Neoshamanism is Masturbation


“My headdress? Why, that’s the albatross of cultural appropriation, kemosabe.”

Jason Godesky writing at the Anthropic Network:

The shaman is an ambiguous figure in any tribe. He is touched by the numinous “Other.” The power to heal is also the power to kill, and the benevolent shaman is also the malevolent sorcerer. He wields a power that is frightening. In a tribal society where everyone belongs, it is the shaman’s burden to be the only one that is marginal–the only one that is shunned, alienated, and forever on the outside. The shamanic journey is very often described as a terrifying experience. The Ju/’Hoansi describe n!um as a burning liquid at the base of the spine; the trance dance allows it to boil up the spine, until it explodes out of the head. It is described as searing hot, as burning the spine; the explosion is described as immensely painful. Ayahuasca is the “Little Death,” and many experiences recounted with that particular brew are more vivid than my most terrible nightmares. This is the ordeal that the shaman undertakes for his community. Why would anyone choose such a life? They don’t; they are chosen. The shamanic sickness leaves them with a stark choice: become a shaman, or die.

How, then, do we explain this?

I share these stories to point out that it is a tricky endeavor to travel to a third world country and ask a total stranger for a spiritual experience. While many shamans undoubtedly come to their profession to help others, be aware that ayahuasca tourism is a thriving business in Peru, and that you will likely be treated as just that – a tourist.

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge reintroduced shamanism to the West, and began the trend of “neoshamanism.” Carlos Castenada’s ethneogenic tutelage to the Yaqui sorcerer, Don Juan, provided a mythic framework for the drug culture of the 1960s. The Teachings of Don Juan became an enormous success; and Castenada became a celebrity. In the popular mind, this association has continued–the shaman has been denigrated to some kind of sacred addict. In fact, even in Castenada’s own corpus, this error is corrected–though few pursue his work all the way to the last volume, Journey to Ixtlan, where he reflects:

My insistence on holding on to my standard version of reality, rendered me almost deaf and blind to don Juan’s aims. Therefore, it was simply my lack of sensitivity which had fostered [the use of the power plants].

The role of ethnogens was relegated to its proper perspective by the work of Michael Harner, an anthropologist who sat on Castenada’s disseration committee–where he recieved a Ph.D. for Journey to Ixtlan under the title of “Sorcery: A Description of the World.”–before “going native” with the Conibo in Peru, and becoming a “white shaman.” It is with Harner’s accounts of his experiences with ayahuasca that the current trend of tourists has its roots. Harner’s The Way of the Shaman was a “how-to” guide for Westerners to achieve the shamanic state of consciousness, or SSC. With the publication of Harner’s first such guide (many more would follow), and the founding of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, “neoshamanism” began.

Daniel Noel’s The Soul of Shamanism: Western Fantasies, Imaginal Realities charts the history of neoshamanism, beginning with Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. He discusses how Eliade unconsciously skewed that evidence away from the infernal and towards the celestial by putting together the biases revealed in his novels. He discusses in detail how Carlos Castenada made up the whole experience with “Don Juan”, and how that was revealed. He shows conclusively that “neoshamanism” is a fabrication of Western fantasies–the work of “shamanovelists” like Mircea Eliade and Carlos Castenada, and “shamanthropologists” like Joan Halifax and Michael Harner.

Today, “neoshamans” sell their services to strangers as “alternative medicine practitioners”–for a fee. They often operate alone. Shamans heal, but they never seek payment for it. They refuse to accept any gifts if the healing is not successful. And most importantly, shamans never work with strangers–they heal the members of their community. The community is essential: without a tribe, there is no shaman.

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies sells books and seminars to help their customers become shamans themselves. Shamans learn, first and foremost, from the spirits themselves. Neoshamans learn from audio tapes paid with shipping and handling.

Shamans undertake a perilous ordeal on behalf of their communities. Neoshamans commit the most cardinal sin of shamanism: to abuse the spirit world for a spiritual joyride, or worse still–for nothing more than their personal enlightenment.

A real shaman never journeys for himself; he journeys for others. “Neoshamans” become nothing more than ecstatic tourists, and the ancient traditions of shamanism become, in their hands, nothing more than the latest spiritual fad, another bullet point in “neopaganism” or “the New Age.”

Shamanism is profound. It is the original religion; it is hard-wired into the human brain. “Neoshamanism,” though, is nothing more than spiritual masturbation–it puts on the pretense of profundity, but in the end, it is nothing but a nest of hucksters and charlatans pretending to titles they have never earned.

Native peoples are often deeply insulted by “neoshamanism,” and with good reason. Castenada couldn’t even be bothered to make sure his fictive account of “a Yaqui way of knowledge” mesh with Yaqui beliefs. Neoshamans strike native peoples as hucksters, charlatans and frauds who, having stolen all their material possessions, are now set to rob their culture, as well. Neoshamans desecrate the last thing they have left–their beliefs.

Read more here.

