If there is one thing that I get asked all the time, and I mean, A LOT, it is this:
“How do I become a shaman?”
Or another version of that:
“Where can I find someone to initiate me into Shamanism?”
Western culture is slowly opening up to the understanding and appreciation of spirituality in a way that differs from their cultural upbringing, and it’s resulted in amazing, wonderful progress. But it’s also led to a lot of misunderstandings about spirituality and the spiritual paradigm.
I really have to shed some light on this subject because of one simple reason:
Your identity is different from a label or title
What do I mean by this?
Well, for starters, your identity is who you intrinsically are, it’s your being. It doesn’t exist outside of you and it doesn’t rely on anything external.
A label is something that you may take on, or choose to identify with, but you can do that with or without being conscious or aware of what that label actually means. A label comes with its conditions and the meaning attached to it. Labels are always conditional!
Your identity, on the other hand, has power whether or not you realize it. A label only has as much power as you give it.
So wanting to take on the role of a Shaman without fully embodying (and understanding) what that even means, and simply knowing it seems like a powerful and cool job but having no real connection to it…well, that can create some confusion.
So, let’s clear up some of these concepts around what authentic shamanism really means, together!
What is the Shamanic path?
When we are talking about ‘Shamanic’, what we are often referring to is ‘Animism’. This is simply the understanding that everything in the physical form also has a spirit. It is recognizing the spirit in everything, and therefore the value in everything because it has a spirit.
Here in the West, we have a perspective that associates a certain role to being a Shaman. For example, being a healer, or a natural medicine specialist, such as working with herbs and plant medicines.
However, I am initiated in the South African Zulu lineage. This type of healer acts as a bridge between the physical and non physical (spirit) realm. In my lineage, I was initiated as a Sangoma. They are essentially diviners – a channel between the physical world and the afterlife as well as healers. Each one uses different “medicine”, not just plants; I would be classified as a Spirit Shaman or similar to a “Holy Woman” in Native American culture.
Additionally, my role is on a societal level, as a teacher and wisdom keeper, also known as a Sanusi in Zulu. My concern is mainly with how people think, human nature… and the way society operates as a whole. This is important to understand, as there are many other types of Shamans in other cultures around the world.
You can think of my work as that of a medium, in that I embody certain spirits at certain times.
Makhosi is a title, not just a name
And what matters most, more than the name or the title, is the understanding and the paradigm in which a Shaman operates. When we are talking about shamanism, we are referring to the paradigm that certain traditions operate from.
Think of it in a big picture context…a way of life and of being…a state of consciousness.
All of us have ancestors in our lineage who were connected with and operated from an animist/shamanic paradigm. Their entire ways of being and consciousness were rooted in animism; it wasn’t separate from them. In fact, they never would have considered their spiritual life distinct or separate from any other area of life, like we do these days.
One of the foundations to living and being in an animist paradigm like our ancestors were, is being able to recognize the spirit in everything, venerating the ancestors, and developing a connection with the higher divinity that exists all throughout nature.
When we talk about the shamanic path, we are talking about a path that ANYONE can walk. YOU can reconnect to this way of life, because it is your birthright. Your ancestors lived this way and if you feel called to be a shaman, it’s possible those ancestors are calling you back to connection with THEM, and with the earth.
But see, you don’t have to become a shaman to benefit from walking the shamanic path. In fact, anyone called to be a shaman doesn’t actually WANT to be one. It is a HARD life where your life is NOT your own. We detach ourselves from what we think we want & live our life in Service of Spirit. Where Spirit says “Go”, I go.
I hold a vision for ALL people on this earth to return to some of the practices of our ancestors, to live and BE connected to the divinity within nature. Those foundational pieces are in fact incredible stabilizers for averting the crises that are facing humanity now and in the near future.
You can summarize Shamanism up in the word:
It is your relationship to everything – your voice, your body, your spouse, nature, literally everything.
