Are You a Shaman?
There are many people who claim to be but what does it actually take?

Are you a shaman? Let’s be honest: Probably not. Feel free to get angry and defensive, but let me talk through this.

A lot of people claim to be shamans in the Mongolian style. Most of them have read books by Michael Harner or Sarangerel. They say that they were “initiated by their spirits” and “felt their calling” and so forth.

It doesn’t work like that.

Here’s how it works in regards to Mongolian shamanism

Let’s start at the very beginning: What does a shaman do? A shaman is a person who becomes fully posessed by their ancestral or heavenly spirits. During this time, their soul exits their body (usually flying up to the heavens) and another spirit takes over their body. This spirit uses the body to communicate. They will speak, eat, drink, sing, smoke, conduct massage, even accupuncture, all through the body of their ulaach or medium.  When the spirit is finished they will leave. The shaman’s soul will return to his or her body. He or she will have no memory whatsoever of what has occurred in this time.

Mongolian shaman singing
This spirit uses the body to communicate

So if you think you are “channeling” a spirit and it’s “speaking through you” but you remain even vaguely conscious, you are not practicing our tradition and you are not a Mongolian shaman. 

So what does it take to actually be a Mongolian shaman?

You don’t get any choice in the matter. I don’t care how badly you want it.

First, you must have shamanic ancestry. This is blood lineage ancestry. It may be many generations back, but it has to be there.  That means that pretty much across the board you must be  Mongolian or Siberian. Remember this point, because it will be returned to many times later. So if you don’t have shamanic ancestry, then you are not a shaman in the Mongolian tradition. The end.

Mongolian shaman ancestry
Blood lineage ancestry is essential to Mongolian shamanism

Second, you don’t feel your own calling.  You are interested in shamanism? Cool. You feel spirits? Excellent. You’ve seen ghosts? Congratulations. None of this makes you a shaman. It just doesn’t.

Your calling happens when the spirits choose you. Now STOP! This doesn’t mean you can say “Oh, the spirits chose me! I feel them around me!” Because that is not how it works! The spirits choice is indicated through an absolutely horrible experience called “shamanic illness” which you can read about in this link. A shamanic illness is an extremely severe, horribly painful experience that will continue for a very long time, often years. It is so severe that people have died from it. In addition to the previous example, one of my ongodtengertei (with spirits, which is to say: future shaman) friends is often crippled and unable to walk when she has an episode. Another friend who is now a shaman described her as like being constantly stabbed with knives. Almost every shaman and ongodtengertei person I know has contemplated suicide as a way to solve the pain of this illness. That includes me.

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Doctors cannot diagnose it, priests cannot cure it

You go to a shaman who’s spirits will recognize that you are with spirits and then they will decide whether or not you are meant to be a shaman.  Let me re-emphasize: it doesn’t matter what you want, the decision is up to the spirits. If the other shaman’s spirits recognize that you have spirits and that you are supposed to become a shaman, then you have to find a teacher which may or may not be that shaman.

If you are one of those very rare people who is not of Mongolian/Siberian ancestry but is recognized within our tradition as being “with spirits”, 99% of the time the recognizing spirit will say “You have spirits, but I cannot teach you. Our traditions and ceremonies would be innapropriate for your spirits as they are not Mongolian and it is not their spirits.” In short: go back home and find your own ancestral traditions. They are your birthright. You can follow them as much as you please.

Mongolian shamanic illness
This is Pujee, a Mongolian “white” shaman – photo from Caiseal Mor

Finally, you must be initiated under the guidance and proper full initiation of a qualified Mongolian shaman who has become your teacher.  And there are plenty of fakes out there who would love to “recognize” your spirits and become your teacher for fame or money. So I mean it has to be legitimate.  You cannot practice without initiation, which is to say a complete chanar or actual initiation by a shaman teacher with other shamans present and helping you through it.

If you have not done all of these things you can be spiritual, you can be sensitive to spirits, you can be a channeler or spirit worker or whatever you want to call yourself but you are not a shaman in the Mongolian tradition and you cannot be one.

Sorry, but that’s the truth.

If you would like to contact an actual Mongolian Shaman, you can do so here: BlueSky Shaman

Editor’s Note: The term ‘Shaman’ comes from the Tungusic language of Siberia and describes those working in the Siberian/Mongolian tradition. The term was imported to the West via Russia in the 16th Century. Although it has been widely used to describe a complex phenomenon across many traditions, it has often been used very loosely and is rarely used by other indigenous practitioners to describe their practices. This article, though you may not agree with the author’s point of view, represents an argument that the Mongolian shamans we contacted agreed with. In order to avoid confusion, many people practicing similar, but different, traditions are choosing to call themselves ‘Shamanic practitioners’, rather than ‘Shamans’.

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Austin Shirra
Austin Shirra
5 years ago

It’s a bit silly that to some degree the article, and to a greater degree the comments on it, people are all too eager to label spirituality as a possession (that is their’s and only their’s, something that can be owned or stolen) and create further degrees of separatness. The body and the flesh are as much an illusion as the rest of the “physical” world.

