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  • A Drop in the Ocean
    “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

a shaman1 “All of us, Westerners and indigenous peoples alike, are descended from tribal ancestors if we go back far enough… and they all had great shamans. This fact reveals that the shaman’s path is part of the cultural heritage of all people, everywhere. Interestingly, shamanism is not a religion. It’s a method. And when this method is practiced with humility, reverence and self-discipline, the shaman’s path can become a way of life.” ~ Hank Wesselman

What separates a tribal shaman from an urban shaman? The most obvious answer is: tribal shamans work within traditional tribal settings; while urban shamans work within nontraditional urban settings.


Tribal shamans typically have a cultural methodology at the core of their shamanism, with vigorous guides and codes and benchmarks. Urban shamans usually have to borrow from these methodologies, or even expand upon them. But it’s not that simple. The differences can easily blur into each other.

Shamanism is not a singular concept. It’s multifarious. It is manifold spirituality. Its ubiquity in cultures –since the dawn of mankind– is trumped only by its diversity. Shamanism wears many masks. Some of which have yet to be worn by any shaman, past or present, tribal or urban, warrior or bard.

These masks are waiting for the up-and-coming wayward shaman to use as a tool toward achieving heightened state of numinous consciousness. The only thing stopping them is a limited and limiting culture.

Shamanism is an energy that cannot be pigeonholed. And yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. We’re only human after all, and we need something to hang our hats on. So we create cliché words that vainly attempt to encapsulate the utterly expansive and uncontainable concept that is shamanism.


Tribal shaman, urban shaman, warrior shaman, bard shaman, disaster shaman, cyber shaman. The list can go on and on. And why not? It’s a mysteriously beautiful concept that merits as much diversity as it can muster.

The energy is the thing though. Being and becoming the conduit between opposites, between worlds, between thoughts, between Real and Unreal, between mind and no-mind, is the thing.

Urban shamans just happen to be doing this in an urban setting, as conduits between wild states and domesticated states. And in our time, in the face of rampant nature deprivation, where the majority of the world’s population is living in unhealthy urban settings, there is a profound need for authentic urban shamanism. But there are crucial steps. There are stages of initiation.

Here are seven signs you may be an urban shaman.

1) You’ve gone through some kind of traumatic crucible of initiation:

“The spirituality of the earth is more than a slogan. It is an invitation to initiation, to the death of what we have been and the birth of something new.” ~ David Spangler

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If you see all things as an initiation, then you’re on the right path toward shamanism. Most initiations take the form of a heavy loss, such as an intimate experience with death, a profoundly impactful out-of-body experience, or a soul-shattering vision (entheogen assisted or not) that shifts the foundations of your worldview.


For example: my two most profound initiations happened during the non-dual experience of dying with my mother when I was five, and an intense out-of-body experience I had while meditating in a Kauai thunderstorm. The key is the transformation of the experience and the experience of transforming suffering into wisdom.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb said, indirectly speaking about shamanism, “The modern Stoic Sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” a shaman2

2) You are a bridge between nature and the human soul:

“Nature has neither core nor skin: she’s both at once outside and in.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

You are a glimmering juxtaposition, a radiant collocation. Most notably between wild nature and tamed soul. As a shaman, you feel most at home in nature. For you realize that everything you need to know is out there in the wild stillness and within deep solitude.

You often escape the corporate monoculture of city-life. But as an urban shaman, you always return, taking the sacred numena, divine wisdom, mined from such depths, back into civilization, in order that its magic can reunite the connection that has been severed between the wisdom of wild places and the genius hidden within the human heart.

Like the Disaster Shaman, you are adept at the art of diagnosing and healing nature deprivation.

3) You’re a vital pivot in the global shift in consciousness:

“Existence is relationship and you are smack in the middle of it.” ~ Alan Watts

In a troubled world you are the epitome of the Latin concept ubi consistam: a stable point; a foothold; a fulcrum; a lighthouse in the storm. In the global shift in consciousness you are a beacon of hope. You are able to speak your truth with an impeccability that causes the unaware to become aware, the somnambulant to awaken, and the apathetic to feel empathy.

The lines you draw in the sand cannot be ignored, only negotiated. They are clearly drawn: healthy/unhealthy, courage/fear, and love/hate, to name but a few. You teach by direct example, just as you lead by direct action. In the global arena where the consciously aware battle the willfully ignorant, you are a conscious force to be reckoned with.

