What Do we Share of our Shamanic Experience?

In the spring of 1995, a BBC film team approached our shamanic drumming group in order to gain permission to film as we worked in circle. I hadn’t heard of the BBC show in question. Our group was contacted because one of our members had been on the Board of a shamanic organization, and, to her surprise, was still listed as a national contact. The group was consulted, and the decision was given to me.

In discussion with their representative, I was told they planned to be respectful, but that they might need to use filming lights. I told them that shamanic journey was not that interesting to film, and they said they just needed a sample of that, but that they were told initially that we danced and chanted as well (both true). I decided to decline the opportunity on the grounds that what we were doing was sacred to us and not for public consumption.

So, perhaps we could generalize and suggest that we don’t share what is sacred and personal, and might share what educates a larger group. But there is more to consider.

Developing relationships
In our everyday lives we have likely seen examples of people giving away their power – abusive relationships would be one example. Another example is when someone shares information for attention or status – private information that a group might enjoy consuming. The integrity of relationships is compromised when personal knowledge or potentially confidential information is traded, outside those relationships, for momentary gain.

In the same way that we gain the trust of a good friend, client, or a team of peers by demonstrating our worth, so we also gain the confidence of our spirit helpers by earning their trust. Our Power and Spirit are not meant to enhance our status or inflate the ego. If we used our friends that way, they would not likely stay close to us for long. We would lose the connection or link with that person. All of our friendships, material and non-material, deserve the proper regard.

In my very first workshop with Michael Harner back in 1985, he told a personal story about weather magic. He began by informing the group that the shamanic path involves gathering personal Power, and there would be some things told to us by our personal spirit helpers that was given to us alone. He said that the shaman’s path involved collecting knowledge from the spirit realms, and that some of that knowledge might be personal medicine — your unique gifts for the world. He did not want us giving our Power away.

Harner gave the example of weather medicine, stating that he had once held weather medicine – a relationship with weather spirits wispy cloudsthat gave him an element of influence. But he stated that he had bragged about it. Consequently, the medicine left him. (Note: this was almost 30 years ago, and he may well have repaired his relationship with weather spirits since that time — I don’t know.)

I resonated with this, feeling that there was a time in my life when I too had had weather medicine. It’s not so much that I bragged, more that I didn’t know how to attend or develop a relationship with It. To be clear, I wasn’t respectful. I’d come into a relationship where I came to expect compliance simply by praying. I wasn’t yet in my 20s, maybe I did brag in a small voice. In any case, it occurred to me one day that something had changed. So, prior to shamanic training, I learned intuitively that gifts from the spirit world were to be treated with deep respect. That often meant holding the gift in silence, at least while we were growing together.

Sharing in a circle
In workshops we were encouraged to share, so that we could all learn from the experience. How does that square with holding silence? Harner went on to discuss the value of sharing in specific circumstances. In a circle of sharing, everything that is shared becomes confidential — limited to the confines or permission of the circle. Another circumstance for sharing that he discussed: sharing as a way to educate the circle or to broaden the retrieved information through resonance within the circle. When we are learning together the medicine grows.

Works in progress
Is the work or intention complete or still in process? Sometimes our shamanic work is complete in a relatively short period of time. But often, especially as we age, we are introduced to the to the teaching of a life’s path or to a problem that is deeply rooted and takes time to encounter and integrate. Then our work becomes process oriented. It is not uncommon, nor should it be a surprise, that some work requires our attention over time. When something is in process I generally feel that this is a thing I do not share. I have been told by spirit helpers, and feel it in my body, that we don’t share information or knowledge that is in process because it is still malleable in its interactions with reality and possesses a certain delicacy. In other words, telling the wrong people or sharing indiscriminately may cause a leak in the process. Birthing something new into the world, or integrating something old, may require private gestation or appropriately linked supports.

Through the years I’ve come to rely on my spirit helpers to guide me — when to share and when to hold silence. This becomes an automatic or reflexive response when your spirit helpers are held in continual reverence. What I found is that: when a story or event has run its course and time has passed it often no longer seems necessary to hold silence. Giving away your story may be the more appropriate thing to do. There are many personal experiences I have shared on my website (see the shamanic and personal experiences link at the right of the page). And there are many that I have not.


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4 Responses to What Do we Share of our Shamanic Experience?

  1. Irina says:

    I agree with most of your comments about sharing shamanic experiences. I do feel, though, that sharing “the sacred and the personal” can be a very effective tool in healing and inspiring others. In choosing what/when and with whom to share, the bottom line is relying on the guidance of our spirit helpers. A good example of that is the question of revealing the identity of our Power Animals. To some shamanic teachers, especially those of the Harner school, disclosing that information is a no-no because, presumably, it weakens our link with those spirits. I could never agree with that as a general precept. As I gradually acquired my Power Animals, I asked each of them how they felt about being made known to others. Some said they did not want it, while others were perfectly willing and even eager to become known. One of them is my beloved Raven–wise, powerful, funny, a practical joker and an entertainer who loves an audience. I have worked with him since my very first shamanic journey over 20 years ago. I have told my clients and friends about him; impersonated him (in mask and costume) in healing rituals; even mentioned him in some of my articles on shamanism. I always ask his permission first, and always get an enthusiastic Yes! Our bond has only grown stronger as a result of all these experiences.

    • Jim says:

      Irina, thanks for your insightful comment. My shamanic experience seems to be similar to your own: some power animals prefer to remain private and others like being made public (perhaps not indiscriminately, but nonetheless have intention to be seen). And I’ve even found that power animals may have different privacy requests in different circumstances. For example, with permission, I shared an intimate poem on this website of a power animal who had often, by nature, held secrecy in my past.

      Speaking of power animals, this past winter I attended a local philosophical meeting in which the moderator of our small group requested we introduce ourselves and share our power animal. Afterward, I asked what had prompted him to do that, curious if he understood what a power animal was. Clearly, he did not — it was no more than a curiosity, like what is your astrological sign. I’ve also seen a popular Facebook post that invites you to take a quiz so it can reveal to you your power animal, which you can then display on your Timeline. On the one hand I find comfort in the cultural acceptance of power animals. On the other hand, the quiz trivializes power animals. I am reminded of it because this is the type of superficial sharing that is encouraged in our age of Facebook, and is one of the inputs that got me to thinking about this subject.

  2. Irina says:

    Well, clearly, I am a relic from the past because the possibility of announcing my Power Animal on Facebook, or any other Internet venue, never even entered my mind. In my view, that kind of indiscriminate exposure definitely trivializes shamanic Spirits, but then, I do not have the computer generation’s mindset.

    I agree that most people don’t understand the meaning of shamanic Power Animals, even if they gravitate to certain animal “totems” or some such thing.

    How did you answer the request to announce your power animal at the philosophical meeting?

    • Jim says:

      I wasn’t first, so I asked my power animals if any of them wanted me to announce them, and One came forward and said, “Announce me with pride, even though they might not understand.” So I did.

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