As if the great spirit cares for ethnicity or bloodlines or the petty tides of human history. All those things are merely part of the illusion. When we retire from this school and shed our cloths we will find that we are more alike in our nakedness and that such divisions we experienced were never really important.

Shifter
Shifter
5 years ago

You don’t need to have mongolian blood to be a shaman. A shaman actually is the priest of the tribe , the guy who speaks with Divinity and heal the people using different healing potions. From history we know that each tribe had a shaman, the spiritual guider of the tribe. To be a shaman you need strong beliefs in Creator of the Universe and of course to feel the call. You are living in a Universe where everything is possible if you believe and everything happens for a reason. So , if you aren’t meant to be a shaman don’t worry because you are meant to be something else, and this something else will fit you great.

Marcela CF Saiffe
Marcela CF Saiffe
4 years ago

The first shaman didn’t had a shanar, she didn’t have any help, no guidance but the eagle, the horse, the wolf, the geese. The first son of the first shaman and their descendants have other stories, in come the sons and the daughter of the swan, in comes the jealousy from those without spirits and without power that misunderstood and tortured… (as they still do) in comes the first battle with the “gods”, the first little girl brought back to life, so she would spread the ways to new, distant lands, in comes the first broken drum, the thunders in heaven,and the half drum that the misundertanding brought as tradition, in comes the humbleness of the true power, the power that is just to serve others, cause power doesn’t have other purpose than to serve. Traditions are created by well intentioned followers, tellers of the story as they heard it from those who heard it from those who witnessed it or from those who lived it. Tradition holds value, however, cause the old ways bring those in the shadows to the light, they hold the web together. The first shaman laughs about all this battles about words and traditions, the first shaman is amused and grateful that the big joke is still being told, that the ways are still helping, that the power is still serving, that more shamans, both real and imaginary will keep the tale alive. Play with spirits if you like, play with deities if you like, have your entheogens or your meditation or your drumming, starve yourselves or hurt yourselves until the pain or the sickness brings you to cross the umbral, then walk thru the portal, come back and serve. We are all one, we are all crazy, we are all laughing. Love and laughter. #Takatakataka #EEEEE

Shadeed A.
Shadeed A.
3 years ago

A lot of egos will be shattered by the article, but it’s real and a blessing. A twisted perception of shamanism is good for no one. People should love the journey towards authenticity, rather than spurn it. Too often, alleged lovers of truth and the spiritual life are in a hurry to show off. A real seeker marvels, appreciates and enjoys the journey inch by blessed inch. The inches when attained are well earned. Offerings are only beneficial when you have something of value and authenticity to give…

Dr. Christina Campbell
Dr. Christina Campbell
3 years ago

I like it. It has to do with authenticity. Too many people calling themselves Shamons without legitimacy. My healing journey was initiated by an acupunturist who studied with the monks in Tibet, in particularly, his teacher was the teacher for the Deli Lama. I had a series of dreams that one in particular called me a Shamon. I have a Grandmother who studied with a Shamon in Italy, known as a healer in her tribe. My mothet and brother also were healers. I do not use the word Shamon to describe myself, but healer. The Chinese Medicine Doctor I studied with said I was on my way to be a Shamon in the Tebetan tradition. There are many similarities in the Shamonic tradition, but I am not fully vested. I have had a very dark night of the soul lasting 4 years now. Thank you for this article and opportunity to share.

Jillian Melissa
Jillian Melissa
3 years ago

I understand and appreciate the message here, but this article seems a bit harsh and there’s an exasperated and slightly demeaning tone to it. I think the point could have been made in a more compassionate manner. People clearly need more awareness and education, but patience is key.

Tracey
Tracey
3 years ago

Beautifully said. It’s geeat to see someone clarify the term. It’s funny how much ego emerges when one responds to this article. The truth is sometimes brutal but it wouldn’t be the truth if it wasn’t

Stacy
Stacy
2 years ago

I honor your perspective. There is great joy and fluidity in the existence that we create. In my humble opinion, if you choose the path of the shaman, which I do believe is a choice (whether made consciously or subconsciously), the soul will naturally move in that direction. We are the creators of our own design. There are no rules to the realization of self and there is no such thing as a natural progression, unless you believe there is. All that is, is already within us. We are the universe and we are the spirits that guide us. The “spirit” that takes over a shamans body is not a separate entity. That spirit, is the being that we call shaman.

You and I, are the shaman. The moon, stars, and the animals that roam this beautiful planet is the shaman. The planet is the shaman. All of us are the shaman. We can all call ourselves shamans if we wish to do so. As creators, we have that right. The shaman feels everything because the shaman is everything. The shaman is the oneness of all existence.

With this being said, there is no one that is more guided or more spiritually gifted than the other. We all have access to the same information. However, everyone’s experience and interpretation of their own design is different according to their own individual makeup as a soul. That is the gift of our humanity.

The shaman speaks through everything. Today it may be through the trees and the whales in the oceans, tomorrow the shaman may decide to speak through you. We are all linked to the same ancestral tree. It is called the cosmic tree of all that is.