109 Comments on "Neoshamanism is Masturbation"

  1. Antediluviancurrent | Aug 15, 2013 at 8:09 pm |

    I’m reminded by Hakim Bey/Peter Lamborn Wilson’s comment on the whole cultural appropriation issue:

    “As one of the Lakota Sioux medcine men said, “Why don’t you White people get a religion of your own?” And there’s some truth to that! I’m not going to deny it, and I’ve learned not to try to act like an appropriator in regards to these cultures. But it seems to me they ought to take a little bit more heart in the idea that, in fact, for generations White people have felt alienated in their own society, and highly admiring of this other model. I mean, ‘we’ actually think that Indians live better than us! Well, shouldn’t that be flattering to the Indians? Anyway, some of them are flattered by it, and they do understand, and they’re sympathetic towards white people who , in a respectful way, want to participate on some level in these mysteries, in these nature mysteries. Others are not. There’s too much racism and too much bad feelings behind them, and I can’t blame them for that. And their critique of appropriation has a lot of strong points to it. But I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

    • Anarchy Pony | Aug 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm |

      Well most northern Europeans had their traditional ancestral pagan religions be demolished by upheaval caused by imperial machinations and expansionism and then later directly smashed by The Roman Catholic Church. All they were left after that were some base cultural superstitions and the Monolithic Church. So it’s of little mystery why today people of European ancestry feel like they want to find some sort of religion that might be more closely related to the faiths of their predecessors, as opposed to the religion handed on down to them through conquest.

      • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm |

        I agree with this sentiment, AP. However, I don’t think it’s impossible that worthy fragments of preChristianity are hidden in the church itself.

        • Tuna Ghost | Aug 15, 2013 at 11:37 pm |

          From what I’ve been told by pagans following reconstructionist faiths, church documents is one of few places one can get information on pre-christian faiths. Skewed, of course, since the information comes from Inquisition documents or similar, but since the Church also absorbed a lot of local beliefs while assimilating the local population there’s more information there than anywhere.

      • Ryan England | Aug 16, 2013 at 12:51 am |

        Hmm … maybe. Part of me thinks that even if it were possible to revive, say, pre-roman Celtic Druid practice, would that really be more authentic than expropriating North American native Shamanism, even if we could tell for certain who they were and what they were doing? I wonder if we could claim any more real a spiritual connection to ancient Europe than we could to pre-Columbus North America? It’s not just about race, genetic lineage or any of the modern sociologist or activist’s ways of categorizing people. It’s about the shared experience, over a long period of time, of a community. I’m not sure something like that is possible in post modern western civilization.

        • atlanticus | Aug 16, 2013 at 2:32 am |

          I think…to answer this question, try to imagine what you would think of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grand-son/daughter if they tried to live like you. (For the sake of this example, assume that it is entirely possible for them to completely understand your thoughts and motivations, as everything has been recorded through the internet and would have been compiled into some meta-file by then; also, imagine that it is somehow possible for you to tell that they are attempting this feat).

          Would you be offended? Would you have hoped for more for them? Would you be grateful they understood your common sense wisdom and that they spurred their own time’s values for your own? Would you just be baffled? If you were a spirit who could contact them in some way, would you attempt to guide them?

          • Ryan England | Aug 16, 2013 at 11:11 am |

            I don’t think I would be ‘offended’ Charlotte, so much as think ‘you’re missing the point.’ If there really is a Jesus Christ somewhere in the after-world, I suspect he’d be thinking the same thing of his followers today and of one thousand years ago.

            The thing about spiritual truth is that people have to discover it for themselves, and they have to do so in the context of the cultural realities of their time. The best we can get from others, both in our own or some other culture, is an approximate template of how to do this. I think its nature is closer to something like, say, Zen in Buddhism or the Tao. It has to be experienced in order to be understood, and this experience can’t be feigned, as in the case of cultural appropriation like this, and it can’t be experienced vicariously, as in through ‘the old time religion’ of our great grandfathers.

            The variations on spiritual practice we see over time and geographical scope: native shamans, ancient druids and so forth, are more reflections of the cultural contexts in which those people “chosen” to do this have done so. Ditto for much of Christianity, and that’s really religion’s biggest problem these days. “That old time religion” won’t cut it either. The world is a different place now than it was in Celtic Britannia, the Holy Roman Empire or it was, say, for the indigenous peoples of North America or east Asia. We can’t do it in the way the Druids of ancient Gaul, the saints of Medieval Europe or the Lakota Shamans did. We have to find our own way, relevant to our own culture.

            Hope that made sense.

          • atlanticus | Aug 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm |

            Not missing the point, but perhaps being tangential to the initial point…and yes, you made plenty of sense.

            Luckily I’m not engaging in these philosophical exercises for the benefit of my own spirituality. I worship the hyena’s phallic birth canal. I’ve yet to discover what that worship entails, but I think it might involve toothy-masks, hysterical giggling and ritual “pegging”.

          • Calypso_1 | Aug 18, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

            …now I’m curious what sort of Argonaut ritual you might come up with.

          • Prreetttty….this will require further study.

          • atlanticus | Aug 19, 2013 at 8:20 pm |

            Read the wikipedia article! Awesome. Now I have another marine animal to add to my “Feminists of The Sea” collection. The Angler fish and Seahorse (?) were getting lonely.

            (Seahorse ladies are really more like the deadbeats of the sea, but whatev…)

            I’ll get back to you on that ritual…it might require a little person. Not sure if that’s offensive, but I’m going with it.

          • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm |

            Is “furry” becoming sort of a hardcore thing? Are those tweens running around with raccoon tails sticking out of the back pockets of their skinny jeans actually this thing?

