Well, first off, let’s backtrack a bit and recognize that shamanism occurs all over God’s green Earth, from Waikawa, New Zealand, to Canada’s Igloolik Island. Shamanism has occurred everywhere and continues to flourish all over. A shaman is a specialist in spirit travel and healing and shamans are usually found within the context of animism, though they sometime’s show up in other spiritual environments, usually as holdovers from those cultures’ earlier animism. The fact that all cultures, everywhere, began with animism is why animism is widely recognized as the original religious form. Whether later develops such as monotheism and holy wars are considered refinements or perversions depends on one’s perspective.
Shamans tend to similar activities, quirks and styles all over the globe. Obviously, they differ in detail – Mongolian shamans don’t decorate their medicine hats with bird-of-paradise feathers – but the general picture is the same. And everywhere ya go, shamans are sporting capes, masks and boots bespangled with skulls, claws, shells, shiny bits of metal and various other odds’n’ends. This here writer, me, Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman, is no exception.
Somewhere, in some book that I opened because it had the word “shamanism” in the title, but didn’t finish because it was one of those new age, how-to books for suburban neo-pagans who want to learn to spirit travel, I found the word “powerphernalia” to describe the get-ups shamans wear when they’re shamanizing. It’s a fine enough word. I’ll use it.
Powerphernalia is the shaman’s outfit and whatever gew-gaws s/he has attached to it. The objects dangling, rattling and banging about display the shaman’s fashion sense and add to the shaman’s powers. Each object is chosen by the shaman and added to the costume for specific, if only barely understood reasons. Every shaman’s outfit is unique. An object may have a story attached; may be associated with a particular event; may represent a particular type of power.
My own shamanic ensemble – the veiled medicine and beaded cape, mostly, but also the furry chaps, red fishnets and some other crap – is a work in progress. The gimcracks and doo-dads affixed to my outfit are of various pedigrees, from bones I found in the woods to beads I bought at the store. There are ribbons, washers, costume jewelry, military insignia, brass bells, religious icons and a veritable shitload of other random shit. Some of it might have some inherent power which is added to my cache, making me better able to cast out evil spirits and do that spastic shredding thing I do above the 12th fret, but most of it just crap I found, but even that is not without power. The majority of the power invested in my own garb is there because I have imbued the garments with my time and energy. More important than any specific thingie attached to any specific piece of my gear is the intention of the shaman. It is the deliberate action and care which the shaman works into the medicine hat or what-have-you that gives it it’s import.
As I write this, I am in a motel room in Cherry Grove, SC. The Atlantic Ocean is right out the window. I’m here with family – my daughter, the Spotted Opossum, who has a bit of a tummy ache, as well as some other people who I’m related to but don’t like as much. All week, I’ve been taking the wee grrrl into the waves where she’s been shrieking that really high-pitched shriek she shrieks when she’s more excited than scared, erecting edifices of sand – the Spotted Opossum is a natural-born mound-builder who hasn’t fully figured out why buildings built on and/or out of sand are structurally unsound especially when assailed by a rising tide – and tolerating the presence of my kinfolk. They suck. Not in any special, interesting sort of way. They suck in a boring, small-town, Anabaptist way.
And I’ve been gathering shells. Most of the shells on this stretch of Atlantic coastline are smashed to bits and shards by the time they get to the beach, except for the coquinas, which are small and very plentiful, which in turn makes them worthless to the hordes of Americans on vacation who wander past them all day looking for intact mauve-mouth drills, which they ain’t gonna find. The shells I’ve been picking up are nothing special, but they are somewhat charismatic to me, if no one else, and the spirits of the sea have very thoughtfully bored tiny holes in many of them, which will make sewing them to my cape a lot easier. Shells, in general, represent the watery powers of the ocean/unconscious mind and I am especially drawn to the insignificant, overlooked, unwanted and worthless, so these little mussels are just right for me. I’ve got a few hundred and will double that by the time we’re done here. They’ll look great on my cape.
Time, energy and deliberate attention are what make things special. The hours spent with needle and thread sewing little bits of errata to a polyester sheet and a furry old man hat found in a thriftstore that later went under are all it took to transform them into a shaman’s cape and medicine hat. Most of my powerphernalia is from the mountains of central Virginia, because I am. Shells from a beach that is on the top ten list of beaches in the USA where one might hope to be attacked by a shark will add some variety.
And that’s all there is to that.