Unit 1: What is Shamanism? An Overview


Our course is meant to be an introduction into the practices of shamanism.  Even though most of the work can actually be completed rather quickly, the successful practice of shamanism is reliant on the potential practitioner to contemplate the questions and responses, and perform the practice activities more than once if necessary.  With that said, you can stretch the classes out to a month or so, but we do not move to the next unit until one has let at least two weeks lapse from beginning a unit.  Most of the time, I’m pretty impatient, but believe me, this is the best way to practice shamanism.  It is more like letting things unfold, instead of making them unfold.

There is really no way around addressing the obvious, but specific terms, principles, practices, rituals, etc. that we discuss in practicing ancient beliefs and rituals may really sound odd to those not accustomed to this type of thing,  “hell”, some of it still sounds odd to me.  Everyone I’ve studied with and/or worked with operates under the premise of just keeping quiet about the specifics of any of your more personal experiences.  I never really was quite sure if it was to stay humble or if there was another secret that we would learn.  I always understood that there were great misunderstandings about what this work is about, but I think I just found the 2nd reason practitioners don’t talk very much about journeys, while looking for a suitable definition to include in this course.  Even the dictionaries can’t get it right.

I thought that I would start the course very simply and slowly.  I will do that.  The first two sources I found were Merriam Webster, and Dictionary.com.  However neither of the definitions even comes close to being accurate.  Actually, in my opinion, they are very misleading.  Whether purposely or just ignorant of the practices, it just shows the hill that needs to be climbed just to have someone understand just a little bit.

merriam webster Definition of shamanism:

:  a religion practiced by indigenous peoples of far northern Europe and Siberia that is characterized by belief in an unseen world of gods, demons, and ancestral spirits responsive only to the shamans; also:  any similar religion

dictionary.com Definition of shamanism:
1. the animistic religion of northern Asia, embracing a belief in powerful spirits that can be influenced only by shamans.
2. any similar religion.

First of all, these are poor and inadequate definitions of Shamanism as I have learned.  Secondly, Shamanism is not an organized religion.  Shamanism is a word that has been used by anthropologists, for many years, to describe a collection of specific worship, rituals, initiations or beliefs common among many of the worlds indigenous tribal peoples.  Over the course of years of study, they noticed that no matter if the indigenous tribe came from the Amazon jungle or Siberia, there were some beliefs, rituals or behaviors that were common to all.
There are different beliefs about who can and who can’t be a Shamanic practitioner.  There are others, and we are in that number, that believe it’s everyone’s birthright.  If you have a desire or intention to practice shamanism, and you find the right teacher and apply the principles, you will succeed in being a practitioner.  However, Shamanism is not something that you can learn in a weekend retreat.  You can learn something, but a weekend is not enough time to experience all of the rituals and/or initiations, then document the experiences, and analyze and integrate them into your behaviors.  That said, Shamanism is a way of life.  When I say it is a way of life, I mean to say that it’s not just about reading.  The work is extremely rewarding, but it can be hard work at times, you must literally “live it” to experience the greatest results.
The other misconception that I kept running into while searching the web for relevant articles is that there were way too many references to the Shaman being an influencer of spirits.  In other words, the literature leads one to believe that the Shaman or healer is in control of good and evil spirits and can direct them to do whatever the Shaman feels necessary.  That is a mouthful, and really untrue in in almost every sense of Shamanic practice.  It’s really the other way around.  We (Shamanic practitioners) allow ourselves to be used as a means by which spirits accomplish healing in what we will call ordinary reality.  One never really has to be a healer for others.  The healing can be just for ones self.  Either way, it’s the spirits doing all of the healing.  We just get to request the healing, and if the spirit agrees to heal, then we get to go along for the ride so to speak.
Yes, for the most part the practitioners of Shamanism do have an animistic view of existence.  So what’s that mean?  Unlike the definitions for Shamanism, this one feels a lot better.  Wikipedia defines animism as: “a religious belief that various objects, places, and creatures possess distinctive spiritual qualities”.  I still don’t agree on the religion thing, but yes, there is a belief that messages, wisdom and healing can come from anything including the elements.  I haven’t seen a lot of it yet on the internet personally, but this is something else that I believe has been severely misrepresented in the past, either for purposes of control or entertainment.
Before continuing, it might help get a further lay of the land by reading our summary article called “What is Shamanism?” by Clicking Here
The Shaman and Journey:
Traditionally Shamans played the role of doctor, priest and healer of the tribe.  It is not customary to refer to yourself as a Shaman.  In some ancient indigenous tribes, it was left up to the community to judge the effectiveness of the healing.  Likewise, those in the community were really the followers who conferred the name Shaman onto the practitioner based on how effective the work was.  People known Shamans enter a transformed state of consciousness, in order visit other realities.   So that this doesn’t sound so mysterious, it is not that dissimilar from what we’ve been conditioned in the West to call our imagination or dreams.  When a practitioner engages in this type of behavior, it is called a Shamanic journey.  Shamans journey to search for wisdom, search for answers to questions, ask for assistance with a particular unresolved issue, etc.  There is usually a specific intention that comes from the heart and soul, associated with any journey that a Shaman takes.  Practitioners typically don’t journey just for a stroll.  There is usually a reason for doing it.  Well, if you think about it, there are probably many reasons each day that one could actually journey for information, blessing or healing.  In a larger sense, Shamans live their lives as healers of others, the environment and other beings here in ordinary reality.  Shamanic practitioners journey to seek the assistance of helping spirits.  Helping spirits take all kinds of shapes and forms in shamanic reality, and there is no way to really even give examples because each person and practitioner are unique.  Each interested person will have to find their own, because you are the only one who possesses the ability to contact your helping spirits is you.  Think of the journey as the foundation for any practice of Shamanism.  That being the case, it is well worth learning how to do it well.  Just like the foundation of your house.  It needs to be strong and sturdy.
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Mark Glynn, CSP
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Blue Wisdom

