Being A Shaman

Sacred Medicine Ways – Part 2

A Teaching by Ghost Dancer

Most people at some point in their lives have learned enough about tribal people to know they usually have someone amongst them with special powers referred to as a shaman or medicine man. Now many writers think they know what a shaman or medicine man is so let me say this, when using those terms, they never quite fit or describe who or what these people are.

In the real world, being such means having skills and knowledge in many different areas. The term shaman in general refers to people in many cultures who have earned respect as a spiritual teacher and adviser, naturally, but also for being a healer, counselor, inventor, pharmacist, botanist, veterinarian, astronomer, math professor, even a reputation for being part witch or part sorcerer. Truly a shaman is someone who knows. A shaman knows things, intangible things that most folks don’t see or feel.

Being a shaman requires many sacrifices – of time, life, energy, body, and most of all on any relationships or family. Why? Because it is a commitment to something far greater than yourself. You are in a marriage to Spirit, to our Creator. You never put anything before our Creator. Now lest you think that is easy, it is not. To always put duty first creates a kind of hell on your relationships with your mate, your family and even with meeting your own personal needs.

You see, once you step into that world and are shown the mysteries of walking in the Spirit world, you truly find out this world we all experience isn’t the only world or dimension that exists. You soon discover that you are able to chase a shooting star, retrieve the spirit or soul from someone who has lost it, and return it back to where it belongs.

You find out that you can actually see inside someone who is ill and you have the ability to find what is needed to heal that problem. Once people find out that you can do those things, more and more demands will be made by people constantly bringing you their problems.

Eventually you have to travel to other places just to get some rest and you have to work hard just to regain your energy for all these things take a toll on your body and your relationships. You are still human and your mate needs time too. Your mate needs to know that you love them and that you appreciate all the things that are done just for you. You need to spend time showing your love and giving your love to your mate. Same with your family. You need that family time also. Your mate and family will be all that truly keep you anchored in this world. Because of all the heart ache and chaos that is in this world, when going to other worlds and dimensions, many times you feel like you don’t want to come back. There is a balance you must reach and you will be lucky to have a truly loving mate and family who will put up with you and all the distractions. Many times they worry if you will even survive what you are doing. Yes there are risks. Let me give you an example:

Someone is in serious medical crisis and you have been asked to help. Time is a critical factor so you choose to do a quick travel. Knowing it could be deadly, you chew a poisonous plant which allows you to leave your body quickly. This makes it possible for you to look inside of the patient and see the problem. Now you travel to another dimension or place and find what you need to heal the person. You come back and begin doing what you need to do. Remember that you have been in this out of body condition now for quite some time. The longer you stay away the colder your body becomes and remember you still have all this poison inside of you.  Your mate knows this and does all that you have told them to do to help you. Your mate’s love is your anchor, it gives you the strength to pull through.

Now who knew how much doing the work of a shaman affects your body? This applies to almost all shaman or spiritual healers, sorcerers, witches, priestesses or whatever they may be called. The fact is, this is a calling, a life commitment and once you start you cannot walk away. It’s like marriage, only with more consequences if you try to turn away from it.

Some may ask why I’m talking about shamans now. What has this got to do with the old-time cultures I’m writing about?  What do you think? Everyone wants something – like to identify with their Native heritage – but don’t necessarily want all the responsibilities and duties that come with it. They don’t want to do the sacrifices, take the time, expend the energy, or live the life that is all part of it. Remember always, you only get what you put into something.

I promised my family decades ago that I would bring all of this back, not only to our family but to our people.  Now what most don’t know is what I truly mean when I say our people. Our people is a very large group of people. For thousands of years our people had bred with other tribes. This was to keep our blood from becoming too close together and having any type of inbreeding which is strictly forbidden.

Many folks have no clue about our ancient culture, blood, rituals, beliefs, etc. Our bloodlines are also mixed with Mayans, Aztec, Olmec, Inca and other peoples from Mexico, Central and South America and this connection goes all the way up through the whole eastern United States. Our Southeastern ancestral people were mound builders just as the Maya were mound builders, and more significant discoveries are being made every day to prove the connections.

