In Search of Shaman
The term, shaman, comes to us by way of the Russian language, from the Siberian Tungus, "Saman", and refers to the religious phenomenon of "sacred" medicine men who are found in all primitive societies except those in sub Sahara Africa. ( Primitive is used in its strict sense, meaning the first of its kind, and has no connection with backwards, uncivilized or savage.) The word originated in 1698, when christian anthropologists studying the culture of Siberia considered "shame" to be an appropriately similar pronunciation for this non christian religion. The pronunciation "shame-an" persists in "scientific" jargon to this day, despite the fact that there is no long "a" in the Russian language; and in its native culture the word is pronounced "Sah-mun". As a further insult to this religious form, social scientists spell Shaman without a capital S, "shaman". Shaman, is, however, a proper noun and should be spelled Shaman. As for its pronunciation, all the native American medicine men I have met pronounce the word, Shah-men.
Although Shaman are "technically" only found in central and arctic Asia, where they are called Shaman, the phenomenon, "Shamanism", is found throughout Asia, the Pacific and the indigenous peoples of North American. Native societies of South America retain some of the shamanistic features, but the phenomena are significantly different. There are as many variations of Shamanism as there are variations of christianity. Shamanism in southern Asia is as different in outward form from that of Siberia as Roman catholicism is from Greek or Russian Orthodox catholicism; while Shamanism among the peoples of Oceania differs as much in form from the Siberian practice as Protestants differ in form from Roman Catholics. The Eskimo Shaman, of course, is not called Shaman, but Angakot, and his practices are as markedly different from his brothers across the Bearing Straits as they are from the practices in lower North America. And all these practices are quite different from the Nordic, (Shaman) Volva, who existed until 200 years ago. Thus, "Shaman" is not a "universal order", but rather, a general religious phenomenon, which differs in its outward forms, but retains certain common (key) elements which make it the same wherever it is found. Like Hinduism, which was never a religion, but the name the British gave to all the non Islamic religions of India, Shaman is accepted by most Native Americans as a term that best describes and represents their religious phenomenon.
Shamanism is Primitive, that is, "the first of its kind", and either exists unchanged with its original characteristics or in some cases has devolved into "lesser" religions that lack the shamanistic phenomenon. In other instances it has evolved into a Priesthood. Because Shamanism retains the Primitive, "the first of its kind", communication or communion with the Spiritual, Shamanism did not evolve from a lower form as Western religions have done. However once Shamanism originates as "the first of its kind" it soon finds imitators or devolves, loosing some or all of its original characteristics. The devolution of Shaman will be evident first in the myth it conveys, which will relate how the Spirits were once close to the people, but have gone, leaving other methods of oracle for the Shaman. One such myth tells how the Great Spirit of the Night Eagle fled the North American continent about 200 years before the coming of the white man, leaving the peyote cactus for spiritual guidance in its stead.
Other evidence of devolution is found in Shamanism as a brotherhood. Originally Native American Shaman were woman who practiced the craft much as did the Volva, the female Shaman of the Norse. However, women ceased to be Shaman in North America about 600 years ago, while the Volva, the last (known) Sisterhood to survive, became extinct shortly after 1800 CE. It is a rare exception to find women Shaman today, though most Shaman rely heavily on the spiritual power of the women with whom they surround themselves. And this bring us to the question, "what is Shaman?"
Fifty years ago there would have been a general agreement on that question. But a great deal of controversy has arisen in the past three decades, mostly due to the Euro-American creation of neo-shamanistic religions and "white men" who now claim to be Shaman. It is a case of religious fascination begetting cheap counterfeits where virtually anyone who has the requisite amount of money can become a "certified" Shaman; and not only a Shaman, but a "Shawoman", as though Shaman is gender specific, which it is not; and making it so shows gross ignorance. Calling shaman, "shawoman", is like the "politically correct movement" calling a hymen a hywoman.
Unfortunately, what scientists and neo-shaman call shamanism has been greatly influenced by christianity; and many former witch doctors, healers, and diviners now take on the titles of "priest" and occasionally, "priestess", because that's how christians refer to religious leaders. "Priest" is technically a christian term, being derived from "presbytery" (the elders of the early christian church). The Greek word for what would later become "priest" was Para, while in Egypt a "Para" or "pa-ray" was the temple or "Grand House" (meaning the linage of the king) from which the Greeks derived, "Pharaoh". Christian priests originally served the same purpose as the Pagan para, that is, they performed sacred rituals and acted as intermediator between man and the christian god. However, it should be noted that most protestant sects do not have priests, but rather employ ministers as "ritual" and intermediator are usually lacking in most protestant cults. (Cult means an offshoot or branch of the main body of religion, e.g. christianity, is a Jewish cult, while all protestant religions are cults of the Roman Catholic Church, while the Greek, Russian and various other catholic-universal-christian sects are either Jewish cults or cults of their mother christian church.)
