“Ghost talker? Vision poet? Soothsayer? Oracle? Bridge between worlds? There are many ways to describe shamans and the shamanism they practice, but basically shamanism is the most ancient spirituality, and for the most part you don’t choose it –it chooses you.” ~Shadow of the Shaman
Shamanism is an eclectic concept. It transcends culture. It smashes tradition into tradition and comes up with transformation. From the traditional to the nontraditional, shamanism wears as many masks as can be imagined: wolf mask, owl mask, whale mask –tribal shaman, urban shaman, disaster shaman. But most of all it reveals the naked vulnerability of the human condition beneath all masks. It reveals the interconnectedness between all things.
Nontraditional urban shamans, or neo-shamans, provide a way for modern codependent beings to become independent enough to connect interdependently with the greater cosmos. They provide a sacred space for people who are stuck in the nine-to-five drudgery of modern life to shed their thick city “skin” and become more vulnerable and intimate with cosmos and soul.
For the neo-shaman, church is everywhere; sacred ground is all places. They are here to bridge the gap between opposites. They are here to sacrifice space and time. They are here to dissolve the Matrix and reveal the Desert of the Real. They are here for ego dissolution and soulful revolution. Most of all, they are here to drag the layman –kicking and screaming if need be– into a future without limits.
Here are five signs you may be a neo-shaman.
1.) You’ve Been Initiated by a Dark Night of the Soul
“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” ~Pema Chödrön
Life is a rollercoaster ride, but you’ve learned to appreciate the highs and learn from the lows. As a shaman, you have experienced the highest highs, in numinous arrest and transcendent awe, but you have also experienced the lowest lows, in the soul-crushing grip of a Dark Night of the Soul. Or even multiple Dark Nights.
It was in the Dark Night that the hidden treasure of your initiation was revealed. In the bleakest black your heart buckled and blurred, but a profound magic came from it that transcended heaven and hell. It propelled you beyond good and evil. This magic usurped your spirit and sharpened your soul into a multi-edged sword that dares to cut deep into the heart of all things.
Most of all, the Dark Night revealed the pulsing blister of your primordial wound, the lingering wound that we all share as mortals. As such, you are a walking wound just as intensely as you are a walking meditation, but you are a wound in the throes of constant healing. Indeed, as Terence McKenna profoundly stated, “It is of the first order of importance to remember this, that the shaman is more than merely a sick man, or a madman; he is a sick man who has healed himself, who is cured, and who must shamanize in order to remain cured.”
2.) You’re Able to Carry Magic Elixir Between Worlds
“Authentic shamans have always been song catchers.” ~Bradford Keeney
You are able to bridge the gap between the sacred and the banal. You are a periphery keeper: a bridge between Nature and the human soul. You catch songs just as theatrically as you unleash dance. You build metaphorical and metaphysical bridges just as profoundly as you weave webs between psychological and philosophical constructs. No domain is off-limits. No boundary is free from being transformed into a horizon.
In the throes of “intentional schizophrenia,” you’ve learned how to transmigrate your soul. Between either-or, between neither-nor, there is a sacred space, a middle-way grace, that you’ve learned to balance on like a tightrope between man and overman. In this space, you’ve learned how to unlearn in order to relearn, decondition in order to recondition, and deprogram in order to reprogram. And then you have the spiritual wherewithal and existential daring to come back to the “real” world and disclose your shamanic treasures. As Alberto Villoldo noted, “The task of the shaman is not to pursue meaning but to create it, to bring the sacred to an otherwise profane and mundane reality.”
3.) You’re Able to Transform Ego-Centrism into Soul-Centrism
“Life lived in the absence of the psychedelic experience that primordial shamanism is based on is life trivialized, life denied, life enslaved to the ego.” ~Terence McKenna
In an egocentric world, you soul-centrically crush out. You are a beacon of individuated ego, shining the light of interdependence into the darkness of codependence. You are famously able to transform darkness into gold and demons into diamonds. But you are infamously able to transform too-much-gold into melted down darkness, thus becoming a beacon of darkness in the blinding light. You have not only learned how to transform the worst-in-us into the best-in-us, but also how to transform paranoid morality into amoral courage. For you realize that the ego is just as likely to get lost in the light as in the dark.
As such, your ability to ground the ego in the eco becomes the salvation of the soul and the resurrection of interdependence. Where the egocentric person attempts to own the world in a kind of narcissistic conquer-control-destroy-repeat process, the soul-centric person attempts to surrender to the world in a state of respectful and mindful non-attachment. As a shaman, you are both able to be God (Infinity) and that which perceives God (finite), intermittently. For your ability to blur the “boundaries” between Nature and the human soul has revealed that you are, just as we all are, God with amnesia.
4.) You’re Adept at Bringing Water to the Wasteland
“The schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.”
In a human world that is grossly out of balance with the natural world, you dare to be a balancing force of nature. The Hopi have a term for it: Koyanasiquatsi, life out of balance. As such, you are dedicated to instigating equilibrium. You are skilled in planting seeds of overt moderation within the compost of covert immoderation. You are willing to be the vitally necessary social leveling mechanism sent to tonalize an otherwise atonal world.
You would rather slap people with the truth than kiss them with lies. Understanding that something’s got to give in the unhealthy way in which the matrix attempts to rule people’s lives, you have the audacity to switch fear-filled blue pills with wisdom-filled red pills. Representing health, sustainability, and wisdom, these red pills are filled with sacred water for a thirsty world. With these pills of wisdom, no rabbit hole is too deep, no wormhole is too mystical, no wasteland is too blighted, and no God is beyond being questioned to the nth degree.
5.) You Are a Myth-Maker Par Excellence
“The modern Stoic Sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” ~Nassim Nicholas Taleb
You are a world-builder, a self-inflicted mythologist. Equal parts divining rod and lightning rod, you’re able to open-up to unexpected music, poetry and art, following intuitive hunches and looking for primordial signs in all domains of thought. Most of all, you’re able to build upon this teleology in an attempt to move your personified Fibonacci sequence (striving finitude) ever closer to the unreachable Phi (enlightenment). You are able to explain this numinous process through the primal mediums of story, art and myth.
Mythmaking is the sacred reach of the nontraditional shaman. You understand that we need a new story, one that leads to human flourishing, bridges gaps, reconnects and transforms apathetic indifference into empathic compassion. Myth-making is a way of retelling our human story, of realigning our unhealthy urban story with the healthier cosmic story. It’s a way of transforming the dogmatic into the enigmatic. It helps others realize that remaining enchanted and maintaining our awe regarding the Great Mystery, is always the truer providence.
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.