I am often asked how I was introduced to shamanism so I thought that I would share this with you. It is from Chapter 1 of a book on Eclectic Shamanism that I have almost finished. Six weeks in South America slowed me down a bit.
I am sometimes asked what it takes to be a shaman, and can anyone become a shaman. Because I am asked these questions so often, and you might be asking the same questions right now, I thought that I would address both of them. Second question first. Yes, I think that anyone can become a shamanic practitioner an eclectic shaman. I’m a highly educated, left-brained logical guy who spends his days with numbers, statistics, and computer programs. If I can do it then anyone can!
The answer to the second question is a little bit longer and that’s what this book is about. To get started on that path I’m going to share my journey into shamanism with you.
I grew up with a nuclear physicist. My father earned his Ph. D. in physics when nuclear physics was a new and exciting field. I can still remember going to his lab at Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago (security in the late 1950s and early 1960s wasn't what it is today). He was sending alpha particles through cloud chambers surrounded by a strong magnetic field, and then measuring how the particle traces in the cloud chamber changed . . . trying to discover what an alpha particle was.
What you ask, does that have to do with shamanism. Well, I grew up in a family where something was only real if it could be measured and observed. An alpha particle leaving a trace through a cloud in a cloud chamber was real because it could be measured and observed. Spirit, on the other hand, couldn't be seen, measured or observed so it fell into the realm of fantasy and fairy tales, and my father didn't believe in fairy tales and so neither did I.
That changed when I was posted to Bolivia in 1971. My job was to establish literacy centers in the villages in the South Central Andean region of Bolivia from Cochabamba to Tarija to teach Bolivian adults to read Spanish. I was working with Quechua-speaking adults who spoke Spanish as a second language and didn't read Spanish. I had been in Potosí (13,300 feet above sea level) for about nine months when one Saturday, on a whim, I decided to visit the village of Betanzos, about 30 clicks from Potosí. I hitched a ride on the back of a flat-bed truck, got off in the center of the village and walked in to a small cafe for lunch.
Four men, local campesinos (peasant farmers) from their look, walked over, greeted me and asked if they could sit down. After pleasantries they told me that they knew that I was coming. Their village curandero (healer/shaman) told them that I would be there with golden hair (I had blond hair then) and instructed them to go and meet me. He told them that I would teach their village how to read the printed words. At that point all they knew about me was that I was a blond-haired guy who spoke good Spanish and fair Quechua but with an obvious accent; and that I was hungry. By the way, they had walked to Betanzos from their little village, Tecoya, about 6 clicks to the North. My guess is that they left their village for Betanzos before I left Potosí.
That experience was very unsettling to someone who had been taught to only believe in what could be measured and observed. I had only decided that morning to visit Betanzos and hadn't told anyone where I was going (I know, stupid). This really upset my view of the world.
So what does it take to be a shaman or a shamanic practitioner? Well first, you have to think like John Lennon. He wrote, “I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dragons and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”
That one experience in Betanzos was all it took to change my world view and to help me realize that there is much to the universe than what I can see, explain, measure, or observe. The world is much, much more exciting and filled with a lot more than you or I can see with our 3D eyes. So the first step, if you want to learn shamanism is to open yourself up to the possibility that you can become one, and open yourself up to the possibility that there are other worlds that are real and which you can experience.
The curandero/shaman in that small village outside of Betanzos was don Juan Carlos Medrano Jimenez and he became my teacher that day and taught me until his death in 1996, 25 years later. By the way, I did visit their village and started a literacy center there.
I'm Dr. Dave, an eclectic shaman. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice eclectic shamanism.