I wrote my first entry for this blog ten years, four months, and ten days ago. That first entry was titled “Welcome to Notes from a Barking Shaman” and touched on the odd contradictions that have, and continue, to make up my life. I was in the midst of my cycle of death and rebirth ordeals, our puppy Lilu was just ten weeks old, and earlier that day I had finalized plans to give a presentation on Tourette Syndrome for an elementary school a few hours away.
My life today looks at once radically different and remarkably similar to the one I was living when I sat down to pen that brief introduction to my new blog.
Among the differences, which you may have noticed already, is that as of last night this website and blog are no longer called “BarkingShaman.com” and “Notes From A Barking Shaman” respectively. The change has been a long time coming, and in keeping with the best traditions of this blog, I want to take some time to address why those changes have been made.
First and foremost, I want to to be clear that while I have taken steps to dissociate “shaman” with my online presence, the spiritual Work/role it describes remains as relevant to my life as ever. Back in 2013 Del Tashlin and I wrote a detailed exploration of the complex and conflicted nature of the word in our joint piece “Why Shaman?” We looked at issues of cultural appropriation, societal assumptions, and divine will, as well as our own mixed feelings about using “shaman” to describe parts of our Work and identities.
Re-reading that post last night, I find my feelings about the term are as complicated as they were several years ago. I have significant emotional/spiritual connections to the word, but with a deeper understanding of racial/cultural issues, some of the problematic elements involved in the usage of “shaman” now trouble me more than they once did.
It is worth noting, as we did in our 2013 post, that the linguistic history of “shaman” is complicated, and it is routinely used by many populations who don’t have a cultural claim to it.
However, here’s the important thing to recognize: the reason that linguistic history is complicated is because of the ingrained supremacist assumptions of the white anthropologists who brought “shaman” into the broader discourse. They applied “shaman” to anyone whose practices were tribal, animist, or involved interactions with the Spirits, regardless of how utterly different the people they were applying it to may have been from the people with whom the word actually originated.
That means that as someone who is perceived by society as white (though the issue of whether people who are racially Jewish are white or not is a complex one), there is a real argument to made that my using “shaman” perpetuates the slash and burn cultural practices of white forebears who sought to impose their own narrow vision of humanity on others, with themselves at the top of course. In that light, my using “shaman” is quite different from it being used by indigenous people in the Americas for instance, some of whom have adopted it.
But that’s a largely academic argument. On a more human level, reality is that there are a great many people lacking the level of privilege that I carry in the world, who find white people calling themselves “shamans” to be deeply hurtful and erasing of the lived experience of themselves and their ancestors. It costs me little to acknowledge that truth and make changes to accommodate it.
Moreover, I find that within the pagan community, people who use the word “shaman” as their self-descriptor all too often do have an aesthetic and/or practices that are quite clearly appropriative, although generally not of the culture from whence the word originates. It became impossible for me to be at once uncomfortable with their appropriation, without also being so with my own usage of the word.
Honesty, which as always been a paramount focus of my blogging, compels me to note that there are perfectly practical reasons for me to back away from “shaman” as well. Those reasons explain why I’m being allowed to do so by my Patron, despite my identifying publicly with the word “shaman” originally stemming from Her.
If you know me, or have read my writing, you know that my personal discomfort is not of paramount importance to my Lady. However, my effectiveness is, and I’ve made the argument that particularly as social justice has become more prominent on people’s spiritual radars in the last few years, having my website and Work associated closely with the word “shaman” is more of a liability than an asset.
Plus, being painted with the same brush as the aforementioned folk in the pagan world using the word “shaman” to describe practices both spiritual and appropriative that don’t fit within my own spiritual or ethical framework, does not in any way advance the Work that I, or Tashrisketlin, are trying to do.
For now I’m using “spirit worker” publicly in place of where I had been using “shaman.” It’s a phrase in its own way as fraught with issues, but it doesn’t have the association with a centuries-long pattern of white cultural supremacy in the way that “shaman” does. Granted, that’s not a high bar to clear, but it will do for now.
Not having a lore-based tradition or bloodline connection to draw from, it’s challenging to find a word that truly captures the Work I do in the way that “shaman” does, but I will look for one. Perhaps when I do, this blog will once again have an attention-grabbing name, but for now we’ll all just have to be content with it doing what it says on the tin.
So, more than ten years after this project started, let me welcome you to Winter Tashlin’s Blog. I’ll endeavor to make the content much more interesting than the name.