Look at all the historical artifacts, and you will see the same designs, same art, same depictions. In our belief system, we have the blood laws. The Mayans, Incas, Aztec had blood laws also. We have winged water serpents so do all of them. We have the little people so do they. Our languages are mixed together and the meanings of many words come from them. So open your eyes, our people never disappeared, they were already here. We had kings, they all had kings. Their blood line comes from the females so does all of ours, even the far northern tribes such as the Iroquois, Potawatomi, and Huron. This basically includes all eastern and Mississippi River regional areas, all the Mandan and Cahokia. This all includes you also.

All of our sciences, medicines, and cultures are mixed and that made us all better. All of our historical arts and artifacts support all of this. And I’m telling you personally that in my spirit travels I have been there and watched all of this and seen this happen. I have spoken on these things and have taught this for many decades.

You may have seen images depicting human heads and people hanging from the limbs in Mayan and Aztec artifacts.  Many seem to think this represents people being sacrificed but that is not true. It is a symbolic teaching that we sacrifice ourselves by fasting and hanging from the tree of life seeking knowledge and guidance. Now when I say sacrifice I mean that we choose to put our own bodies through many disciplined, rigorous, even dangerous experiences, which is the only way our spirit truly becomes enlightened.

Unless you are totally committed and serious about becoming more enlightened, then you should never even attempt fasting or sacrificing. You will not make it. Your dedication to the spiritual over and above the physical is the essential element that gives you the ability to do so much more than you can imagine. And believe me when I say, if you lose that spiritual strength then you will feel only pain, loss and confusion. 

Like being in an inipi (sweat lodge) for example, when the steam rises and fills the lodge, the air gets really, really hot. You are meant to be focused on the ceremony but you keep thinking about the heat rather on your prayers. See? You are distracted by the flesh. But if you tapped into your spiritual self you would never even feel the heat. You will feel chilled.

Now say, you are drinking a poison for a purpose. If you let your mind and heart worry about yourself, your flesh,  the distraction will null your good purpose and those inner fears of losing this flesh will come back to bite you. Your flesh will die sooner or later anyway but your spiritual being will always live and continue on.

If you are treating someone with rattlesnake bite; you must battle poison with poison. There are many antidote remedies for poison snake bites or other deadly poison bites or stings. Depending on what antidote you need to use, you chew up the poison roots, stalks, or leaves and spit this juice on the area. Then you begin sucking the poison out using your mouth.   Now understand! This is not for any of you to try. This for a person who knows exactly what they are doing.

We have all watched movies that show people just cutting the area open and sucking the poison out. That is all nonsense. You first need an antidote that will counter the poison and suck the poison out, plus you make a poultice and place on the area that will disinfect the area and continue drawing the poison out.

If you had even a tiny cut or sore on your gums, lips or tongue the poison goes directly into your body. When people go into shock and die from snake bites, it’s more from fear than from the poison itself. So when you, as a healer, are fully into your spiritual discipline, you will be able to stay calm and quickly give the victim something that will calm them as well.  This is about instinctively knowing what to do. Something you have practiced time and again. Something that you are automatically prepared for.

Should you choose to step into the spirit world, you must be prepared to see things that will totally attack your fears and your mind, things that make no sense because you are using the accepted laws of this world . What will you do? If you panic you can become trapped and never  be able to return to your body. That means your flesh will die. So yes you must be prepared, trained first before you attempt to do any of this. And that takes time.

 People use the word magic to describe things that are beyond their normal comprehension or go against the laws of physics. But is it really magic? No, it is of knowledge of things that others have not experienced or been trained to discover. And yes, in every person’s cultural heritage or belief system there have always been those who have this ancient knowledge. Throughout history, many have been tortured, killed or imprisoned because of their commitment to learn, practice and use this knowledge. Why? Because of fear and ignorance or religious dogmas that forbid these things, even when their own beliefs say that each of us has the ability to achieve these abilities.

What appears as magic is not inherently evil. Oh, the knowledge can be used by those who chose to do the bad things, of course. All knowledge can be used for evil purposes, just as with material things. A hammer is a tool but it can kill someone if it is used for that purpose. The hammer isn’t evil. Just as a gun is a tool not a weapon unless you use it that way.

