In thinking about my being as a Ph.D researcher, I having been playing with the archetype of the shaman, as a symbol of a liberated, embodied being, whose way of perceiving and living is centered in her wholeness. What might this being look and feel like? How can this be integrated into the strongly cognitive way of knowing, so valued by universities and this society?
Nurturing this centre becomes vital for me as I grapple with swings of confidence. When I whither, becoming mired in the ‘imposters syndrome’ common to the less narcissistic graduate researchers, and very familiar to (most) women, not granted authority-by-birth as (real) meaning-makers in a patriarchal world. My feminism flares. I know this place of being a woman-margin-dweller. Though, it is new to be a woman aging in a society where the Jean Shinoda Bolen’s “green and juicy crone” is a challenging and unfamiliar metaphor. But the fearful loitering of the margin dweller awaiting approval will not do.
I turn to the shaman again, who does not seek the acceptance of the establishment. She values her detachment highly, it is at the heart of her liberation, enabling her dissent, if only subtle, and enabling her independence of voice and meaning making. Not separate, rather uncompromised. In this stance, the shaman is an alternative to our necessary conformity, signified by reflecting the institutional mores.The shaman is unafraid of the power of wild and unknowable realms. She is the ecstatic trance-dancer, drumming, spinning and breathing herself into out-of-body shamanic journeys. Honouring what we have despised as ‘primitive’, the wisdom of magical thinking is closely aligned to the inner life of the shaman archetype. I open myself to trusting the energetic voices of my material world – trees, plants, and creatures, and also the quality and resonance of the built spaces we inhabit to inform my research knowing.
Writers Ashis Nandy, Marcus Bussey and Sandra Waddock, also call upon the shaman archetype as one might have called a specialist midwife to a difficult birth. The presence, observational skill and patience of the midwife, combined with her ability to work with and trust in natural processes speaks to the feminine quality inherent in the shaman archetype.
“The shaman taken metaphysically as the opposition to king and priest, remains the ultimate symbol of authentic dissent, representing the utopian and transcendental aspects of the child, the lunatic, the androgynous, and the artist. In this sense, he remains the least socialized articulation of the values of freedom, creativity, multiple realities and an open future.” Ashish Nandy
Acknowledging and valuing our feminine, androgynous, outsider and lunacy begins the process of reclaiming the negated and backgrounded parts of our whole. Once owned and integrated, we have the possibility of experiencing and accessing its power, knowing its dimensions, playing with new possibilities of being in our bodies and lives. After being ostracised for centuries, the shaman’s qualities can support and guide us to gracefully ride the waves of contradiction, chaos and complexity coming towards us in the 21st century.
This is a mature consciousness that is as comfortable with a magical and mystical spirituality, as well as the acuity of a discerning and reasoning mind.This is the gift of the shaman – guiding us to value internal processes that will integrate our mind, body and spirit. Then we have the possibility of finding a community of practice within which this strength can be amplified, nurtured and enjoyed.
Bussey, M. 2009, Six Shamanic Concepts: Charting the between in Futures work, Foresight, 11(2), Emerald.
Nandy, A. 2004, Bonfire of Creeds : The Essential Ashis Nandy, Oxford University Press, India.
OASES Graduate School (2012). Our Philosophy, Relational Ethics and Pedagogy. Hawthorn: OASES Graduate School.
Shinoda Bolen, J.(2001). Goddesses in Older Women: Archetypes in Women over Fifty, Harper Colins, New York.
Waddock, S. 2015, Reflections: Intellectual Shamans, Sensemaking, and Memes in Large System Change, Journal of Change Management,15 (4), Routledge