Shamanism without Borders


Below is a document I wrote for presentation at the recent Society for Shamanic Practitioners meeting in Santa Fe this May.

I am posting it at our SC website because, as you will see from the document, the plan is to weave together both SC and SSP (as organizations) and bring our joint resources towards doing this project. Had I first written this for Shamanic Circles then the wording might be different….I am very hopeful that through the combination of circles and individuals (not in specific circles), we can help bring some assistance to situations precipitated by disasters of various types.

If you, or your circle, are somehow interested in this project, please let me know.

Blessings, Carol Proudfoot-Edgar

Shamanism without Borders

(Written for May, 2008 SSP Conference)

Presentation at SSP, May 2008 Sunrise Springs Conference:
We have been given a block of time at this Conference to gather with
those members of SSP who are interested in helping to create an outreach project we are calling "Shamanism without Borders."

We would like to gather our collective thoughts and reflections on such a project. We may want to do some journeying so that our work is informed by our helping Spirits.
Obviously the project will take time to develop but we may be able to create some initial objectives for the first phase that would include groups working together after the conference. Our hope is that we can outline some short term and long term objectives with ways to implement and evaluate them.

Below is our first working document about this project. It would be helpful if those interested and/or coming to this Conference presentation would familiarize themselves with our thinking to date. This would give us a platform from which to launch our collective exploration while meeting together.

Shamanism without Borders – Working Document

For several years now, different ones of us in the shamanic community have envisioned having response teams consisting of shamanic practitioners available to give help when needed.

Our ability, through mass media, to see instantly disasters unfolding has led to an acute awareness of the need for emergency teams and their invaluable place in assisting communities to respond and recover. These teams often work in concert, e.g. fire, police, medical, educational, and environmental task forces. We have grown increasingly aware, however, that the unique perspective and skills the shamanic practitioner might bring to these events is missing and we believe can be of benefit.

The difference between shamanic practitioners and other health care givers (e.g. "Doctors Without Borders") is that our decision-making is grounded in shamanic principles and techniques. The paradigm we use for understand natural disasters or human-created traumatic events is that of the healer responding within a shamanic cosmology.

Certainly there are individuals and some groups of shamanic practitioners who already respond to events – generally in their local community. We have various informal networks we write when there is some concern for which we solicit remote healing and prayers. In general, however, much of contemporary shamanism has focused on the individual needing healing with less attention given in training to the community itself or to the larger world.

Other than ceremonial gatherings, we have no organized means by which we can call individuals or teams to travel to various places in urgent need or any established network for doing remote healing as a group of practitioners. In this context, the word 'practitioner' is not being used to designate only those individuals who have healing practices but rather all individuals who practice shamanism as a way of being and walking in this world.

Consider events in the US alone (much less the rest of the world!) in the last several years: forest fires raging out of control and potentially wounding all in their path; hurricanes, tornadoes, and massive flooding; violent acts of terrorism with the resultant loss of life and ruptured families; intentional injury to other animals with whom we share this planet; places in the Earth being serious damaged whether those be desert, water, forest or other ecosystems.
These are some of the notable disasters we have faced in the US in recent times.

Why would a shamanic practitioner be concerned or involved when these events occur? That's because on a very primary level, the shaman's call is to provide hope and inspiration, compassion, comfort, and healing. The shaman is concerned with the soul's journey from birth through death and beyond. This concern is not only for the souls of the two-leggeds but the Soul-filled manifestation of Spirit in all beings.

The perceived needs can be overwhelming for one individual alone whereas much may benefit from the joint efforts of shamans. So how can we transcend our individual lives and reach out through an organized, group effort? How can we respond as a shamanic community?
This is the question?

Our search now is to develop some plans that we might implement over the next few years knowing that such plans require mindfulness, patience, and sensitivity.

We already have many self-identified individuals or groups from whom teams might be drawn: that is, these individuals might be interested, and/or have the time, to do training with others for developing such 'response teams.'

Thus far we talked about doing this as a collaborative project between the two nonprofits: the Society for Shamanic Practitioners and Shamanic Circles. Both have members practicing shamanism and circles who could work together on various projects. We will be exploring this project with the membership of both these organizations in our initial phase.