Probably the best example of a "christianization" of shaman is found in clothing of the Volva. These once powerful women wore newly killed animal skins - usually a polar bear - turned inside out so the red blood stained skin was exposed to the weather while the fur rested against the nude body of the Volva. Tufts of the fur were exposed around the edges, and she wore a pointed inside-inside out skin hat and boots. However, the boots were put on when the Volva became Shaman and were never replaced, thus they became black with age. Christianity eliminated the Volva, but retained her garb as that worn by Saint Nicholas of Santa Clause, who was originally a Catholic priest.
It is impossible for Shaman to be priests. This is because "priesthood" is specific to a God, Goddess, Demigod or Demigoddess who bestows authority to act in that God's behalf and grants control of the lesser demigods and spirits. Shaman uses the power of the Spirits, but do not control them.
Thus, to use "western" terms, Shaman is not a priest but an "Initiate Mystic", who has been guided by another mortal to a knowledge that touches on the universe, its cause and effect and the Spiritual. Thought it should be noted that technically, Shaman do not belong to the Mysteries, from which mystic is derived, but their initiation is so similar to that of the Mysteries as to make Shaman and the Mysteries separated only by oceans, mountains and time, not by the phenomenon.
Shaman is in touch with the Spirits of the "Way" or the "Path", but cannot compel those Spirits except by the Spirit's consent. A Priestess on the other hand has absolute control over the Spirits. (I say priestesses, because priests are rare.)
Which bring us to a point it would be well to remember. The mystical is not a democracy. It is not subject to mortal commands. One cannot chose to rule over the Gods, or even to be their servants. Nor can one chose to rule over the Spirits or be subject to them. Thus, either one is a Priestess and is chosen by the Gods or Goddesses to rule the Spirits, or one is Shaman and is guided by, or led by the Spirits. One cannot be both.
Despite ridiculous claims of being Shaman priests, or spiritual guides, as we find in New Age, whatever else Shaman may be, she or he is first and foremost a psychopomp. That is, the Shaman conducts the souls of the dead through the "Way of the Spirits" to the nether world.
(The Way, not ways, are the spiritual corridors that lead from earth to the underworld. It differs from the Path of the Spirits which are the spiritual corridors which extend across the earth.)
No matter what pseudo "Shamans" may claim, if he or she is not a psychopomp, that person is not Shaman; and, in the devolution of Shaman, the first phenomenon to be lost is that of the psychopomp.
Secondly, all Shaman preserve the body of their deceased clansmen-women (to be politically correct) for ritualistic mummification, burial in the earth or at sea, cremation, or for vultures or other birds or animals to devour. It is not the method of interment but the purpose for the preparation that is determinative of Shamanism. These preparations are for the sacred interment of the spirit-soul.
In Egypt the bodies of the sacred dead were mummified, while in the Egyptian colony of Colchis only the bodies of women were mummified--the bodies of the men were hung out on willow trees for the birds to devour. We find this also in early Greek myth where the body of Phirixus (who flew to Colchis on the Golden Ram) had been wrapped in cowhide and hung on a willow for the birds to devour. Jason and the Argonauts went to Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece whereby they could communicate with Phirixus whose soul had not been properly conducted to the underworld by a psychopomp. However, because many cultures ritualistically bury their dead, or burn their bodies on funeral pyres, this does not make them Shaman.
The third requirement for Shaman is to convey myth. Not only can Shaman rehearse myth which has been handed down from the most ancient times, but they understand myth and, when the occasion arises, they convey new myth.
If one is able to convey myth and prepare the body of the dead for soul-preservation, but is not a psychopomp, she is not Shaman. Likewise, if one is a psychopomp (as with the Order of the Dionysus Mysteries) but cannot convey myth, she is not Shaman.
However, what Shaman "is" becomes confused by three other practices in which some Shaman function: acting as mediums of the spirits; directing communal ritual and sacrifice; and healing. Most Shaman perform, or are trained to perform these functions, but they are not "necessary" elements of Shaman phenomena.