          • Only hyena furries, because hyenas are the witches of the Serengeti.

            (Does one have to actually dress in costume to qualify as a “furry”? Because I’m not wearing a mascot uniform. That’s just stupid.)

          • Ted Heistman | Aug 19, 2013 at 5:24 am |

            That’s funny! Hyenas are unusual creatures…

          • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm |

            I’ve had the distinct sense of my ancestors somehow doing exactly that at times.

        • Dunno really. Sure we’ve lost a lot since the spread of monotheism, but is that need to “find the native/natural” anything more than nostalgia?

          I mean, if you *could* bring a pre-Roman Celtic Druid here, with a time-machine (for sake of argument), his lifestyle would be so ALIEN to us that most “seekers” would be totally repulsed.


          neodruid: “I am Arthur, sacred keeper of the flame of Avalon, third degree druid of the most sacred Goddess of the Celts. Welcome, ancient druid, my brother!”

          druid “How dare you stand near me!! I must now disembowel you to find out whether the gods are pleased or not by you, then drink mead from your decapitated skull. Hold still, you strange person in a bedsheet”

          OK, that is cartoony, but the point stands. I think people go looking for other shamanic culture with a similar mindset too “I am Running Cat, rainbow crystal warrior of the Egyptian Sun-God and Aboriginal Mother-Hen. Please let me smoke your peace-pipe, old Lakota man. Oh, do you like my feather head-dress? Bought it in Urban Outfitters, authentic it is”

        • Anarchy Pony | Aug 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm |

          A fair point.

    • Calypso_1 | Aug 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm |

      Jin, care to opine?

    • Rus Archer | Aug 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

      like the lakota didn’t appropriate a whole ton of white beliefs, technology and traditions
      how’d that horse work out for you?
      there’s some quote, i believe something crazy horse said, about if you take my gun, my horse, etc from me, i’m not an indian
      all things that came from whites

      • Jin The Ninja | Aug 16, 2013 at 5:58 pm |

        goods exchanged in barter and trade are not ‘appropriated.’ that’s called ‘commerce.’

        • Rus Archer | Aug 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

          should’ve used adopted
          still, the use of exo-technologies/techniques doesn’t invalidate
          and stealing property, including horses, played a part
          but then, property = theft, right?

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm |

      And have these pasty white folk ever read William Blake? Didn’t he have a profound appreciation for nature, and a severe madness to have had visions of spirits and faeries in the trees? Was William Blake not a shaman? What about Shakespeare? H. P. Lovecraft? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? We have our own mystics.

  2. Ouch! Can’t really argue too much with this thesis, as I’ve seen exactly what the author is describing. Yet, you could also make the case, that as Gordon White from Rune soup, Graham Hancock, and others suggest, “ayahuasca is a goddess on the move,” with her own agenda.
    Many Westerners, myself included, have received incredible healing and deep transformation of their lives and world view by virtue of having experienced ayahusaca ceremonies.

    • Antediluviancurrent | Aug 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

      That’s exactly what I think as well. It’s understandable to see the response against cultural appropriation when millennia old cultures and traditions are being thrown on the market as mere accessories to Western lifestylists.

      But if I’ve learned anything from treading the path of the occult, it’s that the spirits/gods themselves aren’t as invested in the continuation of traditions as we might think they are. They’re pretty reckless in their betting. And why not? That’s the whole drive of the shaman, dancing on a cord above the abyss. I feel like Terence McKenna’s novelty theory still holds ground ( albeit 2012 wasn’t his predicted eschaton ) and the planetary mind has little patience with our respective cultures if it doesn’t fit its agenda.

      • Yes, that seems about right to me as well.
        I see a similarity between shamanism and language, in that both are living, dynamic systems that are naturally changing, evolving and adapting as different people modify and use them to suit their respective purposes. Just as living languages are not static, neither is shamanism.

        • Rhoid Rager | Aug 17, 2013 at 7:39 am |

          Haven’t read any of the below comments yet–so recklessly commenting now–but, I can’t blame people who understand the role of the shaman in South America wanting to expand their flock by opening up to foreigners who are willing to pay a fair dime to experience mother Ayahuasca. Their lifestyles are scant compared to ours. Also, it seems that the machinations of the banksters have put us all in this situation by hijacking the medium of material exchange (money) until a such a time that a sufficient number of us have woken up to this fact. Indeed our own social nature is being used against by those nasty fucks. Shamanism on a dollar is still better than any grad skool marxist fuckwit movement on capitalist critique anyday. With drugs at least we’re making headway–they thrive on theory alone!

          • I think you’re right. If anything the “grad skool marxist fuckwit movement” is way more masturbatory than going out and having some kind of entheogenic experience. With drugs there is, if you’re doing it right, tangible, direct experience that tends to catalyze insight and transformation much more than any theoretical wanking ever could.

          • Rhoid Rager | Aug 17, 2013 at 10:25 am |

            Drunk when I wrote my rant. Above better said than I, Juan. Still drunk…

          • Jin The Ninja | Aug 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm |

            agree. theory without activism, without accessibility is just mental wanking (as Juan wrote in the comment to before and below me).

