This fall will mark the beginning of my fifth year offering a shamanic apprenticeship program. To date, 60 students have participated with me in some combination of foundational and continuing apprenticeship group programs and individual apprenticeship trainings. Each year, and especially as I begin to teach new advanced shamanic classes and workshops outside of the apprenticeship program, I find myself reflecting on what a shamanic apprenticeship really means and how it is different from other forms of advanced learning.
Since 2003, I have been offering standalone workshops, free journey circles, “teaching circles,” and one-on-one teaching and healing sessions. Over time, the journey circles, in particular, became less and less satisfying, in spite of my belief in the importance of an ongoing shamanic community and affordable access to group shamanic work. I tried several different formats and locations, but I remained frustrated in my inability to sustain a circle fully supported by the spirits.
In the spring of 2012, I was shown the answer. I was in the midst of a deep relaxation during a yoga class when one of my shamanic helping spirits showed up and suggested that I make an herbal syrup to help heal an autoimmune condition in myself. Then he showed me what my journey circle should look like. I went home, wrote a description of the new “journey circle,” and the apprenticeship program was born. The very first session filled with ten students – the number I was asking for.
There is a key difference in my mind between an apprenticeship program and a workshop or journey circle. It is the opportunity to learn deeply from the experiences of the practitioner.
Much can be learned from a workshop or class, and I try to bring the best of myself to anything I teach. Classes and workshops are somewhat limiting for me by their very nature. They are generally of short duration; participants can vary widely in their motivation, level of experience, and attitudes; and there is limited time to create a community for shared healing and learning. A journey circle is even more free-form, with widely varying levels of commitment, expectations, individual practices, and shared language that shift each time the circle meets.
Participants who enter my apprenticeship program bring with them a powerful desire to learn a particular healing path. They bring a high level of commitment, enthusiasm, and respect for the process and the group. Meeting as a private group of like-minded individuals over an extended period of time allows a relationship to develop as a community which is safe and supportive for each of the participants. We get to know each other. This is important for the participants, but also for the teacher.
There is much I don’t teach in my standard workshops and classes because not everyone in the group is on the same wavelength or ready to go to the same depth. Some may misunderstand my teaching. Some may bring different energies or expectations into the room.
Not long ago, I read a description of a “bound shaman” healing ceremony supported by the patient’s community. Everyone entered the room quietly and with respect. As the ceremony was about to begin, the first thing the shaman did was to look carefully around the room and ask three people to leave the healing space. Whatever it was those people had brought into the room with them, it would interfere with the healing work.
I have noticed the same effect with my teaching. The shared spirit of an apprenticeship group, developed over time, allows the deepest elements of my shamanic experience and way of being to come through because of my trust in the readiness of each individual to receive and honor that teaching.
It isn’t that I am special. It is that I choose what to share in any particular setting. I learned long ago that shamanism isn’t about the tools or techniques. They form a useful structure, but the real healing comes from personal relationship with particular healing spirits. Understanding and teaching the depth of what this means happens in the sacred space of an apprenticeship in a way it can’t happen anywhere else.
For those of you who are wondering, I did go home and make the herbal syrup, too – the contents of which were given to me by further contact with my helping spirits. When I used the syrup, I immediately began to feel healthier, and within about two months I had weaned myself off of the medication I was taking and changed my relationship with allopathic medicine. I did not receive a miracle cure, but I have chosen a different pathway for understanding and supporting my health. That choice, in turn, opened up more pathways for spiritual growth, mental clarity, and happiness in my life. This experience wasn’t about shamanic journeying, and it wasn’t about yoga. It was about a deep connection with healing spirits which can only be mentored and fully appreciated over a period of time in a safe and sacred space.photo by Olivia Vanni