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Shamanism Integrity

Shamanic Integrity:
What We Can Promise


Dear Reader,

There is absolutely no copyright on this particular page of this website. In fact, among shamanic practitioners, it is hoped that it be copied, recopied, and wildly bandied about as broadly as is humanly possible! Moreover, some very thoughtful and experienced practitioners and teachers have also been thinking through the matter of integrity in shamanic practice, so I decided to work from a platform that has been spread through the Society of Shamanic Practitioners.

Recognizing that they put in a great effort in their conclusions, I also felt there could be improvement, and at least, clarification. I re-approached their discussion of shamanic integrity with what I felt needed some tinkering, and proceeded to clarify each of what I have come to refer to as the 'Promises', and help illuminate what these can mean to a shamanic practitioner and to our larger project of bringing shamanism back to a contemporary world that thirsts for this kind of sensibility.
 
In addition to the Society of Shamanic Practitioners, I also need to nod my appreciation to my former professors in psychology and counseling for their dedicated insistence that the service of human caregiving be treated with the ethical depth that it deserves. These professors impressed the importance of this on me in a way that is undoubtedly contributing to my efforts here.

The following is not a complete series of principles, for it certainly has not yet passed the muster of widespread shamanic experience and testing, rethinking and rewriting, the kind of back-and-forth discussion that eventuates in a list of principles of integrity that can be roundly accepted. It is thus not proposed to be complete, but as a text that is working towards the nature of what a practitioner can promise if he or she is maintaining an ethical code and performing ‘best practices’ as a professional.

This question: 'What is shamanic integrity?" is for you to test and determine, and which is something about which shamanic practitioners can eventually, hopefully, derive agreement. As a practitioner, you will unquestionably be facing some, if not all of the areas of focus that are included below as you proceed through your practice. My hope is to have contributed to this discussion and to have provided you with a place from which you can start your own thinking about 'what is' shamanic integrity. Such a matter is yours to develop into a statement of your own; a statement that speaks from your heart. Certainly, use this one if it truly speaks to you. However, I present the following simply to help us guide shamanic practice forward as best we can, given where we are in this remarkable period of shamanic resurgence as we rekindle, re-approach, and in many cases rewrite shamanic practice as we step forward to meet the demands of the present era. 
 
With much love,

Steve Serr

Santa Fe, New Mexico
March 2017



As a shamanic practitioner,
I promise to the best of my ability,

1) to work in sacred alliance with the Spirits.
 
The shaman cannot do her or his work alone. It is entirely by teaming with spirit help that any shamanic healing, or that much of divination is possible at all. This is a humble reminder to thwart an all-too-human urge of shamanic grandiosity. The shaman is an assistant, empowered by the abilities of spirit help, who may be practiced and technically trained enough to be able to work with them, but nothing more. A clear awareness of the limits to which a shaman deserves respect helps clients not mistakenly grant them undue awe, payments or gifts.

Even though it is the spirits who have the power, there are broad and crucial areas that only the shaman can effectively address. Because they are human, it is the shaman who can understand and make appropriate decisions regarding 1) the limits of human capability (in general or that of a specific client), 2) the specific intentions and situational conditions surrounding a particular healing or divination, and 3) decisions involving matters of human ethics. Though either the shaman or the spirits can veto any action, it is only the shaman who can maintain responsibility over these three areas.

 The practitioner is always consulting with their spirit help, yet in this sacred alliance, it is because they have such a veto power, it is the shaman who must carry the burden and ultimate responsibility for the ethical, human, and practical dimensions of shamanic work.


2) to recognize the wholeness inherent in each person, group or circumstance that comes for healing.
 
This is the capsule summary of the shamanic paradigm: the effort to restore wholeness. 

 There are at least three dimensions to the shamanic restoration of wholeness. Most broadly, it is the wholeness from our original interbeing with the Earth from which we have become separate, that we seek to remember. Secondly, we have become split off from the wholeness of ‘us together’: the tribe to which we belonged. Thirdly, it is the wholeness of our own personhood, which when lost, becomes the healing purpose of shamanic practice. Whether it is a split or drained part of one’s power, or a part split off from the soul, the shaman and spirits work together to restore what is the expression of a true, whole self.
 

3) to honor whatever form pain is presented.
 
All symptoms of pain need to be heeded as indications that something is not well. Our role is to approach our spirit help to discern what the source of the unwellness might be and receive guidance in how to proceed towards its healing. What is important for practitioners to realize is that what is painful to one person may not be felt the same by another. When anyone suffers, it is their suffering and not our estimation of it that is to be honored, respected, and accepted, as we find it. 


4) to remain compassionate and mindful of speech, thought, and action and their impact.

Simply because someone is practiced and capable of teaming with spirit help to become a bridge for healing and a voice for information from nonordinary reality, this in no way mean grants immunity to the sensitivities of those who are in need. Ethical shamanism is a heart-based practice that demands a compassion regarding other human beings just as much as it demands as a strong relationship with the spirit world. As thoughts affect speech and speech affects action, so the practitioner must be mindful of all of these things and how they impact the world.
 

5) to be respectful of clients and colleagues, even in differences.

