Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Seven Component Themes of Shamanism




The following is from the mind and pen of Carlos Castaneda as seen in his first book THE TEACHINGS OF DON JUAN: A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge(1968). Castaneda apprenticed under a Yaqui Indian Shaman named Don Juan Matus that Castandeda refers to interchangeably as a sorcerer and man of knowledge. In lineage his teacher's teacher was a Shaman-sorcerer known as a Diablero, an occult spell-master with evil powers said to have the ability to shape shift. There is some controversy if Don Juan Matus was a real person or a composite of several different people, but one or several, most agree Castaneda's observations regarding Shamanism still remain valid. In his works Castaneda says that a sorcerer's power, that is, a Shaman's power, is "unimaginable" and to learn that power there are seven components that must be followed or mastered:

The goal of my teachings is to show how to become a man of knowledge. The following seven concepts are its proper components: (1) to become a man of knowledge is a matter of learning; (2) a man of knowledge has unbending intent ; (3) a man of knowledge has clarity of mind; (4) to become a man of knowledge is a matter of strenuous labor; (5) a man of knowledge is a warrior; (6) to become a man of knowledge is an unceasing process; and (7) a man of knowledge has an ally. These seven concepts are themes. They run through the teachings, determining the character of my entire knowledge. Inasmuch as the operational goal of my teachings is to produce a man of knowledge, everything I teach is imbued with the specific characteristics of each of the seven themes. Together they construe the concept "man of knowledge" as a way of conducting oneself, a way of behaving that is the end result of a long and hazardous training. "Man of knowledge," however, is not a guide to behavior, but a set of principles encompassing all the unordinary circumstances pertinent to the knowledge being taught. Each one of the seven themes is composed, in turn, of various other concepts, which cover their different facets.

I. To Become a Man of Knowledge Is a Matter of Learning

Learning is the only possible way of becoming a man of knowledge, and that in turn implies the act of making a resolute effort to achieve an end. To become a man of knowledge is the end result of a process, as opposed to an immediate acquisition through an act of grace or through bestowal by supernatural powers. The plausibility of learning how to become a man of knowledge warrants the existence of a system for teaching one how to accomplish it.

II. A Man of Knowledge Has Unbending Intent

The idea that a man of knowledge needs unbending intent refers to the exercise of volition. Having unbending intent means having the will to execute a necessary procedure by maintaining oneself at all times rigidly within the boundaries of the knowledge being taught. A man of knowledge needs a rigid will in order to endure the obligatory quality that every act possesses when it is performed in the context of my knowledge. The obligatory quality of all the acts performed in such a context, and their being inflexible and predetermined, are no doubt unpleasant to any man, for which reason a modicum of unbending intent is sought as the only covert requirement needed by a prospective apprentice. Unbending intent is composed of (1) frugality, (2) soundness of judgment, and (3) lack of freedom to innovate. A man of knowledge needs frugality because the majority of the obligatory acts deal with instances or with elements that are either outside the boundaries of ordinary everyday life, or are not customary in ordinary activity, and the man who has to act in accordance with them needs an extraordinary effort every time he takes action. It is implicit that one be capable of such an extraordinary effort by being frugal with any other activity that does not deal directly with such predetermined actions. Since all acts are predetermined and obligatory [1], a man of knowledge needs soundness of judgment. This concept does not imply common sense, but does imply the capacity to assess the circumstances surrounding any need to act. A guide for such an assessment is provided by bringing together, as rationales, all the parts of the teachings which are at one's command at the given moment in which any action has to be carried out. Thus, the guide is always changing as more parts are learned; yet it always implies the conviction that any obligatory act one may have to perform is, in fact, the most appropriate under the circumstances. Because all acts are preestablished and compulsory, having to carry them out means lack of freedom to innovate. My system of imparting knowledge is so well established that there is no possibility of altering it in any way.