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4) You are a periphery-keeper par excellence:

“Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.” ~ Joshua Foer

a shaman3 You carry sacred solitude into a wasteland of commotion. But you also carry sacred commotion into the wild silence. You are both either/or and both/and. You are peripheral. As an urban shaman, you navigate through civilized mind fields using wilderness wisdom; just as you traverse the dangerous wilds with civilized technologies.

You blur the seeming divide between wild and tame, rowdy and orderly, fierce and gentle, Real and unreal, turbulent and calm. You understand that monotony can befall upon the hermit just as easily as it befalls upon the busybody.

Novelty unfolds time both ways, into the wild from the tribe and into the tribe from the wild. As a periphery keeper, you attempt to hold both nature and culture in a delicate balance.

5) You are diligently putting ancient patterns to use in new forms:

“Alas for those who never sing, but die with all their music in them.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

You are busy gathering the discarded past of our spiritual world, discovering power and animation in the essence of things cast off. You are discovering pathways and platforms to higher visionary states. Whether it’s dancing, drumming, writing, or singing, you are altering states of consciousness and re-imagining imagination. You’re mixing outdated with updated, this culture with that culture, imitation with validation, worldly with otherworldly.

You’re blurring lines, casting out hooks and catching outliers. You’re donning new, more powerful masks, but you are willing to discard them once they’ve fulfilled their purpose. The ancient patterns of the numinous are yours to rewire, remap, renegotiate, and restructure into new diverse forms that improve upon the human engagement with the sacred.

6) You bridge the gap between Eco and Ego:

“Civilized man is in danger of losing all contact with the world of instinct –a danger that is still further increased by his living an urban existence in what seems to be a purely manmade environment. This loss of instinct is largely responsible for the pathological condition of our contemporary culture.” ~ Carl Jung

Alas, the ego has expropriated the eco. It has raped, ravaged, and ransacked the beautiful biosphere. Due to nature deprivation, the human animal has become “autistic” or dissociative in its relationship with the natural world. Like an autistic child, the human animal has become blind to its psychophysiological interdependence with Mother Earth. This disassociation arises from the confused psychosomatic split between spirit and flesh.

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As an urban shaman, you are painstakingly mending this split. You are laying the sustainable groundwork toward a healthier way of being human in accord with Mother Earth. You teach how to rip the ego away from codependence into independence, and then how to rip the ego from independence into an interdependence with all things.

7) You are respected as a powerful communal link to the numinous:

“He who is doing his true will is assisted by the momentum of the universe.” ~ Peter J. Carroll
a shaman4
Your soul-signature subsumes worlds. You are free to explore your calling, even your own ongoing inner-crisis and cataclysmic self. Which you then creatively transform into diligent soulwork and authentic soulcraft. You are constantly in grand creative collaboration with Cosmos, and people take notice. They respect your eco-conscious stance.

They see how you may be a link to otherworldly medicine that their busy city-life simply cannot offer. And so you are provided with platforms, stages, podiums and bullhorns. So that your on-fire heart can cause sparks in the dark that light the hearts of others. And oh how they light up, like Chinese floating lanterns floating despite a dark night.

In the end, your urban shamanism doesn’t need the title. It’s a calling that doesn’t follow titles, but follows courage, love, adaptability and humor. It’s an energy: A freedom of inner and outer, wild and domestic, cosmic and psychic exploration.

It’s a profane reaching out toward the sacred that, when grasped, makes the profane a little more sacred and the sacred a little more profane. As Alberto Villoldo noted, “The task of the shaman is not to pursue meaning but to create it, to bring the sacred to an otherwise profane and mundane reality.”

Sure, some people may holler “sacrilege!” Some may whine about cultural appropriation. But their howls are lost on their own too-serious egos. The shamanic energy wills what it wills, channels where it channels, and initiates who it initiates, and no amount of silly semantics, clingy cultural angst, or half-empty ego-speak will fade it either way. It’s too busy singing its numinous song. And, as Bradford Keeney said, “Authentic shamans have always been songcatchers.”

Image source:

Urban Shaman
Skull mount
Post-urban shaman by Swam Boy
Kali in semi-human form by Martin Parr
Urban Shaman by Valerie Bunnell

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    Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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