Defining and Describing the calling of a Shaman


Following a calling is one of the most important parts of being a shaman

Part Three of an interview with Craig Berry as an introduction to Modern Shamanism.

Can you talk more about the 'Calling' to shamanism?

The 'Calling' is a huge and central part of Shamanism, and life!  Many things we do because they are in front of us and need doing; this is life.  Many, if not all of us, receive a calling to something at some stage in our lives.  I consider the Calling something comparable to the pressing need experienced by migratory animals to move to a new location.  It is an imperative that all but forces a being upon a certain path.

Choice always exists.  We have at least the illusion of free choice,..

The illusion?

We get to influence our little part of our little corner of our universe, but we do not get to choose the direction of the universe.  I guess the easiest way is to describe life being a bit like movie; each of us has a role.  Some roles are starring roles for the big picture stuff; some roles are seemingly insignificant, ‘bit parts’.  I say seemingly insignificant because many might regard the idea of being a good mother as less worthy than being a prime-minister or president, despite pressing evidence to the contrary.  A good mother can raise a good president, but a bad mother is far more likely to raise a power-monger. 

In a ‘planetary scale’ kind of accounting, being a good mother might not seem as important as being a great inventor or scientist; yet to her family, in a ‘small-scale’ kind of way,  it is as just as important, if not more so.  The kindness and grace a mother raises a child in might end up being the factor which allows that child to discover a cure for cancer or bring peace to a troubled region.

In this way, there are no ‘bit’ parts when following a calling.  Some people ‘must’ be parents, and when following a call to that role, they are in their bliss.  That doesn’t mean they are without stresses and trials; that's just the reality of life!  I just mean that when you follow your calling, you feel that you are in the right place in your life.  The converse is true too.  If you feel like you are simply not fitting, unable to find happiness or peace, you may find yourself denying your calling.

That is what I mean by the illusion of free choice.  (Yes, it took a little time to get here, sorry.) You do have choice in following or not following a calling, but not following it will feel uncomfortable and have you vulnerable to illness.  You always have choice, but many of those 'other' choices are less than optimum.

So what is a Calling?

First, there is a difference, a huge chasm of difference, between a Call and a desire to ‘feel’ a calling.  A Call is to find a level of true altruistic satisfaction in service, without the need for ego gratification, acclaim or external validation.  Many will desire to 'be something different' and manufacture a perceived call; one which is based upon personal satisfaction/gratification.  A sex addict feels a great drive to engage in sex, not for sharing and growth, but for selfish, personal gratification and dominance; it is a drive, but it is not a Calling.  A rather strong example, but a clear picture I hope?

OK, so how do you best describe a Calling as you understand it?

Nicely phrased!  To me, a Call to shamanic practice is felt as an insatiable curiosity about or around spiritual or shamanic practices, spiritual exploration of the nature of nature.  It is recognizing that you are not in the right place unless you are functioning in a specific manner or way.  I always return to what I think migratory animals must feel, simply that there is somewhere else they have to be, a drive beyond mundane cause and effect, if that makes sense?

What sort of things can one recognize as 'signposts', indicating a possible Call?

Natural abilities can surface, especially as a young person, seeing entities and feeling things that are considered ‘imaginary’ by those around. Often, those young people eventually learn to shut off their ability, with a few able to learn to toggle it on and off.  Sometimes one might find that people feel less pain or heal when touched by a shaman in calling; even a kid.  This is not the person’s ability to project healing, but to facilitate the healing processes of another. 

One’s call may be recognized by a shaman, either directly or through vision/journey.  Often those recognized in this way have been actively suppressing their own recognition of their personal Calling. They are placed in situations where they are presented progressively stronger and stronger ‘hints’ by God, the Universe, the Great Spirit or however you wish to label the unified reality of all.

