Ben Oofana


Many of us are searching for a deeper connection to the higher power. In recent years we have begun to explore the various eastern spiritual practices. We may have also been drawn to American Indian spirituality.

No one really knows for sure, but there are estimates that ninety something percent of the native people of the United States died as a result of disease and the genocidal policies of our government. Those who survived were herded onto reservations. Children were often taken from their parents and made to attend boarding schools. These children were often beaten for speaking their own native languages and taught to be ashamed of their culture. Native culture was further decimated by other negative influences such as alcohol. Many native people had no interest in their own traditions or spiritual practices. Many of these practices have died out because there was no one to carry them on.

That all seemed to change dramatically with the event of the new age. All kinds of people claiming to be shamans came out of the woodwork. A few of them are legitimate. But many saw an opportunity to attract a following, get laid and make lots of money.

Various forces or beings are invoked during the course of indigenous ritual practices. Anyone who understands these spiritual practices knows that you can not go around the country or the planet conducting ceremonies involving large numbers of people who have no experience with these practices. Legitimate teachers are not going out to share these practices with workshops full of non-natives and they certainly would not be starting their own tribe of wannabe Indians.

Very few people in our western society have ever been exposed to indigenous cultures. Most have no point of reference that would enable them to understand shamanistic practices. Thatís why they can not distinguish between authentic practices and the vast amount of nonsense currently being passed off as shamanism.

Itís common for children everywhere to play doctor. Here we have adults who want to think their shamans. People started making up their own rituals or practices and calling themselves shamans. Practices such as trance dance and soul retrieval began to emerge. People started tying on blind folds and dancing to the tribal beats. Many attended workshops, prayed to the four directions, shook rattles, made their medicine wheels, whacked on tom toms or visualized what they thought were their power animals. They passed around talking sticks and burned smudge sticks. These practices may have some therapeutic value and may help to create a sense of community, but thereís no real power involved and they have very little, if any resemblance to the healing practices performed among the American Indian Tribes or any other indigenous culture.

Some practitioners claim to journey to the other worlds and retrieve lost parts of the soul. Sometimes they do access suppressed memories and emotions but that happens as a result of a process which utilizes focused attention and imagery. Others are sending people out on vision quests. People often tell me about how they went out in groups and that they took water and even trail mix along. But thatís not a vision quest, itís a camping trip.

Traditional native people regard neo-shamanism as just another form of exploitation of their culture by people who donít have the requisite ability, knowledge or power claiming to be something theyíre not.

Carlos Castaneda wrote a number of books about his supposed experiences with Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian Shaman. Castaneda was a good story teller and his writing included elements of many spiritual traditions. His fictional accounts of shamanism bore no resemblance to Yaqui Indian spirituality. But people were so naïve and they bought right into his delusion and deception. Castaneda sold millions of books and attracted thousands of people from all over the world who paid exorbitant amounts of money to attend his seminars.

Even I read Castanedaís books as an adolescent. I was fascinated with what I thought were his accounts of apprenticeship with a Yaqui Shaman. I began to train with a traditional medicine man from the Kiowa Indian tribe a few years later. I remember thinking that my experiences with Horace were nothing like anything I had read in Castanedaís books.

I met some Yaqui Indians at one point and asked them how they felt about Castaneda. One of them responded by saying "Öthatís nothing like the spirituality we grew up with". I eventually saw Castanedaís Tensegrity videos. I stared at the television in disbelief for a few minutes wondering "Öwhat the f#*@ are they doing??? It turns out that those moves were some kind of bizarre modification of something Castaneda learned in his martial arts training.

Traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism have an intact lineage that goes back over two thousand years. There is an established religious hierarchy that preserves the purity and integrity of these traditions so they can be passed on.

Native doctors wanted desperately to pass their gifts onto the younger generations, but very few were receptive. Now there are very few people who truly possess this knowledge and power and it seems that anyone can claim to be a shaman.

Indigenous healing practices have been developed over hundreds of years and involve other forces or beings. Native healers can be intensely powerful and some of them possess various paranormal abilities. Many indigenous people understood how to work with the forces of nature. Hopi Indians, for instance, danced with live rattle snakes during the snake dance.

Indigenous healing practices are very intensive. Most people in our modern society could not withstand the rigors of these practices. Some people are frightened by the intensity of the power.

I lived among the Kiowa and Navajo Indian tribes for years. And then I trained with Horace Daukei the last surviving traditional doctor among the Kiowa tribe.

American Indians periodically went out alone in the mountains to fast without food and water. Some people went for only two days, while others stayed up to seven days and nights. Iíve gone through the vision quest for many years now.

Some aspects of the vision quest feel like a near death experience. I often see a series of images flashing before my eyes. I can feel various powers or beings entering my body. Sometimes I begin to experience the memories and emotions associated with past hurts and traumas. I have also been given different kinds of gifts or powers that have allowed me to facilitate healing.

I later spent time with a Kapumahata named Premaratna in Sri Lanka. These individuals invoke various spirits to assist in the healing process. Premaratnaís head would whirl around as he became possessed by other spirits. Sometimes he would have his assistants position a sword on the ground with the blade turned upwards. Premaratna would then stand barefoot on the blade. That sword was very sharp and would have easily cut through a personís feet leaving them permanently disabled. I looked at Premaratnaís feet afterwards and they were perfectly fine.

Iíve also trained for a number of years with a Chinese Master. The people in all of these cultures who possess special knowledge and powers are very selective about who they pass their gifts on to. Many native healers only take on one or a few healers toward the end of their life. Those who have the opportunity to learn will usually do so through a one on one apprenticeship.

Authentic shamanistic practices have this intensely raw and primal feeling about them. These practices will take you into a whole different world unlike anything you are familiar with. It is possible for you to learn these practices, but youíre not going to find it in a workshop.

I took off on my own right after my junior year of high school and went to live among the Kiowa Tribe in Oklahoma and then I later moved out to the Navajo Indian Reservation. Those who are serious about learning shamanistic practices may have to "go native" and then travel to and live for some time in South America, Africa or other parts of the world where these traditions exist. Like any other field of study, it will require serious effort, determination and years of intensive study and practice to become proficient.



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