Where can I find a spiritual leader to study under?

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QUESTION
My guess is that you receive dozens upon dozens of emails from people searching for cure alls…I’m 37 and have found a point in my life where I have found that modern technology, medicine and Spirituality just don’t fit my needs. My goal, although rather simple is proving difficult. I’m hoping to find a tribe of Midewiwin / Ojibwa, more so an Elder or Spirital Healer to learn more from. Although modern world “rules” tend to look the other way, I want to look into the eyes of those who have kept the ways of old alive. All I’m looking for is a contact name and location.

I’ll travel wherever and whenever to have the opportunity to “take a step back” to go forward. Some things are no longer produced such as our dear natural resources that mother earth provides us. I don’t see new earth being created yet I see construction (which leads to destruction) everywhere.

My goal is to learn more of Spirituality and Native American medicine. Not to profit, but to expand my knowlegde and share with my family. My beliefs would never allow me to abuse anything gained from such an encounter. I’m not the person looking to profit monetarily. Items of intrinsic value do not appeal to me. Learning and expanding my mind does.
I sincerely hope you may be able to assist me in locatiing what I am looking for…please don’t simply delete this email. I promise you my desire is sincere.

–Submitted by Dan B.


Answer: While I know medicine people from many tribes, I don’t personally know any Ojibwa medicine people. Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t provide an introduction over the internet. But you seem sincere, so here are a few words of advice. I don’t mean to offend you, but I must speak bluntly in order to answer your question.

First, let me tell you where you won’t find spiritual leaders you can trust and learn from.

You are correct, spirituality should never be sold for profit. That’s one of the golden rules. So the people you find on the internet who are selling seminars on spiritual subjects and native ways, spiritual objects that are supposedly blessed, who charge a fee or “donation” to let you participate in a retreat involving ceremonies such as sweat lodges, vision quests, and dances, or who sell “magic” spells or instructions telling you how to do native ceremonies, are most likely not real medicine people.

Most real medicine people won’t even call themselves medicine men or women, although other people will call them that. Be wary of anyone who calls himself or herself a medicine man and asks for money to teach you what they know.

A person who has rediscovered their Indian heritage as an adult is a seeker, not a teacher. They are not qualified to speak authoritatively about Native American religion or culture, for they weren’t raised that way and don’t have any more knowledge about it than anyone else learning about it second-hand–including you.

There are no shamans in the native american cultures, so when a guru calls him/herself a shaman and also calls their religion native american spirituality, that should set off loud bells in your warning system. Shamanism is a Siberian mystic tradition.

While most medicine men are also healers, well versed in the plants that heal, not all healers are medicine men. We call those people herbalists in the modern world.

Like the physician’s oath, another rule of true medicine people is to do no harm. When people dabble in ceremonies they don’t fully understand, or only have partial knowledge of, or they’ve been misinformed about, or do them out of sequence or at the wrong time, or for wrong reasons, (like for personal gain or for personal recognition,for example), bad things can be unleased not just on you, but on the whole world, instead of the good that is sought. So be very careful who you trust. Don’t participate in ceremonies you don’t fully understand. Don’t blindly believe what one person tells you unless you can verify the information with other sources not connected to that person. Especially if they proclaim themselves to be medicine people.

You can’t become a catholic priest or buddhist monk in a week or weekend, so don’t believe you can become a medicine man on one of those retreats. It takes years to study to be a medicine man. In fact, it’s a lifelong learning experience.

If you are reading this page because you are a person in need of religious and spiritual guidance, I urge you strongly to seek out some religions that are evangelistic rather than cultural (one of the many Christian churches, Buddhism, Baha’i; there are many choices) and talk to spiritual leaders from those faiths until you find one that can help you. Many medicine men today are also members of those evangelistic religions while still practicing native american spirituality. Falling under the influence of a false ‘shaman’ will only hurt you spiritually, not enlighten you.

