An urban shaman living in western civilization faces a unique set of challenges. First, unlike shamans who work in tribal cultures with a long standing tradition and a deep, respectful connection to their community and their society at large, the western urban shaman is more often than not seen as either someone with a mental disorder or a charlatan out to make money by exploiting the faith of others. This last point I find exceedingly ironic, since the accepted religious leaders of the west (mostly of the Christian faith) represent the lion’s share of those exploiting the trust of others for personal profit and pleasure. From televangelists selling empty promises in exchange for opulent materialism to priests sexually abusing children, there is no shortage of exploitation going on.
Medical doctors, therapists and even armchair psychiatrists are all poised to “diagnose” the urban shaman’s spiritual experiences as one mental illness or another. If I say I interact with the spirit realms and form close relationships with spirit guides, they will tell me that is schizophrenia. Then many of those same people go to a church the next Sunday, pray to God and claim a close relationship with Jesus. They believe in angels guiding them and protecting them, and trust that God is there to smile upon their holy actions and punish those who are undeserving.
I cannot speak to the religious experiences of another. I cannot invalidate their claims because I do not “know their god”. Yet this is the struggle of a modern urban shaman in western society. To them, our spiritual experience is a mental illness. It is something we should be medicated for and endure therapy for in order to be cured. I see people on social media call upon their friends to pray for them if they become sick, or have an accident, or just need support. Very few, if any, of those people would turn to a shaman. Our spirituality is not part of the culture.
That’s fine. It’s part of who we are, it doesn’t have to be part of the culture. At least those in other shamanic traditions will understand, right? While there is a bit more acceptance than found in western society in general, surprisingly there is also resistance from other shamans. I have routinely encountered questions of my “authenticity” or criticisms of “cultural appropriation” because I have not been trained by some master from an accepted tribal tradition (at great cost generally, of course). Connecting to the spirit world is not intellectual or cultural property. It is the right of all things, not just those who have been “vetted” by some expert (after paying all the fees). Of all the types of people I would expect to be adversarial to my experiences, others who walk between worlds weren’t high on my list. But, for whatever their various motives may be, that is the case.
The urban shaman’s eyes were opened to the spirit world, just like any other shaman. Our methods are different, but the end result is the same. We have tuned in, made a connection, expanded our perception, become cognizant. We are aware of the physical world and its inhabitants. We are also aware of spirit worlds and the inhabitants found among them.
Because we typically enter into this awareness without choice, preparation or even understanding as to what is happening, it can certainly be a scary thing. The fact that our society is ready to label us as crazy and we often have nobody to turn to during our awakening can contribute to us believing we are mentally ill.
But the more our physical senses are muddled with medicines, the clearer our spirit perceptions become. It devolves into a self-referencing loop: you are crazy so you need meds. On meds you see more crazy so you need more meds.
The simple truth is we are two places at once. We are here and we are there. Honestly, everyone is, but not everyone is actively conscious of that other existence. I want to let you know you aren’t alone. If you are struggling to come to terms with your new perceptions, and you need friends in the physical world, your tools for accomplishing this are found all around you.
Go to what draws you and you will encounter those who are doing the same. It may be at at an EDM festival, or a drum circle or event like that. It may be by tweeting your experience and seeing if someone else is listening (or you do the same, there are pings from others like you all over). Take the first step. If you encounter someone you sense will understand, talk to them about it. Chances are, they are simply afraid of being noticed, like humans trying not to stand out in that movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Distance isn’t a factor. Your tradition is the modern global culture. It embraces the spirit of technology as well as nature.
One foot here, one foot there. Spirit everywhere. Your tribe may not recognize you right now, but you are not alone.