A practitioner’s posture of positive regard towards clients and colleagues leaves the door open for the development of mutual understanding, out of which future co-created development can ultimately occur that has the potential to benefit everyone. It is precisely differences in understanding that lead the way to constructive growth. As in any large ongoing project undertaken by multiple people such as the development of shamanism, it is largely because is is nothing less than the collisions between ideas along the way that bring everyone’s attention to the unaddressed matters from which improvements can arise with which everyone can benefit.


6) to work with non-judgment.
 
'Judgment' does not specifically refer to a negative opinion, but rather refers to the presence of a practitioner's personal opinions of no matter what sort. Where unbiased assessment is needed, personal opinions directly interfere with the the neutrality from which good assessment derives. A shamanic practitioner’s personal ideas, expectations, hopes, opinions and feelings about anything are precisely what clouds their ability to clearly access the wisdom and healing capacity of the spirits. The shaman must maintain the 'hollow bone' that is empty of personal ideas through which he or she has any hope of accessing information or serving as a bridge to the healing spirits.


7) to set personal interests or concerns aside so that efforts are focused on my client’s wellbeing.
 
Personal interests or concerns only impede professional care-giving. There is no cunning, manipulation, or ‘what’s in it for me?’ in a shaman who maintains ethical integrity. Because shamans are people too, like government officials, businessmen and women, police, accountants, or representatives from any other field of practice, shamans have been known to approach their work from the position of personal interest. Which, is precisely why promises of ethics and integrity such as these are created.
 

8) to strive to the best of my ability, to do no harm.
 
Never do harm. This is the primary dictum of any caregiving profession. ‘Doing well' to a shaman is resolution to do one’s best. To ‘strive to the best of my ability’ is the passionate strength of the practitioner's intention to be successful, which is one of the primary factors that make for practitioner success.
 

9) to never engage in sexual or business misconduct and abuse client trust.
 
It is easy and natural for a client to want to express appreciation for good work. The shaman, as with many other public figures, occasionally become elevated, respected, trusted, and even perhaps loved. Thus, a practitioner may be offered money, sex, gifts or power from those who are eager to demonstrate their gratitude for what they see as the shaman's work. Of course, what most observers don't see is that it was actually the spirits who did the work and that however skilled she or he is, the practitioner merely went to them for their help.

Clients can easily blur the boundaries between the shaman as a professional, and as a potential friend, lover, associate, etc. It is incumbent on the practitioner to always retain healthy boundaries, especially when the client fails to do so. Only in this way will practitioners retain the public's trust and respect.


10) to maintain clients' right to privacy and confidentiality.
 
The shaman works with intimate and sensitive matters. In order to earn and retain client trust, a practitioner will always maintain absolute confidentiality regarding a client’s concerns. The only exception to this is when a client is a credible risk to their own safety or that of others, in which case responsible and legally entrusted authorities need to be informed in order to protect the client’s and society’s best interests.
 

11) to be honest with clients and other practitioners and truthful in how one presents him or herself personally, in public relations and in advertising.
 
Honesty is the most direct way to gain and maintain a community’s respect and trust. Without honesty, it is impossible to maintain one’s own integrity.


12) to offer fair and appropriate fees.
 
A practitioner's time and training is valuable, yet shamanic training does not grant a right to abuse people in need. A great deal of potential leverage has historically been available to the shaman, such as when demanding exorbitant compensation. Shamanic teachers have likewise been known to put greed above standards of best practice by charging more than was fair or appropriate.
 
An appropriate fee is a matter of balancing compassion with fairness. Unfortunately, many caregivers are willing to under-charge for their work. Care-giving businesses are known to take advantage the characteristic difficulties compassionate employees have with accepting remuneration for compassionate work.

The shamanic practitioner is performing a valuable and difficult function for which many years of training and experience may be needed and he or she deserves to be compensated in a fair manner. Gauge your abilities and the economics of your area (hardship vs. wealth) and determine this fee appropriately.


13) to keep my own life and personhood in balance to the best of my ability and seek assistance when needed.
 
It is very easy for caregivers to follow their care-giving passion to the detriment of their own self-care. However, the strength of one’s ability to care for others is directly influenced by balance in one’s personal life. 
 
There is an anecdote about the respected caregiver who was giving a series of much anticipated talks about the process of providing care to a large group of caregiving professionals. Those present represented many fields: rehabilitation specialists, physicians, counselors, psychiatrists, hospice workers, social workers… there was even a shamanic practitioner or two. 
 
The speaker asked them to pull out a piece of paper and a pen and jot down ten things that as a professional, they most readily recommended to someone who needed to take care of him or herself. They chuckled to themselves as they quickly wrote out their own, special lists of best self-care tactics. After all, knowing this was their job.
 
Then, the speaker asked them, in a low, soft voice, to put a check mark next to the items on their lists which they had done for themselves over the previous six months. The room suddenly became silent as nearly a hundred caregivers scanned their lists, reflectively realizing that they had not applied the same wellness tactics to themselves.
 

14) to consult with appropriate professionals and peers when I have questions about care, ethics or technique.
 
A professional caregiver seeks peer consultation whenever there is a question regarding the best approach or any other significant matter about which the practitioner is unsure. Reach out to colleagues, former teachers, or other professionals with whom you know you can consult in confidence and confidentiality. In this way you gain another perspective, other experiences, and the possibility of dialoging towards the level of the reasonable assurance you need to proceed.

                                      Please feel free to share this with your colleagues!