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The Rainbow-Colored Neo-Shaman

I am opposed to the neo-shamanic movement which suggest to anyone from anywhere that he or she is free to do whatever he or she likes. I am opposed to culture-theft, and I am opposed to the weekend workshopper going about with feathers, rattles and drums believing that they have the gods-given right to whatever knowledge. I am opposed to these things, but not for the reasons that many may think.

I am a seiðman. I am Ásatrú and have been Ásatrú for almost a quarter of a century. I study people. Partially because of my degree (MS in Communicative Disorders specializing in Hispanic and Native American problems), partially because of where I live (in a small town in New Mexico), and partially because I am one curious son-of-a-buck. I have spent almost 21 years studying other cultures as well as my own. But first and foremost I am American Ásatrú.

I must make a distinction here between American Ásatrú and other forms. I grew up in a small, rural German-Polish-American farming community in southeastern Michigan. My values come from that background; that is my starting point in life. Everything that I learn, and have learned, is through the eyes and ears of one who grew up in a rural German-Polish-American community in southeastern Michigan and it can be no other way. No matter how much I learn, this is still, and will always be, my background. I will never be able to truly see through the eyes of an Icelander or a continental German, and that is simply the way it is. Therefore, my approach to Ásatrú will always be American.

Why Ásatrú, then, and not Methodist or Catholic since that is my heritage? In 1968 I ran across a book of northern Germanic mythology in my junior high school library, and it struck a deep chord in me. For years, I had known that few people (at least the farmers) in my home town followed their religion like the preachers would have them do. After reading this book, I knew why. Their cultural value system, their world view, was not Methodist but Germanic. (Interestingly enough, my name, Linzie, is Swedish, but we had been German for more than 2 centuries.) Now, I understood some of the thinking process in community decision-making, and that there was an underlying beauty to the whole thing. This was something as beautiful, down-to-earth, and as welcoming as any Native American religion that many of my friends were chasing after (including myself, I must admit), and from that point, I was Ásatrú. I officially converted over in 1972. I am and have been American Ásatrú for a quarter of a century.

There is power in accepting our starting points in life. The power comes from knowing exactly what makes us tick, and from not having to fight against those values that we grew up with. By accepting our starting points in life, we learn to work in harmony with our cultural heritages rather than maintaining eternal battles against them. Oh, by the way, the fact of the matter is that we will never be able to completely do away with our starting points no matter how hard we try. This Midgard is not set up so that we can completely start over; it is, however, set up so that we can pretend to start over, pretend that we are different than we really are. Many of us thoroughly waste our precious luck, precious time, and energy in doing so. Maintaining the delusion is difficult, and to completely make it over is impossible. Don't believe it? Then, don't. I am not telling you not to try to live in a fantasy; I am telling you why I don't waste my time and energy trying to be something that I'm not.

Like the rainbow-colored neo-shamans, I love to study other cultures. I do this for the same reason so eloquently explained by Edward T. Hall, the famous anthropologist, in his book Beyond Culture. The important thing about studying other cultures (I'm paraphrasing: check the book out for yourself.) is that by doing so, we learn more about our own. Any individual is at a great disadvantage when it comes to knowing his or her own culture because culture is an integral part of the individual. Only by studying cultures completely different from our own, and through occasional culture clashes or (sometimes) through grave misunderstandings do we learn about our own. It is as though foreign cultures act as a backdrop against which our own shows up with the greatest differences between the two showing up rather dramatically at times.

The rainbow-colored neo-shaman often falls into the trap of somehow believing that their own culture is inferior (or sometimes superior) or (worse yet) that all cultures are somehow the same. This is far from the truth. This is as far from the truth as the NewAge-sewage line "Well, all Gods are just different aspects of one another."  What a bunch of fur-lined crap!  If all cultures are basically the same, then what are all the wars about?  Money? Natural resources? Think again. One culture doesn't like what another says or does or believes, and feels itself superior.  we might all be homo sapiens, but we sure don't think alike.

Culture represents an approach to life on this Midgard, and, although it requires much in the area of self-discipline, it pays to know and understand one single approach well than to understand a lot of them in a haphazard fashion, or worse yet, to pretend to understand one. A culture is a map or, better yet, a classification system for storing and accessing information. We all come with one, and surely it becomes modified through the years to suit our personal needs, but it is also the methodology that we utilize for interacting with others of our own culture and with the world at large. As an information and guidence system, it is not infallible, though. It can become the source of a culture clash. We go to a foreign country and commit a cultural faux pas, and it is at that point that we see what we have taken for granted standing out like an apple in a bowlful of grapes. It is at this point that we can either accept of reject our own.

There does not appear to be a right or wrong. Certainly, we will commit faux pas out of sheer unadulterated ignorance, usually, but we would most likely commit these anyway no matter how much we think we know. We will always see and hear through the eyes and ears of our own upbringing. We can expend large amounts of energy trying to be something we are not, or we can smile, apologize for our role in the error and get on with our lives. Doing the latter costs very little in terms of power and avoids energy expensive conflicts.

I enjoy going to Native American dances and Hispanic Catholic services (especially the secret ones like the Penitentes' estaciones). I love ethnic music and foods. To participate in a baile (Spanish traditional dance). But, I do not claim them as my own. It costs way too much in trying to keep up the phony front. I am Ásatrú, and I am a seiðman. I know my history and my starting point and cherish them. I don't need a fake history; mine is glamorous enough.

Rainbow-colored neo-shamans? No self-discipline, no history, no culture. Why bother? 

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