Learning In a Respectful Way
Avoiding Being Takenby Educatedindian
Do you think you are "Indian by heart" or were "an Indian in a past life"? Do you admire native ways and want to incorporate them in your life and do "your own" version of a sweat lodge or a vision quest? Have you seen ads, books, and websites that offer to "train you to become a shaman" in an easy number of steps, a few days on the weekend, or for a fee?
Have you really thought this through all the way? Have you thought about how native people feel about what you might want to do?
Please think about these important points before you do take that fateful step and expend time, money, and emotional investment:
1) Native people do NOT believe it is ethical to charge money for any ceremony or teaching.
So any who charge you even a penny are NOT authentic.
2) Native traditionalists believe the only acceptable way to transmit traditional teachings is orally and face to face.
So any allegedly traditional teachings in books or websites are NOT authentic.
3) Learning medicine ways takes decades and must be done with great caution and patience out of respect for the sacred.
So any offer to teach you all you need to know in a weekend seminar or two is wishful thinking at best, fraud at worst.
4) Most of these operators are not the slightest bit reputable. Some have actually been convicted of fraud. Many also falsely claim to be native when they are not.
5)Some are sexual predators who prey upon their followers. One, for example, was a serial rapist who was facing numerous charges when he died, including the rape of girls as young as fourteen. Women should be extremely wary of any "teacher" who claims sex is a part of an alleged "ceremony".
6) Most of these operators have been discovered to be making up fantasies in their books of what many whites would like native people to be like. Another way to say it is that they are outright liars and hoaxers. Some were exposed several decades ago.
You are probably asking yourself, "Aren't ANY of these people for real and a good way for me to learn?"
The truth is that no authentic native teachers anywhere teach outside their communities.
Please understand the following points about native spiritual ways.
1) Native belief systems are communal, not focused on the individual's faith like Christianity.
2) Native beliefs are tribal specific. There are as many differences as there are between Hinduism and the Church of England. No one would think about teaching them both together as "Indo-European" beliefs. Yet many of these operators teach a thrown together mishmash of bits and pieces of different beliefs.
3) Traditional elders are very cautious about changing rituals and mixing different customs. It does happen, of course, but only after lengthy discussions that can take DECADES. But these operators are very casual and haphazard in what they do, in a manner that shows they have no understanding of or respect for the sacred.
4) Traditional elders do NOT believe any ceremony can be done by anyone who feels like it. It's that same caution and respect for the sacred. Yet these operators will let anyone do a ceremony if they have the money.
Vision quests, for example, are intended for young boys age 12-14. But boys don't have much money, so these operators sell "quests" for hundreds or thousands to mostly middle aged men and women.
5) There is also the matter of telling people they can be shamans and charging them for it.
If you were interested in Judaism, would you pay money to someone who said he would make you a rabbi in just one weekend seminar?
If someone did this and then claimed Jewish objections were foolish, we would call him anti-Semitic. Think about the lack of respect these operators show to native people and beliefs by defrauding people.
Think also about how it makes it harder for natives and whites to get along when whites have been given an untrue picture of native culture. We have to learn to get along, and we can't do that as long as whites give support to operators who push a fraudulent version of what we are like.
We realize most of you do not know any better; at least not yet. But we hope you will learn about it from more reputable sources and in a more respectful manner.
If it says New Age or Shamanism on the cover, it's not a good source for learning about Native spiritual ways. Find out which authors can be trusted before you pay money to operators who harm us all.
This article originally appeared as two separate posted messages at an online club, New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans, on 11/18/00, and is reproduced here by permission from the author (with minimal editing, also by permission).
I've written a short document to accompany Educatedindian's article. If you would like to print it out and post it in your area to help refute fraudulent claims, please click to open "Not for Sale.
To learn more about how to avoid the pitfalls of cross-cultural spiritual education, please read The Celtic Metaphysic, by Dr. Eleasaid Ní h'Eibhin.
For some other interesting information, please read the exchange I had in the New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans club with Educatedindian, which you can find at the Table.
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