Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Paul Francis’ The Shamanic Journey: A Practical Guide to Therapeutic Shamanism in response to having reached out to some local folks who would be “in the know” about who’s who for practitioners who might help with shamanic healing — and then coming up largely empty-handed.
I won’t go into it at length, as I’ve already covered my situation in previous posts, but I have been suffering from a new downward cycling of my chronic depression since about December and I’ve never had much luck with the more traditional routes towards therapy and/or medication (although I have positive “vibes” about the therapist I just saw, who seems to eschew the psychotherapeutic practices that I have experienced up until now and leans more into something I can relate to).
This time I had wanted to add some spiritual elements to my healing process.
Unfortunately, my contacts haven’t had much luck and, in my own, independent, online search — I have found local people that seem to have a different ethics system about the matter than I do. I believe charging more than a token amount of money for anything spiritual cheapens it, and have always preferred to not accept payments at all when I was still offering spiritual services. I have a hard time spending hundreds of dollars on something I’d refuse to accept money for if the roles were reversed. And, while I understand wanting to make a living at something you feel you are good at, helping other people overcome their spiritual misfortune seems like a poor way to make a living.
I had been eyeing this book (and the remaining series) for about a year or more now. Over the years, I’ve been burned badly by books of this type… They tend to fall into two categories: amazingly good and insightful or godawful pits of tripe. The only real touchstone I have, because you can’t trust books reviews at all, is that there are several publishers that primarily churn out garbage, and I tend to avoid anything by those publishers. Additionally, there are a few authors who I know I can safely avoid, because everything they write seems to follow a formula that says a whole lot about nothing, with no supporting information aside from taking their “expert” word on the matter.
The nice thing about Paul’s book is that it tends to trim away all of the cultural color of the process. If shamanism is truly a universal practice, as many who subscribe to shamanic practices declare (and seems to be accurate), then the cultural biases presented by favoring, say, Lakota practice versus Norse practice, are essentially obfuscations and not helpful to folks seeking to to engage in their own personal practice. Trimming it down to a series of practices that are untainted by cultural concepts opens the door to better understanding. However, as you might guess, there is a financial, positional power, or otherwise, incentive to keep people from understanding these kinds of things that really should be readily accessible to whomever wants to learn. I really appreciate that the author kept the cost of the ebook to less than $10, as some publishers and authors would readily ask for more than half again that price for far inferior material. [Aside: Paul Francis offers coursework along these lines for a fraction of what others would charge elsewhere. What would cost upwards of $400 elsewhere, he charges $85 (for perspective).]
Now, before you think I am fanboying a bit much, I do disagree with the author on several notable items. For instance, it has been a fetish of spiritual practitioners of all stripes to try and place our modern living conditions, with our cities and electronics and plastic and steel, as outside of “nature”. The author succumbs to this obsession. My argument has been, for years, is that to separate that these elements of mankind’s presence as “not-nature” instead of “people-nature” is to ignore a whole slew of spirits present in our everyday lives. A true animist will accept that the artifacts of humankind are still imbued with spirit and you must recognize those spirits as valid parts of existence if you don’t want to gimp your understanding of the universe.
The author also succumbs to the preagricultural paradise romanticism of the hunter/gatherer. While there is some evidence that there may have been a better balanced time period, such evidence is weak and it would be a logical fallacy to look at the few remaining tribes out there and project backwards through 10,000 years and assume the same stood true for those people. I don’t deny that may be the case: that our prehistory ancestors were possibly more egalitarian, more peaceful, and less warlike, but I think this is unproven and the author allows this meta-bias to color his writing — including with his representations of the three worlds of the shamanic practitioner.
But I applaud Paul’s attempt to cut out the bias to get to the core ideas of therapeutic shamanism which, while not directly an analogue, are in alignment with much of the work Jung did on cognitive models of the mind. As a psychotherapist, Paul Francis’ biases also show through in favor of those models — which is also acceptable in my mind, but may ring dissonant to people who have issues with Jung’s approach (most of my own spiritual understanding is largely in agreement with Jung, or so I discovered after I had already started codifying my conceptualization of spirit on my own).
I have the second book of four in the series (one of which is still pending publication), and plan to begin that tonight. While the first book was a generalized overview of therapeutic shamanism (or shamanism), the second book focuses on the lower-world conceptualization of the three-world cosmology in most shamanic systems. If that goes well, then I’ll consider attending the first course online and follow up with that, as I am genuinely interested in where this path may lead. I’ve been largely frustrated the past 25 years whenever I try to get into a practice that seems closest to my understanding of my spiritual nature due to purposefully oblique reference materials, heavy-handed cultural interpretations using reconstructed or culturally-appropriated concepts, or downright garbage. So far, Mr. Francis’ approach seems to cut through the BS and get to the heart of the matter without having the author loudly applaud themselves for their amazing brilliance.
And — I can get behind that.