III. A Man of Knowledge Has Clarity of Mind

Clarity of mind is the theme that provides a sense of direction. The fact that all acts are predetermined means that one's orientation within the knowledge being taught is equally predetermined; as a consequence, clarity of mind supplies only a sense of direction. It reaffirms continuously the validity of the course being taken through the component ideas of (1) freedom to seek a path, (2) knowledge of the specific purpose, and (3) being fluid. It is believed that one has the freedom to seek a path. Having the freedom to choose is not incongruous with the lack of freedom to innovate; these two ideas are not in opposition nor do they interfere with each other. Freedom to seek a path refers to the liberty to choose among different possibilities of action which are equally effective and usable. The criterion for choosing is the advantage of one possibility over others, based on one's preference. As a matter of fact, the freedom to choose a path imparts a sense of direction through the expression of personal inclinations. Another way to create a sense of direction is through the idea that there is a specific purpose for every action performed in the context of the knowledge being taught. Therefore, a man of knowledge needs clarity of mind in order to match his own specific reasons for acting with the specific purpose of every action. The knowledge of the specific purpose of every action is the guide he uses to judge the circumstances surrounding any need to act. Another facet of clarity of mind is the idea that a man of knowledge, in order to reinforce the performance of his obligatory actions, needs to assemble all the resources that the teachings have placed at his command. This is the idea of being fluid. It creates a sense of direction by giving one the feeling of being malleable and resourceful. The compulsory quality of all acts would imbue one with a sense of stiffness or sterility were it not for the idea that a man of knowledge needs to be fluid.

IV. To Become A Man of Knowledge is a Matter of Strenuous Labor

A man of knowledge has to possess or has to develop in the course of his training an all-round capacity for exertion. To become a man of knowledge is a matter of strenuous labor. Strenuous labor denotes a capacity (1) to put forth dramatic exertion; (2) to achieve efficacy; and (3) to meet challenge. In the path of a man of knowledge drama is undoubtedly the outstanding single issue, and a special type of exertion is needed for responding to circumstances that require dramatic exploitation; that is to say, a man of knowledge needs dramatic exertion. Taking my behavior as an example, at first glance it may seem that my dramatic exertion is only my own idiosyncratic preference for histrionics. Yet my dramatic exertion is always much more than acting; it is rather a profound state of belief. I impart through dramatic exertion the peculiar quality of finality to all the acts I perform. As a consequence, then, my acts are set on a stage in which death is one of the main protagonists. It is implicit that death is a real possibility in the course of learning because of the inherently dangerous nature of the items with which a man of knowledge deals; then, it is logical that the dramatic exertion created by the conviction that death is an ubiquitous player is more than histrionics. Exertion entails not only drama, but also the need of efficacy. Exertion has to be effective; it has to possess the quality of being properly channeled, of being suitable. The idea of impending death creates not only the drama needed for overall emphasis, but also the conviction that every action involves a struggle for survival, the conviction that annihilation will result if one's exertion does not meet the requirement of being efficacious. Exertion also entails the idea of challenge, that is, the act of testing whether, and proving that, one is capable of performing a proper act within the rigorous boundaries of the knowledge being taught.

V. A Man of Knowledge Is a Warrior

The existence of a man of knowledge is an unceasing struggle, and the idea that he is a warrior, leading a warrior's life, provides one with the means for achieving emotional stability. The idea of a man at war encompasses four concepts: (1) a man of knowledge has to have respect; (2) he has to have fear; (3) he has to be wide-awake; (4) he has to be self-confident. Hence, to be a warrior is a form of self-discipline which emphasizes individual accomplishment; yet it is a stand in which personal interests are reduced to a minimum, as in most instances personal interest is incompatible with the rigor needed to perform any predetermined, obligatory act. A man of knowledge in his role of warrior is obligated to have an attitude of deferential regard for the items with which he deals; he has to imbue everything related to his knowledge with profound respect in order to place everything in a meaningful perspective. Having respect is equivalent to having assessed one's insignificant resources when facing the Unknown. If one remains in that frame of thought, the idea of respect is logically extended to include oneself, for one is as unknown as the Unknown itself. The exercise of so sobering a feeling of respect transforms the apprenticeship of this specific knowledge, which may otherwise appear to be absurd, into a very rational alternative. Another necessity of a warrior's life is the need to experience and carefully to evaluate the sensation of Fear. The ideal is that, in spite of fear, one has to proceed with the course of one's acts. Fear must be conquered and there is a time in the life of a man of knowledge when it is vanquished, but first one has to be conscious of being afraid and duly to evaluate that sensation. One is capable of conquering fear only by facing it. As a warrior, a man of knowledge also needs to be wide-awake. A man at war has to be on the alert in order to be cognizant of most of the factors pertinent to the two mandatory aspects of awareness: (1) awareness of intent (2) awareness of the expected flux. Awareness of intent is the act of being cognizant of the factors involved in the relationship between the specific purpose of any obligatory act and one's own specific purpose for acting. Since all the obligatory acts have a definite purpose, a man of knowledge has to be wide-awake; that is, he needs to be capable at all times of matching the definite purpose of every obligatory act with the definite reason that he has in mind for desiring to act. A man of knowledge, by being aware of that relationship, is also capable of being cognizant of what is believed to be the expected flux. What I call the awareness of the expected flux refers to the certainty that one is capable of detecting at all times the important variables involved in the relationship between the specific purpose of every act and one's specific reason for acting. By being aware of the expected flux one is able to detect the most subtle changes. That deliberate awareness of changes accounts for the recognition and interpretation of Omens and of other unordinary events. The last aspect of the idea of a warrior's behavior is the need for self-confidence, that is, the assurance that the specific purpose of an act one may have chosen to perform is the only plausible alternative for one's own specific reasons for acting. Without self-confidence, one would be incapable of fulfilling one of the most important aspects of the teachings: the capacity to claim knowledge as power.

