Spirit calls us to a path of shamanism in many ways. It can be as dramatic as a life threatening illness or as simple as a dream. Some people receive signs of a shamanic calling through their dreams. Shamans frequently journey during their dreams, often flying through the air. Shamans may have recurring dreams in which they meet certain animal or teacher figures that are manifestations of the very spirits who are calling them.
Siberia, the homeland of shamanism, it is believed that certain characteristics
are a sign that the spirits have selected an individual to become a shaman.
Sometimes the shamanic candidate will have unusual marks or bodily
characteristics such as being born with extra fingers or toes. Being born with
a caul (thin membrane) covering your head is recognized worldwide as a sign
that a person has a special relationship with the spirit world.
The more common signs of a shamanic calling are ones of personality, such as a desire to spend time alone in nature. Shamanic candidates tend to be loners and are often considered eccentric or "different." One of the most reliable signs of a shamanic calling is the urge to learn about shamanism. One of the things I have learned working with spirits is that they often prompt me through urges to do one thing or another. This is a common form of communication and instruction by helping spirits. The very fact that you are reading this article at this time is meaningful. It is the spirits themselves who are guiding you to search for information about shamanism. Your yearning to learn more about shamanism is a sign that the spirits are calling you. The call functions to awaken your own inner knowing and the yearning to express your true self through the artistry of the shaman.
In contemporary Western culture, people who have shamanic callings often don't understand what is happening to them, and may find themselves overwhelmed by fear of their non-ordinary experiences. To help potential candidates gain an understanding of these events, I have provided the following list of signs that you might have a shamanic calling. Have you had:
- An intense desire to spend long periods of time alone in nature
- Vivid flying dreams, prophetic dreams, or recurring dreams with the same animals or teacher figures
- Recurring encounters with the same animals in ordinary reality, possibly in unusual ways
- Frequent feelings of déjà vu
- Imaginary friends as a child
- Any physical, mental, or emotional abnormality that set you apart as a child
- An strong connection with plants or animals
- An awareness of subtle healing energy in your hands
- A near-death out-of-body experience
- Astute and accurate intuition and the ability to "read" other people
- A parent who has paranormal abilities, such as prophetic dreams or telepathy
- Ancestors who were healers, herbalists, or doctors
- An occupation in the healing arts
- Frequent clairvoyance, clairaudience, or other paranormal experiences
- Were you born with a caul (thin membrane) covering your head
- A life threatening illness, accident, or unusual event such as being struck by lightning, especially if this included a long recovery
- A strong inner urge to learn about shamanism
If it seems that these signs are very general and happen to a lot of people, it is because the spirits call many to work with them, but only a few may respond to the call. Choosing to ignore a calling may have undesirable consequences or none at all. For some, it can lead to depression and illness as the life force is constricted and thwarted. Those who choose to follow their shamanic calling may have no idea how to begin.
What do you do if the ancestral shamanic tradition no longer exists in your culture, but you still feel the call today? While traditional, indigenous shamanism continues to decline around the world, shamanic ideology has gradually entered Western humanities and social sciences and developed into the neo-shamanic movement. Neo-shamanism is a term used to describe the creation or revival of a shamanic culture. Most modern shamanic practitioners fall into this category. Neo-shamanism is not a single, cohesive belief system, but a collective term for many such philosophies. Neo-shamans use a variety of core techniques from different shamanic disciplines.
Mircea Eliade, a religious scholar, was perhaps the first to write about neo-shamanism. In his classic work, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques ofEcstasy, Eliade discusses the three stages of becoming a shaman: the Call, Training, and Initiation. The first stage to becoming a healer, as described by Eliade, is that of the calling -- this call comes from the family, the community, or from the world beyond. Some are called, initiated and trained by spirit guides and/or human teachers from childhood.
Shamans are called, and then receive rigorous instruction. Training may follow an ordered tradition or take a spontaneous course guided by the shaman's spirit helpers. The function of training is to develop the skills and talents so that shamanic practitioners don't unintentionally hurt themselves or others. Though the spirits give shamans their healing powers, shamans must learn the technique of invoking them. Traditional shamanic training requires considerable devotion and personal sacrifice, not so much to gain power, but to become the person who can wield that power responsibly. Ongoing practice and learning are essential to perfecting any art or skill.
Where does one find shamanic training in the digital age? There are growing numbers of spiritual seekers who learn about shamanism from the internet or through reading the published works of individuals who have received shamanic training. Though a handbook is no substitute for an apprenticeship program, it can convey the fundamental methodological information. Authentic shamanic knowledge can only be acquired through individual experience; however, one must first acquire the methods in order to utilize them. Once you have learned the basic skills, your helping spirits can provide you all the training you need.
Then there is Initiation. Shamanic initiation is a rite of passage, connecting the apprentice shaman intimately to the spirit world. It is typically the final step in shamanic training, though initiation may be set in motion at any time by spirit's intervention into the initiate's life. Ultimately, shamanic initiation takes place between the initiate and the spirit world. It is the spirits who choose and make the shaman.
In my 2012 book, Shamanic Drumming: Calling the Spirits, I recount my own journey into shamanic practice and explore what someone should do if they feel the call to become a shaman. Working with the guidance of my helping spirits, I have written a guide to becoming a shamanic healer that encompasses the power of the drum, of community, and of the accountability inherent in authentic shamanic practice.
How does someone embark on the shamanic path? To be an effective shamanic healer, one must go through the three steps. The first step is to acknowledge the calling.
© 2013 by Michael Drake