Every shaman is contemporary to his or her own society. That isn’t to say the Shaman of a given society is a Typical Member of their society. However, the shaman’s role is to be a bridge between the energy of the other world into the world they are living in.
Many people use the word modern and contemporary as the same word. That is one of the definitions for contemporary, ‘in the present.’ However, the first definition is “at the same time.” The shaman will use whatever methods, tools, and dress make the most sense for the society he or she is working in. In other words, all shamans are practicing a contemporary shamanism. They are contemporary to their time and place.
The Shaman’s Appearance
How the shaman appears does have some bearing on the healing. In large part, the shaman wears things that will help him or her connect with the spirit world. What he chooses to wear does vary with the culture. For instance, thinking on a stereotype picture of a shaman wearing a bear skin, bear head perched upon his own head. In a modern US culture, seeing a healer show up wearing a dead bear would send many fleeing from the room. For those clients, they would be traumatized from the fact that the bear was killed, and also be traumatized to see their “healer” wearing the dead animal. The same outfit in a hunter society, and a client might just ask ‘where did you get the great bear skin?’
So a modern shaman, keeping their community in mind would choose a different way to bridge bear energy to his or her client. That shaman may still need to wear something to help her to connect with bear energy. She might wear a bear claw beneath her shirt or wrap a subtle piece of fur around her rattle handle.
The Healing Story
The story that the shaman tells is also very important to the healing process. The shaman is trying to explain something that is invisible to the client. In trying to make the information relatable, the shaman may have to use a metaphor that makes sense to the client.
The explanation that makes sense in one culture will not mean the same thing to another culture.
What does ‘I removed bad energy from you’ mean in a culture that has never seen electricity?
What does ‘I chased away the bad spirits’ mean in a society like ours were the idea of bad spirits either doesn’t make sense to us or sounds creepy?
In our society there is a lot of psychological information available to the average person. So the contemporary shamans of the US or Europe or Canada… have a variety of terms available to use in explaining their work to a client. We also have technology that delivers music, and movies, and conversation, to us through invisible means of the air. Our society has a variety of invisible things that are everyday and common place to us. What did Shaman’s of time past have that the people in their culture could understand? Bad Spirits? Angry deities?
To Understand a Shaman You Must Look at His Culture
It can be very informative to compare shamans from different societies in order to understand what makes them unique. However, taking a shaman who is contemporary to a culture of the distant past, and trying to use that shaman’s practices as a litmus for a modern day shaman, doesn’t make sense. In order to truly understand a shaman and his methods, you must understand the culture the shaman comes from.
Even in the same country, methods might have to change for the specific regions. The shaman of New York City must adapt his or her methods the very specific culture of the New Yorker. He would probably not be able to take the approach he uses with New Yorkers to the culture of New Orleans and expect the same type of success. For instance, he might need to slow down or create a different atmosphere for the healing.
What Makes a Shaman Contemporary?
The shaman is often a person who is a little outside of the norm. They do believe they are talking to spirits, and that those spirits have the ability to help them heal you. They do spend their time focused on things many people aren’t thinking of. But in order to heal you they have to be able to connect with you.
Traditional shamanic methods may not always be a hindrance. If you know they are studying a traditional form of shamanism… I am a shaman who has studied with the such and such tribe and are following those methods… In this case, allowances will be made by a client when the healer is doing something that seems rather foreign. “I guess that its just part of that tradition.”
However, if a shaman hasn’t adopted a culture, and instead belongs to the one of his or her birth, she must find a contemporary shamanism. The shaman needs to do this, both to be authentic, and also to use methods you can relate to. In this sense, a shaman is always contemporary to the culture she is living in.
Next Topic: What about shamans in other cultures?