So with that being said it is up to the individual to choose how to use these skills and with these things in mind, every teacher is responsible for the ones they teach.

It is not easy to judge the motives of others. This is why a teacher will ask your name for then you can be seen even if you are a long ways away. When you willingly give your name, it gives the teacher or healer power that can connect to you.  When dealing with spirits, most are reluctant to give you their true name because it gives you a power to call them forth. Spirits know once they do that you can summon them and actually have a control over them. Most spirits, even your Spirit Helpers, will give you a name to use that assures they are still free and not under your control.

Some people are born with the ability to see things that others don’t while others have to work and work at it. Some call this a gift, but in many ways it is more of a curse because you see things you truly don’t want to see – and they see you as well. You must train yourself to block unwanted thoughts and images. To a child born with this gift, such things can be devastating especially when others all tell you what you see and hear and feel isn’t real and you are just imaging these things. Then you don’t fit in with others very well either because you see the true spirit that is them. So before you go to wishing you could do these things, think again!

Shaman of The Old Times

Now in the old times the shaman was a very important person to any tribe or nation and on most reservations today they still are, but not as appreciated as they should be. So I will now begin picturing for you how a shaman lived and was treated back in the old times.

A shaman lived away from the hustle and bustle of life in a town for it is only a distraction from what was needed to be done. Every male, provider or warrior, female, mother, elder, clan mother, war leader, and micco came to get medicine, consultation, advice and blessings from the shaman who was revered as a holy person.  No matter what their role or station in life happened to be, everyone wanted and needed to be successful. They all put their faith and trust in the shaman to help them in all matters: fishing, hunting, war, being a mother, finding a good mate, being a leader, being healthy, getting healed from sickness, finding lost things, being advised as to communicating with your ancestors, finding your true spirit helpers, finding your power medicine and medicine bundles. So as you can see, the shaman was vital to every aspect of life and prosperity for everyone.

Now some shaman are strictly healers. They help with babies, sicknesses, diseases, broken bones, etc. and that is all they do.  There are others who strictly only do spiritual teachings and ceremonies.  So as you see there are many things involved, so not everyone who might be known or seen as a shaman has skills and knowledge in every aspect of life.

A Shaman’s Typical Day

The shaman’s day may start with a fisherman coming to ask what is needed to catch lots of fish. The shaman gets a plant chews it up and spits the juice on the hooks. This will make the fish attracted to the baits. The shaman may even visualize the fish hungry and biting and advise the fisherman where to go.  In return, a gift of some fish will be brought to the shaman later by the fisherman. The shaman never charged anything for his help and everyone understood it is just proper and balancing to give something in return for his help, It may be a rare thing for a shaman to have time to go catch fish for himself.

A hunter may come and ask for help in hunting. The shaman makes a wash and wipes the hunters clothes and weapons. He may tell the hunter where he will find what he is hunting at this time and he may even give him a chant to sing to help draw whatever he is hunting to come to him. After the successful hunt, a portion of the meat will be given to the shaman to balance the help that was given. 

Later a woman will come. She is having problems becoming pregnant. The shaman will chew a root and go on a spirit travel. He will look inside of her to see what the problem is. He will identify the problem, return to his body, and then gather the proper medicine that he has in his dwelling. He will make an infusion (a tea mixture) that she must drink. She will drink this for 4 days and will become pregnant if she makes love with her mate during those 4 days.  Later when she is pregnant a gift will be brought to balance the help she received. Usually this gift is food but could be a clothing article she has made for him.

Then the shaman sees an elder who has problems with his arthritis and has gained too much weight because of it. The shaman makes a wash and a poultice. The wash is a tea that will be wiped on all the elder’s joints. Then the poultice is be placed on the painful areas. Now the shaman makes an infusion (powdered tea mix) that the elder can drink every day to help take away all pain and fight the arthritis. Next the elder is given some different powdered roots and stems that are wrapped up in a bundle. The shaman instructs the elder how to make a tea that will increase his metabolism and help him lose weight. Later or sometimes even the same day a gift will be given to balance the gifts that were given to the elder.

Now a young mother comes concerned because her breasts have dried up and she cannot produce the milk her baby needs. The shaman makes an infusion tea and a wash. The tea will help make the mother’s milk come in again. The wash will soften the nipple and help draw the milk out. She will be given a small bundle of dried herbs and instructed on how to make a tea to take for 4 days to get her body back into harmony.

She then tells the shaman that the baby cries constantly and has loose stools. The shaman makes the proper teas for the baby as well and tells her this will stop the diarrhea and make the cramps relax in the baby’s stomach. He asks the mother to bring her baby to see him in 2 days.

Another woman comes in saying her daughter is in the women’s lodge and her menstrual blood flow is much too heavy. Once again the shaman steps into the spirit to view inside of the young woman. He immediately sees the problems and knows exactly what to give her to slow and correct this. He strips two dried roots of their bark, grinds it into a powder with a stone mortar and pestle. He gives it to the mother wrapped in a piece of leather with instructions that her daughter must drink a pinch in water every day for 4 days.  He then hands the mother a turtle shell with some leaves in it and instructs to make a smudge of the leaves and fan the smoke over the daughter and especially the womb area and this will help stop the excessive bleeding quickly. Later the mother will bring a gift offering to the shaman.

The Shaman’s Lodge

A common practice for the shaman is to have many smudges burning in and around his dwelling. This way anyone coming in or leaving will be smudged properly. Usually this is done by someone who is in training learning from the shaman. A shaman may have one or two learning at the same time and may include both men and women.

The dwelling of a shaman will always be filled with items needed for meeting the many needs of the people. There will be many different bird feathers and other dried parts. Same with animals, reptiles and fish. Whole plants, roots, bark, stems and even fruit will be either hanging to dry or already in clay pots or woven baskets.

Sabia’s (crystals and sacred stones) will surround his dwelling inside and outside and there will be amulets or charms hanging to protect everything from being attacked by witchcraft or sorcery. Yes, there will always be some who turn to doing bad things and those who are jealous. Jealousy is a bad, bad problem. It not only turns a person away from being in balance and walking in beauty and love, but it feeds off of others’ pain and suffering.

When someone comes to the shaman’s dwelling and asks for help with something, most shaman will first require that they see them. I mean really seeing them. They want to know their name, they want to see their spirit, they want to see their hands, because their mouth may lie but these things cannot lie. They  will see the real you. If a person refused to do that, then the shaman will know they are hiding something. Something they know the shaman  will see. But this is like a door, once you open it, it is open.

Those Who Would Deceive

It is important to understand that some who profess to be a shaman are false and intend to use bad medicine. You can recognize them because they will always require something from you such as a hair, fingernails, a possession that is really meaningful to you. They may even ask for your spit.

Sometimes to cover up these obvious clues, they will casually ask you to hand them an object nearby. So you do but the object pricks you or your skin sticks to it. This way they are secretly getting a part of you. If something is truly sacred they will not ask you to handle it. This is just a way to draw you in so that you feel important to yourself and trusted.  The motive is far from that.

Let me explain. A real shaman sees your aura or your energy colors that are all around you and even within you. This is how they  can see where there is a blockage or where something is not right. Every person is different and it is the same with shaman or sorcerer or whatever name you chose to call them. Now if you are truly gifted and think you can hide that from them, go ahead and try. There is an old time saying: “He who tries to trap or trick generally winds up being the one who is tricked or trapped.”

It is sad to say that even in this day and time there are skinwalkers, witches and sorcerers on the reservations just as there were in the old times. They are not out in the open. People would attack and probably destroy them as they did in the old times. In my personal travels and knowledge, I have seen that many tribes are still battling these kind who use bad medicine, who are guilty of hurting and even murdering people for their own gain or were paid to do so by people seeking revenge, or for greed or jealousy. Yes, this is very real and it doesn’t matter if you believe in witches or not, they exist. I cannot emphasize enough: witchcraft and such is not something Native people welcome or want around.

The Shaman’s Dress                          

Now let’s look at some of the dress a shaman may be wearing so you would recognize one in those old times and even in today’s world.  