Lacking understanding of the spiritual nature of Shamanism, or being influenced by the observable practices of healing and ritual, has led some authorities to believe that the most important function of Shaman is to heal -- to be a medicine man. It is not. Life is short. Eternity is long. Healing the sick or injured only preserves the body for a minuscule time. The body will then deteriorate with age, die and decay or be destroyed. It is the soul that must be preserved, and it is only those ailments of the body which effect the spirit that involve Shaman. A spirit which is not whole cannot be conducted on the Way. It will be destroyed on the Way. This is why is with maladies of the spirit that Shaman employs his "numen" or spiritual power to heal.
Healing by medicine and herbs is the calling of a medicine man, not the Shaman; and while few medicine men are Shaman, all Shaman can heal the spirit without knowing a single herbal remedy. However, it should be noted that while learning the traditions of the clan, most Shaman are instructed in diagnosing illnesses and in healing herbs, and most Shaman are also medicine men, which is often (though not always) the first step to becoming Shaman.
It is evident that healing is not Shaman by the custom of those Shaman who remain isolated from their clan and never enter their village to conduct a ritual, sacrifice, or healing. Some Shaman never heal, and some clans have both Healers and Shaman, so that when Shaman heal, it is not as a medicine man, but as an conveyor of spiritual power - numen as the Romans called it, or nu-manna as it is called in the Pacific Islands.
Not long ago, Sabrina and I were at a party where the host introduced us to a Native American, whom the host said was a Shaman. After listening to the man talk about herbs and Native American remedies for about five minute, it was obvious to me that he was not Shaman. However, I didn't want to be confrontational, as it was the host and not the man who had said he was Shaman. When the opportunity arose, I asked him whether he was a healer or Shaman. This caught him by surprise, but he didn't hesitate to tell me that he was a healer and had not been called to be Shaman. He was surprised, as he told me, because I was the first white-man he had met who knew there was a difference. He called himself a Healer, but others (white men) called him a Shaman and he never bothered to correct them as they wouldn't understand the difference anyway.
These three phenomenon, psychopomp, preservation of the body or resting place of the soul, and conveying myth, are the essence of Shamanism. And because Shamanism is primitive, "the first of its kind", wherever the phenomena exists, it will always have these three elements along with some form of Initiation. Unlike christianity, which originated in the area around Jerusalem, and Judaism, which has its roots in the same (wider) area, or Islam, which originated around Medina and Mecca, or Buddhism which began in India (Nepal), Shaman originates wherever it is "the first of its kind". Shamanism is not a transported religion. The primitive Shaman phenomenon originating in Siberia, was the first of its kind, just as Shaman in the Pacific Islands was the first of its kind, and Scandinavia, or wherever it is the first of its kind. It is renewed as the first of it's kind with each Shaman. Shaman is not learned, it is experienced. Yet it is the same religion, or at least the same religious phenomenon. Its myth and motivation may be different, as the South Sea Islanders will have no concept of a polar bear, or a bison or a caribou; and the stars seen in the heavens on the equator will be in different places than they are seen by Shaman living near the north pole. But the message of Shaman myth will always relate the same elements - how the spirits deal with mortals. Because Shaman is primitive, we find it to be the same today as it was 200 years ago, or even 7,000 years ago.
This is disturbing to christian anthropologists, and for good reason. Before mass communication, when christians could, and did, destroy the native religions in "primitive cultures," Shaman could not compete with the technology of the christian invaders. Medicine, food, clothing, shelter and education overcame disease, starvation and cold which the natives had been forced to endure. The Shaman could offer none of these, and became a quirk of culture, existing as the local "priest" of a "demon." Christianity, on the other hand, was promoted as the universal religion with a god who was worshiped all over the world--which of course was a lie.
But things have changed over the last fifty years. Anthropologists, and even the primitive and once isolated Shaman, began to find that the Shaman were not alone. They were isolated to be sure, but there were hundreds of them, all unrelated, yet all practicing the same thing; all experiencing the same phenomena without being aware of any other Shaman. They were as surprised as the christians were perplexed to find that they were not unique to a local area. As it turned out, Shamanism, not christianity, was the universal religion. It exists all over the world, as the first of its kind, while christianity turns out be nothing more than a religious cult that developed in one isolated area, and spread from there - by force.
As one Shaman told me, "If rain which falls all over the world, is higher than our precious stones and silver, then we must accept that rain must be higher than the sandstone pebbles which are brought to us from a single rock found only in a desert, far away."
Simple logic would dictate that if a religious phenomenon is universal, in that it appears over most of the world with only slight variations, it would be far more compelling than religions which exist only in the minds of their followers.
