On Shamanism – the Schizo Problem of Being an Academic & Serving Up the Grateful

I am working on my section in my dissertation that is an overview of shamanism. I am finding that the research is bringing to light the problems of Western academics as it attempts to pin like a living bug that is now dead onto the board of Western scientific assumptions the ancient and living tradition of shamanism, which it can’t really, by its nature, grok.
I am finding myself looking directly at our Western reductionist franken-logic that finds it necessary in the name of science to kill the rare butterfly in order to preserve it on a 19th century board of hyper-rationalism and illusionary-objectivity.
I thought this section would be a breeze for me since this is um….like….my favorite subject and it’s taken me a few months to get back into being able to write this miasmic beast. I thought stupidly, because I apparently can’t get this lesson about the disparateness of indigenous and Western worldviews and what that means for ways of perceiving and the effects on consciousness, that this would be ENOUGH.
Funny, as practitioner as I am, I find that when I move into the Indigenous arena as a Western scholar, the spirits fuck with me, laugh at me and make me work in what seems like a futile way. I am one of a handful of Westerners who sorta kinda gets working with spirits as actualities, and now I’m struggling with everything the scholars at the edge of this area of research are struggling with.
Because I am a practitioner as well, which means I not only “believe” in spirits, it means that I relate to them in the same way I relate to the woman at Starbucks who I buy my coffee from, I am respectful and kind and aware that they have something that I need and will need again. I tip them in respect and cause I’m a smart negotiator.
This is ontologically and epistemologically messed up, because I CAN HEAR THEM LAUGHING at my attempts to try to write academically about them and this is after I already bought and placed the fucking cup of coffee on the altar to honor them. The godds of the indigenous and of the neo-pagan are like the rest of your family. They don’t float about the world like some kind of Western ideal of a fucking happy white asexual jesus or a god-father who wears a more inclusive skirt or not, and loves you like the ideal parent you never had or therapist whose gonna heal your fucked up family by listening to every pain you every had. It’s about how to navigate relationships with the spirits of the land and place that sustain you who may appear more like weird uncles, talented aunts, grieving children, loyal pets, angry grandmas. More like community.

Anyhoo…………..I was told by my committee chair, that I cannot publish what I am writing because it somehow disqualifies my status as a PhD candidate as “non-published” material. This is of course bullshit and represents the archaic and changing predicament that higher education is in. Kinda like the LP – what? you want me to use a pen and quill? The institution of “higher learning” and it patriarchal and hierarchical structure that are being illuminated for me in my research on shamanism, as somehow more authoritative than our own experience and ancestral traditions is taking my fucking money.

Here’s my new favorite definition of shamanism.

“From the Stone Age to the New Age, the figure of the shaman has continued to grip the human imagination. Being chosen by the spirits, taught by them to enter a trance and fly with one’s soul to other worlds in the sky or clamber through dangerous crevasses into terrifying subterranean worlds; being stripped of one’s flesh, reduced to a skeleton and then reassembled and reborn; gaining the power to combat spiritual enemies and heal their victims, to kill enemies and save one’s own people from disease and starvation – these are features of shamanic religions in many parts of the world.”

Piers Vitebsky, “Shamanism,” in Indigenous Religions: A Companion, ed. Graham Harvey (London: Cassell, 2000). 35.

Super hoping for good dreams tonight for all.