Crocodile came to me recently in ceremony. At first I was startled by his appearance, feeling I have already embraced every shadow aspect of myself he represents. Since his visit, however, I have spent time welcoming him and examining the teachings he now brings.
Crocodile/Snake holds our basal self, our deepest fears and lesser-evolved leanings which are held in the reptilian brain. In sacred ceremony and spiritual initiations, it is snake or crocodile who confronts you to face and embrace that which you fear most. His personal challenge to me: "You’re not a true shaman. You don't work in the rain forest, you don't ingest plant medicines, and you’re falsely holding your craft, thereby misleading those you serve."
On more than one occasion I have been questioned and warned against calling myself shaman. I haven’t studied in the jungle, I don't have any hint of bronzed pigment in my Irish skin, and I don't have a Maestro or don teaching me the ways. My path is unique in devoted past-life reclamation, shamanic journey and an early proclamation at five-years-old that I would be a shaman. I was born ready and haven't looked back. However, the thorny challenges still arise.
Enter the internal struggle of spirit and shadow. It’s brought me to a place of deep self-inquiry and an eventual and potent reclamation. It’s also offered me a new perspective on the path of the modern shaman.
WHAT IS A SHAMAN?
When asked, "What is a shaman?" my easiest answer is "someone who works in the invisible spaces to bring peace and healing to those whom they are in service."
"Shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment."
In Cave and Cosmos, Michael Harner suggests it is simply "one who knows."
CORE AND INDIGENOUS SHAMANISM
The big divide in the shamanic communities lies between those who work in the rain forest with the lineage of indigenous wisdom in their blood; and so called Plastic Shamans who have no connection to the cultures and traditions they represent.
As shamanism has gained prevalence in the modern era, "core shamanism" has become the accepted term for those who use the methods of the shaman but have not been raised in the traditional cultures. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has reintroduced the shamanic journey for self-healing, while the Psychonauts have lead a revolution through chemically assisted self-inquiry. Both are valid paths that differ greatly from a jungle education. While the efficacy of the practice is all that should matter, there still lies a division.
Another crucial distinction for indigenous shamans is their relationships with the plants. Dietas are ceremonial ingestions of plant medicines which teach the shaman how to walk between and within the astral worlds. Any number of teacher plants are used, from tobacco to ayahuasca. These ceremonies are performed with great reverence and honor, and remain within sacred guidelines as sincere spiritual endeavors to deepen the path of the seeker. The illusion of this world fades away and great insights are gained, revealing the true nature of one's own soul.
Freakin' awesome when done in this sacred space, right?
I, however, am a different kind of shaman. I traverse the dimensions without the use of hallucinogens. Drums, deep meditation, and the psychic connection with spirits and plant allies, for me, have been enough. And Croc challenged me on this also: "Is your plant abstinence genuinely enough to gain such an alliance with the spirit realms?"
In the modern world, our relationship to the plants is vastly different than that of the indigenous shaman. We don’t commune with them personally, nor do we seek to hone their wisdom. As a result, contemporary seekers often misuse the medicines. In my younger days, I experimented with mushrooms recreationally. I found them an expansive and uplifting dalliance that only affirmed my path as a seer and healer. Yet I took them with no noble intent.
Recently, I found myself called to work more closely with the plants in ceremonial space and felt conflicted. My ego holds my hallucinogenic refrain as a badge of honor — a way of ensuring the purity of the messages received. And yet I found myself deeply appreciating the plant spirits again, in great awe and gratitude for the teachings they shared.
And what they shared was this: I’ve connected more than sufficiently with the plant spirits. I learn and walk beside them every day to offer blessings to my community. I need not ingest them, for they have been my allies all along!
In a recent Aubrey Marcus podcast, Astral Snakes and Binaural Beats (episode 59), Cory Allen shared his most recent devotion is not in using the plant medicines, but rather simply being in the astral plane without any enhancements. Under the influence of the medicine, "The consciousness of the plant is with you in that space and colors your vision of that space. If you get there without it, you are completely you and you are on your own." Boom, validation! And Croc began to smile.
What I realized was, it all comes back to me not having any allies, any perceptions, any filters on my experience in these worlds. The mark of the shaman is not who they are when they're on the medicines or how they handle these energies inside of them. It is who they are in the absence of any aids at all!
HEART OF THE SHAMAN
A true shaman can conquer all of his demons, for seeing them, lifting them and knowing how to love them is all that matters.
I have long felt lesser than the shamans of the rain forest, and those who can work with the elements and the plants in a way that I cannot. And yet what I have come to honor is my experience, my skill, my dedication to these landscapes — in the absence of modern cultural acceptance — is what has made me a warrior of the light.
Being able to explore my inner depths, being able to lead clients through personal ceremony every day, being able to navigate the multi-verse — the ever changing reality around us — without any medicines or assistance, is what shows my true badge of courage and makes me shaman in heart and soul!
I am not an inferior shaman. I am a modern shaman. A shaman in this world of capitalism, greed, power and self-ignorance. I am a shaman who heals what ails our modern world, for I live in it and among it. And I hold an antidote to free others from its illusion.
I may not be that shaman, the one who has done ayahuasca in the rain forest. The one who has spent days hunting peyote in the desert. I am the one who, by my own accord, has transcended every battle my reality creates. Who has seen into the hearts of men. Who has pierced the veils of this illusion. I am the one who fights for the return of a new reality by walking a righteous path among those who deny its very existence. I remind my clients of a landscape they dream of but have been denied. I return them to their hearts, their paths and their light. And that is far from plastic!
I have seen where evil lies, and it is not in the wilds of the jungles, deep within the primordial heartbeat of what we seek to tame. True evil lies in the hearts of men: in deceptions, manipulations, power struggles and subtleties. These are the realms I traverse every day.
As shamans, we are not allowed to see or do anything which we haven’t personally embraced ourselves. The wisdom I gain is wisdom that betters me as a healer — lessons that must be learned — for we must walk the perilous path with those we serve so that we may conquer, see and heal it for others.
Croc reminded me that my deepest fear is to mislead those I love and be a source of untruths to those who seek my guidance. Knowing Croc holds onto this fear, it’s something I’m constantly aware of. I protect my boundaries, vet my guides, and ensure the information that streams through this vessel is pure and of the highest truth. I am blessed with allies who ensure my integrity (both physical and spiritual) but it is only me who guards this portal. And I do so diligently.