We need only look at the earliest forms of Shamanism to see that the phenomenonis the same today as it was anciently. When Shamanism is compared with the Egyptian religion the only "apparent" difference is that of the priesthood, which relegates the roll of psychopomp to the Neters. The Egyptian priest (of the dead) is always depicted as wearing the Shamanistic leopard's skin, and holding instruments that have their counterpart among Shaman today. Like Shaman, the most fundamental tenet of the Egyptian religion is the preservation of the the body and soul, (Kah) of the righteous dead and conducting its spirit (Ba), to the nether world.
The priestesses of Isis and Hathor are psychopomp who conduct the spirit (Ba) of the dead safely to the Tuat, or nether world. In Shamanism, this is where the role of the psychopomp's ends. The Priestess, however, continues to officiate in the nether world where she leads the righteous dead through the "Hours of the Tuat", past the Guardians of the Way and the demons who would destroy the unaccompanied Ba-spirit. In the Tuat, it is the Goddess Aset (Greek, Isis) and Her sister, Nebhet (Greek, Nephthys) who stand for the righteous dead before the Gods, Thoth and Anubis, who weigh the deceased's heart in a delicate balance against the weight of the feather of the Goddess Maat, who stands for Divine Justice. These rituals begin at the time of death and end 70 days later, after which the rituals of rejuvenation are performed by the Priestesses and may take years, sometimes centuries as one generation of priestess after another performs ordinances to assure that the Kah-soul, will live again.
The same principle that leads Shaman to prepare the body of the dead for burial, that is to preserve the soul in a sacred setting, is found among the Egyptians. The Egyptian Priests and Priestesses prepare the body of the deceased for ritualistic embalming and mummification and they prepare the tomb where the "soul", or Kah, will be kept safe from man and demons, while the spirit (Ba) is absent; and they perform rituals to insure the soul's safety.
The Priest and Priestesses of the Egyptian Gods and Goddesses keep the myth of their people alive and add to it when the Gods and Goddesses dictate. The Priestesses of Isis work magic to diagnose disease and to heal. And while they keep the three essential elements of Shamanism, they are not Shaman as they have evolved to the Priesthood of their Gods and Goddesses.
Although the Initiation rituals of the Mysteries of Isis, Hathor, Inanna, and the later Greek Mysteries are far more complex than those of Shaman, they still follow a similar pattern. In the Descent and Ascent of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we find not only the elements of Initiation, but the archetype of the Egyptian Isis and Osiris and the Greek Persephone and Hades, Orpheus and Eurydice. It is also in the Trial of Gilgamesh that we find the Trial of Shaman, while it is in the Trial of Inanna that we find the difference between Shaman and Priestess.
In preparation for his "Trial" the aspirant Shaman places a head band or head dress on his forehead; puts on a beaded collar, puts a pectoral of animal claws, teeth, or herbs around his neck; places a copper or silver bracelet on his arm; puts on his sacred animal skin; paints his face, and sometimes his body; puts on a beaded breast plate; takes his pipe or wand; and has an Initiate Shaman who will assist him in his preparation (and where drums are used) beat the drum and wait for him to return. This preparation is strikingly similar to the descent of Inanna.
Five thousand years before christianity, Inanna heard the Great Below and abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld, abandoning Her seven temples in Uruk, Babtibira, Zabalam, Adab, Nippur, Kish and Akkad. She gathered Her seven "me", the seven gifts of the Gods, and prepared Herself. She put the crown of the Steppe on Her head and arranged Her hair across Her forehead; She tied the small lapis beads about Her neck, and placed the long double strand of lapis beads so they fell on Her breasts; She put a gold bracelet around her arm, (The Shaman places the copper or silver bracelet on his arm) wrapped the royal robe around Her body, daubed Her eyes with ointment and bound the alluring breastplate around Her chest. She then took the lapis measuring rod and line in Her hand and set out for the underworld accompanied by Her sukkal adviser, Ninshubur, who was Her faithful servant and had fought by Her side. Inanna instructed Ninshubur in what to do if She did not return. The earliest writings we have of the "Descent of Inanna" are nearly five thousand years old, and are copies of much older writings that are least 1,700 years before the copies. But even the 5,000 year old record shows that preparation and Descent of Inanna and the Trial of Shaman has remained virtually unchanged over five millennia.
