A Roman Polytheist Looks At Core Shamanism

My experiences with Core Shamanism (Note 1) started with people I met, who had studied under Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman. They opened their own schools of shamanism and added their own “twists” to the basic teachings. I also encountered it in various books published by New Age and Alternative Publishers such as Inner Journeys/Bear Company and Sounds True, whose authors included neo-shamanists (Note 2) such as Itzhak Berry, Evelyn Rysdyk, and Linda Star Wolf. Finally, I read articles from the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, founded by Michael Harner. (Note 3)

Core Shamanism began to bother me, but I could not figure out why. Then I heard about the attendance of Ereshkigal, the Babylonian Goddess of the Underworld, at a ritual to call upon the Goddesses to end the patriarchy. I could not believe that Ereshkigal, Who demands that the other Gods have to come to Her, had left her domain. Not only that but She also attended a ritual given by humans, who believed that the Gods are archetypes created by humans. What was reason for Her doing this? Why did this Great Goddess respond to these Core Shamans’ requests to attend their ritual? They neither had offerings nor did divination for Her or the other Goddesses.

In “Wyrdwalkers,” Raven Kaldera, Northern Tradition Shaman, compares and contrasts Core Shamanism and Classic Shamanism. He notes that Core Shamanism will downplay the “literal existence” of spirits. Moreover, it will encourage an equal relationship or total mastery over the spirits. Because Gods are not a part of Core Shamanism, practitioners can devise their own Gods. They usually “create” Gods, which are archetypes arising from the collective unconscious of humanity.

Kaldera discusses Classic Shamanism in terms of suffering a “traumatic death and rebirth experience” which results in being dismembered and rebuilt. In contrast, Core Shamanism is something that a lay person can dabble in. Sandra Ingerman says, “The purpose of initiation is to carve away what is on the surface of our ego and personality, so that the depth of spirit can shine through.” (Note 4).

Without any structure and with emphasis on helpful spirits and animals, Core Shamanism encourages people to construct moralistic therapeutic deities (Note 5). These deities look out for people but do not require anything such as offerings from them. They are the “nice guy Gods.” In addition, Nature becomes a helpful ally that teaches people how to heal and live a healthy life.

With all this power at their fingertips, why did the people, who held the Goddess ritual, still feel that they were victims of the patriarchy? One answer is that Core Shamanism itself is rooted in the ego or self. Rather than being a structured belief system, Core Shamanism stresses “here are some tools to help you in this friendly universe.” I think that rather than empower people to overcome their fears, it enables them to remain where they are. They can believe themselves to be powerful and victims at the same time i.e. “heroic victims.”

Instead of confronting the shadow self, Core Shamanism allows for spiritual by-passing. (Note 6). It encourages people to find spiritual solutions to physical and mental difficulties, rather working in concert with the physical world. After all we are physical beings rooted in this world. Meanwhile, Core Shamanism allows people to continue having spiritual activities without penetrating the darkness.

Acceptance of the darker side of human behavior is required for emotional maturity. It entails rigorous and honest self-awareness. I found a prejudice amongst these Core Shamans against seeking mental health professionals, claiming that they only reinforce society’s norms. My experience with mental illness is that the physical aspects of a malfunctioning brain have to be addressed. Without doing that, there can be no spiritual nor mental solutions.

Core Shamanism is safe because a person does not have to change their lives in any concrete way. A person can experience the fire without feeling the heat, since they remain in control. They do not have to face their true shadows.

As for the people who conducted the ritual, I believe that the Ereshkigal who did attend was not the Babylonian Goddess. Perhaps She was a construct of their hopes and desires. Perhaps, She was an archetype of the “Dark Goddess.”

Note 1: According to the Foundation for Shamanic Studies: https://www.shamanism.org/workshops/coreshamanism.html
“Core shamanism consists of the universal, near-universal, and common features of shamanism, together with journeys to other worlds, a distinguishing feature of shamanism. As originated, researched, and developed by Michael Harner, the principles of core shamanism are not bound to any specific cultural group or perspective.”

Note 2: Neo-shamanism dilutes Classic Shamanism into a set of techniques for Westerners. The difference from Core Shamanism, is that they have a particular focus from what they learned from an “indigenous” shaman.

Note 3: The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, https://www.shamanism.org/articles/index.html

Note 4. Sandra Ingerman, “Walking in the Light,” page 90.

Note 5: Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined this term in 2005 to describe the beliefs of American teenagers. They define Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as:
1. A God exists who created, ordered the world, and watches over human life on earth.
2. The God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in The Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. The God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when this God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Note 6: Psychologist John Welwood first coined this term to describe what he saw occurring amongst American Buddhists in the 1980s. Welwood said that the people whom he observed were using spiritual practices to avoid confronting their wounds. Psychologist Robert August Masters refined Welwood’s concept by adding that it disconnects people from their authentic spiritual-emotive selves.

Works Used:
Foundation for Shamanic Studies. https://www.shamanism.org/index.php. 2017.

Ingerman, Sandra, “Walking in Light.” Boulder (CO): Sounds True. 2014.

Kaldera, Raven, “Wyrdwalkers.” Hubbardston (MA): Asphodel Press. 2007.

Masters, Robert August, “Spiritual Bypassing.” Website. http://robertmasters.com/writings/spiritual-bypassing/. 2013.


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