Overview of The Shaman

The word Shaman has many connotations, namely, medicine man, wizard, witch, brujo, sorcerer, etc but here it is used in the following context :

A shaman is one who seeks, interprets and acts upon the predilection of his spirit and in accordance with the Spirit and Intent of the world, in order to initiate, lead, guide or heal, other members of the society in  which the Shaman belongs or lives. Thus the social role of the Shaman is indispensable to being a Shaman, because without a positive social role, a Shaman lacks the completion and ability to regenerate and sustain not only his own Spirit but also the Spirit of the society of the Shaman. To do this, the shaman acquires power, or more correctly, personal power, which is simply the ability of the shaman to respond to the situation that presents itself before the shaman.

More generally, the Shaman is a seeker of knowledge that gets transformed into personal power by claiming knowledge as power. The shaman does not renounce the world, the shaman does not consider the world as illusion, but for the shaman the world is the battleground to gain, acquire and test knowledge as power by putting his life at stake, i.e., death is the shamans indispensable ally on the road to power. A Shaman is therefore a seeker of not only Power ( Spirit ), but also the Right Knowledge in order to exercise this power, in a limited social context. The near extinction of a "limited society" means that the shaman has also become extinct.

Traditionally' in most societies, the shaman was a purely social oriented, yet not easily accessible person, but with a definite role as guide, healer and initiator for a tribe or society. The role was thus limited to the welfare of the limited number of persons of that society, most of whom the shaman knew and interacted with, and this point is important :

The shaman could deal with or interact effectively with only a very limited number of persons, for a specific social purpose, and a far less number of people for initiation or as apprentice. A society that grows in population without a corresponding growth in its shamans, loses its shamans eventually, and becomes post-shamanic. And even though there may be some shamans left in a society, they lose their ability to effectively provide guidance and direction to the society at large, and at best only for a very small set of people. The Spirit of the shamans, as well as that of the tribe or society is then eventually diluted. The spirit that regenerates or reincarnates in the shamans of a society can be called the lineage of that society.

The social shaman's function is then to perpetuate the lineage of the Spirit within the society of the shaman, for which the shaman trains and grooms potential apprentices to take over the role after the death of the shaman. The new shaman's role then is to regenerate the Spirit by developing and reclaiming the acquired knowledge, and to transform the knowledge into personal power, so as to provide for the leading, healing and guiding  of the limited society, and also to find and train the right person to succeed the shaman.

There is another method of perpetuating the lineage, and that is by reincarnation of the shaman into a member of the society after the death of the shaman. An example of this is the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of the Dalai Lamas.But reincarnation is a tricky process because the reincarnated person is not personally trained under a living shaman but only by an institution. And institutions, as we know, are more susceptible to decadence and corruption. Further more, there are other conditions that affect and even dilute the power of the shaman. And these are :

a) Whether the will of the dying shaman has enough personal power to reincarnate without dilution of the Spirit at the time of death, in case of reincarnation. In case of regeneration, it depends upon how good has been the training imparted by the shaman to the apprentice, for the apprentice to then to become a shaman.

b) Does the new shaman have all the capabilities and abilities required to sustain the Spirit, and successfully interpret the Intent of the world according to the changing times and social conditions ?

c) Does the shaman have the intellectual abilities to evolve the social institutions, knowledge, and moral conditions of the society. Does the shaman recoginise if a vital condition of the social setup has degenerated, and thus requires a transformation ?

d) Are the social conditions conducive to recognise, receive and respond to the shaman and any dynamic initiatives that the shaman undertakes ? After all the shaman can only be as good for the society as the society is collectively willing to give the authority to the shaman to be so, else the shaman is in danger of being labeled as a heretic, and therefore discredited, disowned and ultimately even put to death. Thus the shaman is considerably limited by what the society itself expects and allows the shaman to do. Sometimes the society has become so stagnant and stuck in certain values that it becomes almost a mountain for the shaman to move, to be effective at all. This scenario is all too common in post-shamanic societies, in which organised religion with its priests comes into a head-on collision with a shaman who is suddenly, without any apparent lineage, manifest in such a society.

