Ok so I’m going to say this nice and clearly upfront! There is absolutely no intention here to gatekeep or attack any British person who uses the term I am about to discuss, to describe either themselves or their work. Please read the entire document before you attempt to burn me! This is merely my search for authenticity and it is fully open to discussion.
Shaman – I’ve always had such a problem with the use of this word within my country, as do many other British folk. Quite basically because it’s not ours! Not our word, not our language, not our culture. Yet it’s thrown around carelessly by us Brits as we tread our spiritual pathways. It’s cultural appropration on its largest scale! Or is it?
According to Britannica.com “The term Shamanism/Shaman comes from the Manchu-Tungus word šaman. The noun is formed from the verb ša- ‘to know’; thus, a Shaman is literally “one who knows.” The Shamans recorded in historical ethnographies have included women, men, and transgender individuals of every age from middle childhood onward.”
And Greentara.ie says “Europeans first acquired the term for Shaman from Russia in the 1690s. During the mid-to-late 17th century, Russian-Cossack explorers and conquerors heard and recorded the word ‘saman’ from the Evanki tribe, a Tungus-speaking people of Siberian Russia.”
So as a British (English) woman, I have never been able to use that word to describe myself, even though I do the same work. Shamanic practitioner? Yes. Call myself a Shaman? Hell no! It always felt wrong. But let’s look into it more deeply.
England’s ancient countrymen would have done the same work as the Evanki Shaman within their tribes. Not the watered down, modern day version that myself and others like me do. I’m talking looking for visions in animal entrails here (sorry animal lovers, but it did happen). And when I say England, I mean Albion. **Albion being my land before the Celts, the Picts, the Romans, the Saxons, and the Norse ever arrived. The Ancient Celtic ‘Druid’ seems to be the word that fits the most as a stand-in, but again, I’m talking pre-Celtic history on our lands so that word doesn’t quite fit.
Other than the word Druid, we British folk don’t have a word for the work a Shaman does. Witch? Witches certainly do the same workings as Shamans, but as we all know, the word Witch has such an abused history that it’s seen as being a slur rather than an honoured path within a community or tribe. And the word Witch comes from Old English (wicce) which would make it Anglo Saxon. So I’m talking much earlier than that word too.
Little is known about pre-Celtic history in Britain. Nothing was every really written down until the Romans came. So when someone like me comes along and tries to find a root to what it is they do and connect with, it’s pretty impossible. And due to that lack of information, I’ve found myself forging my own path.
I call it Homegrown Shamanism, and it’s something that I was guided to by my beloved Goddess Morrigan (with a further push from Elen of the Ways). The Morrigan has always tried to move me away from labelling and boxing myself too much as it’s very restrictive to growth. So both She and Elen plugged me into my natural surroundings instead. And it works! If you consider what you see everyday, what energy touches you, what animals and plant life surround you…..those are your absolute closest allies. That is the purest, rawest energy you can connect with. The most unfiltered, deep down in the dirt, unprocessed, natural, freshest, cyclic connection you can forge. The Morrigan even brought me surprising animal spirit allies. Boars and brown bears! What?! They aren’t British! Oh but they were once. And my land holds many memories of those animals within it.
So let’s go a step further here.
Let’s discuss Elen of The Ways. Some cite her with the birth of British Shamanism! Is that possibly true? At the end of the ice age, Britain was still attached to Northern Europe. A vast continental land known as Doggerland, made it possible to walk from Norway, across what is now Denmark, to the Eastern side of Britain. The ‘suggestion’ is that the Northern tribes of Denmark and Norway, crossed Doggerland, following their Reindeer herds, looking for greener lands. And they brought with them their great reverance for Reindeer, and an Ancient Antlered Goddess. It’s fun to note that in the original northern Saami dialect, the word for a reindeer herd is ‘eallun’, pronounced Elun. Go figure! https://www.laits.utexas.edu/sami/diehtu/siida/reindeer/glossary.htm
Map of Doggerland sourced from https://www.dw.com/en/doggerland-how-did-the-atlantis-of-the-north-sea-sink/a-55960379
So when Elen is cited as the birth (or Mother) of British Shamanism, is it true? Is Elen our original connection to the shamanic path? Is the word Shaman actually a part of Britain’s oldest history? Can we safely use it without stepping into the big black pit of cultural appropriation? Of course, we’ll never know for sure. Very little is fact! But I do like the possibility that us Brits aren’t just Roman engineered conquerors who chose to ‘acquire’ countries that didn’t belong to us when we felt like it!
Whatever the answer to this whole conundrum may be, I’ll still walk my own path. I’ll still work with my closest energies and nature. I’ll still practice my ‘Homegrown Shamanism’. Because sometimes, overly searching for a label, a culture, or a tradition to fit into takes you away from the deepest root of all…..our connection to what is under our feet…..Mother Earth.
Food for thought my loves. Food for thought.
**Albion is the oldest name that I could find for England, but there is very little written to prove that it is indeed, England’s oldest name.**