Vine Deloria, Jr., described the communitarian foundations of American Indian spirituality in his 1973 book God Is Red, his point being that ceremonies are engaged in not primarily for personal benefit but rather for the benefit of an entire community or nation. The most common saying one hears during the Lakota Sun Dance is “That the people might live!” This sentiment becomes the overriding reason for and purpose of this ceremony.

Likewise, violations of the sacred become threatening to the whole community and not merely to the one who commits the error. The communitarian nature of Indian ceremonies represents a key distinction between Native American religious traditions and modern Euro-American New Age spirituality, with its emphasis on radical individualism.

Real medicine people don’t accept unknown apprentices on the internet or people who contact them out of the blue, or through any long-distance medium, or even on short aquaintance. I don’t know of ANY real medicine people who would take on an apprentice in any other way than Face-To-Face, and then only after they’ve known you a long while and really gotten to know you. Similarly, I would never consider introducing someone who is a total stranger to me, to a medicine person and having the audacity to suggest they take them under their wing on my recomendation.

The way you meet real medicine people is to live in a community, for years, and keep your eyes and ears open. Eventually, it will become clear to you who the real medicine people are. There are medicine people in almost every community. Only after you have emersed yourself in the culture, the community, and shown humility and patience and proved yourself worthy, then it is likely that real medicine people will seek you out, you won’t have to go looking for them.

If you just go to a reservation and ask around for the local medicine man as soon as you get in town, right away most people are going to be suspicious of you and automatically assume you are some sort of new ager nut who wants to exploit their spirituality and probably won’t be helpful to you, and may even steer you in the wrong way, especially if you are a non-indian person.

It will be hard work convincing the people there that you are genuine but if you go with humility and patience you will eventually be accepted, and that is the ONLY way you will ever become part of the spiritual tradition you desire. There is no shortcut to that. Native spirituality belongs only to the cultural group, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to make some money or take a power trip at your expense.

There are also Indian charlatins, both on and off the reservations, as well as many white new age leaders who are more than happy to lead you on a misinformed or incomplete wild goose chase in your search for spirituality and enlightenment. Don’t believe everything you are told. Don’t accept the things you are told blindly; don’t rely solely on the opinons of others. Learn to use your own judgement. Slow down your senses and take the time to really “see” the things around you, both animate and inanimate, and don’t forget to look within yourself. There is probably more strength and knowledge there than you realize.

Most native american medicine people don’t live purely in the “old ways” of “simpler times.” Very few Indians still live full time in tipis and other traditional structures, or live wholly off the land or harvest all their medical cures from herbs. They live in the modern world just like you do, and just as you must learn, they have learned to blend their old ways and old traditions within the modern world.

Most medicine people aren’t know-alls who know everything there is to know about spirituality or all the methods of healing or the answer to every question in the universe. Just as modern doctors often have a specialty, such as heart care or fixing bones, most Indian healers also specialize in just a few areas of healing, which may be mental, physical, or spiritual, and in some instances all those areas intertwine to cause an illness.

Some medicine people specialize in spiritual matters, some in treating a specific illness, or they may be like the general practitioner in modern medicine, knowing the cures for many common ailements, but referring you to someone else when a serious illness develops that is beyond their training, or you need guidance for your spirit.

Sometimes that referral may be to another medicine man who specializes in a different area of physical or psychic healing, or it might even be to a priest or a modern medical doctor.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of American Indian religious traditions is the extent to which they are wholly community based and have no real meaning outside of the specific community in which the acts are regularly performed, stories told, songs sung, and ceremonies conducted.

The best place to start your own healing and understanding of the universe is to look within yourself. Unless you are a sociopath or mentally retarded, you already know what is right and what is wrong. You don’t need a medicine person to tell you that. You just need the courage to do what is right.

Study the animals and environment around you. Pay attention to their behaviours and why they do things the way they do, and how they interact in their relationships with others of their species, those creatures outside their species, and with the environment around them. Learn from what you see.