The Independent Lineage Shaman

There is an exception to the general outline sketched above : that of the independent lineage shaman - the kind of lineage that Don Juan belonged to. In this type of lineage the shaman and / or the cohorts of the shaman are not from a particular society or tribe, but may be from several different societies or tribes.

Whereas a shaman of a specific society is committed to the specific needs and requirements of that society alone, an independent shaman does not have such constraints, however the commitments of such a shaman are wider and perhaps more demanding - and those are for the Spirit and the world in general and maybe to a close group in specific. The advantage is only that such a shaman by nature is not limited by the norms and constraints of a specific society, and therefore is not bound by its rules and socio-cultural values. So a social shaman cares for a particular society, but an independent shaman cares for the whole world, although that would mean going outside the domain of what can be called shaman.

The big advantage that an individual shaman, or a group like Don Juan's lineage has is that it is outside a social system, and therefore not conforming to the demands of a particular society, and so the boundaries of their awareness is not limited by the a set of beliefs and the trappings of those beliefs prevalent in a definite social setup. They are therefore at an advantage in terms of the potential range of explorations possible in the domain space of the human unknown. The ancient shamans of Don Juan's lineage were known to have mapped large areas of the non-material realms of human consciousness. And this was possible because of being insulated from a social system. Which is true for any explorative, creative endeavor, that is, it has to take place outside a social belief system, else all efforts will remain bound and limited by the acceptable boundaries of that belief system.

[One such example of an independent shaman ( having no lineage also )  was the legendary Padmasambhava, or the Second Buddha, the founder and initiator of  Tibetian Buddhism, who had the inherent talent to tap to and learn from the Spirits of several dead ancient people, and so was a self -trained and self - developed shaman ( the word that is used in that specific culture is "tantrik"). Although he was born in India, and if he had been a social shaman he would have committed himself to just the people of India. But since Buddhism, as a heretical religion to Hinduism, was already being strangled to death in India, and Padmasambhava being a Buddhist, did try to influence Hinduism, but not making a headway, and having received an invitation from the king of Tibet, then decided to use his talents for the services of those who would better appreciate them, accepted the invitation. For a region like Tibet to be wholly converted and transformed into Buddhism by one man, that too a foreigner, was an almost impossibility, whose society was a sort of closed one, hostile to all foreigners. Padmasambhava overcame such limitations by not only his power but also due to the fact that the Tibetian king and society, by and large, were willing and ready to accept the changes that he brought about. The same Padmasambhava was ineffective in India because the priests of  Hinduism were totally unwilling to accept any change that would dilute their authority. Padmasambhava was therefore an independent shaman, who found the right ground for his talent and power to flourish and put to effective use.]

In the case of Don Juan, this circle of cohorts, called the Nagual's party of warriors, consisted of a group of multiples of four with each having a well defined role in the party, in which the Nagual (so titled) was the leader of the party.

The purpose of the group was to maintain and perpetuate the lineage as well as the essence of the knowledge and techniques of transforming the knowledge into power and in so doing, regenerate the Spirit in the independent lineage. The termination of this lineage of Don Juan and its dissemination in the form of the books that Carlos Castaneda wrote, happened because the conditions for the continuation of this lineage ceased to exist. It is only through the books that the lineage is known, but what is not known if there are / were other such lineages of independent shamans. Certainly many clusters of tribal societies do still have some remainants of their shamans, although most have become post-shamanic. But of the independent lineage type, it is just possible that Don Juan's may be the only one to have lasted till the 20th century. Or perhaps it might have been the only one. At the least none other made it to the point whereby it could disseminate its knowledge in the manner and style of Don Juan, and that is what makes the books of Castaneda unique pieces of art, intellect, human nature, potential and knowledge.

