I have recently found that an inquiry has been posted about me on New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans, a site I actually used in writing my currently unpublished Reiki Warrior book! This is fascinating to me. For those of you that don’t know, this is an interesting forum which questions the validity of people who are teachers and spiritual leaders,. Some of the main issues the site focuses on are people who are claiming to be Native, or using Native traditions, thus culturally appropriating healing work as well as those who are using their leadership status to gain power, money, fame and sexual gratification. This inquiry inspired me to post a page on my site, my preface actually from Reiki Warrior: http://katalinkoda.com/my-journey-on-the-healing-path/
I have always held a pang in my heart in trying to be culturally respectful, particularly in the Native American context. I received my BA in Anthropology and did a focus on Native American studies and yet throughout my life, with no desire to do so, I have found myself having experiences with spirits and spirit helpers. Without any context for these experiences, I have had challenges trying to make sense of it. Certainly my flawed notion of native ceremony, the noble Native American and healing was confronted by also discovering Reiki, Wicca and eventually core shamanism, teachings that have inevitably helped me on my path.
One of the teachers on the forum is Michael Harner and his many students and their work, myself included. The commentators actively question, criticize and even attack his creation of ‘core shamanism.’ Core shamanism is Harner’s distillation of several shamanic cultures relying mostly on the tool of the drum journey to navigate what he calls the SSC, shamanic state of consciousness, also called non-ordinary reality, a term coined by Carlos Castenada. Indeed Harner is literally taking the shamanic work that is tribe or nation or cultural specific out of context.
We begin to run into problems when people promote Native ceremonies as their own, thus cultural appropriation as well as issues of sex, money and power that are found within the New Age, but also found in countless healing and spiritual situations from South America to India. I myself experienced first hand several encounters with shady healers and self-proclaimed yogis in India.
I lived in India for 7 years and found that there were so many ‘yogis’ and ‘healers’ and sacred this and sacred that for sale, it kind of blew all those concepts to pieces. I will never forget going to a Yoga class by a ‘Master Yoga’ teacher in Benares (the most holy city on Earth) and he sat there, blowing cigarette smoke across us, reading the NEWSPAPER yelling out ‘Kat, do headstand! Kat, do cobra.” It was humorous and hey, I did a headstand in the midst of cigarette smoke.
I also met a Nepali shaman in Kathamandu who had worked with Michael Harner and praised him excitedly. Harner has been responsible for helping to support the continuation of indigenous shamanic practices around the world and the mission of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies is dedication “to the preservation, study, and teaching of shamanic knowledge for the welfare of the Planet and its inhabitants.” So although the dialogue of ‘New Age Frauds’ is crucial, so is the examination of these topics from a multitude of perspectives as we work with ‘shamanism’ in a contemporary age.
Some of many questions that come to mind:
When are we appropriating and when are we assimilating?
How can we access ‘shamanic’ tools if we are not native to a place and have little context for the land/waters/animals/plants/trees that surround us?
Can shamanic tools help us to reconnect with our surroundings?
Is Core Shamanism ultimately benefiting people?
How do we know the difference between working with the unconscious/subconscious versus meeting real spirits?
Is it correct or right to charge for ceremony, workshops, seminars?
How do we know when a teacher is true or not?
What really is indigenous, or who is indigenous, both in terms of people as well as ceremonial work or healing?
Ultimately this is a very complex issue and requires a delicate approach. I am currently working on an article to explore the various sides of this, examining the problems of cultural appropriation and the balance of assimilation in a time when our need to reconnect with the earth is dire and of utmost importance. Anyone interested in commenting or sharing their perspective as I write this article, please contact me! In contemplation of this I return to the definition of indigenous: native to a place. Eventually, I always fall back on the truth that regardless of our blood, color, nation or tribe, indeed we are all native to the earth, we are all native to our mother. And we need to find ways to honor that, heal, and celebrate with one another.