Date First Written: August 2010
I consider myself just an animist though a lot of what I practice or strive to learn to practice is often labeled as ’shamanic’ by most of society and indeed it is somewhat shamanic in nature. However, I don’t really consider myself a shamanic, or more accurately a neoshamanic, practitioner for two main reasons: one is that I’m still very new to my growing belief system still because its only been since about 2009 that I truly began my path, and two being the biggest reason in that shamanism isn’t what you believe really rather then what you do. A shaman is someone who works for the community, and I don’t have the experience to have confidence in my abilities nor am I physically in a place which would accept someone who is willing to try one’s best at helping someone that way. So I can’t really call my spiritual views neoshamanic.
I first became interested in paganism years back when I found out that there were belief systems that better suited my natural beliefs and views rather than just monotheism which I grew up around. As I read more and more I also found that certain little things and experiences I had had for years beforehand were considered ‘pagan.’ I was quickly drawn to ‘neoshamanism’ and animistic belief systems because of some of the similarities I found were like my natural beliefs and things I had been experiences. However, I quickly veered away from anything associated with it because of the controversies around the topic because of cultural appropriation, and instead became an ‘Eclectic Pagan.’
However, I quickly found that pigeonholing myself into an easy already created niche for comfort and convenience wasn’t going to get me far. It wasn’t right but I didn’t want to step out into something so unknown and close to such controversy. I wanted to play it safe and not deal with any controversies toward my natural beliefs, and so I had tried to shove myself into a kind of a spiritual box of eclectic paganism with Wiccan leanings. I read books and began to study-up on Wicca and general neopaganism, avoiding anything that mentioned anything too animistic or shamanic. However, I quickly got the reality check that that was not going to work and fly for long rather quickly.
I had had forced and involuntary out-of-body experiences (such an over used and generalized term don’t you think?) off and on for years during my early teenage years, however, with the coming of me shoving myself into the easy-way-out corner the amount my experiences sky-rocked and the likes of which grew into greatly inconvenient to everyday life and a lot more forceful. During these experiences my spirit guide, who takes the form of a red deer and has a name I prescribe to him ( he is not a totem, I tend to see those as two completely different things) tried to teach and show me different things ranging from how to properly interact and show respect to entities and beings I came across to how to properly and quickly traverse a tunnel. He also began teaching me how to react quickly to threats and other activity rather than stop and think. These lessons happened before and after I found out about paganism and certainly before I really knew anything about animism or common themes found in “shamanism” and the like. However, I was reluctant to really listen and learn them knowing how hard on so many levels it was going to be to confront the issue surrounding the topic both internally as to how much time I would have to spend perfecting so much and externally in dealing with the troubles of something anything similar to cultural appropriation often linked with shamanism as well as perhaps even be accused of it personally. But my guide was greatly insistent - patient and calm voiced - but insistent all the same. Within short time, another entity who I would later learn was my life totem who was Lunar Moth also began to insist on my training and study.
This juggling game of trying to learn and practice one thing in real-life - because I was still trying to practice a general neopaganism with some Wiccan leanings - while being nudged to learn something else that was rather different - something animistic, totemistic, and even shamanic - went on for almost a year with only a few months shy before I finally started to slowly listen to what they were saying and realizing they were right. I had grown tired and wary of knowing general neopaganism with Wiccan leanings was not working for me. I also had never found no specific neopagan path like neo-druidry or the like which suited the ‘itch’ as well.
So I turned back to my natural and core beliefs, views, and experiences. I dropped everything I had learned and focused there. The things I had always felt since I can really remember very well. I began slowly building on the them using things not from what I remembered from books but from things I remembered being taught and shown. I pierced what I had learned of from there, but had there were gaps. It would work as the framework for now which I would always come back too.