[caption id="attachment_20419" align="alignleft" width="192"]Pops and me (on the right) Pops and me (on the right)[/caption] This is more or less the story about how Blue Bass Drum music/recordings came into being.  Music has been recognized as healing energy for centuries.  Music has been a major gift to me for spiritual, emotional and physical healing and grounding.  I’ve loved just about everything about music since I can remember.  New Orleans and all of south Louisiana is very well known as breeding grounds for what we call “musical families”.  Usually it is referring to a fairly well-known family name and the brothers, sisters, parents, aunts and uncles etc., who are all involved in music in some way.  I’ve always been in awe of the thought of it all.  Examples of modern day musical families from south Louisiana would include the Neville family and the Marsalis family.  I’m not sure that my experience fully qualifies to be a part of this wonderful phenomena, but it was musical, it happened in my family and it was pure majik.   It seems to have begun when I was gifted a violin or fiddle, as they call it here, by my great grandfather on my Pop’s side of the family when I was 5.  That majikal fiddle stayed locked in a closet for the next 15 years. In the meantime, I took on the education of a lifetime.  Not because it was a choice, but rather, because it was a way of life in this enchanted spiritual place that we live, here in south Louisiana.  I can’t tell every story, but I can say that the music that was played in the household when I was 10, still gives me goosebumps until this day.  The playlist was not large, but it was powerful and it was genuinely Nawlins.  The major culprit of this environment, straight out of the University of Hard-Knocks was my father or “pops” as we called him.  Let me see if I can give you an example playlists we were exposed to as kids:
the majikal fiddle today
The Majikal Fiddle Today
  1. Big Chief - Professor Longhair
  2. It’s Rainin’ - Irma (N.O. pronunciation “Oima”) Thomas
  3. Iko Iko - Dr. John (N.O. pronunciation “Jawn”)
  4. Blow Wind Blow - Dr. John
  5. Land of 1000 dances – Chris Kenner
  6. Occapella – Ringo Starr
  7. Personality - Lloyd Price
  8. Blue Monday- Fats Domino
  9. Etc.
All of it was heavily influenced by the New Orleans style of R&B.  Most of it had Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, participating in some way.  He just idolized Mac, which came out of a friendship as young boys.  I think he owned every piece of music Mac ever put to tape.  He also knew the musicians of the day from working at a the Safari Room and became friends with Sam Cooke, while watching and meeting a lot of the players of the day.  He had stories about all of them and loved hearing them play.  Obviously, I didn’t realize what an education and DNA expanding experience was happening.  It wasn’t something I disliked, and on the other hand, it wasn’t something I could love at the time.  It’s really important to note that this education started when I was about 10 and never ended until Pops passed in Dec. 2007.  In the later years, it became fascinating because I could participate and teach also, or he let me think so anyway.
Great Granny and Great Grandpa
Grandpa Guidry, owner of the Majikal Fiddle
Pops obviously encouraged me to play piano, but we had an organ, so organ lessons it was.  Followed by a few stints at piano education.  He and I used to have ridiculous conversations where we would draw comparisons about which of the “Jawns” was a better pianist, Dr. or Elton.  I had my 15 seconds of fame related to actually performing music when I was around 18.  It was a tribute band and I think we played twice.   The year was 1980 or 81, I was a senior in high school and I played in a Rush (the canadian rock trio)  tribute band.  The band was a quartet.  I had played a few times with folks from my high school, but was a free-agent.  I went to a choir practice and my friend had his acoustic guitar.  He whips out the beginning to the Rush song “Natural Science”.  There was an instant bond and began the search for the two other members of the quartet. My pop was so “tuned in” to music and was still cranking it up on the headphones during the day.  