Possible Organizational Structure
The following examples are offered as a way to imagine how an organized "Shamanism without Borders" might function:

Contacting someone for shamanic assistance:
There are two 'hotlines' connected to the offices of these two organizations. Note that requests for shamanic assistance could come by someone contacting one or both of these offices. Such contact could be indirect (namely, someone sees something in the media)
Or direct (someone in the affected area contacts the organizations).

Events & Response Teams:
A natural disaster, such as a hurricane, occurs and a response team goes to work. How might this project be organized? There could be local, regional, national, and international teams.
The people on these teams, along with a contact number, would be advertised beginning with our websites.

At least one person from each team would meet with others for preliminary training in responding to such situations. That person would then be expected to facilitate this training with other team members whether local, regional, national or international. The training would focus on issues pertinent to this type of shamanic work including: Sensitivity to working with others in such situations. The specific shamanic skills often used in these situations, e.g. soul retrieval, psychopomp, working with spirits of nature, working with animals, and working with Places. Ceremonies that might be appropriate to such situations.

Each team or individuals involved, through the support of SSP and SC, would write reports of their work so that our joint efforts might be under continual review and we can advance our own learning in this area.

Networks for Remote Healing Work
Finally, an additional goal of the project would be to develop a network of individuals who would respond to calls for help and do remote healing and/or prayers on behalf of some urgent situation. For example, both SSP and SC have a network of Circles…these Circles are accustomed to replying to one another if the call goes out. Recently this was done with Circles in the Los Angeles area in response to the fires burning there.

For future plans, we could write Circles and ask them if they are willing to so act and to post their responses or actions taken to our websites where we would have bulletin boards designated for this purpose.

A Possible First Step in building response teams:
In looking through the listing of Circles on the websites of both SSP and SC, one sees that in the US alone, there are Circles in almost every region of the country. Likewise, there are circles in many other countries.

I am going to use the US as an example because people in other countries might have quite different ideas about how to organize themselves. This does not mean that response teams would be limited to the countries in which the individuals reside but in the early stages of development, such teams are more easily formed and developed.
We could write a document regarding natural disasters and how shamans traditionally have responded to them and how often these responses are done by shamanic practitioners living in the area of the disaster – calling for other help as needed.

For example, natural disasters have always been a concern of the shaman for the integrity of both the people and the larger environment is threatened. Shamans respond to the impact on both. The response is often predicated on what type of natural disaster occurred: floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, hurricanes, and unusual Winter storms. The type of natural disaster that can occur is usually based on the regional ecosystem. For example, hurricanes in the Southeast, tornados in the Midwest (as well as other regions), earthquakes in the West, and forest fires in the Western states. These disasters are not limited to these regions but more commonly occur there.

That means people living in these regions usually have some familiarity with the nature of destruction brought about by these events.

It behooves any organization seeking to respond to these to use people most familiar with them. They know the expected problems and know sources of help in their regions. If they don't know, they can more easily acquaint themselves. And sometimes, help is more readily accepted from someone 'of the culture' than from outsiders.

That suggests that the first step might be to contact those individuals and circles in these regions and develop response teams comprising these people. As we know, the events can feel overwhelming so it is also suggested that others from outside the region be available to go and offer shamanic assistance.

The following questions or issues are raised on the assumption there are such teams available…

What do practitioners of shamanism DO in these natural disaster circumstances? Some examples might be:

Holding prayer and offering compassion: we know that just having someone present and standing in the 'fierce winds' of disaster means that someone there is making supplication for the wounded and the dead.

Assisting the passage of souls to Beyond: in some disasters, death is very present and the shamanic practitioner can both sense and see these souls hovering around disaster sites. The task here is to comfort such souls and assist in their movement to Elsewhere if this help is appropriate.

Assisting the staying Home of the Soul: soul loss is ever present in natural disasters and the ways in which the shaman can encourage and support the staying home of the soul are many and this is definitely a focus.

Doing ceremonies: one way to assist the maintaining of equilibrium when the world seems so out of balance is through ceremony.

Tending affected animals and other beings in the region of disaster.

These are a few limited examples of what shamanic practitioners might do when responding to some natural disaster. In addition there are other types of disasters but the theme occurring in all is the presence of deep soul injury and, at least temporarily, rips in the fabric of the collective health.

What response shamans might make to these is based on the shaman's relationship to his or her helping spirits and the shaman's relations with the community in which he or she is giving aid and comfort.

Carol Proudfoot-Edgar, Tom Cowan, Cecile Carson