Soon, I began slowly reading books on both general paganism and general animistic *read shamanic* practices which seemed to resonate throughout much of the world. I thought of the possibility of trying to find a specific animistic culture and belief system which best matched my natural beliefs and where I seemed to be headed, but I knew early on that that could not be reasonably possible. This reasoning was also conformed with everyone. I could never just learn from any culture and force it to fit within my own either by somehow finding and learning from someone who was somehow a part of the culture itself or from any number of books about it. It still would be cultural appropriation and I knew there were things within my natural practices (namely over my therianthropy) which could cause me to do things slightly differently. I knew I couldn’t just waltz into any culture that was not my own just for my convenience or peace of mind in the same way I knew I could play religious Frankenstein’s monster as I saw fit. I realized that I was going to have to do it the hard way and nothing was going to come to me set down on a sliver platter.
And so I began reading and noting my experiences and more so back and forth. I listened to what my spirit guide, the various totems (not just my life totems, Lunar Moth) I worked with and met, and what the spirits who had begun to help me over time (I usually call them my helper spirits for easy understanding of how we interact) suggested and affirmed what they deemed appropriate. If I began to stray to far one way or another I would be corrected I would correct myself. So from there I began to slowly build my own spirituality and practice from step by step, and still do this to this day because I still have a lot to learn being still rather much a novice having the bulk of this only happened over the recent three or four years.
However, my unease with the controversy of cultural appropriation as I try to build on my natural beliefs and practices that I’ve been unconsciously practicing for years and years before any of this, as I also try to find that fine line between reading about animism and “shamanism” (got to put that lovely umbrella word in quotation marks because of how often its thrown around) and accidentally just appropriating it willy-nilly is still greatly nagging on my conscious. My desire not to play spiritual buffet with other belief systems and practices without care or concern has even led me to read books such as “Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation” by Bruce Ziff to try and understand the issues around it better.
To me, heritage does not equal culture. My heritage is mishmash of a lot of German and Greek with some French, Scottish, various other nameless European regions, and maybe some Native American of an unknown for sure tribe, and who knows what else- but whether I like it or not none of this is my culture. My culture is good old southern America and my family didn’t bother to keep any family cultural traditions alive over the years. However, I can no more reach back and puck from those ancestral lines their culture and beliefs as I see fit just because I have roots down that road as much as I can any other culture that I have no ties to culturally or through bloodline. Those ties were broken before I was born and I have just as much right to tamper in their cultures without a clue of what I am doing and anyone else’s - meaning I have none. All I can do is move forward and build around the culture and area I live now at this point because this is my culture now. I’m just a ‘white mutt’ is all.
Somewhere in the future when I have more experience with myself I know I will have an even greater desire to help others then I have now. I already feel it now despite still being so new. Unfortunately, I dread the idea of coming across as a “plastic shaman,’ ‘a charlatan,’ or some American mutt who wants to ’play Indian’ to people. (Honestly, on the last one, what remains of the Native American culture and history does not need to be nit-picked and romanticized as it is anymore). I live in an area were things ‘pagan’ are generally not well taken by most of society. There also isn’t any real pagan community in my area to turn to for advice and experience in real life outside of my own or to anything of the sort. Because of this basically all of the more community driven work I do do at present is mostly on the nonphysical and indirect side. Because my beliefs and concerns are more sensitivity geared towards concerns of giving back to or helping our fellow earthings (usually called non-human animals) and the environment a lot of my work right now tends to focus on trying to get better helping that aspect of society both locally and globally. Doing rituals and journeying with the goal of helping in those certain respects such as focusing on a certain species of animal or event, as well as learn how to physically help them as well such as learn to be slightly more eco-friendly-ish as well as good manual labor of picking up everyday litter every now and then.
So I’m really trying to traverse between a rock and a hard place. Its not easy. It’s a lot of trial and error seeing as that I can’t just latch onto an already constructed belief system just so I can have an easy ride. And even if I could, “shamanism” as a general phenomena seems to tend to lean toward a life-long journey of learning how to do things better and help the community better regardless of the fact anyway. However, I really don’t seem to have a choice in that matter as it were. Our modern society doesn’t have much in the way of surviving animistic views and systems which are as easily disconnected and replanted from continent to continent as other beliefs systems which thrive today tend to be. I cannot pick an easier route just for my own peace of mind or look back and try and grab from the past, I can only go forward.- Earth Listener