And so I’ve been thinking. Oh, no.
Sometimes, you know, I sound unsympathetic to the cries of “cruelty” and “barbarism” which accompany many media descriptions of local African initiatory processes. Because – and this is important- initiation was never meant to be an easy experience.
Sure, these particular schools are for males only, a heinous prejudice all on its own, and are meant to represent an initiation into adulthood, not shamanism, but there has to be at least the threat of mortal danger in a proper initiation. Otherwise, it’s an empty motion.
Now, one can become a Witch through heredity. But not a Shaman.
One can become a practising Pagan, or other religious entity, through study alone – plus, to be fair, usually some experience. But not a Shaman.
One can practise Shamanically without a Shamanic initiation also, but never become an actual Shaman.
This is because the label Shaman, in my opinion and in my experience, is only applicable to one who has undergone the dismemberment – and subsequent reassembling at the hands of the initiators – which marks this spiritual path out separately.
The threat of death must be real – although this reality may apply to this realm or to another – for the initiation to be genuine. Only when you’ve had your life, your body and your mind taken apart in a most ruthless and traumatic manner, and survived as a new being now in touch with realms and dimensions the denizens of which have helped to put you together again, can you claim the title Shaman.
The practises and personalities of Shamans are as diverse as any sub-group of humans on this earth. But at the bottom of it all is a common trauma and rebirth which in effect forces the new being to accept the label.
Are there any Shamans who have not survived the death agony? Lately I have been considering the notion that I may not have really survived. But for all practical purposes – that is, to allow me to function in relative sanity – I have to conclude that the Shaman must survive her initiation.
Or at least some part of her must.