Shaman and Artist
I decided yesterday I'd have an inspiration morning, so I set myself up in the ground-floor study with notebooks, pens, and computer tuned to wikipedia. Goal: juice up the creative flow. My newly discovered cousin Lara told me she's been studying Celtic shamanism so I started there.
I didn't get much past "shamanism" -- a practice that spans all the traditional cultures of the world -- kind of a big bite for a Tuesday morning. Wikipedia definition:
Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. Practitioners of shamanism are known as shamans. There are many variations of shamanism throughout the world, though there are some beliefs that are shared by all forms of shamanism:
- That spirits can play important roles in human lives.
- The shaman can control and/or cooperate with the spirits for the community's benefit.
- The spirits can be either good or bad.
- Shamans engage various processes and techniques to incite trance; such as: singing, dancing, taking entheogens [psychoactive drugs], meditating and drumming.
- Animals play an important role, acting as omens and message-bearers, as well as representations of animal spirit guides.
- The shaman's spirit leaves the body and enters into the supernatural world during certain tasks.
- The shamans can treat illnesses or sickness; they are healers.
Jim and I live in a household packed with shamanic tools-of-the-trade: amulets, fetishes, beads, African masks (photos on this page), Mexican crucifixes dotted with milagro charms, etc. On any given day, we are indifferent to their potential magic. But then again, maybe they've contributed to our charmed lives and good health.
What intrigues me is how a shamanic perspective intersects with an artistic perspective. (Our collections were bought from art dealers, after all, not from healers.)
For me great artists (& great innovators of all kinds) are definitely tuned into something "divine." But my question always is whether that spark, that volcanic flow comes from Out There (spirits, God, the "other") or from Deep Inside (our own inner complexity and untapped capabilities).
Those create-hard/die-young artists like Jackson Pollack and Van Gogh were definitely tuned into something -- something they couldn't handle, something that eventually got the better of them. How many of us protect our wellbeing and all our precious assumptions by staying on this side of the threshold? Being a true artist, being a true shaman is scary business. Most of us, like it or not, prefer to stay this side of the unknown.