Inanna arrived at the outer gates of the underworld, knocked and spoke to Neti, the guardian of the way from which no traveler returns. She told Neti that She had come to see her older sister, Ereshkigal, whose husband Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven, had died. (In Sumerian astrology Gugalanna died 6700 years ago). When Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, heard this She "slapped Her thighs and bit Her lip with vengeance". She ordered Neti to bolt the seven gates of the underworld. When Neti opened the First Gate he removed Inanna crown and when She asked, "What is this?"
Neti told Inanna to be quiet, "the ways of the underworld are perfect, They may not be questioned."
At each gate she asked the same question and was given the same answer, "the ways of the underworld are perfect, They may not be questioned."
At the Second Gate he removed Her lapis beads, at the Third Gate Her double strand beads, at the Fourth Gate the breastplate, at the Fifth Gate, the gold ring from her arm, at the Sixth Gate he took Her lapis measuring rod and at the Seventh Gate he removed her royal robe so she entered naked and bowed low.
In the throne room of Ereshkigal, the Annuna, the judges of the underworld, surrounded Inanna and passed judgment against Her. Ereshkigal, fastened the "eye of death" on Her, spoke in wrath against Her and pronounced Her guilty. When Ereshkigal struck Her, Inanna turned into a corpse, a piece of rotting meat and was hung from a hook on the wall.
Shaman Initiation follow a similar course in which the aspirant Shaman descends to the underworld very much as did Inanna, though the role of Ninshubur, who can go to an Enki - God of Wisdom, evolved from the Primitive to the Priesthood of the God or Goddess who helps.
The aspirant Shaman goes into an ecstatic state, delirium caused by an illness, sensory depravation, a form of madness or an induced trance. She experiences death; demons degrade her, take her worldly possessions, torture her and cut her in pieces or hang her on hooks. She may descend to the underworld or ascends to the heavens and returns to life. This Trial enables her to see the Spirits and to communicate with them. But that is where Shaman and Priesthood part. Shaman, like Gilgamesh, Orpheus, Hercules, Sisyphus and Odysseus goes to the Underworld but not to its darkest pit. Nor do Shaman confront the Gods and Goddesses of the Underworld as Inanna did. Instead they meet or confront the "Guardians of the Way", and though they travel the path from which "no man returns", they do return, Shaman.
The Ascent of Inanna shows this difference between Shaman and Priesthood: After three days and three night, when Inanna had not returned from the underworld, Ninshubur, her faithful servant went to the Gods, but neither Her grandfather Enlil, the Air God of Nippur, nor Her father, Nanna, the Moon God of Ur, would help. Only Enki, the God of Wisdom in Eridu, and father of Inanna's mother, Ningal, Goddess of the Moon, would help. Shaman, if guided at all, are guided by other Shaman and occasionally by a Spirit or Guardian. Gilgamesh was given directions by the Man-Scorpion and Siburi, the Divine Bar Maid and he was helped in his journey by Urshanabi, the ferryman who would be replaced by Charon in Greek times. But Gilgamesh, like Shaman, had no God or Goddess to help him, even though he was two thirds god.
To help Inanna, Enki took dirt from under the fingernails of one hand and fashioned a kurgarra, and of the dirt from under the fingernails of his other hand he fashioned a galatur which are neither male nor female. He gave them the food of life and water of life and told them to go to the underworld and enter the door like flies. Enki, Lord of the Flies instructed the kurgarra and galatur on how to flatter and comfort Ereshkigal who was in a constant state of sexual frustration. Their flattery was of such comfort that Ereshkigal offered them any gift She had; they asked for the corpse hanging from the hook on the wall. Ereshkigal offered them another gift but the kurgarra and galatur insisted on the corpse; She offered them every gift She had, but they asked only for the corpse, which Ereshkigal was resigned to give them. The kurgarra sprinkled the food of life on the corpse, The galatur sprinkled the water of life on the corpse. Inanna arose.
Shaman are loosed by the Spirits that have bound them and they ascend by their own power, as servants or the Spirits, or as their companions or associates. Inanna, however, had descended beyond the Spirits and was bound by Death.
Inanna was about to ascend from the underworld when the Annuna, the judges of the underworld, seized her an told her,
"No one ascends from the underworld unmarked. If Inanna wishes to return from the underworld, She must provide someone in Her place."
The aspirant Shaman has not died, but has come to the Underworld through near death experience, a trance or hallucination. The Spirits have no control over her soul as long as it is mortally connected to his body. But when Inanna descended to the Underworld, Her body was dead. Her spirit had left its body and the soul - the union of the body and spirit, was no more. In Greek myth we find Sisyphus dying and cheating Hades, God of the Underworld, by returning without a vicarious substitute. But even he was brought back to the realm of the Dead by Hermes - psychopomp of the Greeks. So too, Inanna was required to substitute someone for herself.