Personally, I ended up with an 18 year back injury resulting in strong to severe, constant pain that taught me a lot about my chosen therapeutic practice. I was released from my pain when I learned to practice without ego and without the need to pursue personal gratification in my role as a therapist. My healing came when I focused totally and unreservedly on aiding another, purely for the sake of that person and not me. During a session where I was working with a group of friends to offer assistance to lady with a severe back injury, my own injury healed as hers was resolved. I felt it as soon as I came back the ‘normal’ world, that which we consciously walk and interact in on a day-to-day basis. My back had movement and lacked pain which had been a constant 18 year companion at that point. I had made my choice and I chose to stay in clean service from then on.

Chose?  Some choice!

[Laughs]  Indeed!  I had suppressed and denied my calling, so I received great gifts of empathy and understanding of the nature of pain.  I have also received a miracle healing and have no more back pain, so hopefully that means I am within my calling now!  Small accidents, situations, meetings and information packets were consistently denied, studiously ignored or ‘hoped’ away.  The Call’s hints just got bigger and more emphatic until my arrogance resulted in a severe injury.

Interestingly enough, during my dealing with that injury, I learned more about myself, pain, and how to address and approach pain.  My pain was a great but hard teacher.  I was in a situation where the choice was simply to live in constant pain or explore and give wholly and freely of myself into my shamanic practice.

Now you want to talk about some clear and unequivocal information there?  In this specific session, I had finally released all ego and desire, focusing totally on the welfare of the client with no thought what-so-ever for myself or my own condition.  I am ashamed to say that this was probably the first truly selfless and altruistic thing I had done in my adult life.  Altruism before this was rewarded by personal satisfaction, the idea that I was somehow enhanced in my service.  What a crock!

As soon as I learned to focus totally on the welfare of the client; releasing my thoughts of fairness, perceived greatness or personal glory (or whatever that was I was egotistically afflicted with, by my own hand), I no longer had the need of my pain.  18 years of thick-headedness.  18 years of pain.  18 years of unheeded instruction to finally learn what service is!  Service is the calling and the reward, not personal gratification.  Am I satisfied and gratified when a client feels healed?  Of course!  That is human.  I just work on remembering that my role is that of facilitator and guide, not healer.  That brings up another topic better left for later; that of who is doing the healing?

Are there other types of calls to shamanism?

Yes.  One can be subjected to stronger and stronger hints.  The Call can come in forms like being struck by lightning without severe effect, undergoing a significant situation of peril with ‘hardly a scratch’ (like a car accident or fall down a mountain side etc.) or even a repetitive dream literally showing the calling.  One North-American Shaman I know of (but have not personally met) found every time he was walking that his path consistently blocked by bears (his totem animal); each encounter was without incident but was seemingly with purpose.  His story relates that in every case, the only path not blocked by a bear was the one to the Shaman of his people; he took the hint and followed the path, figuratively and literally, thus began his apprenticeship.  One could call that a real message!

I differentiate between the call to service and the desire for self-gratification through service.  Mental pathologies and conditions can also be interpreted by the affected person as a calling, with the sufferer unable to distinguish between call, desire and pathology.  A clean Shaman will journey for a person to affirm their Calling and their Spirit’s and God’s intent that they should be this person’s teacher for a time; affirming that the Call which is felt is real.  A dirty shaman will take and pervert the illusion of a false call, seeking personal power and gratification in their actions and intentions.  You see these people accumulate numerous acolytes, all vying for acceptance and favor of their master.  Likewise, a three week retreat in a rainforest is not a shamanic apprenticeship, especially if you are paying a booking fee in advance!

The Calling of a Shaman is not a subtle thing.  It still happens to industrialized people, just as it does to tribal citizens in the deep forests.  In our industrialized world, we are taught that only through organized religion, via appointed human intermediaries and in strict adherence to man-made dogma can we interact with the grace of God.  There is another way, just talk WITH God!  Visit with God in beauty, in love, in service and in nature. You do not need the blessing of another person to talk with God, and you certainly do NOT need to be in a specific building.  Sacred is in the heart, not in a place.

God?  Isn’t the ‘God Concept’ a construct of religion and pretty far away from Shamanism?

Wow, that’s a big question. God is central to all, but maybe not in a biblical definition of God. I am not sure if now is the time for the answer, but let’s go for it.