VI. To Become a Man of Knowledge Is an Unceasing Process

Being a man of knowledge is not a condition entailing permanency. There is never the certainty that, by carrying out the predetermined steps of the knowledge being taught, that you will become a man of knowledge. It is implicit that the function of the steps is only to show how to become a man of knowledge. Thus, becoming a man of knowledge is a task that cannot be fully achieved; rather, it is an unceasing process comprising (1) the idea that one has to renew the quest of becoming a man of knowledge; (2) the idea of one's impermanency; and (3) the idea that one has to follow a path with heart. The constant renewal of the quest of becoming a man of knowledge is expressed in the theme of the four symbolic enemies encountered on the path of learning: Fear, Clarity, Power, and Old Age. Renewing the quest implies the gaining and the maintenance of control over oneself. A true man of knowledge is expected to battle each of the four enemies, in succession, until the last moment of his life, in order to keep himself actively engaged in becoming a man of knowledge. Yet, despite the truthful renewal of the quest, the odds are inevitably against man; he would succumb to his last symbolic enemy. This is the idea of impermanency. Offsetting the negative value of one's impermanency is the notion that one has to follow the path with heart. The path with heart is a metaphorical way of asserting that in spite of being impermanent one still has to proceed and has to be capable of finding satisfaction and personal fulfillment in the act of choosing the most amenable alternative and identifying oneself completely with it. The rationale of my whole knowledge is synthesized in the metaphor that the important thing for me is to find a path with heart and then travel its length, meaning that the identification with the amenable alternative is enough for me. The journey by itself is sufficient; any hope of arriving at a permanent position is outside the boundaries of my knowledge.
NOTE: As far as old age is concerned, meaning eventual death, in Don Juan's linage there is a Shaman-sorcerer by the name of Sebastian that in 1725 altered the lineage by making an alliance with something called the Death Defier. The Death Defier was a human from long ago that on becoming a shaman-sorcerer used his powers to try and escape death. He managed to alter his form so he would more closely resemble inorganic beings. There is, of course, always a price to pay. Because he was no longer human in the classical sense nor fully organic, he could not eat yet still needed energy to survive. In order to stay alive he made a deal with Sebastian. The Defier would GIVE successive sorcerers in the Sebastian's lineage knowledge and secrets gained or learned over thousands of years in exchange for energy. By doing so, a new lineage was born. In making the deal, the crafty Sebastian and those that followed, have given the the life-addicted Death Defier only enough energy to survive.
Some swamis, gurus, and teachers said to have been associated with the mysterious hermitage somewhere in Tibet Gyanganj (Jnanaganj) --- a secret place of great masters said to be hidden in a valley high in the mountains of the Himalayas or possibly on the flatlands to the north of Kailash-Mansarovar --- are reported to have had extremely long life spans. Trailanga Swami lived 300 years while the highly venerated and mysterious Indian sage Mahavatar Babaji is rumored to still be alive after 1800 years. Equally of interest is the digambara monk that contributed to Sri Ramakrishna's full Awakening, Totapuri. Totapuri, like Trailanga Swami, is said to have lived 300 years as well. Gyanganj, the home of immortals, is known throughout western cultures mostly as Shangri La, but generally in history and Buddhist lore as Shambhala.