        • Which suggests that shamanism and language both are organic and inherently important to us.
          But then, so is the impulse to take advantage of whatever opportunity shows itself.
          So there will always be hucksters who market an ego-trip by calling it mysticism.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Aug 15, 2013 at 9:59 pm |

      I agree with most of it as well accept for his arguments against Mircea Eliade which were unfounded and ignorant. Daniel Noel basically tries to tear him down because of fascist affiliations, because the other criticisms are simply spurious. yes Eliade was an asshole, but there is still a lot of his writing that stands up empirically.

  3. This is great. It reminds me my problems with the US’s attitude of psychedelic drugs in general. That it is a pleasure tour, or a haunted house, where you just come back with fun stories to tell…

    • Calypso_1 | Aug 15, 2013 at 9:12 pm |


    • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:08 pm |

      Eventually, even the haunted house gives up on trying to communicate with you, and you may find yourself trapped in an infinity of staring at a lightbulb, listening to household appliances.

    • the US doesnt really have an attitude. The federal government, well, us US’ers cant really speak for that any more.

      • maybe i can only speak for up-and-coming young adults then

        • guess so. fedgov is a writhing monster at this point, with its own agenda and established operating procedure, and to a point where the Constitution almost means nothing.

          • heh I realize now I wasn’t clear, i was in no way thinking of the authority’s view on drugs, just people in the US (mostly those under 30)

          • nah, i think i misunderstood. you are right though, recreational use is well, recreational use, not spiritual or enlightening. good point.

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm |

      People who do drugs are under the spell of the drug and they lose all credibility. Their connection to the spirit world is not genuine . They don’t Know the way that someone like Whitley Strieber knew. Few people can express the numinous awe and dread like those people who actually felt sincere and powerful sympathy for that Other-World, people like H. P. Lovecraft

      • I’m not so sure i would go so far as your puritanical view. And I’m not so sure H.P. Lovecraft had sympathy at all for the terrifying world that he conjured up.

        • Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm |

          from H. P. Lovecraft’s essay titled SUPERNATURAL HORROR IN LITERATURE, and when he uses the word daemon, he means it – H. P. Lovecraft called himself an atheist, AS WELL AS A ROMAN PAGAN and a pantheist. Himself, tormented by nightmares and daemonic presences.

          This type of fear-literature must not be confounded with a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome. Such writing, to be sure, has its place, as has the conventional or even whimsical or humorous ghost story where formalism or the author’s knowing wink removes the true sense of the morbidly unnatural; but these things are not the literature of cosmic fear in its purest sense. The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the dæmons of unplumbed space.

          Naturally we cannot expect all weird tales to conform absolutely to any theoretical model. Creative minds are uneven, and the best of fabrics have their dull spots. Moreover, much of the choicest weird work is unconscious; appearing in memorable fragments scattered through material whose massed effect may be of a very different cast. Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say, as a general thing, that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfill every condition of true supernatural horror-literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point. If the proper sensations are excited, such a “high spot” must be admitted on its own merits as weird literature, no matter how prosaically it is later dragged down. The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether of not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.

      • Rhoid Rager | Aug 17, 2013 at 7:41 am |

        Why does fear have anything to do with it?

  4. THEUNSEENofNOTISH | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:05 pm |

    AGREED! Screw the neoshamans! They discredit the whole sacred spirituality by being little more than drug addicts and chemical junkies looking to get the spiritual high. You have to trick them, if anything, into undermining their own bullshit if you can get them close enough without killing you first. I say to Natives, you should be angry at them for using your religion like Catholic Inquisitors did and Muslim Jihadists did and Christian Preppers (Armageddon Mongers I call them) do now. They are THAT to indigenous traditional shamans and why this culture has shamed the name to the point of making it a videogame class and character and letting many use it as slang for the worst kind of drug addicts and criminals…more than hucksters, really.

  5. THEUNSEENofNOTISH | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:07 pm |

    At the very nicest, they rape your face, cum all over it and say its a beautiful reinterpretation of your art when they show people the picture (the way they live).

  6. Some valid points, but to be honest, there is so many generalizations about both shamanism and those in the west who practice it that I don’t even know where to begin.

    In reality there is westerners who have spent decades working with indegenous healers and have been tought how to heal very well and with the best of intentions. There is also countless people who have grown these plants themselves and learned to navigate these realms AND heal without ever leaving the united states or encountering a indigenous “shaman”. Are they “shamans” in the idealized traditional sense that people think of when they here this catch-all term? Depends on how you define it, but frankly, who fucking cares? “Shaman” is just a blanket term that we ignorantly apply to all indigenous healers, which vary from person to person just as much as anybody else.. Its incredibly dis-empowering to think that people in the west can’t learn to heal and do this. It is all of our birth right….And yes, of course, there is a lot of shit among the shinola, and people with bad intentions, charlatans, and misguided naivete who run around thinking they can heal or navigate these realms do run amok. But on the flipside, there is a shitload of malicious and misguided behavior that goes on among indigenous shamans as well. We’re all just humans.

    People often idealize and romanticize about shamanism and make the mistake of assuming that all shamans are more or less similar in their beliefs, practices, views, etc. But they are just as variable as any other person is to another. Some get rip roaring drunk while on ayahuasca (the whole tribe, in fact). Some have orgies, while others advocate abstinence. And still others add copious amounts of coco leaf and sometimes even straight up cocaine to the brew. There is SO much variation in their views (including their views on westerners and their involvement in their culture/shamanism) that it is difficult to even summarize the phenomenon…Which is why such exaggerated generalizations like those in this article just come off as even more ridiculous..For example: “A real shaman never journeys for himself; he journeys for others.”. Really?!?