The termination of the lineage of Don Juan  happened because the conditions ceased to exist where the  new leader or Nagual could develop the next generation of the group. This much Don Juan had foreseen, and so the books served the purpose of dissemination of the knowledge of the lineage that terminated in Carlos. The conditions here being referred to is the rapid spread of technology in every sphere of life, and since the knowledge that is related to the development of the shaman as a quest for personal power is antithetical to the scientific, objective method, the conditions for the development of individual awareness of the kind shamans are made of, more or less cease to exist. Now there are many self - proclaimed shamans, doing the rounds, claiming a lot of things, but in essence the genuine shamans have become extinct. Only priests who are pretending to be shamans are left. 

A lot of hot air and questions are thrown about the "motives" of Don Juan to do so, particularly by the academic scholars of "shamanism". ( the word is a contradiction - there can only be shamans, no shamanism as such, since a shaman is outside any institutionalised  form of behavior ). This only betrays a basic lack of understanding about shamans. The only "motive" that a shaman has is to interpret and follow the commands of the Spirit.

"We are in the hands of Power, and the only choice we have is to follow its course. But what a great fortune !"
........Don Juan to Carlos

Another argument used to discredit the books is that a shaman never reveals the knowledge of his ancestors, and therefore would never do such a thing. Again this exposes the total lack of knowledge on the part of the cynics, and this question also comes up in one of the books that is answered brilliantly by Don Juan :

"It doesn't matter what one reveals or what one keeps to oneself. Everything we do, everything we are, rests on our personal power. If we have enough of it, one word uttered to us might be sufficient to change the course of our lives. But if we don't have enough personal power, the most magnificent piece of wisdom can be revealed to us and that revelation won't make a damn bit of difference."

The dissemination of the knowledge was therefore an intended act on the part of Don Juan as an act that he had to do, as per his interpretation of the command of the Spirit, and he was not worried that it would be misconstrued. In any case, the knowledge is so presented that any dimwit who has no idea about what is Spirit and Intent, ( for  it needs at least the barest amount of Spirit even to know that there is such a thing as Spirit ) will only end up tied in knots, unable to make head or tail of it all, and finally dismiss it as imagination, dreams, hallucinations or outright trickery . Lots of frustrated academicians and Castaneda baiters are testimony to this, trying to prove scientifically that the books are all lies and deceptions.


The Lineage Of Don Juan : Shaman - Sorcerers :
The Warriors Of Total Freedom

Don Juan preferred to describe themselves as sorcerers and not as shamans, although he admitted that even the word sorcerer was not quite accurate. The point is that they didn't really care about labels and classifications : especially of a rigid kind. Truly, shamans or sorcerers would hardly label themselves or would even like to be titled as such, and in any case, these have become degradory terms in this age.

The lineage of Don Juan was unique in many ways.  Although a body of knowledge existed since the beginning of the lineage, this was no fixed knowledge. It kept on reforming and growing, according to the time, conditions and challenges faced by the
leaders and seers of the lineage.  At one time their knowledge and practices were widespread in the Toltec culture, but these progressively narrowed down to lesser and lesser streams till few were left. However those that were left, were forced to refine their knowledge, discarding those practices that had lost their utility, ex : power plants, till the ultimate challenge in the form of the western culture was encountered.  This led to their ultimate refinement : as warriors of total freedom. The practical and social context was more or less gone.  In the progression of the lineage of Don Juan the new seers or modern day sorcerers had steered away from the concrete to the abstract ;  from social function to individual freedom ; from procedures and techniques to enhanced awareness leading to total freedom - freedom of the Spirit.

What do you call concreteness, Don Juan ?
The practical part of sorcery, the obsessive fixation of the mind on practices and techniques, the unwarranted influence over people. All of these were in the realm of the sorcerers of the past.
And what do you call the abstract ?
The search for freedom, freedom to perceive, without obsession, all that is humanly possible. I say that present day sorcerers seek the abstract because they seek freedom ; they have no interest in concrete gains. There are no social functions for them, as they were for the sorcerers of the past.  So you will never catch them being the official seers or the sorcerers in residence.