaman is not a Witch Doctor, nor is the Shaman a Medicine Man/Woman.

Neoshamanism refers to “new” forms of shamanism, or methods of seeking visions or healing. Neoshamanism comprises an eclectic range of beliefs and practices that involve attempts to attain altered states and communicate with a spirit world. Neoshamanic systems may not resemble traditional forms of shamanism. Some have been invented by individual practitioners, though many borrow or gain inspiration from a variety of different indigenous cultures. In particular, indigenous cultures of the Americas have been influential. [2]

Neoshamanism is not a single, cohesive belief system, but a collective term for many philosophies and activities. However, certain generalities may be drawn between adherents. Most believe in spirits and pursue contact with the “spirit-world” in altered states of consciousness which they achieve through drumming, dance, or the use of entheogens. Most systems might be described as existing somewhere on the animism/pantheism spectrum. Some Neoshamans are not trained by any traditional shaman or member of any American indigenous culture, but rather learn independently from books and experimentation. Many attend New Age workshops and retreats, where they study a wide variety of ideas and techniques, both new and old.[3]

Some members of traditional, indigenous cultures and religions are critical of Neoshamanism, asserting that it represents an illegitimate form of cultural appropriation, or that it is nothing more than a ruse by fraudulent spiritual leaders to disguise or lend legitimacy to fabricated, ignorant, and/or unsafe elements in their ceremonies. 

One difference between Neoshamanism and traditional shamanism is the role of fear. Neoshamanism and its New Age relations tend to dismiss the existence of evil, fear, and failure. “In traditional shamanism, the shaman’s initiation is an ordeal involving pain, hardship and terror. New Age, by contrast is a religious perspective that denies the ultimate reality of the negative, and this would devalue the role of fear as well.”[4]

Inaccurate representation, misrepresentation and careless referencing, attributing actions and belief systems to what is truly a shaman are a danger to shamans everywhere.

Cultural Appropriation 

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.[5]

Cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or equal cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism. When cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture. [6]

It is easy to see that removing the original meaning of cultural elements from their traditional heritage is exploitive. Meaning and context are lost or distorted and disrespectful to the heritage of the people to whom it belongs. 

Important cultural elements have deep meaning to the original culture. Reducing them “exotic” fashion, or toys, by a more dominant culture devalues what has been appropriated.[7] Reducing important cultural elements by imitation devalues the original indigenous source and its people who value and hold what has been appropriated in high regard.

This leads us to the term Plastic shaman, or plastic medicine people, is a pejorative colloquialism applied to individuals who are attempting to pass themselves off as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. In some cases, the “plastic shaman” may have some genuine cultural connection, but is seen to be exploiting that knowledge for ego, power, or money.[8]

I hope you found the podcast enjoyable and informative. Please subscribe to the podcast and click the links in these notes to find out more about our books, Online Courses, Social Media, our Patreon Page to support the channel. Thank you, and I hope to speak to you again soon.

Bibliography “Cultural Appropriation – Wikipedia.” “Plastic Shaman – Wikipedia.”

JILEK, WOLFGANG G. “Transforming the Shaman Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness.”

Wikipedia. “Neoshamanism.”

[1] WOLFGANG G. JILEK, “Transforming the Shaman Changing Western Views of Shamanism and Altered States of Consciousness.”

[2] Wikipedia, “Neoshamanism.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5], “Cultural Appropriation – Wikipedia.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8], “Plastic Shaman – Wikipedia.”

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