If someone was to ask me how to become a shaman, I would encourage them not to. It’s a hard road, what with the fasting and aestheticism and feeding the spirit animals and all that, and there ain’t any money in it. In some cultures, there’s a certain amount of respect or appreciation for shamans, but here in capitalist North America, a shaman is just another degenerate bum in a weird hat.
It does get discouraging sometimes.
I went out to the woods for soul food. Driving out there, I was mostly expecting a moonlit walk down an old fireroad that goes a couple miles into the National Forest from Hone Quarry. I parked the truck at the gate and got out and there was no moon to lit. No stars either – the sky was totally cloud-covered and it was dark as a dungeon. I couldn’t see my feet. I wondered for a moment just exactly what was I supposed to do – this kind of thing falls into the “supposed to” category when you’re a shaman – and then I started walking. My eyes adjusted to the dark somewhat, but I was still just seeing shades of black and grey. The sky was easily discernible, grey between the ragged trees, so I mostly looked up and tried to stay in the middle. I could tell the difference between the rocky mud road and grass beneath my boots, so if I strayed off to the side, I could correct. Sometimes the puddles caught a bit of light and had a glossy grey, but sometimes I just stepped into them. It was slow going and I was keenly aware of the fact that there are places along that road where the side just drops off.
As I walked, I prayed and meditated. I reached out with my mind to my various spirit animals – who also have human forms when human forms are more conducive. I spoke with them, addressed certain fears and concerns. I also addressed my deity, the form of the Great Mystery that seems most right to me, asking, seeking, wondering. My prayers tend to be more “What should I do?” than “Lord, won’tcha buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I am a person with constant doubt about my abilities, my decisions, actions. I always think there’s a good chance that I’m fucking something up somehow and that there will be dire and sever consequences for every mistake and misstep. Most of the time, I’m wrong and everything turns out exactly the way it’s supposed to. My kid is awesome despite the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing most of the time. BDSR keeps growing, even though I can barely play guitar and have only a vague understanding of the sound program I use to record and mix releases. Somehow the bills get paid. Honest to gods, I don’t have a clue how things work out as well as they do. I am not even in the passenger seat of the metaphorical vehicle of my life. I’m in the truck bed, hanging over the tailgate, hoping that whoever is steering is paying attention.
How did this happen? How did I get to where I am?
I was born with certain abnormalities of the mind that would have made life a little difficult in the best of circumstances, which mine weren’t. My childhood wasn’t great. I took the bad hand I was dealt and played it the worst way possible, grossly exacerbating the situation until suicide seemed like the best option. Then I was plucked up. One of the many manifestations of Divinity that people have identified appeared to me and changed the course of my life. I found some folks who showed me how to grow in the Spirit(s), gave myself over to the Deity that appeared to me and I’ve been trudging along ever since. Fifteen years and I still don’t really know what’s going on. I read a lot of books on the subject. I read Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques Of Ecstasy a few years ago and was steered into my current avocation. I’m actually reading that one again. It’s pretty good. I’m not nearly as powerful as some Siberian or Mongolian shamans, but I’m self-taught and they had instructors, so I guess I’m not doing so bad. I’m certainly not unusual in that I didn’t choose this. The whole shaman thing was not my idea – I was assigned. If I had gotten to pick a role for myself, it would’ve been one with a higher income and more blowjobs.
So there I was, stumbling along this mud road in total darkness, praying and wondering why I wasn’t home eating beans’n’rice and watching a zombie movie. There were occasional sounds on either side, something or something else moving around in the underbrush, probably opossums or rabbits, but possibly bears and coyotes. I had a Ka-bar on me, in addition to the little knife that I always carry. I would fight a bear if I had to. It was definitely a scary experience. Mostly though, it was just putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, watching that strip of sky that was open over the road, feeling with every step the ground. I stumbled a few times, but only fell down once, when I stepped into a gulley that ran across the road and over the drop. There’s a concrete bridge that crosses a creek near the end of the road, so when I got to it I knew I was close. Then the strip of open sky just stopped. I was at the end of the road. It was almost disappointing. I had gotten used to walking along in the dark, had become okay with it. I suddenly felt that I could walk all night.
The act that I had set out to do was to walk to the end of the road, unless I had to fight a bear or something. So I turned around and started walking back. On the way back, I continued to pray, to ask for guidance regarding BDSR, my visual art, my daughter. And an answer came: “Just keep going”. It was that simple. Just continue to do what you’re doing. Just keep on walking, blind and trusting, and what will happen will happen.
Just keep going. That’s pretty much always the answer. I have gotten different ones – “Quit the job”, “Stop being such an arrogant asshole” – but the vast majority of the time I’m out seeking some kind of guidance, it’s because nothing much has happened and I’ve gotten all jammed up in my head thinking that I should do some something, something dramatic, to fuck shit up. I can handle crisis. You give me a burning orphanage or a fighting bear and I know exactly what to do. Let me be for a while, let a couple months of slow, gradual development happen, and I start to get edgy. Then I find myself out in the woods doing something that other people have the sense not to do – walking a road in the dark was a fairly mild one – crying out for a vision or a sign or a burning wheel within a wheel or something. The answer is usually just keep going.
The final step in the shamanic thing is sharing what I’ve learned. See, I do this shit so you don’t have to.
If you’re not living in the way of the Spirit(s), then this doesn’t apply to you. This is for people who are already committed to a course of action and being that is in accord with whatever form of spirituality that makes the most sense or has the most appeal for them. People without any form of spirituality – well, I dunno. Do whatever. Maybe that’ll work out for you. People who are walking on a spiritual path and who have the occasional doubts because it seems like nothing is happening and/or there appear to be some dark clouds on the horizon, possibly of a dark financial nature because you don’t have a regular job and there ain’t no income comin’ in, just keep going. The way may be dark, there may be bears in the woods, but just keep going.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.