    Here is a refreshing view on it 7 posts down by jamie of the dmt-nexus

  7. The Well Dressed Man | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm |

    During extended saga of experimentation, I found that the “postmodernism” offered by the original Book of the Subgenius provided the most culturally appropriate framework for vision questing. Grocery stores at 3am, decommissioned nuclear reactors, and found objects can hum and glow with meaning and purpose.

    • Cortacespedes | Aug 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm |

      You mean “found objects” from the decommissioned nuclear reactor, right?

      • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 15, 2013 at 11:05 pm |

        There are barriers of space and time preventing any sort of certainty, but I seem to recall somehow maintaining the presence of mind to avoid crossing the security perimeter that night. However, I’m pretty sure we were not really abducted by 8-bit aliens either.

    • Jiro M. Trismegistus | Aug 17, 2013 at 10:21 am |

      Aye, Amen, and praise BOB himself!

  8. Jack Watson | Aug 16, 2013 at 12:26 am |

    I think syncretism has a value all it’s own, and this article fails to take that into account. It might be the only true religion?

    I don’t know what the answer is. Cultural appropriation might be very bad. Except that it has happened all along in natural, evolutionary ways. But now with the advent of modern scientific methods, higher educational institutions, mass media, etcetera, that it can be documented and we can all participate in commentary of our opinions of it.

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm |

      I’m with you. Shamanic experiences are part of humanity’s shared cultural heritage, and nothing about religion or culture is static. I’m wary of people who want everyone to stay in nice little boxes, especially while championing multiculturalism and diversity. I’m all for a pluralistic society, but you’ve got to take what some might perceive as “costs” as well as the benefits. I’m an American mutt, and while I’m clearly part of Western, “white” culture, my genetic heritage hails from a Pacific northwest Indian tribe, Italy, Ireland, England and God knows what else. I reserve the right to participate and evolve in the greater human culture to the degree that I feel sincere in doing so. Why should I feel limited to the belief systems dictated to my forebears thousands of years ago if I don’t find them rewarding or relevant? Sure, there are disingenuous creeps in the religion/spirituality scene, but there are a lot of true seekers and explorers there, too, and who am I to tell them where to go on their journey? Mind you, I don’t have a particular “spirituality” that could be characterized as part of any formal religion or belief system beyond “pseudo-agnostic, open minded psychological mysticism”, so I don’t really have any dog in this hunt beyond my general feelings.

      • Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

        I have a high degree of reverence for Korean shamanism, but it is largely because I see so many comparisons to Victorian spiritualism. I see into it like a mirror not like a foreigner.

        A great example of Western syncretism out of S.Korea is a new korean drama called The Master’s Sun. It’s very much influenced by ideas from Victorian spiritualism. Episode 2 had kids in high school trying to contact spirits with a ouija board.

        Cultural appropriation goes both ways sometimes.. Even in matters of spirituality, and really S.Korea especially

        they interpret the infilling of the Holy Spirit as ki! but now, what does that tell you about Christianity?

        Jacob’s Ladder even reminds me of Shinto

  9. Ted Heistman | Aug 16, 2013 at 5:50 am |

    well, there is the potential for feral shamanism…

    • Jack Watson | Aug 16, 2013 at 10:26 am |

      Oooh, interesting. Could you elaborate on what you mean by “feral shamanism”?

      • Ted Heistman | Aug 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

        Well, if a hog or a cat or a cow or a chicken gets lose-There is no wild community for them to fall back on. They have to tap into their instincts themselves. They have no example to follow other than distant ancestral memories.

        So by the same token, if you are born into mass technological/industrial society, with no mother culture or community you have to do what you can also, talk to the Spirits directly, build what you can.

  10. Ted Heistman | Aug 16, 2013 at 5:55 am |

    “The shaman is an ambiguous figure in any tribe. He is touched by the
    numinous “Other.” The power to heal is also the power to kill, and the
    benevolent shaman is also the malevolent sorcerer. He wields a power
    that is frightening.”

    This is true. One way to find out if a Westerner is really a shaman is to start a smear campaign against them. If they have real power they will prevent you from writing more articles.

  11. masturbation is better than no sex…. in other words: don’t be so hard on yourself Jason, it’s ok.

  12. trompe l'oiel | Aug 16, 2013 at 11:55 am |

    I agree, to a degree, with what the article says. There are many disingenuous westerners calling themselves Shamans. Hell, I’m guilty of doing it at one point myself, it was very much what the author of the article describes. A perversion of empirically established techniques that transcend time.

    Now, while I still study and apply shamanic techniques in ceremonies, daily life, and in energy healing, I no longer carry the title, or proclaim myself to be a shaman even though other people call me that with relative frequency.

    My respect for shamanism may one day lead me to study it, if allowed, with established shamanic cultures. For now, I have an intuitive understanding of its techniques and have had shamanic experiences that I was not seeking, but later found out were symptomatic of shamanic illness/ abilities. So it is true, that a shaman who chooses shamanism is not a shaman, it’s those who have no choice that have a responsibility to be that person for a tribe of people.

