Recently I did a five-day retreat in “soul retrieval,” a shamanic process for healing trauma. I’ve participated in numerous shamanic learning circles and, like many of them, I was the only male among more than 20 participants. I don’t mind bringing the testosterone, but it does raise questions.
In shamanic cultures, the vast majority of shamans are men. So why aren’t a higher percentage of Western men attracted to shamanism?
The answer is likely to be somewhat involved, but two factors are difficult to ignore: our patriarchal culture, and the way we socialize males.
Shamanism doesn’t fit well with patriarchal structures. There’s no pope, or churches, or large organizations or bureaucracy. It doesn’t have a pyramid structure where a few dudes sit at the top and give instructions that are filtered down through layers of hierarchy. It’s an intensely personal process. In the altered states of consciousness achieved by the shaman, there are no rules. Nobody is trying to control anyone through rigid dogma, or collect taxes from them. That’s a tough adjustment for anyone who feels comfortable inside our patriarchal culture.
The other aspect is the socialization of males. As a practice, shamanism requires deep, sometimes emotionally painful introspection. We’re just now starting to emerge from an age where it was not OK for men to feel anything except angry. Some experts agree that men and women experience anger the same way but that males express it differently—often as a substitute for other emotions. This is socially reinforced.
The Goddess Within
Many cultures have understood that each person: 1. Is divine, and 2. has aspects of both masculine and feminine power. Jung, for example, writes about the Animus and Anima—elements of the unconscious that reflect our opposite gender. Taoism recognizes that everything contains both Yin (the receptive feminine) and Yang (the active masculine).
Let me be clear: Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine have little to do with sex, gender identity, or stereotypical gender roles. Our patriarchal culture, for example, is a perversion or over-amplification of the shadow side of the masculine. It’s not divine, in that it is oppressive rather than expressive or creative.
Divine means that there is a part of you that is pure spirit. Masculine refers to the active component of spirit and Feminine refers to the receptive aspect of spirit. You are both God and Goddess. You could be the manliest man who ever shotgunned a beer at the summit of Mt. Testosterone, and you still have a goddess inside you.
In many of Ken Wilber’s writings, such as A Brief History of Everything, he identifies the Divine Masculine sphere of love as Eros and the feminine as Agape. Eros, to him, is the love of the lower reaching for the higher. It is interested in agency and evolution. It is individualistic action. Agape, on the other hand, is synonymous with communion. It incorporates communion with nature, the community, the body.
You reflect the Divine Feminine whenever you sit receptively in meditation, or sit in circle, or nurture someone who is hurting. When you work to pull others up and stand comfortably on equal footing, that’s the Divine Feminine aspect of you. If you can hold space for another, that is your DF at work.
Throwing Half of Yourself Into A Bag and Dragging it Around
The poet, Robert Bly, describes our psychological shadow like a black bag we drag behind us everywhere we go. The bag contains parts of ourselves that we’ve disowned. It’s like taking parts of yourself that are too painful to look at and trying to get rid of them. They’re never really gone; you’re just in denial.
Wilber points out that every major world religion evolved during the time of great agrarian empires, or during times of horse empires. The masculine (yang) sphere has been highly valued for thousands of years. Work hard and earn your way into heaven, or sit by yourself in a cave to get enlightened. The feminine (yin) sphere is actively devalued and often explicitly oppressed.
When you take parts of yourself that society says aren’t acceptable and turn away from them, you are losing a big part of your power. Shamans are very concerned with power, but not from a shadow masculine, power over others, perspective. Power, in shamanism, can be thought of regarding health and effectiveness. Think of the Divine Feminine as the power of love when you reach down to lift others up. It’s power with rather than power over.
I believe that the patriarchal repression of the Divine Feminine leads to soul loss. This is a fragmentation of the self that can show up in depression and other physical symptoms. Losing your power means you’re less efficient in life, in general. Things like recovering from hardship, or relating to family members, or staying physically healthy—all become more challenging.
Males commit suicide four times more often than females. There couldn’t be a more precise signal that we’re doing something wrong. I believe that we deny males access to emotional and spiritual tools to get the help they need. The patriarchy sucks for everybody.
Beyond that, how can you live a life full of energy, and joy, and creativity if half of you is working against the other half?
This imbalance is reflected in our societal problems with sexism, sexual violence, inequality, racism, mental illness, health problems. In the US, we place so much value on the individual over the community; it has screwed up our healthcare system nearly beyond repair. Rates of depression are skyrocketing, as is the prescription of antidepressants. We are not taking care of each other.
This disconnected state, whether personal or cultural, isn’t healthy for anyone. “This is not my problem,” doesn’t cut it. It is your problem; you just might not be able to observe it without taking an uncomfortable step back.
Beginning to Embrace Your Divine Feminine
Alright, you’re a dude, and you like football, and beer, and whatever. You don’t have to give any of that up to start to reclaim the power held by your internal goddess. There are some ways to embrace this part of you.
Let’s take a Body/Mind/Spirit approach.
Remember that the Agape principle is about communion. At a physical level, this is about embodiment. So many of us are not in touch with our bodies—we don’t get grounded, and we don’t move enough. There are lots of ways to do this, including non-competitive activities like yoga or dance.
For your mind, learn to hold space. Become an active listener. Examine your beliefs and values, and question what comes from old social structures that don’t serve us. Meditate receptively. Commune with nature, with art, with music.
Spirit is all about connection. Connect with God in prayer or meditation, If you are an atheist, connect with community. Volunteer. Take part in activities where there is no hierarchy. Heck, learn shamanism—it’s pretty awesome.
We are seeing a significant cultural shift right now. The pendulum is beginning its slow swing. By starting to balance things more and more within yourself, we start to gain power with one another rather than control over one another. We begin to restore our health—body, mind, and spirit. We begin to move in flow with nature instead of against it. Life becomes smoother, more relaxed, and full of more joy.
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