Norvin Hobbs
Norvin Hobbs
2 years ago

I have to say I like this article a lot,I truly respect all peoples’ rights to their own ancestral folkways even through I’m a “racist” by most modern definitions of that word, I get so embarrassed by White liberals that try to take on other peoples’ traditions or worse try to say our’s has nothing to do with ancestry, ti’s nice to see people of non-European descent taking up this issue and getting loud about it because my kinsmen sure as Hel won’t listen to me.

Jamie
Jamie
1 year ago

Please can you help me..
I will make this message as short and to the point as possible. About 4 years ago i was in a very dark place, one day i learned of DMT and spent a few months researching, then a few more months of building the courage and trying to have that ‘break through’ experience. At the same time trying to open the pineal gland, i achieved this in a spectacular fashion, and shortly had my first of many breakthroughs. I felt the light and power course through my body awaking many different things including a deep understanding of EVERYTHING ! I felt as though i had achieved what i set out to do at that time. However the last 2years of my life has come to stop (no work, no woman, no love, no direction) and nothing but a deep sinking feeling has consumed me. I’m not sure what, but something made search for the answer online.. which has lead me to researching shamanism, and as soon as i start to read anything on the matter, i’m overwhelmed and instantly burst into tears and become emotional (VERY unusual for me). I know this is a message screaming at me, but i don’t understand what i’m supposed to or how to move forward with it… and that’s what’s lead me to writing in this comment box.
Any advice or help you could offer, would be greatly appreciated.

Kindest Regards

Pollen
Pollen
1 month ago

I usually specify I mean the anthropological definition because whether I like it or not, that is the closest definition for what I am in my tradition that people will understand. What you are so spot on about is that there are traditions that people need to claim that come from their own ancestry. I know that a lot of those traditions are lost and it can be really hard to recreate it when no one is there to help you personally. When that happens you end up with initiated practitioners that lack direction and may not even realise what they are going through is shaman sickness.

Shaman sickness does seem to occur in other traditions very similar to what is described in this article. Many of the people who don’t realise what is going on due to lack of tradition, will treat it with western medicine but in my experience, it doesn’t really work. You may get some symptom relief, until the spirits find a way around it, which doesn’t take long. Some people will self medicate, not seek a doctor or spiritual advisor and end up in a destructive pattern, never rebuilding because they lack tradition. Ultimately the path is fraught with peril when one has little to no guidance from someone of the same tradition.

Each tradition has their own term or title for the role of anthropological ‘shaman’, which doesn’t make things easier. I find that because I’m from a mostly dead tradition I had to figure a lot of it out myself. I was lucky enough to learn from many different practitioners of many different traditions and by learning from them I was able to find a way to commune with the spirits, recreate my familial tradition and verify a lot of it with other practitioners and some people of unbroken lineages. Ultimately I know I am very fortunate to have had the guidance I did. Many have less. Some days I wish I did have less but the reality is everyone contributed to my journey and I would not be me without it.

Initiation is hard no matter what tradition you are from and I think even though we aren’t from the same traditions, we still have common ground and are best as allies. I help people recreate their own traditions. I work with people from many different traditions. It is especially interesting when multiple traditions reside within one person because of intermingling between different people. It has created a bit of an identity crisis for the newer generations. It has led to a number of people falling between the cracks. Their practice is neither one or the other, but both! I think it is a beautiful thing. I myself have a mix of different traditions and it depends on which ancestors I am working with. I will have many ways to do the same things and I have to discern on the go which is most appropriate. I have a few people who would be their tradition’s anthropological ‘shaman’ that I touch base with and we support one another spiritually. We usually share some spirits although not all which makes things easier.

There are very few in this world I will share the same spirits with and likely if I did they would be my family. This is from what I understand working with the spirits of my ancestral traditions. So because I am not part of a living tradition but one that only really came to be because of the mix in my ancestry, I have had to figure out most of it on my own. If I seek outside validation I will speak to someone who shares enough spirits with me that we can help one another, essentially because as any seasoned spirit worker will tell you, working with one spirit is not the same as working with another. You do need to speak with someone who also works with the same spirits and currents in order to really help one another. Otherwise it’s like comparing apples to oranges or putting a square peg in a round hole. It just won’t work for the other person that way. In my experience it is never exactly as it works for me that it will work for others but it’s usually close enough to be a starting point when I share spirits with someone.

All this to say it is not about excluding people, it’s about compatibility. We need to find a way to not offend the Siberian / Mongolian tradition which we borrow the word ‘shaman’ from to use anthropologically while also being able to communicate about anthropological ‘shamanic practice’ and anthropological ‘shaman’. That’s why I try so hard to explain to people that they have to find what works for them and create their own familial traditions. No point in pretending we are all the same, we don’t need to be. We need to give eachother space to be ourselves and find our own traditions. We can help eachother by supporting one another and leading with love. I am not a love and light person at all but in this case I feel like we need to have some love for our fellow practitioners no matter what tradition they come from.

We all need support and guidance at one point on our journey, better to help uplift eachother than to be another obstacle we must overcome. Of course sometimes the obstacles are the teachers but that’s where discernment comes in. All we can do is our best.

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