It is a way of being. It is a way of living your life. A way of seeing things.
Shamanism, at its core, is all about relationships.
Because of this, it is really NOT conducive to the approach of quick-fix, instant, swipe on an app, tinder-like experiences.
A lot of people believe that shamanism is very theatrical, extremely visual, dramatic, powerful, sexy and trendy. It is easy to get sucked into that illusion. And it is easy to draw people in using those illusions. I mean, it looks enticing and exotic, right??
But my approach, because of my understanding of energetic principles, comes from relationships: with people, with food, with nature, with your body, and your spirit. Because I am a spirit shaman, I don’t work with plant medicine, I work with energetics and with the spirit of things, since everything has a spirit.
In doing that, a lot can be shifted without any visible drama or change on the surface. This is not to negate the value of this, but people often misconstrue what ceremony and ritual means. These aspects of shamanic culture use physical tools to demonstrate and model these transformations, moving past the conscious to shift your unconscious patterns.
But in Western society, we are highly focused on sexy theatrics and on-demand, surface-level experiences. This leads a lot of people to continually chase what looks exciting and what looks like the answer, without ever having developed the relationship with that idea, energy, or thing. In other words, they never go deeper. They live off of “peak experiences” rather than building daily (and often boring!) stability and nourishment.
What would it look like if you approached relationships in this manner: You could go and get a spiritual or sensual quick-fix anywhere, but true relationships are what unfolds over time. And over time, those relationships are based in DEVOTION.
This is an important word for authentic shamanism. It is devotion to self and your spirit, not to something else. Rituals, tools, healings etc. are just facilitators. They are just tools and processes. True transformation unfolds over time. Some of it can be instantaneous, but lasting transformation has to be integrated into your being and who you ARE.
Bottom line? It takes commitment and discipline developing these relationships over time.
Life is one giant initiation
Another misunderstanding around initiation that I must tackle: Life itself is an initiation.
People think that initiation is a one-time, dramatic and separate event that somehow marks a special change in their lives. But that’s not true at all!
Initiation is a process of EDUCATION. All of us are in initiation all the time.
You are ALWAYS going through different levels of initiation.
Your soul is ALWAYS initiating its next evolution.
And depending on what your path is, you may have certain experiences again and again. That is a specific education that your soul wants to experience.
Especially in reference to authentic Shamanism, when we’re talking about initiation in the traditional context, it is an actual, real-world process!
Spirituality has been made to seem so vague, separate, transcendent and ethereal that we often forget that it is REAL.
It happens in this tangible, practical reality that we live in. When I went through my initiation, there was an actual long-term process. It required me to commit to however long it would take, as well as commitment to using resources, making sacrifices, and giving up all my old identities and ideas about what goals I had for my life.
Just like you would study to become a doctor, there is a process that you must undergo to become an authentic Shaman. There are skills and responsibilities you have to learn in that process. There are intensely challenging tests that you endure. There are traits that you demonstrate your whole life only to realize they are the necessary traits to be a shaman, and those traits require refinement and mastery.
Only when you have all those things in place, do you graduate and become a Shaman, and only when your Elders & Spirit decide.
You are NOT the thing, until you have BECOME the thing
If you are called to be a shaman, you will be certain of it. There will be no confusion or mistake about it (although many people resist and deny it for a long time!) – you will know the exact moment it happens. If you are called, you will know. And the way you will know is this: Your higher self will pull in EVERYTHING required for you to step into that process. And then you will go through the process, and your spiritual guide or teacher will tell you that you have finally become a Shaman.
This is why I don’t see myself opening a shaman school and turning everyone into a shaman. Instead, what I do is assist and provide the PARADIGM for people to step into. The lifestyle, the way of BEING, the Shamanic Path that your ancestors call you to follow once again. But make no mistake! That is not an easy thing to do.
You must deconstruct and release all your beliefs about your identity, the nature of your beliefs, your understanding of the world, and then REBUILD it into a shamanic paradigm.