One day, I came home from high school at the normal time around 3PM and walked past him to put down my books, and the music sounded familiar.  I stopped and asked what he was listening to? He took off the headphones and said “This drummer is really great”.  It was my Rush album he was listening to “Permanent Waves”.  I was flabbergasted and immediately knew I had the coolest parent on the planet.  I mean really!  Who from a prior generation can listen to old 50’s R&B and a 1980’s power rock band and like both.  Only a year or so later was about the time that a friend from college offered to restore the majikal fiddle.  It took him a little while, but all of the wood damage was fixed and sanded down to it’s original color of tan. Not quite ready for prime time, but getting close.
My Sweet Mom
         My Sweet Mom
My mom probably doesn’t know it, but she had as strong an influence on the core of my musical self as Pops did.  It was an indirect result of my mothers’ insistence that we grow up with religious and spiritual values.   Every Sunday we attended catholic church.  For us, catholic church services and the church hymns that were sung, became a part of me.  It led to me singing in church choirs until I was in my 40’s.  I still come to attention when I hear a choir sing church hymns. My Moms’ brother, Michael Blanda, became an early mentor for me and music.  Uncle Mike, was by far, the gentlest soul I’ve experienced.  He truly loved mankind.  So the first 45 RPM record I owned was “Eight Days a Week” by the Beatles courtesy of Uncle Mike.  This was my intro into pop and rock music.  Uncle Mike was the first musical director I ever worked with as he volunteered to help up-and-coming 12 year-olds play pop music.   He was only 13 years older than I,  and as I got a little older, we became extremely close, most of the time neither of us knew who the adult was. Pops and I remained best friends for the remainder of his life.  As he got older, he told a lot of stories, and a lot of them were repeated a few times.  A couple of his favorites involved Mac Rebennack, Earl Stanley, a record producer from New Orleans, and Roland (Leblanc) Stone, a regional singer who achieved some commercial status for multiple singles.  He told a story of the 2 of them (Mac and Earl) being in a bar on the West Bank of Jefferson parish with my Dad on the way driving Roland to the gig, when guns were pulled out and it didn’t look good.  There were a few others that, truthfully, I questioned validity for a long time.  These stories just seemed to come from someone trying to relive their youth through these wonderfully embellished stories.  Then when I was about 40, one of the newspapers did an interview with Mac and Earl together.  They both told the same story and it was almost verbatim.  My Pop’s musical pedestal got a lot higher that day and stayed that way until he passed away in 2007.  He always said he came from the school of hard knocks.  Not sure what name you give the school, but I just got a phd.  All I can say is thank you for 34 years of your mentorship in this reality. In my early 40’s, I was approached to be an Adjunct Professor in the very College of Music where as a young man, I had chosen to attend.  It never worked out and I wound up taking a little detour before making it back.  This, for me, is a great example of the circle of life. This was like living in the twilight zone.  Same place, 25 years later.  I taught there for 5 years and was overcome by the experience of how rewarding it was to assist young people along their paths.
Uncle Mike and Cousins
Uncle Mike and Cousins
Even though there were long stretches of time that I didn’t physically participate or perform music, I never lost the feeling that I was home in a musical setting.  I just didn’t know exactly where or how.  Also, somewhere in here around 1990, was the fact that the majikal fiddle seemed bound and determined to find life.  It finally did from a violin maker and repairer around the SMU campus in Dallas, TX.  He retro-fitted all of the hardware and re-strung the bows and strings. It was bowed for the first time in at least 22 years since I’d received it.  