Barbara Emrys

One Particular Word

The subject of shamanism comes up a lot in Toltec teachings. People are naturally intrigued. They want to know what kind of beings shamans really are. Are they magicians, sorcerers…scientists? Do shamans have superpowers? Are shamans born, or can anyone learn to be one?

Shaman is a word, and words are dead things until we humans give them life. Like any other word, shaman means what we agree it means. Suppose we agree that shamans are wise people; wiser than most. Maybe we can agree that a shaman is a healer, someone who can cure physical maladies and calm the human spirit. Let’s assume that shamans see what others cannot see. A shaman, let’s say, conspires with nature and speaks to the forces of life. Some shamans do seem to possess superhuman powers. According to superstition, some may not be human at all…

I’ve met only one shaman in my life. I believed he was a great shaman because he said so and I saw no reason to disagree with him. I still don’t disagree. He was wise; wiser than anyone I knew or have known since. He could heal the body and calm the spirit. On occasion, he could summon rain and command thunder. When he directed his intent, life responded. To me, his power was obvious, and yet he could never explain it. He still isn’t able to explain how he did the things he did. As he tells it now, he doesn’t even believe in shamans. He does believe in power.

Power isn’t what most people imagine it is. Power is life, waiting for knowledge to surrender and the noise to end. Power is the truth of us. Power is energy, sending its message through matter– and often finding resistance. It’s not only flesh that resists but all the many stories in our heads. Are you letting life’s message come through? Are you willing to surrender your theories about yourself, about life– and yes, even about shamanism? That’s when things get magical.

For now, at least, let’s agree that shamans do exist. Let’s also agree that nobody is born a shaman. Instead, let’s decide that a good shaman is made from the sturdy cloth of faith. His power lies in the faith he has in himself and it’s supported by the faith that others have in him. A shaman uses animal totems to teach and the forces of nature to inspire. Still, a shaman is a person– a member of the human species. A shaman, frankly, is a lot like most of us.

A shaman does what we all do on a daily basis. A shaman changes form and direction in the blink of an eye. So do we. He or she can heal or destroy with a word. So can we all. A shaman uses faith to create a dream, shift public opinion, or introduce a new thought– but isn’t that what everyone does? The faith we place in other people shapes our view of the world. The faith others have in us influences the way they think. The belief we inspire provides us with a passport into their dreams. It grants us the privilege of being accepted and loved. So we want to use that privilege with care.

Shaman is a word, and what it means is up to you. Do you see yourself as a healer? Then love, without condition. Do you want to be wise? Then rise above your hardened knowledge. Do you want to conspire with nature? Then surrender to life. Do you see yourself as an eagle, a jaguar, a spider? If so, you’re missing the wonder of being human. There’s power in your authenticity, so dare to use that power.

The mind can be a savior to the body, and it doesn’t really need a shaman to show it how. We are good teachers when we’re not being lazy students. We’ve learned to be upstanding adults and we can learn to be wonderful messengers. We can learn to love truly, just as we learned to love falsely. We were born to grow wise, and we were created to see things as they are.

What agreements are you willing to break– about words, about people, about yourself? What is your message to humanity? Remember, you have all the time in the world to answer these questions, but no time to waste. Start by making a new agreement about one particular word. Decide what the word shaman means to you, and bring that word to life in everything you do.

With all my blessings,

Barbara Emrys

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