Book Review: Shamanism for Teenagers, Robert Levy

18 01 2014

Shamanism for Teenagers, Young Adults and the Young at Heart: Shamanic Practice Made Easy for the Newest Generations Robert Levy (Soul Books, 2014.)

The concept of Shamanism being made easy will no doubt raise an eyebrow or two, not least amongst those cultures for whom Shamanism is a sacred concept and the Shaman a revered elder with the life experience and learning needed for the role. The idea that a Halflin* would fit the traditional criteria was an interesting proposition from the author; one that – at first glance – seemed to be steeped in the cult of youth fed to us by western media.

This preconception of an ancient cultural practice being somewhat misappropriated did not disperse on reading the introduction. It is stereotypically USA American in its sales pitch –  noisy and hyperbolic. The author initially tries too hard to ‘get down there with the kids.’ However, I am not from that culture and certainly several decades too old to be the intended audience; so it may well be that this is a successful way to approach American youth.

Levy settles down and begins to explain his premise: ‘Shamanism is a personal journey you want to take in order to help you live a better life by knowing yourself better.’ This allusion to some of the guidance carved on the Delphic Oracle was encouraging. Levy explains what Shamanism means to him in simple terms, pointing out that what is seen in fantasy films is an artistic construct. His discourse on what Shamans do is ample for a teenager who has only just begun their journey and forms a good base to build on by further reading / learning. He also makes the point that his book will not turn a teenager into a Shaman, but it will turn a teenager into one who has begun a journey as a Shamanic Practitioner. In addition, Levy is clear that the title Shaman is one conferred, not claimed, but there are some disingenuous statements which have, in all probability, been inserted in to the text to prevent claims of encouraging teenagers to experiment in ways that are harmful or illegal.

The body of the text consists of a series of gentle exercises which are designed to encourage an exploration of the Spirit world. The series of exercises increase in complexity, both in the journey and the reflection needed afterwards if any serious learning is to be gained from it.  The context of Levy’s Shamanic exercises seems rooted in First Nation American People’s practice, which means that the animals Levy uses as illustration are from that continent too. This might cause a little difficulty for non-American teens unacquainted with either a specific animal or the folklore associated with it. That aside, these exercises are a very good way of pointing out a path to someone just stepping out.

However, nothing much seems to be made of psychic self-defence when journeying, but protection from psychic vampires on this plane is. This seems strange: surely those who bring themselves to the attention of spirit do need to know how to deal with the attention from things they do not want to meet?

Overall, in many ways, this book is a useful starting point for teenagers wishing to explore Shamanic practice. However, it is a book for teenagers. Older and experienced Pagans will either like it or loathe it.

*Halflin ScotsHalf-grown

Book Review: The Shaman Within – Barbara Meiklejohn-Free

12 01 2014

The Shaman Within: Reclaiming our Rites of Passage, Barbara Meiklejohn-Free

(Moon Books, 2013)

This extraordinary book is one that defies categorisation, which may have been the author’s intention. It’s not that Meiklejohn-Free wishes to confuse, merely that she wishes her readers to think and to find a personal categorisation for themselves within their own circumstances and stage on a Pagan path. By doing this, the messages within her book will find their individual targets and therefore be of personal use to those seeking wisdom from her path and learning from her experiences.

Meiklejohn-Free’s book is, indeed, multi-faceted.

The biographical aspects of her book take us on a painful journey through the early years of her life as she grows up in her adopted family and experiences the problems and tribulations of being a soul connected to the land whilst being a child expected to conform to the society she lives in. The importance of who we are, who our ancestors are and how we link with them is a recurring theme throughout the book and it links to one of the central concerns: talking and listening with the heart, not the head. There is much in this aspect of the book that many will identify within their own stories and their own paths.

In addition, this book is a very honest and personal journal of experiential Paganism. Meiklejohn-Free documents the learning on her path; from the guidance and love she found in the indigenous Elders of her own culture to the Lakota First Nation Elders who welcomed her and taught her.  Her journeying – the exploration of the soul, the sacred connections we have to past lives, ancestors and the other realms – is beautifully penned and vibrate with life. The vignettes exploring her connections with the River Ness and the Cailleach are vibrant. Meiklejohn-Free’s account of  meeting the Cailleach at her crannog is a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of the Ancient Ones of Scotland and it lays the foundations for further experiences and connections within the Ancients and Totems of the Lakota Nation.

A book that is a mix of biography and journal, as discussed above, would be a worthwhile addition to any collection about experiential Paganism, but Meiklejohn-Free does not end here. She wishes to share her journeying and learning; and her book continues by encouraging readers to explore his / her own soul, heart and lives. In a sense, it is also a self-help book as life’s journey, from birth to death, is accompanied by questioning and exercises, enabling the reader to explore the particular aspect of life under discussion in relation to his / her own life. Each of the life stages is related to a point in the wheel of the year and a ritual for completing the learning in each section is suggested. These sections are thoroughly explained, easy to follow, and will appeal to many readers.

Meiklejohn-Free has woven many strands into a medicine blanket. Although we do not  – and can not – walk identical paths, Meiklejohn-Free’s blanket is woven with love and respect for those who taught her much and she offers the shelter of her medicine blanket to those who would learn from her life experiences.