How wonderful. My first major music project after my youth of the 20’s and 30’s was the New Orleans Radio, an internet radio station. We featured real authentic New Orleans independent musicians. The goal was to create the atmosphere of the city from a native’s perspective. The station is still online after 20 years of love, sweat & tears.  It really always has been a labor of love.   It was an initiation, so to speak, for me. While creating the New Orleans Radio website I began to be fascinated with our local Louisiana musical ancestors, and the families of New Orleans music.   Over the course of many years, I created a database chock full of biographical information on the many of the city’s musical ancestors.  I wanted to tell those musicians stories.  Some in our collection are ancestors and some still living.  All of this was presented as “This day in Louisiana music history?” The database is quite large, and full of New Orleans musicians biographical information.  During this time, I really had to listen to what the audience wanted and it was sometimes a challenge, but it taught me to listen differently and in a more accepting way. During this stretch, I saw a healer about an unrelated issue who told me that music was a legacy carried through the males in my family. She said I should be making music. I told her I ran an internet radio station and she kept insisting that wasn’t it and I should be creating it. I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.  Little did I know! In the last 5, or so, years, little known talents appeared out of nowhere to be a part of my journey in ways that I could only have imagined in the past.  I studied music for the better part of my childhood and teens.   I had revisited playing for short periods of time along the way, but nothing came of it.  You see, I knew the theory and could play some, however, my view was always that being involved in music was always as a working and practicing musician of a certain caliber.  I had eventually resigned myself to letting that part of my past go, because of my pre-constructed reality. However, even though I hadn’t written or composed a single note of recorded music in my life, it seemed like 50 years of listening, appreciating and proactively learning came pouring out of this soul from just the ability to look at, or see, music in a different way than I had been seeing it for almost 50 years. I could not believe that the manner in which I was communicating or listening made that much of a difference.  The only thing that I would have wished for if I would have known any of this is that my Pops and uncle Mike could have been with me right here as it was happening.  However I’m quite sure I couldn’t have done this had they not been where they are now. You can decide whether is qualifies for musical family status.  On that note, I’ve come to believe that most South Louisiana families fall into that category in some way.  It’s part of the cultural DNA here, cher’. The remainder of the story about the majikal fiddle goes like this.  Shortly, within 3 years, of getting bowed for the first time in 22 years, it fell from the wall in my house and cracked.  That happened in about 1993.  I was bothered by this for another 20+ years, until on 9/1/2017, almost 50 years since I'd received it, it was fixed, tuned, bowed and played for another run of majik.  The luthier who fixed it, commented a few things he's have done differently as the majikal fiddle had apparently been rebuilt a few times before I received it.  He also said it was an common old German violin, but we all know it's anything but common. All of our Blue Bass Drum releases came courtesy of shamanism and a trip to the Voodoo Fest a few years back with a very old friend.  That festival led me on a path to take one last swing.  Our humble music offerings can be found in our Blue-Ju store HERE. Inquiries about our music can be directed to [email protected] After all of these years, I’m so blessed to be able to do this. It’s a real testament to the saying “It’s never too late”. In addition to the music, I would be remiss not to credit my wonderful wife Ann for putting up with me all of these years.  Also, thanks to my talented daughter, Sarah Glynn, for the artwork for our covers, and finally, Kimberly Crabtree for allowing us to use the celtic flame in our logo. Mark Glynn

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