Shamanism 101   study shamanism - shamanic healing training - learn shamanism online

Sorcery and Ethics

Sorcery and Ethics

The term 'sorcerer' carries a number of different connotations. One is of someone who is doing something others would call ethically wrong, such as maliciously causing pain in, or otherwise harming another human being. The other connotation, however, is simply that this person is working with middle world spirits.

Just to clear up a misconception, there is no necessary equivalency between sorcery and ethical impropriety. Sorcerers (just like many practitioners who would never think of using that term to describe themselves) work with power in middle world ordinary and non-ordinary areas. 

Many of the associations of sorcery come to us negatively charged. For instance, in the West, and secondary to those many centuries of Christian influence that grew over Europe, Great Britain, and the surrounding countries, a tremendous negative association became entrenched that then extended internationally.

Sorcerers are indeed known for working with middle world spirits, but so are those who simply refer to themselves as shamanic practitioners. The critical issue is if the source of shamanic power is the life force of others. If it is, then this potentially challenges heart-based ethics. When available power is obtained by extracting the life force from someone or something else, an issue of potential harm is raised.

Ethical Considerations
Ethics has become a necessary part of a shaman’s education. For instance, a practitioner may be asked to work with intrusions, which are different from the spirits of non-transcended, deceased individuals, but share some similar characteristics. Intrusions are small parasitic middle world spirits that can settle in, and like the spirit of a non-transcended deceased individual, drain someone of their vitality, potentially opening them up to misfortune. Shamanic practitioners are roundly educated in helping remove these spirits as they help people restore wellness. However, some practitioners have been known to purposefully direct such an entity, like a barbed arrow, into another person. 

Is this ethical? I do not think it is ethical, yet what is and has been deemed 'ethical' has varied widely throughout humanity, both across the globe and throughout time. Many shamans throughout time and still today do not see an ethical problem in tapping into, draining, or appropriating the life force of another human being to meet their particular goals.

Stepping back a little and taking a look at the larger picture, our living world can only continue as such because it appropriates life force from innumerable areas in order to be nourished. The dragonfly preys on smaller insects, humans exist by appropriating the life force of plants or other animals. Giraffes eat the buds and branches of acacia and mimosa trees. No living being can continue to live without gathering its survival resources through the life force of some other living being, somewhere in the world around it. Over the many eons of the Earth's past, this was understood and unquestioned. For our ancestors, there was no mental calculation concerning ethics: balance and health, whether of the whole or of a part, was rigorously - and simply - maintained by the strict necessities of sustainable survival.

Appropriating the life force from the world around us in ordinary reality day-to-day living is necessarily a survival function of any living organism. One of the characteristics of human beings is the degree to which we have brought a capacity for ethical consideration and decision making into what we do. So, although the world can be understood as 'feeding on itself', humanity entered the equation with both power to effect changes in the world and a potential for ethical sensitivity. So, it is with this sensitivity and this power to effect change that for at least some of us, responsibility surfaced for how, when and to what degree necessary appropriation takes place.

Although middle world work should only be taken up by those sufficiently empowered, educated and capable, it is a fundamental and huge part of shamanic practice. And, although working with such spirits carries risks, because they are ‘middle world’, does not alone make it ethically questionable.

To the contrary, such work is sorely needed, such as in psychopomp. When religious authorities attempted to eradicate shamanism, the art of helping lost souls cross over has all but been forgotten.

Human beings bring with them the capacity of ethical sensitivity. In any area of human endeavor, we have the potential to bring this forward. What is important is that we clearly think through and determine our ethical position. When it comes to the work of a shaman, this ethical capability – and the need for its full consideration – exists to no lesser degree.

My position is that ethical shamanism facilitates healing, recovery, empowerment, wisdom, wellness, wholeness and health, and does so from a balanced perspective that takes into account the potential effect on all that might be affected by such work.

A tall order, yes. Yet something, I think, we should reach for.