As Inanna ascended from the underworld, the Galla, the demons of the underworld clung to her. When She returned to earth, Ninshubur, was waiting, and bowed low. The Galla saw Ninshubur and told Inanna they would take her in Inanna's place. But Inanna would not give them her loyal friend. They came to Her son, Shara, but he too mourned Inanna's departure and bowed low to Inanna when he saw Her. She would not let the Galla take him. Nor would She let them take Her son, Lulal, who also mourned Her and bowed low when Inanna came. But when She came to the city of Uruk, She found Her husband, Dumuzi dressed in Her shining me-garments sitting on Her magnificent throne. He did not mourn Her nor did not bow themselves to Inanna as the others had done. The Galla would have seized Dumuzi but he fled.
Now Dumuzi had a sister, Geshtinanna, to whom Dumuzi fled while the Galla looked for him. Geshtinanna hid him and would not reveal where he was, even though the Galla tore her clothes, and poured hot pitch into her vulva. When the Galla found that his sister would not betray him for gift or torture, they went to Dumuzi's friends and offered them gifts, so they betrayed him. Dumuzi was taken captive to Uruk. There Inanna had compassion on Geshtinanna, and offered to let her go to the underworld half the year and Dumuzi half the year, so that "on the day she would be called he would be taken, and on the day he would be called, she would be taken.
Myth means nothing to most people, and certainly, the myth of Inanna would take a complete volume to explain. But the Descent and Ascent of Inanna, as it is told in the Sumerian text (not as I have related it in condensed form here) is myth in its purest. It speaks of the precise time when the stars and planets were aligned, when Dumuzi, the Western star which six thousand years ago rose on one day when the Eastern star of Geshtinanna set. Those stars, like Sumer, have long since lost their positions, and so it is that Dumuzi and Geshtinanna, like the Great Pan have died.
Shaman have no power over death. They descend to the realm of Spirits, but not to the realm of Ereshkigal, or Engal or as Dionysus did to the throne of Persephone, where he brought back the soul of his mother. Like Gilgamesh and Orpheus who make the descent and ascent, Shaman bring no soul besides their own, back with them from the dead. Nor do they return with any gift as did Isis, Hathor, Inanna or Psyche. When Shaman ascend, it is with a knowledge of the Spirits of that realm. But none of this is of any importance unless the aspirant Shaman is instructed in the myth and tradition of his people and can rely on that myth in the realm of Spirits.
The Priestess descends to the Goddesses, and in the rare case as with Hathor, ascends by Her own power. Most, like Inanna, ascend by the power of their God or Goddess.
There is nothing even remotely similar to this in Buddhism, except in Lamaism. Tibetan Buddhist (Lamas) not only claim a close relationship with Shaman, but claim there are paths leading from the Himalayan mountains to North America which the Lama travel to communicate with Shaman. There are Paths, though I dispute their description of them, for I have gone on the "Way" of the Spirits and made the descent to the underworld, where no Shaman has ever returned. I have also walked the "Path" of the Spirits on which I have seen Native American Shaman, Oriental Shaman, Mongolian Shaman and even European Shaman from the Ural Mountains. I have never seen a Buddhist monk or a Lama on the path of Spirits. Since my descent and ascent, I have spoken with two Native American Shaman about the experience. It became immediately apparent that they and I have been on the same Path and seen many of the same things. They too had seen other Shaman on the Path, but never a Buddhist or Lama. These two Shaman are in communication with other Shaman in North America, and no Shaman they know has ever seen a Buddhist or Lama on the Path - they laugh at the idea, yet these are the Shaman with whom the Lamas claim to commune. If Lamas walk the Path, they do so as Shaman and not as Buddhists or Lamas.
I also find it interesting that I have never met a Buddhist who can describe any part of the Path accurately, nor even come close to being able to describe the Underworld. If they could, they would not be Buddhists. But again, Lamaism is significantly different from other forms of Buddhism.
This does not mean that Lamas are not closely associated with Shaman. After all, many of its concepts are derived from the ancient Tibetan Bon religion, which the Buddhist destroyed. Lamaism is, therefore, either a pious deception (claiming to by Buddhist, while being something quite different) or a devolution of Shaman mixed with Buddhism. But Buddhism itself is not what its practitioners claim it to be.