Answering the Call to Shamanism
There is only one great thing
The only thing
To see the great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.
– Inuit song
Shamanism is the oldest spiritual tradition on the planet, the ancestor of all spiritual paths. When you trace your bloodlines back through time, back to the continent where your bones and genes originated, you will discover all of your people living shamanically. Our ancestors relied on the practices of shamanism to communicate with the unseen world, locate wandering herds of animals and hidden medicinal herbs, solve problems using spiritual oracles and heal illness.
It is because shamanism worked so well that our ancestors survived the rigors and wilds of Paleolithic and Neolithic living. Imagine the mile high wall of ice that our European ancestors had to live with during the ice age and the wooly mammoths, cave bears and cave lions running wild.
Shamanism was the way of life. And now in a planet out of balance and harmony, there is a revival of interest in its healing ways. Many people are finding themselves called to the shamanic method of problem-solving and curing illness, to meet and work with their helping spirits.
The calls that we receive to create significant change in our lives or to walk a spiritual path are wondrous. Where do they come from? How do we answer? What happens if we ignore the calls we hear?
In my work with people over the last thirty years as a vision quest guide and shamanic teacher and healer, I have had an intimate role in helping others from all walks of life listen to the calls they are receiving. Some are called to give voice to their creativity or spirituality, improve their work or family situation, others are called to live what their soul came into this lifetime wanting to express.
My call to shamanism came when I was two or three, living in Michigan. I had a deep rapport with the spirits of nature and spent a lot of time in my own places of power talking with the moon, trees, birds and the spirit of the great lake. My deepest alliance was with them. There were no words for this, only the most passionate feelings of intimacy. I felt their love and compassion for me; I was seen by them for who I was and who I would become. Entwined in the mysticism of nature, I was being called by the spirits.
Answering the call to the spirits may be gradual, sudden or even on again, off again. For me it has been a continuum of finding my way in a very secular culture and answering the spirits on ever stronger and deeper levels of commitment. There were no shamans available to train me as a child. My maternal grandmother taught me about herbs, migrating birds and vegetarianism. My mother insisted we see osteopathic doctors so there were some alternative medicines around me, but I had to come to California to find earth-based healing and shamanism.
The trail led me to my teachers Evelyn Eaton, O’Shinnah Fast Wolf, Raymond Stone and finally to Michael Harner and Alicia Gates. They pointed the way for me but the discipline and dedication of fully answering the call was up to me. A Chinese proverb tells us “teachers open the door but you must enter by yourself.”
The helping spirits also have a large role in the inner calls we hear. In shamanism there is the understanding that it is the spirits who choose and make the shaman.
They may call us in our day or night dreams and in our yearning to be of service as a healer. They may speak to us through the spirits of nature in encounters with stars, trees and wild animals. They may call us through magical synchronicities — the right book, email or workshop flyer is given to us in an exact moment of inner readiness. We may also experience the call as an inner understanding that the healing spirits are present here and now in our lives, inviting attention and connection with them.
The call may be a whisper, a shout, or an unnamable tug on the heart.
Some get the call to the shamanic path through abrupt events such as emotional crisis, life-threatening illness and near-death experience. There can be a spiritual dimension to misfortune, calling our attention to the need to find greater spiritual meaning and healing for our lives.
One of the commonly asked questions I hear when I am teaching shamanism is whether or not an “ordinary person” can answer his or her call to shamanism and still retain their daily life. Yes. People from all different backgrounds and professions — lawyers, nurses, doctors, professors, nuns, mothers, writers, fathers, carpenters, architects — learn shamanic pathways and apply that practice to improve their lives. Shamanism has survived for 40,000 years because each person becomes his or her own spiritual authority. It presents a spiritual methodology that can change and heal our lives
After you hear a spiritual call, you have choices. You can say to the caller, ah sorry, you have the wrong number. Or you can use call waiting — can you hold please, I’ll get right back with you … in a year or two or ten. You can use call forwarding — oh, my son/daughter/partner/friend is better at this spiritual path than I am so, here honey, this call is for you. These are all variations on the theme of refusing the call. This choice can be dangerous as well as soul-numbing. It can lead to depression, accidents, and illness as the life force is dammed up and thwarted.
The other choice is — oh, it’s the spirits calling. I think I want to take this call, better take this call, need to take it, have been waiting for this call. Yes!
Why answer the call from the helping spirits? Because you are receiving it. It is an honor and a humbling privilege to partner with them and work with full compassion on behalf of ourselves and others who are suffering and asking for help. In my experience, we are not given calls and longings without also being given the help we need to fulfill them. In answering the call, the healing spirits will then be able to help you learn, help you grow, help you heal.
What, gentle reader, is the call you are hearing?