The function of shamans is to act as a healing bridge between non-ordinary and ordinary realities. On one hand they have a unique relationship with multidimensional realities from whom they receive direct training and initiation. Their validity here comes from pragmatic healing results and not by conforming to a particular authority or practice. On the other hand an important part of their apprenticeship consists in acquiring understanding about the religious and cultural traditions of the place in which they operate. This allows them to make their non-ordinary experiences understandable through the references of the local culture and customs. Failure to do so may be detrimental for it leads to misunderstanding and prevent integration of the shamanic experience.
Shamanism is not an alternative religion or spiritual path. It is a method of spiritual healing, which integrates with the society where it operates, doing its best to avoid conflicts with the local culture.
Neo-shamanism, modern or New Age shamanism, operates in a rather distinct way, in harmony with the cultural and religious syncretism of the last decades. On the one hand this development is legitimate and aligned with the transformations of contemporary cultures. On the other the risk, however, is that shamanism becomes an alternative and exotic form of worship or spirituality, and even a corporate and fundamentalist discipline whose learning requires attendance and certification in schools and institutes.
Moreover, the cultural and religious references of neo-shamanism often refer to exotic or remote traditions, and very rarely to those of one’s place of origin or residence. Most of shamanic courses available in the Western world refer to traditions from other cultures, and tend to ignore, or even ouvertly oppose local religious traditions.
The Australian or Siberian Aboriginal shamans honors and employs the cosmology and tools of their culture, of the place where they live and where their ancestors lived. It follows that a shaman apprentice living in Italy should refer to their spiritual traditions, Christian, Catholic and pre-Christian, pagan, Mediterranean, along with the philosophical and ideological currents of ancient and modern thought.
For the contemporary shaman, however, it is essential to become familiar with the spiritual paths of other cultures, because we are currently living in multicultural societies, where it is no longer possible to isolate oneself within a single culture. Furthermore the exploration of other cultures allows to broaden the horizons, providing inspiration if the relationship with one’s own culture is difficult. However, if shamanism becomes an exotic practice, dissociated from the traditions of one’s place of origin, not only is it no longer shamanism, but it risks causing further separation and confusion. It is understandable that some people may have strong and legitimate resistance or hostility towards their own religious and cultural background, yet the shamanic healing work involves first all understanding where those resistances truly come from and transforming them.