In the West, we generally don’t operate using some of these principles or understandings, which is why a ‘transformation’ may not have the same level of lasting effect or meaning.
Let’s take, for example, corn.
For the Western mind, corn is just food. If you take a person with that perspective (that corn is only food), place them in a Native American or South African culture, and involve them in a ceremony that honors corn – To a Western person, this would just ‘look cool’.
However, those indigenous people may have a very different relationship with corn. They have spent their lives honoring corn. They see the nourishment in it that has kept them alive for generations and they interact with the spirit of that corn.
They have a lifelong, deep and interrelated relationship with that corn- and it’s not a mental concept they can try on for a few days, then leave behind once the party is over, or it gets boring…or growing conditions get difficult.
It’s not an idea they try on and then discard once they don’t want it anymore. It’s a forever thing- they are forever interrelated with that corn…a committed relationship.
The 1% and the 99%
When people view the world from a Shamanic perspective, everything is valuable.
In the West, what we understand to be the physical reality around us is only about 1% of what actually exists.
Coming back to the issue of performance-spirituality which is… that it is all there is to it.
It is performance. It leaves us feeling hollow, it is just surface work. And while it can have a profound effect, it is limited. The growth is temporary. The issue is that there is no context or culture behind it, there is no authentic, original and traditional paradigm.
You can go to a plant medicine ceremony and be blown away by a profound spiritual experience there, but then you go home and resume your Western life. The lessons learned from plant medicine aren’t fully integrated; you don’t BECOME the lessons you learned.
The thing is, that the healing the world needs right now requires a paradigm that offers you abundance (and by this, I don’t mean having a lot of material things)…
Abundance is a freedom within the self, and a freedom from self. It is freedom to go from having ego as the master, to instead, ego being the servant.
One you have entered this paradigm, you have abundance only because there is an aspect of you that is tapped into the 99% of everything else, all the realms of spirit and consciousness.
That is what the shamanic path offers you: true abundance of spirit.
Let’s look at Yoga, for example, which is one of the most hijacked spiritual tools in the wellness industry.
Yoga was designed by ancient sages to be a holistic way of life, not just an exercise modality. It was a full system for human existence- supporting their mind, body, and spirit. While it is great that it has become mainstream, and the advantage is that it opens the door for more people to be exposed to holistic lifestyles the disadvantage is that it is often reduced to just an exercise. It remains a trendy, surface-level identification that lets us belong to cool groups or have a cool job.
It will not have the level of transformation in your being that grants you the freedom from self that a paradigm-shift offers.
The authentic Shamanic paradigm does NOT show up first in the physical realm! It’s not “doing” a bunch of new stuff, or “fixing” yourself to be more aligned with shamanic ways of living. In fact, it may look like nothing is happening to change in your life at all.
I mean, SUPER in fact, most of the work I do with my clients happens on levels people cannot even see! It’s not actually about how much we can DO to change ourselves!
I help people shift in those 99% of the spirit realms that we’ve all been conditioned to disregard or ignore- sort of like looking at the tip of an iceberg when pretty much the ENTIRE iceberg exists beneath the surface. Just cuz we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there!
And this is how authentic Shamanism works. It’s not about the tools, or titles, or retreats, or plant medicines…it’s the subtle energetic shifts that happen within us that uncover our authentic self, connected with Spirit and nature.
This is what my calling is.
What are you called to then?
So from reading this, you can begin to get an idea of how intense and lifelong the process to become a shaman really is.
Knowing that it’s not a personal choice but a calling, and that it requires discipline and commitment to building relationships while uncovering your true self…all with the ultimate focus of being in service, service to spirit and service to the world…most people would realize that it’s not a glamorous, fun career path.
You really wouldn’t want to choose this job.
Instead, most people would best be served (and serve others) by learning about and deepening their understanding of the shamanic paradigm (that animist and ancestral way of life!) and integrating that into their daily lives.