I know it’s not politically correct to say what I am about to say, but say it I must. “Beware the plastic shaman!” What is a plastic shaman? A plastic shaman is a person who represents him or herself as a traditional spiritual leader without the tradition, culture, or knowledge to back it up.

Like moths to a flame, broken, desperate, or even just curious people are attracted to the light. The ease of entry to rituals, ceremonies, classes, and retreats can make them an irresistible draw. Before you plunk down your money, here are some things to think about.

Is this a plastic shaman?

  • Did the person pay for their skills from workshops and classes? Most medicine people from animistic cultures were chosen for this work. There are different ways that this happens, but they don’t go seeking it out. It’s generally a reluctant calling. The learning isn’t formal. A local medicine person teaches them or spirits give them the skills. Training takes years, not days.
  • Does the person call himself a shaman or some other lofty title? Most medicine people shy away from calling attention to their skills. They don’t separate themselves from others or say that because X, Y, and Z happened to them, or because they have A, B, and C traits, they are shaman. For most medicine people, it’s all about the work. It’s not about them or titles. Effectiveness speaks for itself.
  • Does the person charge money? In most indigenous communities, healing is a gift. Medicine is free. It’s not their livelihood. This is not to say that a legitimate, effective medicine person won’t charge you. This is just saying that if you are charged a hefty fee, you may ask yourself just how traditional this healing is.
  • Is the person an “adopted” or “spiritual” or “past life” member of the community she says she represents? The western world likes to compartmentalize everything. When pharmaceutical companies come up with drugs, they study plants, find the active ingredient that creates an effect, then make a bio-identical copy to patent and mass produce. When doctors diagnose and treat, they look at whether the problem is physical or mental. Then they look at where the symptoms show up and treat those symptoms. That’s not how indigenous medicine works. They look at the whole person. That whole person is seen from the perspective of a being within the universe. You can’t narrow things down to bits that you think create the “pow” effect and then isolate the pow. That’s what western shamanism classes do. If you didn’t grow up in the culture, you can’t understand the medicine well enough to make it work the way it’s designed to work or pass it along to others because the medicine can’t be separated from the culture. Just because you sing the right song, drum the right speed, and do the right moves doesn’t mean that a healing happened. It’s spirit healing. Why would Celtic spirits help you if you have no connection with them?
  • Is the healing practice the creator’s invention or a mishmash of this and that? I can’t say that someone can’t come up with something new. It must originate somewhere, but I’d beware of people who study a little of this and that, but know nothing well enough to use it as a single system. Take for example energy healing. I know a few energy healing practices. In every single one, as I was learning, I was always told, “Do not mix and match.” I have to tell you it was tempting! You think you know a little something and figure that mixing them will make it work better. In most cases, it doesn’t. Systems develop because they work. When you mix and match, you can get poor outcomes or even do something that is damaging.
  • Is your healer more in another world than this one? Healthy spiritual leaders are grounded people. They aren’t flying off to Venus, holding conversations with their guides as they are talking to you, and using their angels to make every trivial decision. If the person is not grounded, he can’t be an effective healer for someone else.
  • Do you need drugs to be healed? One of the reasons for going to a spiritual healer is to get away from drugs. While there are traditions that use drugs in ceremonies, the shaman use them to assist with their visions, not the people who are receiving the healing. Think about that!
  • Are your symptoms used as validation that you are getting better? For example, are you told that headaches, bad dreams, pain, anxiety or things like that are signs that you are awakening? Sometimes you actually do get worse temporarily before you get better, but healing doesn’t bring on new symptoms.
  • Are you being encouraged to put all your faith in this healer? Is your healer a “guru” or “enlightened master” with a fan base of devotees? If so, the healer may be in it for ego reasons rather than true healing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t have healing power. It just suggests that you might want to be careful. People with fragile egos may want you to stick around so that they have a continuous stream of praise. A healthy healer facilitates the healing then says good-bye.
  • Does the medicine person focus on material outcomes as signs of success? For example, does she promise that you will attract happiness, wealth, and love? Many spiritually balanced people do have happiness, wealth, and love, but it’s a byproduct of their balance, not the goal. If your teacher is focusing on material things, you might have to ask just how spiritual the focus is.
  • Is sex part of the treatment? This is a definite boundary violation. No healing practice requires you to have sex with the healer. NONE. NONE. NONE.
  • Does your shaman walk the path of a person that you’d like to emulate? Is she generous, warm, kind, patient, and genuine? If she gossips, is materialistic, is short tempered, or doesn’t display the attributes of a healthy, grounded, person, ask yourself if you want to put your health in that person’s hands. Everyone can have a bad day. I am not saying she has to walk on water, but if your healer hasn’t attained the state of wellness that you want, you have to ask yourself if she can take you there.

I see a lot of people who are looking for something that they don’t yet have. Often they can’t even name what they are after. They sometimes tell me of the people they’ve gone to for help or the things they’ve tried to get what they are looking for. Unfortunately many of them get taken advantage of. I can’t say whether the people doing it are doing it consciously or if they believe they really are shaman. I can only say that if any of the above is happening, you might be dealing with a plastic shaman.

Fortunately google is your friend! Check the person out online. See what others have said about him or her. Ask questions. Look for results. Do a gut check. What does your body say about this? There are a lot of great healers out there who are outside the mainstream. There are also a lot of people who want to prey on people who need a miracle or just want to grow beyond their current limitations. Do your homework. Listen to your gut. The right match is out there.