Why I have decided not to become a Shaman

As a teenager, I started developing a strong interest for Native American Cultures. It probably all started with movies like “Dance with Wolves” and “Geronimo: An American Legend”. At that age I had to rebel against something, and I decided to take the Indians’ side in a Cowboys’ world. I then started to read a lot, and took every opportunity to learn about the Nations of North America.

Through my readings, I came to consider that Native American cultures had a privileged link to Nature and Wildlife, which I thought I could not find in my own cultural environment (interestingly enough I didn’t bother checking). Led by my eagerness to learn more and to experience this connection, I started to look a bit more into the spiritual aspect of the “Indian world”, which I extended to Central America, Polynesia, Siberia… and to any people that I thought had a deep link with nature. This inevitably led me to read books treating the subject of “shamanism”, and to develop a fancy for what I thought was the ultimate way to strengthen my connection to nature.

About 10 years ago, I came across the “Urban Shaman” book by Serge King. This “Huna”, presented as an old Hawaiian philosophy, seemed very nice, with the author developing concepts and ideas that seemed simple and pragmatic. Although there were some weird things in the book – like this odd reference to the old, lost continent of Mu – I happily ignored those to concentrate on the concepts.

It sort of made sense to me that there is more to the world than what we can see from it. I did buy to King’s description of the three selves, and I liked his “seven principles” because they were presenting an interesting way of looking at things. And most of all, I liked King’s apparent openness and lack of proselytism. To me, this was a kind of a proof that the guy was not trying to sell his stuff, but just present his viewpoint letting everyone judge whether it worked for them or not.

I actually never finished the book. At some point, the mention of Mu and references to aliens became so present that I started to doubt about the real message being spread. Yet, I still thought that what I had read so far was not so bad, and continued thinking that those principles were interesting guidelines for a better lifestyle.

More recently, I discovered Michael Harner’s “Way of the Shaman”. This too seemed very interesting, practical, and genuine. But then I realized that he “shamanism” described by Harner as sort of universal, and the “shamanism” depicted by King, had very little in common. And when thinking about it, it occurred to me that King’s philosophy had very little to do with what I had observed from Polynesian culture on a recent trip to New Zealand.

I then did what I should have done before anything else: check. A quick online search for “Huna” brought me to Wikipedia where I learned that it derived from a 20th century new age philosophy entirely created by a guy called Max Freedom Long.

Ouch.

This did come as a shock and my first question then was: “why”. The theory has interesting concepts in itself, so why claim it comes from old Hawaiian traditions when obviously it doesn’t?

Continuing the search, I found other occurrences of “Huna” including a very shiny, corporate-style website selling empowerment workshops with product satisfaction guarantee. The philosophy described on this site, taught by a guy called Matthew B. James, seemed quite different from King’s Huna.

Then I discovered the “Huna is not Hawaiian” page of Facebook.

In less than an hour, I had learned that Huna was not a Hawaiian tradition, was practiced and taught by guru-like so-called teachers that propagated the claim it was genuine, and was abhorred by most Native Hawaiians as being a cultural appropriation.

Somehow, this was an awakening, although of the hard kind. A bit like having a whole bucket of cold water dropped on my sleeping head.

Further searches led me to the NAFPS (New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans) website and its forum. Reading through the many threads there I started to see the bare, sad truth. In my sincere, humble attempt at getting an insight into these “Native Cultures” I admired, I had just followed the wrong people while being convinced all the way through that I was following a respectable path.

I see no wrong in embracing other cultures than that of my ancestors: I was born in France, studied in Germany, lived in England and married a Czech woman. Although I am probably close to 100% French (whatever that means) I also feel I am part German, English and Czech. But I have not learned that by reading books. I lived there and I met people. I learned their language and adopted some of their ways. I never pretended I wanted to acquire those cultures, it just occurred naturally through a long, respectful sharing process.

I realize that my “love” for Native Cultures is different. I have learned about them in books. Most of them accurate, well detailed, properly documented books, but books all the same. Although I have been to the US many times, I met relatively few Natives. And I have easily succumbed to the fancy, romantic vision of the Good Indian with deep connections to Earth and Nature, and thought I could learn to become one.

Along the way, I had forgotten what and who I was. I was not born a Lakota, a Maori or a Buryat. I had never lived in America, Polynesia or Siberia, nor did I plan to do so in the foreseeable future. The path I wanted to follow was not mine.

My interest in Native American and Polynesian cultures is genuine, and it remains. So does my love for nature and the inspiring effect it has on me.

But I will not mix it all. Yes, we are all related, but I will not try to be what I am not.

I will not try to become a shaman. I will just be myself.