Meditate or pray or do whatever works for you to learn to quiet your mind and “see” the world with senses other than your eyes.

Most environmental problems today are caused by one of two things: greed or convenience. Don’t support the companies who are destroying the environment by buying their products, and eventually those products will go away. Buy products made from recycled goods and contribute to recycling efforts. Make a personal sacrifice and give up a few small conveniences that are made from processes that damage our environment. Walk a little more and burn a little less gasoline. There are many small things we can all do without studying with a medicine man to save our world.

Write to your congressman and representatives to tell them to stop allowing commercial ventures and nuclear developments that damage our Earth. When enough people make an effort to stop being part of the problem, even in small ways, we will find our Mother Earth will begin to heal herself. If we all wait for the other guy to do it, or until we have some secret knowledge, the Earth will eventually be doomed for all of us.

There is no magic spell to fix the problems of the modern world. There is no chant to turn the world back to the simpler times of two or five centuries ago. There is no ceremony to reverse time, we cannot go back. What we can do is identify one problem in the world today, convince others that it is, indeed a problem, and then work together towards fixing that one thing. If enough people would do that, the world would soon be a better place for everyone.

You don’t need to go to a reservation and study under a medicine man to create changes in the world. Start within yourself, in your own neighborhood, your own world. Identify one thing you don’t like about yourself and your environment, and work to change it. Identify one problem in your neighborhood and organize a group to help you fix it. One man cannot change the world, but many men working together can make real progress. And neighborhoods cover the world.

Help a neighbor, a charity, a total stranger, not for greed or recognition, but for the sheer pleasure it gives you to do something good without expecting anything in return. And through these actions, you will begin to do your part to heal the Earth.

Related Links on This Site:

Seven Fires Prophesy of the Anishinabe (Ojibwa/Ojibwe)
Seven prophets came to the Anishinabe. They came at a time when the people were living a full and peaceful life on the North Eastern coast of North America. These prophets left the people with seven predictions of what the future would bring. Each of the prophecies was called a fire and each fire referred to a particular era of time that would come in the future. Thus, the teachings of the seven prophets are now called the “Seven Fires.”

Poplar River Ojibwe First Nation fears for one of the Earth’s lungs

Victor Bruce, an elder of the Poplar River First Nation, is wondering why others don’t believe — can’t believe that building a road into this forest opens the path to its destruction, that cutting down the trees to make pulp into toilet paper seems wasteful. Why companies with their bottom lines and consumers with their insatiable needs don’t think of the trees as having voices and the animals living in them as having souls.

The Ojibwe clan system

People of all nations in the world essentially have the same basic needs: food, protection, education, medicine and leadership. Traditionally, the Ojibway Clan System was created to provide leadership and to care for these needs. There were seven original clans and each clan was known by its animal emblem, or totem. The animal totem symbolized the strength and duties of the clan. The seven original clans were each given a function to serve for their people.

History of the Anishinabeg (Ojibwe) people

A time line outlining important events in Ojibwe history.

Ojibway Oral Teaching: Wolf and man

Our people are like the wolf, we need community, we need to work together and we need to do our share. Not only will you benefit but so will your people. – An Ojibway teaching

Ojibwe Oral Teaching: Nibi (Water)

A poem that is an Ojibwe oral teaching about water.

External Links of the Week:

Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality

The Sioux people have the worst problem of all the tribes with non-natives exploiting their spiritual beliefs. Read how they feel about it.

Tengerism: Siberian Shamanism

Website of an indigenous Buryat shaman from Siberia. If you are interested in actual (non-American Indian) shamanism, this seems like a good place to learn more.

Fake Medicine Men

This website attempts to educate, inform, and assist people with coming to a good understanding about what is considered genuine and what is considered frauds.

New Age (and Other) Ripoff Sites
A list of web sites to be wary of.

Plastic Shaman

A list of the telltale signs to spot a fake or “plastic” shaman.

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Official web site of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe