Shamanism vs. Spiritwork

I’ve seen some authors talk about the distinction between “shamanism” and spirit work, speaking in solemn tones of the trials one is put through to become a shaman (and I must say, I consider the use of the word “shaman” in most contexts to be at the very least, somewhat problematic). Frank talk of shaman sickness and astral death is enough to put me personally off my lunch, and certainly it would put most people off the idea of spirit-work.

But here’s the thing: such a distinction between shamanism and spiritwork is largely useless and a false dichotomy. I was taken without being asked, but mine was a joyful experience akin to a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. I was never offered a choice; consent never entered into the equation. I could no more refuse the changes that were made in my life than the caterpillar can refuse to become a chrysalis. My transformation was inevitable and unstoppable, but also the best thing that ever happened to me.

The shaman=nonconsensual/spirit-worker=consensual dichotomy is actually harmful, because it glorifies abusive behavior. Yes, there are gods and spirits that will take people against their will and put them through ordeals without their agreement. This is not OK. Might doesn’t make right. Even the gods shouldn’t be allowed to push people around like that. When humans do that, it’s called abuse. If the gods are allowed to hold us to their own standards, we should damn well be able to hold them to ours.

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