I am sometimes asked what it takes to be a shaman, and can anyone become a shaman. Because I am asked these questions so often I thought that i would address both of them this morning. Second question first. Yes, I think that anyone can become a shaman. I a highly educated, left-brained logical guy who spends his days with numbers, statistics, and computer programs. If I can do it then anyone can!
The answer to the second question is a little bit longer and I don't know if I'll get to all of the answer to that question in this blog, but I'll at least get started.
I grew up with a nuclear physicist. My father earned his Ph. D. in physics when nuclear physics was a new and exciting field. I can still remember going to the lab at Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago (security in the late 1950s wasn't what it is today). He was sending particles through cloud chambers and through a strong magnetic field, and then measuring how the particle traces in the cloud chamber changed . . . trying to discover what an Alpha particle was. What you ask, does that have to do with shamanism. Well, I grew up in a family where something was only real if it could me measured and observed. An alpha particle leaving a trace through a cloud in a cloud chamber was real because it could be measured and observed. Spirit, on the other hand, couldn't be seen, measured or observed so it fell into the realm of fantasy and fairy tales, and my father didn't believe in fairy tales and so neither did I.
That changed when I moved to Bolivia in 1971, my first trip there. I ran a literacy project to teach Bolivians to read, to read Spanish. I was working with Quechua-speaking adults who spoke Spanish as a second language and didn't read Spanish. I had been in Potosí (13,300 feet above sea level) for about nine months when one Saturday, on a whim, I decided to visit the village of Betanzos, about 30 clicks from Potosí. I hitched a ride on a truck, got off in the center of the village and walked in to a small cafe for lunch. Four men, local campesinos from their look, walked over, greeted me and asked if they could sit down. After pleasantries they told me that they knew that I was coming. Their village curandero healer/shaman told them that I would be there with golden hair and instructed them to go and meet me. He told them that I would teach them how to read the printed words. At that point all they knew about me was that I was a blond haired guy who spoke pretty good Spanish but with an obvious accent, and that I was hungry. By the way, they had walked to Betanzos from their little village about 5 clicks outside of Betanzos.
That experience, my friends, was very unsettling to someone who had been taught to only believe in what could be measured and observed. I had only decided that morning to visit Betanzos and hadn't told anyone where I was going (I know, stupid). They obviously left their village before I arrived in Betanzos because they were their waiting for me. This really upset my view of the world.
So, what does it take to be a shaman or a shamanic practitioner? Well first, you have to think like John Lennon. He wrote, "I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dragons and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?"
That one WFT experience in Betanzos was all it took to change my world view and to help me realize that there is much to the universe than what I can see, explain, measure, or observe. The world is much, much more exciting and filled with a lot more than you or I can see with our 3-D eyes. So the first step, if you want to learn shamanism is to open yourself up to the possibility that you can become one, and open yourself up to the possibility that there are other worlds that are real and which you can visit.
Until next time enjoy the journey,
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice Druidcraft, eclectic shamanism and Ayurveda.