Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 12.3.09

Paying for Spirit Work
Money and gifts are just forms of energy
By David Lang

As one of Eugene’s shamanic practitioners, who charges for his work, I felt it appropriate to offer a different perspective and a response to Thomas Lightning Bolt’s letter regarding shamanism in our modern culture (11/19).

There are several statements in his letter that I feel should be addressed.

I certainly agree that the Arizona sweat lodge tragedy is deeply saddening and that it speaks to the need for appropriate knowledge and training. 

And, of course, I agree that people need to stop exploitation in any form. It is certainly true that the Native American culture(s) have been horrendously exploited and that passions run high regarding their spiritual practices.

It should be noted that Native American shamanism is only one of many different kinds of shamanism practiced throughout the world though the word “shaman” is not always used to describe the healers who practice it. “Shaman” is a gender neutral Siberian word (which is also used to describe singular and plural). 

For example, there are Siberian, Tibetan, Peruvian, and Celtic shamanism just to name a few. Every culture has, or has had, people who in one way or another were called by Spirit to do healing and guidance for individuals and the tribe. Our culture’s (American/European) shamanism could be loosely collected under the title of modern shamanism.

In modern shamanism many of the practitioners come from the other traditions, or more importantly, come from trainings in several different traditions. It should be noted that an important aspect of modern shamanism is that it is a living, evolving tradition — this means that new tools and techniques are being discovered and learned and older modalities are being adapted to suit modern dilemmas.

It should also be noted that equating modern shamanism with New Age spirituality is incorrect. Certainly there are concepts, techniques, and elements of value that each share and grow from but they are not synonymous. 

Thomas is certainly correct that work in the shamanic realms has its dangerous aspects. And shamanic practitioners are aware of and trained to handle these aspects. Any appropriately run workshop, certainly all of them that I have attended, teaches utmost respect and care when traveling the shamanic/spiritual realms.

Some cultures are shamanist cultures in that most everyone in the tribe knows how to do shamanic traveling and work. This clearly demonstrates that the tools and ways of shamanism can be used by anyone not just the shaman. It is a matter of training. In those cultures they still have shaman — they are there for the “heavy lifting.”

In fact, Spirit has its own way of choosing who does this work as a vocation. This calling could be and often is in the form of a crisis experience that the shaman-to-be has to heal/resolve on his or her own — a kind of trial by fire. But it could also come in the form of a workshop flyer offering training in shamanism that triggers that surge of energy, the soul’s tingle, that tells us we have just encountered something important.

Spirit is very creative, obviously, and who are we to argue with Spirit’s choice or choosing process? Like many traveling this amazing path, I did not choose to do this at high school career day. 

Modern shamanism is not about exploiting. Modern shamanism certainly calls upon various sources to bring these powerful healing techniques into modern society — a place, many will agree, where there has been a dangerous disconnection from the spiritual planes.

Regarding payment for spirit based work, it is true that this is a BIG issue around shamanism and other spiritually based healing systems. (Actually money is a BIG issue, for various reasons, in most people’s lives.) 

Different cultures have different ways of handling the “payment” side of shamanic/spirit work. 

The shamanic practitioner does not sell ceremony, Creator’s blessings or power. The practitioner is exchanging (selling) his or her energy, effort, and risk in exchange for traveling in the other realms for the purpose of receiving a boon from Spirit on their behalf, which may include ceremony, blessings, and gifts of power. 

 So what are my perspectives regarding receiving payment for work in these realms? 

 1. Sometimes a shaman is specifically proscribed, by Spirit, from charging for their work. That is a conversation between themselves and Spirit.

 2. It is common, even in cultures that do not allow the shaman to charge for his/her work, that the shaman will accept a gift — food, a meal, a blanket, a chicken, eggs, a new roof on his/her house, etc. 

 The gift is made to Spirit with the shaman being the “keeper” of the gift. Is this or is this not a “payment”? A case could be made either way.

 3. Money and gifts are just forms of energy. The universe is completely composed of energy, in various forms, being exchanged in various ways. It is the natural flow of things. 

 This view of “money and gifts as energy” puts the shaman into the mainstream flow of energy and forces him/her to come to grips with the truth of that flow. A flow which has currents of avarice and currents of generosity either of which can punch holes in your “boat.”

 4. A common idea is that keeping money out of the picture will keep scam artists out of this work. However it does not keep out the scam artists who are into power and control (look at Jimmy Jones and David Koresch). Of course people will still get stung by scam artists. But this work tends to be self-culling. Scam artists eventually are weeded out by the fact that they are not facilitating any transformations for people. The word gets out and people stop coming to work with them. 

Also, I cannot imagine that the shaman who-do-not-accept-payment are doing their shamanic work on a full time basis. If they are working full time as shaman then someone has to be “paying” their way in the world even if it is in the form of a partner who has the day job to make ends meet.

5. It has also been my experience that people who pay for their sessions tend to have more success with the work. In the Western Culture there is the underlying belief that “you get what you pay for.” You gain “ownership” of the work by exchanging a piece of energy (money from your hard work at the day job) for the energy of the shamanic session. 

6. Ultimately, I believe, it comes down to intention. 

If the intention is to work full time with Spirit to heal, help, guide, transform, celebrate, then what is wrong with charging for the energy used to do this? After all, shamanic work is not effortless, risk free, pain free, nor sacrifice free. And, like others, shaman still have to make ends meet. 

Given that shaman still have to make ends meet, and given that some form of energy gift should be offered to balance the gift of the work, then money is the most universal and useful “gift of energy” in this time and in this culture. 

The bottom line (to pun with a financial concept) is that Spirit work is not really a great way to make lots of money. Making some money allows practitioners to continue offering their piece of the Spiritual Path on a full time basis. 

If the intention is simply to make money, then I’d suggest working for the U.S. Mint. 


David Lang of Eugene can be reached at 683-3756 or at A much shorter version of this column ran as a letter in the print version of EW this week.