Wild, strong and free

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?

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Indian dancer c.Finnian Wrigley 2014

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.

References mentioned

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

5 thoughts on “Wild, strong and free

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  1. Very thought-provoking posts, Sarah. Thank you for writing about the shamans. Personally, I aim to be wild, strong and free! In contrast, my well-behaved sister-in-law is a midwife and also valued her experience as she stayed, both with her parents and her grandmother, as they died at various times. I told her about Terry Pratchett’s concept that some people work on the edge of the world, acting as guides between the worlds. She concurred, feeling that just as much as she welcomes new life as a baby is born, she could feel the farewell as the old life slipped away. Margin dwelling is a real presence in our communities and, as such, may not only be counted upon to welcome new ideas and beings but also to let go those ideas that no longer serve.

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    1. Thank you for your reflections Victoria.
      I love Terry Pratchett’s visualization of the edge as world. Calls to mind Parker J.Palmer’s words in this case related to how our position on the earth changes with age – he is in conversation with young people:“I feel like I’m standing somewhere down the curvature of the earth, while you’re close to the top of that curve looking at a horizon I can’t see.” Another spatial perspective with the potential to liberate. Also it is worth reflecting on the freedom found in leaving and staying.

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  2. I want to know how you are able to recontextualise the historical and contemporary view of the Shaman as anything but male and am curious as to how it can be transformed into any reading that really includes female, feminine or feminist.

    A specialist midwife in any other name could be called in the West, a Sensitive New Age Obstetrician with all the implications for power, maleness, privilege and narcissism that is so easily demonstrated in modern capitalism and the disrespect for the climate emergency.

    Midwives and wise women (independent women) have been the margin dwellers and subject to much violence and perverse cruelty. I have yet to understand the Feminine qualities of the Shaman in any other way as renaming and while I hope for the graceful riding of waves of chaos I would argue that women have lived within the turmoil of complexity, catastrophe, the inevitable distraction and time consumption that is required in the construction and maintenance of self protection from gendered violence in all its forms. Ultimately all this is draining on women’s creativity and resourcefulness.

    Ashish Nandy’s quote seems weirdly patriarchal for a new way of working for love and the well being of all.

    “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.”

    Where is Woman? Is she still symbolised and incorporated into ‘The Man’?

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    1. A millennia of patriarchy cannot be disappeared , or erased from the human psyche of women or men and that is certainly not my intention here. Historical patterns of systemic domination and injustice makes any exploration and possibility of wholeness an interesting quest , and sometimes an impossibility to imagine.

      I offer the shaman as a forgotten voice, not embedded in contemporary culture. A voice that has mostly been annihilated. A relic of our historical past, belonging to an earlier stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And yet in the search for an integral human consciousness there is a valuing of the magical and mystical – some examples are mentioned in my Perceiving Wholes post. The Shamanic School of Womancraft, the Circle Way wilderness quests and Jean Shinoda’s Goddess books are a few of many examples of current offerings that facilitate women reclaiming the shaman’s power through the liberating experiences of inner journeying.

      Thank you for your considered comments.

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      1. It’s a fascinatingly complex line of questioning and thanks for bringing into another arena and time of our lives – you and I and probably several more of your readers having been involved in the 1980’s Australian women’s movement. Sort of another turn at it (like your profile picture). As a relic and an everyday structure of the Anthropocene with all its blinded, secret and privileged knowledge impeded within it, language and terminology creates a problem for us looking forward.

        I was going to suggest that you are encouraging us to reclaim the shaman as an entry point for men and women to have the potency and insight of the spiritual fringe dweller but on consideration, isn’t it is the mostly killed off voice that was conquered by the king and priest? Isn’t it the forgotten voice of the ripped off and mostly massacred with South American heritage rather than a relic from Anglo – European past.?

        Is it really an earlier stage of evolution of human consciousness and not one beaten to a pulp, now resurrecting?
        This is the resilience, courage and power and actions of solidarity, alignment and personal integrity.

        I am a little embarrassed to say most of my understanding of shaman and the shamanic has been interpreted through books and films – think Carlos Castenada, Lyn Andrews,(Medicine Woman) and a new age questing (shamanic drumming, dream catchers, sweat lodges, etc); attempts that in the end turned into attempts ‘spiritual’ businesses and marketing opportunities and a dusting of exposure by organisations such as Be The Change.

        Is there a pairing feminine equivalent to shaman ? or is this partly why you suggest it able to be claimed?
        another terms from anglo heritage might be witch and wizard. Would you use wizard to include witch in the same way you want to use shaman? Isn’t this part of the broad brush feminist agenda?

        Australia has a few other terms that allow for a more neutral gender reading – medicine man/ woman? clever man/woman? I hear these words as specific to the holder. I dont have to work hard to reorder and interpret sexist language and stereotype

        thanks again for the opportunity to write and think like this its been a long time between drinks and it tastes good.

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