Magic and Shamanism - Reflections
It is remarkable, how uninformed most of the people are I talk with, concerning different currents within modern magic. I hear from shamans, that exercising magic is 'infernal stuff' and 'diabolical', or at least black magic. At once the stereotypical pictures of the church are provoked about satanic masses and human sacrifice. For me this is completely contradictory: on one hand trying to find yourself and your roots in shamanism, which is apparently trendy at the moment, and on the other hand ignoring or even refusing to accept the magical traditions (which are, in the end, shamanic), that are right in front of your face.
It is necessary at this point, to differentiate between the magical and religious lines of thoughts. Wicca, paganism or the anthroposophical currents are of religious or mystical nature - even if they contain some magic elements. Reiki and other energetical methods show, after closer analyses of their techniques, partially shamanic nature - the controlling of energies, the contacting of the twilight (nowadays called 'channeling' some sticky anglicism in german) or divination. The problem here is, that these ways often come with a strong dogma, making a free and unprejudiced approach to other lines of thought very hard. A magical path is only as good as the human who walks it.
The separation between shamanism and magic is artificial. It happend subconsciously at the time, the term shamanism was intruduced by Harner and Castaneda and mutated into a fashionable trend. That this separation is in the best of cases a supression of obvious facts should be clear to anyone, who seriously studies the shamanistc phenomenon in this world, with the help of the accessible ethnological literature or living shamans.
Within general consciousness and knowledge, magic has still an aura of forbiddeness and blackmagic. This may be caused partially by the almost natural restraint of groups that work with magic to come out in public. It is impossible to make a difference here wether they restrain themselves because of the totally wrong picture that is circulating on magic, or wether it is the other way around. There have been a lot of good attempts in the last decades, to make the pragmatic magic more accesible to the public, but it seems that this attempts ended with only little and partial success.
In the middle of the 90's I found out really fast, how difficult it is, to make a difference between magical and shamanistic lines of thought. I came to the conclusion, that within the shamanistic methods there are a lot more magical elements, as there is generally admitted and asumed. A wide spread element of shamanism is, receiving information by contact and with the help of entities in the twilight and using those informations in everydays life (rituals, lifeaid, healing...). The shaman does not has to have any special skills except the ability to establish this contact. In contrast to this there is the magical idea, based on experiences and the will to use a ritual for personal use. It depends on the dogma of the magician, to what extent moralic parameters play a part in it. To say it simple, the shaman asks the spirits for help to solve a problem, the magician tends to trust his own experience and knowledge. These are two extrem opposite poles. In the real usage, the shaman evaluates the informations he is getting and compares them with past experiences, while the magician very often gets himself detailed information from the entities on the proper evocation, for example.
The current terminology differenciates the modern shaman and the hermetic magician as follows: the shaman uses his abilities to make his knowledge of the invisible reality available to his society, while the magician's aim is to find his own divine nature, developing, realizing and living it. Another not to be ignored goal is making everyday life easier by magical means - the so-called "lower" or "primitive" magic (which also has the worst reputation, even in some magic-circles). The most important part of "high-magic" is illumination, the realization of the god within us. Magicians are, if they are members of a magic-lodge, always initiated by the lodge's spirit and members. Before the initiation stands a apprenticeship which length differs, depending on the paradigm and the inner structure of the lodge.
The magical theories of various paradigms give us different models of explanation and matrixes of the twilight. A famous example of such a matrix is the qabbalistic "Tree of Life". It is possible to develop your magical persona without any personal contact to an experienced magician, but this is a very hard way and even with the accessible literature on magical knowledge at your very hands, it still bears uncalculable risks. However, if one attends a basic-workshop about shamanistic work and learns the fundamental shamanic techniques, the danger can be neglected for the time being. It stays insignificant, as long as the shamanic student remains within the familiar frame. The poweranimal and the spirit-teacher are very strong protectors and are more than enough within the norm. Both authorities are important contacts for spiritual questions or to help with everyday problems. Since the twilight itself is the best source for your rituals, someone who does shamanic work will hardly get the idea to do a magical ritual that he didn't develop himself. Usually shamanic rituals, which have been received by the spirits have a strong magical nature, showing the absurdity of the opinion, mentioned at the beginning of this article.
The twilight initiates the shaman, or not. In our culture especially this important part of shamanism is not consciously embodied anymore, which leads to the fact that people who are in an initiatiory crisis often are not able to realize or to deal with it. This is not the same anywhere and for everyone. In traditional cultures a shamanic apprentice have to face years of studying focussing also on the teaching of the mythological matrix, which is enabling the future shaman to find his orientation in the twilight and also enables him to give a correct interpretation of the information he is getting from there. Further subjects are magical skills, for example, how to throw back magic, how to recognize magic, the different classification of the spirits, rituals as well as the usage of shamanic attributes like healing herbs and so on.
Some cultures however refrain in the whole from education over years and expect from the shaman after his calling, that he gets the required information himself out from the twilight, without any dogmatic crutches. It seems that in such cultures the entities are much more charged up with vital force as in such cultures, which re-enforce the education through an older shaman. The shaman is always also a magician and a sorcerer. For a lot of small problems it is enough to use magical knowledge, the so-called lower- or success-magic. The high-magic is only seeming to be not existing within shamanism. The high magic becomes more obvious within shamanism in the course of years of shamanistic practice, but is not the decleared aim of the shaman (which is in fact, more practical oriented).
