I had a friend ask me this recently and since then I have been feeling into this question - “What does it take to walk a Shamanic Path?”
My first thought was - am I a Shaman?
I started to ponder the meaning of the word Shaman, which led me to revisit it's origins. In her writings about Siberian Shamanism, Virlana Tkacz writes:
“During the mid-to-late 17th century, Russian-Cossack explorers and conquerors
heard and recorded the word ‘saman’ from the Evanki tribe, a Tungus-speaking
people of Siberian Russia. For those mountain-dwelling hunters and reindeer
herders, ‘saman’ was an action word.
One translation of ‘saman’ is “to burn up; to set on fire,” signifying the inspired
fever-like trance of the ancient shaman who moves energies between worlds.
Such mastery of inner heat or fire is integral to Northern Asian shamanic
Journeying between the worlds of spirit
According to the Evanki, it took many, many years of practice to be able to journey
between the worlds of Spirit. As I have walked this path, I have received teachings through Sweat Lodges, Sun Dances, Vision Quests, Shamanic / Medicine Drumming, carrying
the Sacred Pipe and integrating Plant Medicines. I spent many years working on understanding what it is like to become Hollowed Boned, to allow Spirit,
guides, teachers and ancestors to move through me. It took many years to understand what they are sharing with me and to trust myself to be able to share with others what I was being
guided to see.
I asked – “Is this what it takes?”
Years of work
I have never called myself a “Shaman”, I always shared that I was Peter, a
person who shared some shamanic practices, the way of the Drum and
sometimes I would call myself a Medicine Man. It has only been in the last few
years that I have accepted that the community has started to call me a Shaman.
After 30 or more years I have finally started to accept this name, label, and title that
people have put on me. It also is only in the last few years that I have stepped
into using my Medicine name “Womble’ Mahtu” in public as well. I have used this
name for many years in Ceremony but in the last few years, I have started to use
it more in public now.
Working with Spirit
A few years ago, I had a phone call from a 19-year-old young man saying he was a
Shaman. He had just come back to Australia after spending 4 months in the
jungle learning to do medicine with a shaman who gave him his blessing to come
home and start serving Ayahuasca Medicine. This young man had rung me
saying who he was and he started asking me where I got my medicine from, also
if I could give him some names of people who he could start serving.
I asked this young man what sort of experience he had before going to Peru and
he said that he had been around this stuff all his life because his mother had
done some medicine journeys for herself so he knew what he was doing because
of what she had shared with him.
So, I asked him how he was going to start serving and he said to me he was
going to start with groups of six people. I also asked him if he had any
experience in holding circles or ceremonies before sitting with his teacher in the
jungle. He said no but he would be right to hold this many as his teacher held
circles of 12 -20 people and that he had watched him do it.
My final question to him was to ask if he had any experience with Spirit coming into his
Circle. He responded that he didn’t know what I meant with this question and
why I would ask him such a thing?
The young man was open to the conversation and the questions I had been asking him. I was interested in the sort of foundation he had for sharing the Medicine and I wanted to know if he could hold a safe space for a group of people.
A journey of a lifetime
I asked him if he minded if I shared my feelings with him.
He agreed that it would be alright.
So, I said to him, because of his age, that there is no need to rush into things too fast. I
said to him that he is only 19 and that a Shaman’s / Medicine Man’s journey is one of
a lifetime and that he should dedicate himself to his daily shamanic practices so that his medicine would grow.
I also suggested that he take it one step at a time and only start to serve one person at a time before serving more and to build up to serving more people slowly. I also suggested that if he took his time, the medicine would find him along with the right people who would come to be served by him.
My final suggestion to that young man was to keep learning, to keep going back to his teacher in the jungle every year or so.
A path of service
“But, how am I going to make a living from this, make money from this by only doing one person at a time?” He asked me.
He said he didn’t need to go back to the jungle again as he had the blessing of his Shaman already.
I shared my thoughts one last time and said that if he was walking this path to make money instead of to be of service to his community, then he needs a new Shamanic Teacher. I also urged him to seriously think about his journey and the people he wanted to serve.
Well, he didn’t like me sharing that and he ended our phone conversation and I never heard from him again.
Finding lessons in the mundane
”I asked again,'' Is this what it takes to be a Shaman?”
Looking back on that conversation with the young man, I also reflect on my own journey with Uncle Joe Silverwolf and his family. I was going over to Canada in the mid-’80s to the late ’90s to see him - I went 12 times in 13 years before uncle Joe passed away.
When my wife and I went over we would go for 3 - 4 months of the year through the
winter months as we ran our swim school here in Australia through the summer
months. The first time we went over to Canada we spent 3 of our 4 months tramping around
Canada, searching for someone to teach us before we even found Uncle Joe.
For that last month, we were with him and his family and we hardly did any ceremonies or anything remotely ‘shamanic’. We did everyday sort of things - my wife helped Aunty May, Uncle Joe’s wife, in the kitchen a lot with cooking and keeping the family fed. I helped with other things. Uncle Joe and some of his people had a horse stud near Lake Louise in Alberta. In my first month with the people there, I helped out in the stables and did a lot of chores like chopping wood, carrying water and attending the fire for my first sweat lodge in Canada.
We did do a couple of other smaller ceremonies during that time, and we’d sit around the fire at night time and meet other people and listen to their stories. We came home that first year knowing that we had just met some lovely people and we were excited to go back the next year and spend more time with them.
It was the start of a massive learning and teaching experience for me. I showed up every year, flying across the world to chop wood, carry water, attend fires and work around the stables. Back then, no money changed hands. We just made sure that we contributed to the families’ needs by buying food, firewood and extras that they needed at the time.
What we learned was to show up, the more we showed up, the deeper we would go into
ceremonies, the more we were included. It was all about patience, commitment, openness, self-worth and worthiness, even sacrifice, along with other aspects of self-discovery.
I went to Canada and to Mexico looking to find and share with teachers who could share their wisdom with me. As I look back on it now, it was those teachers who found ME. They helped me with my own healings, and I am in deep gratitude and so grateful to them for this.
Spirit will support you
As I shared above, this journey is a journey of a lifetime, it is about showing up every
day, even when we don’t want to. It is about doing our daily practice and being of service to the people, to our community, to Mother Earth, to the Great Mystery.
It is about sharing with elders and teachers to receive the foundations of their teachings. It takes years of practice and service to be recognised within the community, within your tribe. As you continue to learn and grow on this path, Spirit, Creator and your community will support you as you support them, and it will happen quite organically. When you follow this path with Heart, the Community will see you and feel you. It is a way of being, a way of living and foremost - a way of service.
So, “Is this what it takes to walk a Shamanic Path?...”