    My understanding of shamanism in relation to the ancient and pervasive memetic virus of the demiurge, is that Shamans exist as a platform for preventative immunity to mental and spiritual illness or as a psychic surgeons when preventative ceremony and techniques fail to work.

    The west is being lead towards shamanism, naturally, because it is deprived of spirit, and is subconsciously seeking a personal connection with spirit again. Not one through routine worship, not a connection through established religious doctrines, the west is seeking a pioneers pleasure of clearing out a little nook in their being to find a place of peace and rest, to converse with spirit. I can’t say I blame them considering the mental gymnastics it takes to subsist in modern metropolitan monstrosities.

    All forms of applied psychic energy is mental masturbation, whether it’s magic, sorcery, shamanism, atheism, it really doesn’t matter, all of them are a form of self pleasure, sado masochistic or otherwise, in order to provoke creative sexual energy to be directed by either the mind or the heart for any number of purposes, eventually leading to transcendence of the ego and a reestablishment of the true nature of Self.

    The above is an example of mentally wankin’ it, but so what? Literature is mental masturbation, doesn’t make the stories any less meaningful or untrue for that matter.

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm |

      if you have any interest in channeling then I recommend studying Vietnamese and Korean shamanism and mediumship. Koreans and Vietnamese have also syncretized with Christian mysticism.

      A new Vietnamese religion called Cao Daism started in the mid 1920s during the french colonial occupation was founded after a seance with a ouija board, and they venerate Victor Hugo the author of Les Miserables and Shakespeare as Saints. Much like Shintoists venerate famous souls at particular shrines for them.

  13. Rus Archer | Aug 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |

    shamans and medicine men HAVE historically accepted payment
    stop romanticizing humans outside your own culture

  14. *entheogens

  15. liquidself | Aug 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm |

    I have to question whether ‘Teachings of Don Juan…’ was the the literal instigator of the interest in shamanism. It probably has done the most to popularize it, but Burroughs ‘The Yage Letters’ was published in 1963, and Burroughs himself trekked out there a lot earlier himself, so this stuff was in the works for awhile before Castenda came along.

    • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 16, 2013 at 7:34 pm |

      I don’t have the impression that WSB based his literary career on the “shamanic” experience in the same way as Castaneda, although his early ascendency to the Beat pantheon may have encouraged this as a pop phenomenon.

  16. Daniel Gill | Aug 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm |

    I sense the force is strong with this one. You’ll find shamanism in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, Rime of the Ancient Mariner or H. P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond, but that isn’t the alternative healing that neoshaman twerps are looking for. I’ve created a subreddit community on reddit [ ] but so far have gotten nothing but complaints that I, by banning the discussion of ethneogens and other drugs – discussions that they can take elsewhere on popular communities all over reddit – have committed some cardinal sin against the way of shamanism and traditional indigenous cultures. In my defence I asserted that Japanese Shinto, yoga, reiki, late Victorian era Spiritualism, the charisms of the Christian faith, Vietnamese Len Dong, Korean Muism, and so on and on.. that none of these traditions use any drugs whatsoever and that mediumship is not an altered state of consciousness but is a mode of enstasy, and not of ecstasy, through descent of the numinous, communion.. they undergo the Self-Loss for engendering that capacity for channeling through the implicit faith in the Maussian obligation to reciprocate. Trance is largely for public performance. Mediumship is channeling- is it not? I said my subreddit community has nothing to do with drugs for this reason, and for these drug obsessed losers to get lost. I have banned two people so far but could have banned more I got so much dirt from so many people.

    Korean Shamans initiate by undergoing the Self-Loss, a sacrifice of ki to the numinous, with the implicit faith in the Maussian obligation to reciprocate. But it is also the Victorian spiritualists who undergo this same self-loss, when mediums are communing with spirits at a seance, it was believed that the spirits fed on the lifeforce or ectoplasm of the sitters and chiefly the medium his or herself. If Victorian spiritualism is like Korean Shamanism, and IT IS, -IDENTICAL-, same precise principle, and if the Korean shamans, being on the borders of Siberia within the locus classicus of shamanism try so much harder to be shamans, are so much more sensitive, that they don’t even need drugs, then these idiots criticizing me could have stood to learn something by my strict anti-drug policy. So far this forum, the first of its kind on reddit for mediumship, open to the world, has not gotten off of its feet. I would appreciate some help in that endeavour.

    Did you hear what I just said? Pasty white folk culture has no use of neoshamanism, we already have a goddamned shamanic culture to us already. Ever read Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Or these other masters of the supernatural that I have mentioned? Our connection to the spirit world is already a dear one. Is already cherished and already close. You don’t have to look far.

    I do take offence from this article though that shamans don’t initiate willingly and feel called to shamanism itself. In many traditional cultures like Vietnam it is an inner calling. I grew up as a kid enthralled with Unsolved Mysteries, the show hosted by Robert Stack, and I felt the temporal distortion of the spirit world through the shudders that I enjoyed from watching shows like that, as well as reading Whitley Strieber novels, and those sensations perplexed dogged and fascinated me for years of my life until I had my initiation.

    It was Rudolf Otto who first coined the word numinous, before Mircea Eliade took that word out of context, removed all of the hallowed fear and inward shuddering from it and twisted it. I do really like Mircea Eliade’s Sacred And The Profane however, great little book.

