Friday, June 12, 2009

" TV Cowboy" Definitions

I grew up in Montana in the 1970's, when the last of the last of the cowboys had grown old and sat around telling stories. That self-deprecating, humorous recital of horrific injury and deprivation riding the range, stories of courage and cowardice told like a joke.

So when I watched cowboys on TV, they confused me. "That's not like so and so, " I would say to my father, who would sing me his rendition of the Bonanza theme, "Nobody ever does any work on Bonanza! Sit around all day, don't get paid, Hop Sing does all the work!" My wise father's code for, "Honey, it's not like they've actually talked to real cowboys. It's pretend."

As I read Stephen King's Gunslinger series, I got the same, "Honey, it's not like they talked to real cowboys. It's pretend."(Not that I didn't like the series BTW, but it was definitely based on what someone had seen cowboys and lawmen on TV and in the movies, rather than real life).

So recently I was a reader of a discussion about shamanism on an Asatru list, prefaced with the question "Is it Asatru?".

BTW, this discussion was part of one of those discussions that makes me angry to the bone, the defining of us vs. them with the idea if they are not us, how should the community condemn them. I find this argument pop up in Asatru thought every once in a while, especially from those that have a personal anti-mystic bias, usually because they were brought up in a faith with an anti-mystic bias and despite conversion to Heathenry, they carry that bias still.

And after years of comparative religious theory, my first thought was," This is someone's TV cowboy definition of shamanism."

"Personally, I feel that people who are into mysticism and such belong on the outside of society. And I think naturally they gravitate towards that. As we get closer to the inngarth of society and social mores, we find laws, customs, and taboos. As we get closer to the utgardth, we find the opposite. You can't run a society of Shamans. A society of people who are in constant contact with the Gods, constantly in Shamanic practice, by definition would not be able to enforce rules, customs, or have taboos. This distorts the purpose of society and the purpose of Shamanism. Both are degraded by their integration. Either you try to apply rules to a Shaman, which destroys the project of Shamanism, or you try to have a society without laws, rules, customs, or mores (which would resolve itself into a kind of dystopia). You can't run a society this way. Shamans need that kind of freedom to do what they do. Society at large can't have that.So, while I can respect the project of Shamanism, kind of like I appreciate the project of the Punk Rocker, or the Dadaist, I do not feel that we can build up a religion around it. It would also be impossible to "reconstruct" Shamanism, since by definition, Shamans can't operate at their fullest within any "construction" . The way that people have described it to me is that they see all Nine Worlds at once, and all Time at once. Try forcing a person like that to draw a map, or make a watch, which circumscribes their experience. It's impossible. This is all my opinion on Shamanism. I can appreciate the project, but I can't see it as a religion in and of itself. "

The writer is correct about a couple of things.

Shamanism is not a religion, with a set of gods and goddesses, a cosmology, narratives and beliefs. It's a practice, which is puts one in touch with the gods/spirits/wights/ancestors as part of an existing worldview. It is a job similar to mystics and prophets, those that talk to and interact with the universe in a direct way.

And as a result, those people do gravitate to the outskirts of society. It's hard to be the voice of other worlds. It makes demands on your time, health and sanity in a way that makes just hanging out with your people a difficult thing.

But after that, I differ greatly with the author.

-Mystics do not belong outside of society.- I realize that's more of a personal preference for the writer rather than a stated fact, but ALL religions have a mystical component. Christian mystics such as Julian of Norwich or many monks in the Greek Orthodox tradition, Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, Buddhist Tibetan mystics, Sufi masters, Hindu yogis etc. inspire the people of their community to a closer relationship with their deities of choice, healing those people, prophecy etc. Shamans are a kind of mystic.

-Shamans can't operate at their fullest in any construction-Shamans are constructed and defined by service to their community, not how they define that community, but how that community defines THEM. Shamans can't just call themselves shamans, their community calls them shaman, with all the inherent rights and responsiblities that comes with that.Some societies have their shamans in the middle of the village, some on the edges, but there is no question that they are a vital part of that community. They are the bridge between this world and other worlds.

I am not a shaman. My practice has elements of the shamanistic practitioner(using the methods and models of shamanistic practice to achieve results) because they work. And deep down, whether you are reading accounts of shamans in the Amazon, or Inuit healers or Sami weatherworkers, shamanism is about what works, not the worldview/religion/philosophy trappings, but the energy/ psychology/practicality of practice that gets results for their community.

In my experience. Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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