VII. A Man of Knowledge has an Ally

The idea that a man of knowledge has an Ally is the most important of the seven component themes, for it is the only one that is indispensable to explaining what a man of knowledge is. In my classificatory scheme a man of knowledge has an ally, whereas the average man does not, and having an ally is what makes him different from ordinary men. An ally is a power capable of transporting a man beyond the boundaries of himself; that is to say, an ally is a power which allows one to transcend the realm of ordinary reality. Consequently, to have an ally implies having power; and the fact that a man of knowledge has an ally is by itself proof that the operational goal of the teaching is being fulfilled. Since that goal is to show how to become a man of knowledge, and since a man of knowledge is one who has an ally, another way of describing the operational goal of my teachings is to say that it also shows how to obtain an ally. The concept "man of knowledge," as a sorcerer's philosophical frame, has meaning for anyone who wants to live within that frame only insofar as he has an ally.


Although a lot of what Castaneda alludes to in the above is valid a lot of it is just way too complicated and unnecessary drum beating. For the most part, and for those most truly involved, in the end Shamanism is a calling. One does not chose to become a shaman, but "chosen." Even though Castaneda stresses the seven concepts, typically four steps are associated in the process of becoming a Shaman: (1) one is the invitation or the selection out by a Shaman, (2) is the initiation by a Shaman, (3) is the Symbolic Death of the Shaman. And (4) is generally considered to be a "rebuilding" of the Shaman's energy system from where it is derived, the Power of the Shaman. How does one know if they have a "calling?" It is not so much YOU that determines such a thing, but the "selection out" that occurs from or by another Shaman that senses an innate ability that is somehow radiated or felt. You yourself may not even know per se' although your whole life you may have had "this feeling." It just needs to be focused and that is what another Shaman can do --- AND that is exactly what, regardless of all the rhetoric spewed forth in all of the above seven concepts, that Don Juan Matus did for Carlos Castaneda. If you look closely you will see most of what Castaneda advocates in his seven concepts are interwoven throughout the much simpler four steps. For example, number (3) the symbolic death of the shaman, from Castaneda himself and how Don Juan is said to have met his master teacher Julian Osorio:
As Don Juan tells it, just as he was reaching twenty years of age he met a man that cajoled him into taking a job as a laborer at a sugar mill located on an isolated plantation. The foreman of the mill basically just took possession of Don Juan and made him a slave. Suffering undue harm, bodily injury, and desperation, with no other course of action, Don Juan escaped. The violent foreman eventually caught him on a country road and shot him in the chest, leaving him for dead. Don Juan was lying unconscious in the road, bleeding to death when Osorio happened along. Using his healer's knowledge, he was able to stop the bleeding, then took the still unconscious Don Juan home and cured him.

An example of number (1) the invitation or the selection out by a Shaman is a powerful Buddhist Shaman by the name of Tserin Zarin Boo. As a young boy he was told he had khii-ubshen, the Shaman's illness, the sickness that those who are to become Shamans, those who possess the shamanic root, "udga", have to go through. It was recommended he get initiated as a Shaman.

"Unlike the medicine man, the Shaman's adoption of his profession is in many cases not voluntary. The future Shaman's experience of being called seems frequently to consist in a compulsive state from which he sees no other means of escape than to 'Shamanize'. It is often clear, particularly from reports from Siberia, that the man who is to become a Shaman consciously does not wish to do so at all, but is driven and forced to it by the 'spirits', and finally, in order not to perish, takes the only path open to him and becomes a Shaman. The future Shaman, the young man suited for Shamanizing, cannot escape the demands of the spirits, which drive him deeper and deeper into the illness, although he very often tries to resist. He gets into a situation, into a mental illness, from which he can find no way out except death OR the assumption of the office of Shaman."
LOMMEL, ANDREAS, "The World of the Early Hunter" (1967) (source)

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