    I also have a blog,

    “These two qualities, the daunting and the fascinating, now combine in a strange harmony of contrasts, and the resultant dual character of the numinous consciousness, to which the entire religious development bears witness, at any rate from the level of the daemonic dread onwards, is at once the strangest and most noteworthy phenomenon in the whole history of religion. The daemonic-divine object may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay even to make it somehow his own.”

    – Rudolf Otto, The Idea Of The Holy (1917)

    and from the translator’s preface, in praise of English supernatural literature

    “In visits to the Near East and India (1925, 1927-8) he not only deepened an already profound study of the great religions of the East but was able to realize at first hand what in the religious experience which they enshrine is specific and unique and what on the other hand is common to all genuine religions, however diversely expressed in sacred writings, ritual, or art. […] He was very fond of reading English books, light as well as serious, and I remember how keenly appreciative he was of two English classics to which I introduced him, the poems of Blake with their supernatural thrill and Wuthering Heights with its sombre torment of passion. In the latter he found, and surely rightly, a supreme example of the daemonic in literature”.

    Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s theory of orgone is very similar to Otto’s theory of numinous dread but I prefer Otto’s theory for being more subtle. Reich’s idea was that apprehension to society and nature around you was expressed in a muscular tension and inhibition, and that through manipulating these muscles you could release your tension that would bring communion with nature and a kind of pantheistic idea of divinity.

  17. Psimon Magus | Aug 17, 2013 at 8:34 am |

    I have yet to meet anyone in the west who identifies as a shaman, magician, witch, or sorcerer, who has not been a bitter disapointment. It takes more than sitting alone in a cave on acid and mushrooms. As for the occult communities.. note that such communities consist entirely of others who also identify as shaman, magicians, witches etc.. there is no community these people serve. There is only the heirarchal pyramid selling that passes for ‘grades of initiation’. Nobody outside of these communities actually takes these supposed ‘shamn/magicians’ very seriously at all.

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm |

      The popularization of Reiki has changed a lot. I’m still shocked that many people don’t recognize it and would seek it out immediately with even the slightest interest in the occult. Reiki changed everything. Since the invention of the internet, and the spread of reiki attunement, anyone asking about esoteric matters should immediately be told about it. I also recommend the Temple of the Vampire, an auxiliary group for persons interested in LaVeyan Satanism, which costs far less money to go through up front. It works. They have valid ethnographic citations in their bibliography as well including some western ones not just eastern ones. Reiki masters serve the community. So do charismatic Christian churches. But if you don’t go to these people you’ll never know about it. It’s not for everybody.. if you don’t like supernatural horror there is a good chance you won’t like reiki since it puts the horror into you and you can’t ever shake it off. But some people like myself can’t get enough of numinous dread, adore those inward shudders and hair raising experiences, and come home to shamanism.

      You have to go to the source. And it is far easier to start with a lineage.

      • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 17, 2013 at 7:27 pm |

        DG, your views are most singular, even for this sector of the internets.

        • Calypso_1 | Aug 17, 2013 at 7:58 pm |

          A rare bird indeed.

          • Daniel Gill | Aug 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm |

            Considering my Tengu comment above I’ll take that as a compliment. To encounter the trans-natural is to become the trans-natural.

        • Daniel Gill | Aug 17, 2013 at 8:16 pm |

          In what way?
          My blog which I have posted in my comment below overviews my scholarly research into channeling. And it’s there for anyone interested to peruse.

          I’m not rare. What I profess has actually become very common. Almost like a cliche.

          • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm |

            I perceive a system of thought here connecting Lovecraftian dread with Reiki, Satanism, and Spiritism. New to me. These reality-models seem beyond what I would consider objective measurement. However, I am interested in anomalous data. IMHO, the paranormal suggests limits or exceptions to known physical law. I’m inclined to speculate that eventually our theory of spacetime will develop toward explanations.

          • Daniel Gill | Aug 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm |

            But they fit. Understand where reiki comes from, esoteric Japanese mysticism that generally required communion with the fearsome guardians of the mountains the Tengu. Reiki comes out of the Tendai sect which was the yamabushi warrior priests. These were armed men who faced the darkness.

            Even if no objective measurement exists, our senses being feeble as they are, your sensory experience is still open to those initiations to undergo yourself. Go empirical, be a quack. Scientists avoid the experience of the trans-natural because they need objectivity.

            If you want to become a shaman or a medium, this is a different matter.

            Do you want to remain the detached observer or acquire the truth?

          • The Well Dressed Man | Aug 20, 2013 at 2:57 am |

            Is the truth something that one “acquires?”

            Are you actually assuming I have any interest in becoming a shaman or medium?

            Despite the evidence that our species is but a faint and tiny instant in space time, we reach out to the stars. Our reason has allowed us to build tools to extend our limited senses orders of magnitude into the micro and macro. The works of alchemists, mystics, heretics and natural philosophers led directly to chemistry, physics and mathematics. Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. Is there really a division between spirit and matter, or are they linked as space and time?

            P.S. we (may) have a cat in a box.

