Modern shamanism is very problematic. Staunch defenders and rabid detractors. My eyes glaze over. The debate typically resolves around opposing ideas that the word shaman originated in a very specific cultural context so must not be (or can be) used for analogous practices in other cultures. I don’t find that kind of formalist argument very persuasive. In fact, in general it strikes me as the kind of argument often favored by shallow scholarship across the board.

One of the dimensions I think many people are missing is that there has been a sea change in the way New Age people deal with the past. The Boomer generation (often called the Old Hippies as a lighthearted reminder) is still very often focused on philosophies. They choose up sides. They’re Buddhists or Theosophists or Wiccan or whatever. But always something.

On the other hand Millennials are often indifferent to ideological systems. They tend to focus on the tools. They like crystals, tarot, astrology, I Ching, meditation, or whatever. They want things they can use to do something they want to do.

I think the reason this is significant for shamanism is that the word has become a shorthand for a cluster of techniques that help the practitioner become their own healer. And at the same time it’s a reminder that many of our ancestral cultures seem to have had village healers who can be plausibly argued to have been similar to American Indian medicine men. From that carefully worded sentence, one takeaway might be that neo-shamanism gives Americans their chance to copy American Indians without engaging in cultural appropriation.

If it can’t be called shamanism then someone, somewhere had better find and popularize an alternative word. It’s too useful to give up.

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