In the old times most shaman, healers, priests or spiritual people wore things that easily identified them as to what they were and what position they held. If you were in search of a shaman, first you would look for many amulets or charms hanging from them or in them.

Usually they would have a painted face that hides their true identities. This is so no bad spirit or ghost spirit can follow them back to their home, village, city or family. Those who don’t take precautions will get what is called ghost sickness which causes bad things to happen to those around them first and then drives them crazy with guilt. So they have to find someone to make a potion that cures insanity and ghost sickness.

Their paint hides the actual features of their face. They may even paint animal or bird designs on their face. Some may have an owl sitting on their shoulder or an owl feather headdress. The owl symbol varies amongst different tribes, so the owl can be seen as a messenger or a bad omen to those it brings a message to such as a forewarning of a death either to them or to someone close to them. Owls also symbolize being able to see in the darkness, so this person would be able to see into the next world of the dead and talk to those who are there.

If the person had snake skin, or things of a snake on them, this symbolizes that they know the secrets of the earth hidden deep and where things are lost and can be found at. If they have hawk or eagle feathers they are saying they use protective medicine and can see in the future.

A turkey headdress or feathers represents the ability to help with seeing the enemies first. Always wary, the turkey is also very good at helping those who need help with reproduction problems, whether male or female or both, so turkey feathers are prized feathers as are eagles, hawks, owl, crane, cardinal, blue jay, pheasants and many more. The purpose and use of each kind of feather depends on the individual and the culture of their tribe and location. The same applies to all the different animals, reptiles etc.

If a person wore deer antlers with feathers on their head these represent not only swiftness and agility to navigate the different worlds, but also the fight to protect those who need help. A headdress that has alligator or crocodile (yes Florida has the only American crocodiles) represents not only ancient knowledge, but very powerful medicine.

A turtle headdress meant that the person is cautious, slow to run from anything and is always at home in any world or dimension. Anything that is of a frog, otter or tadpole represents powerful help from thunder beings. If the person wears numerous colors, this also represents being one with rainbow serpent. The winged serpent is represented by rattlesnake buttons and skulls.

Now in today ‘s world, a healer, spiritual leader or shaman may dress very casually or they may be flamboyant in their regalia. But whether it’s obvious or not, they will always wear amulets, necklace of power and sabia’s as well as cedar, sage, holly, or mistletoe and an herbal smell on them. They will carry certain other personal items that symbolize their powerful spirit helpers and items to ward off and protect them from any witchcraft or spell entrapments.

Like the holy people of old, today’s shaman do not like crowds or noisy places and most certainly do not drink alcohol or do drugs. Most can’t even eat sugar or sugar products because all these things knock them out of balance with everything in the universe.  Another characteristic is they all will have an aura of confidence and security. They do not worry about dangers or such because they would feel them before anything came that way. People with bad intentions send out angry or distressed vibrations which are easily picked up.

Most important, a true shaman will never tell you they are a shaman.. They never brag about what they do and they never want to project the illusion they are any different than anyone else. In truth they know they are only helpers to our Creator and only Creator can take credit for any of our talents and gifts.

Respectfully,

Ghost

© Ghost Dancer 2021

Published by E.P.Dixon

I am an elder and a seeker. Many years ago I was given the honorary name, Sings Many Songs by a lifelong friend and leader of Creek, Shawnee, Cherokee, Métis descent. The name was a gift to honor my interest and prayers for his people and my work to help him restore and keep alive the rightful place of the Creek Peoples in the history and cultural fabric of the Southeastern homeland. I’m an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life, just trying to make sense of the world. Being an outsider can be lonely sometimes, but oh, what treasures can be found in most unexpected places. The name “Sings” began to take on a its purest meaning as I reached out for understanding and came to know some remarkable Native warriors hidden in a world of their own. As a writer and editor of sorts, my goal with Journeys of the Spirit is to give voice to two who have so enriched my life and my journey. My hope is more and more people will come to know, love, and understand these two kind and generous Native elders through their own stories, art, wisdom, knowledge, humor and insights into worlds few of us can even imagine as we follow their personal “Journeys of the Spirit.” I may also have a few worthwhile things to say from time to time, and I might even invite some other writers to share stories about their spiritual journeys.

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