Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Shamanic Life-World

Scott Bradley


Oh boy, here I go again, talking about that of which I have barely a clue. But since what I have to say is so simple, maybe I won't go too far wrong.

Shamanism is not a spirituality toward which I have much sympathy or interest, primarily because I see it as imbued with more hocus-pocus (magic, spirits, spiritual powers) than with which I am comfortable. This may very well be, at least in part, symptomatic of the disease of modern civilization to which some aspects of shamanism may be a cure.

Before discussing that disease and its possible cure, perhaps it would be helpful for me to consider why I have an antipathy toward shamanism generally. I could turn to Zhuangzi who clearly saw shamanistic practices as a distraction, if for no other reason than that they required dependence on the magic, spirits and powers with which they purport to deal. We are told that Liehzi, who is presented as symbolic of someone seduced by such things, could ride the wind. Zhuangzi responds that that was just one more thing to depend on, one more fetter holding him back from release into Mystery. But this antipathy predates my discovery of Zhuangzi and is probably mostly rooted in my disillusionment with Christianity (to which I had been thoroughly committed) and a subsequent aversion to any spirituality that requires belief — in anything. In any event, shamanism has never seemed to me to offer any truly transformative solutions to my existential needs.

Or perhaps it is because I do suffer from that modern disease of the modern mind, the ("scientific") objectification of Nature which has made of it an altogether separate Other. And it is this alienation from the intersubjectivity of the Whole, from the Gaian phenomenon, that shamanism may offer, if not a cure, then at least some insight.

David Abram, an eco-philosopher who has studied and experienced shamanism in the field, remarks in his The Spell of the Sensuous that much of the shamanism as currently (somewhat) practiced in the West in the context of New Age spirituality has largely missed its most vital aspect, namely its rootedness in the spirituality of Earth, herself. The shaman hears the voice of Gaia; she hears the voices of the deer, the lizard, the trees and the stones. He has yet to have lost the intersubjective intimacy with Nature which we all once knew when we roamed the African savannah in search of our next meal while trying to not be something else’s.

It is a rediscovery of this intimacy with the organic whole of Nature which Abram suggests may help us discover a spirituality that will halt our headlong rush toward the destruction of the wholeness of Nature which sustains us. Philosophical Daoism, I suggest, also provides us with this perspective, though it may do so more effectively if takes the more primal hand of what shamanism also has to offer.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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