There are two problems in modern shamanisms: Since shamanism has been revived in our culture, the shamanic experiences are very heterogeneous. The practical shamanisms are individually flavoured by the single shaman. In spite of this, there are always authors around who want to sell their way as the only true one - which is the other problem. As I look at the target-group of such books - the shamanist - this sale-stragegy can cause great damage. Very often I receive letters from people, who, after reading such books, have a very narrow impression of shamanism, such as of the respective plastique-shaman. After the lecture their opinion is, that all shamans must fit into this pattern. Religious elements of other cultures (particularly those of the indians) are mixed in, which occasionally have strict dogmatic demands (even at the FSS, analyzing Harners book this can be observed). Peculiar are the flowers which are brought out by the plant of esotericism and sometimes it is dubious, whats hidden behind their beauty. As soon as an author wants to use shamanism in our culture to make a living from, he gets under a strong pressure of success inevitable leading to mistakes. These mistakes can result in an inflationary ego (one symptom is that this person lacks grounding) and can even harm a client. Timeo danaos et dona ferentes - Money and spirituality are not naturally antithetical, but the relation of both should stay within healthy proportions.
In our culture exists a magical tradition since many hundreds of years, that developed itself out from branches of practical alchemy and theoretical and practical qabbala, with underlying influences of the old druidic traditions, which were driven into the Underground in the 10th and 11th century to make room for the christian paradigm. The roots of today's traditional and ceremonial magic reach even further back in time to ancient Greece, Palaestine, Egypt, Persia and last but not least to Africa. Kenneth Grant found a solution in his book about the typhonian magic "Cults of the Shadow" to show the parallels between the hebrew qabbala and the fetishcults of the westafrican coast. Also the roots of the hawaiian Huna go back to Africa (Max Long: "Secret Knowledge behind Miracles").
However, magic not fitting in the catholic-biblical allowed frame, was infernal stuff to the brainwashed christians of the middle-ages and even nowadays and its practicians were sought after with great vehemence. The "Malleus Maleficiarium" is a very depressing record out of the time of the witch-hunts. Active magicians where forced to hide and work in secrecy. In difficult to understand grimoires those magicians tried to preserve their knowledge for the future generations. They had to encrypt their writings to keep from beeing burned at the stake - which did not always work.
The most known works of this time are: Clavus Solomonis, The Lemegeton, the Grimoire Armadel, the Sepher Jetzirah, the Sepher Rezial, the Liber Juratus and The Holy Magic of Abramelin. At the same time, the alchemistic tradition, that deals with the development of the alchemist as well as the creation of the Philosopher's Stone, had to fight against almost the same problems. The alchemists where a little better accepted as the magicians. For many rulers in the medieaval times the possibility of changing base metal into gold was a better alternative than burning the alchemists on the stake (which they did after all, if they prooved to be incompetent).
At last, Agrippa von Nettesheim attempted the risky experiment of assembling the magical knowledge of his time into a system. His works almost prooved to be fatal to him, he had to escape to another country. He revolutionized the practical magic and gave a useful base to it. Almost during the same period of time, Paracelsus wrote fundamentals about pharmacology and homoeopathy. However, up until now, there have always been sickening deformities of the dualistic christian thinking like the admiration of the devil and the mockery of the christian rituals. The distortion and degeneration of some traditional magical arts added to it, with the result of many small magic books, which where born out of obsessive phantasies, and which are of no real use at all.
In times of victorian England the enochian system was discovered (or better: revealed), which was dictated to the royal mathematician John Dee through his medium Edward Kelley. Only due to some coincidences it was preserved over the centuries. This magical tradition was been re-activated and elaborated later by the Order of the Golden Dawn. The history of magic in Europe is spread very widly, due to a lot of undercurrents (various mystical and magical lodges) as well as many single persons like Meister Eckehardt, Eliphas Levi, Alister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Franz Bardon, Rah Omir Quintscher, Pascal Beverly Randolph, Mesmer, Gregorius, Pete Caroll a.o. who gave the modern magic their own personal imprints.
As mentioned above, the modern shamanistic currents have a disadvantage, which is, after a closer look, an advantage. There are nearly no whatsoever traditions left, dealing with shamanistic work in Europe - magic took it's place, or better: what has been left of it. The knowledge of the runes has been revived not too long ago, without the negative touch of the Nazi-past. Shamanism experiences a hype by the New Age wave, whereas there are a lot more shamanistic working people than actual shamans. Shamanists are people, who study shamanistic techniques to be able to heal themselves or to find another way to cope with their environment, or they ask for the help of a shaman. They work for their own sake and not for a client. Very often the thrill of something new fades away quickly and they find new areas of interest, esotericism has a lot to offer.
But the ones who stick with it and have done years of shamanic work, are the most individualistic people I have met so far. They travel trough the twilight in their own personal mythology and accomplish a lot more than many magicians I met. The mistakes and experiences which they made over the years created this new person. The missing of a tradition is a chance to find new and unknown ways. It is understandable, that this modern shamanic way has its own dangers after all, which don't exist in the traditional magic and the traditional shamanisms. This source of danger can be limited, if the shamanic interested person also studies the magical currents of the modern age.
Frater V.D. explains in his course for practical magic (not available in english) a lot of basics and associations which can be of great help to a shaman. Actually the term 'Shaman' should be substituted by the term 'Zauberer' (in german speaking countries), because the term 'Zauberer' has ist roots in the german language, in contrary to the term 'Shaman'. The occupation with magical knowledge gives the interested person a way to a better understanding of the inner system of a shamanic ritual. A well balanced proportion between the teachings of the spirits and the knowledge of traditional magic, free of any dogmatic ballasts, opens new horizons to the shamanic working person (magical literature should always been read with intellect and a clear mind, never without).