  18. Jiro M. Trismegistus | Aug 17, 2013 at 10:26 am |

    I personally think we need to start thinking in terms of us all being a part of a world community, one really enormous really fucked up tribe. So I think the notion of shamans only doing work for their own seems antiquated. I mean to me as soon as we gained the ability to destroy the planet in a single action our world got really small and we all became one tribe. I agree with the idea that many who are seeking this path are doing so for personal gain and are misleading others which is unfortunate and doing nothing for anyone ultimately. Also I just want to put a few questions out there for discussion.
    Can you abuse the spirit world or are you just abusing your self?
    Is a modicum of masturbation(shamanic) so bad I mean as long as your not an addict?
    Who is the master that makes the grass green?

    • Ted Heistman | Aug 19, 2013 at 5:31 am |

      good points. Also if you are born into a mass society with no real community is that your fault? The assumption seems to be that white people enjoy living in mass society with no real native cultural traditions from a shamanic perspective. If you have an interest in Native American Spirituality you get accused of cultural appropriation, But then if you start talking about Odin and shit people call you racist (because some racists are into Odin) So you can’t win for losing really.

      So I just take this stuff with a grain of salt. My animal helpers are all invasive species anyway!

  19. Fernando Arboleda | Aug 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm |

    you make a broad generalization, i agree that many so called neo shamans are fake or a disservice to the wholeness of shamanism…but there are some excellent individuals facilitating shamanic circles of cure and other fine works that are valid, extremely potent, and inspiring, not to mention the powers of healing…(also there is no such thing as ‘ethnogen’)….

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm |

      The strung out losers on ethneogens have made an egregious broad generalization

  20. Fernando Arboleda | Aug 17, 2013 at 5:44 pm |

    and just by the title chosen for this article, it points to how narrowminded a presentation it is….if there is something you want to separate between things shamanic it is things sexual…totally not to be mixed in one’s work…those who masturbate with shamanism have no business dealing with this information for transformation…and surely there are a few charlatans who may fit the bill….but to encapsulate all so called neo shamans into this senseless description is to be utterly naive and counterproductive…..many power plants are used nowadays as people awaken to a new reality and the global village is huge, thus shamanic endeavors are often removed from their traditional circles, to much a broader, much wider context…

    • Daniel Gill | Aug 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

      There is a whole subset of traditional shamanism without drug use, and the article was trying to point out that if those people are not liars or fake, then there is something about shamanism that the cultures using drugs are missing.

      The best example really is a culture like Vietnam’s or S.Korea’s, Victorian spiritualism, reiki, the charisms of Christianity, and the cross section of syncretism between all of those.

      It’s shamanism.

      In a way it is a far more broad spectrum of practices than cultures that use particular ethneogens. But this spectacular broad spectrum of practices is not what the neo shamanism tends to be interested in, and that is shameful

      Consider how large S.Korea Japan and the USA are and countries like Russia that have a strong current of charismatic Christianity when it has crossed paths with spiritualism, reiki, Shinto, and Korean shamanism etc..

      In actual fact, shamanism that conforms to those qualities, such as yoga, are far more widespread and practiced. Neoshamanism using ethneogens is a drop in the ocean

      Fuck. China. Qi Gong. India. Yoga. and so on
      (and yes, Yoga has shamanic aspects, spirit worship, and the rest of it)


      in Vietnam, and S.Korea, and Japan.. the ancestors are placated with Ki. Particularly S.Korea

      Those countries and geographical regions are enormous.

      The vast majority of cultures with shamanic practices, and the vast majority of shamanic practice today, DOES NOT USE ANY DRUGS. OK?


      There is a whole world of shamanism out there, with far more clearly defined qualities than “smoke up”, that people are really ignorant of

  21. This guy seems to have read too many books on the experience than actually jumping into the experience. I would consider myself a practitioner of neo-shamanism. I don’t have a teacher to teach me how to connect with spirit so I have to experiment to learn for myself. I don’t think anyone that is doing mushrooms, drinking Jaye or drum meditating on a regular basis is doing it for fun. try it for a month.

    If you think shamans only go into trance for healing you better leave shamanism alone all together. How would you connect with logos if you only go to see it when someone else needs it? how would you heal? how would you learn?

    Mother canoe is where we live. We are one tribe

  22. An enlighted being treats all of creation with love and respect. So how is doing anything for personal enlightenment bad, let alone far worse than a spirtual joy ride.

  23. Softpaw23 | Aug 28, 2013 at 2:38 pm |

    What’s the author’s problem with people making a buck by advancing their interpretations of the world through writings?

    Does he dislike what he sees in the mirror? I’ve found that when I’m unhappy with something, a warm hug, a nice walk near a body of water, and a cup of hot tea will usually cheer me up.

    But in the meantime, don’t tell this partial Cherokee, partial Northern European or anyone else what is “real” shamanism and what isn’t. Truth is whatever works for the individual, and lies not within the opinions of an author or myself.

    By the way, why is considering something to be masturbation an insult? I’ve found that it is quite fun and enjoyable, and you can even bond with others and build community through the act.

    Every spiritual approach has its share of egoists out to create yet another external dependency and make a quick buck. The difference I can tell between a false and real teacher is that a false teacher will keep you dependent upon their teachings, while a true teacher will teach you the vocabulary and tools to trust the teacher within you.

  24. NeuroticExLOL | Oct 8, 2013 at 11:48 am |

    One more thing.. your post led me to this website. It’s great! Thank you.

Comments are closed.