Introduction to Shamanism and Jungian Thought
As a long-time Shamanic practitioner, healer, energy worker, and Jungian, I find that Shamanism is little understood by the dominant cultures rooted in the Western world, is often reviewed and written about by those outside Shamanism’s contexts and practiced by many from different cultures, which then provides many different types of Shamanism. Much of what the dominant cultures of the West understand about Shamanism comes from the seminal work of Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951/2004). In depth psychology we might look to Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue (1997) by C. Michael Smith to gain a view of Shamanism. I also point to Vine Deloria Jr.’s great work C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions (2009) on bringing Shamanism and Jung together for a deeper understanding. And, there are hundreds of other books on Jungian thought and practice as well as hundreds on Shamanistic knowledge. These are three that rose to the top as I reflected on Change your story, change your life: Using Shamanic and Jungian tools to achieve personal transformation (2014) by Carl Greer. This book is a practical guide on how to use tools from Shamanism and Jungian practice to change one’s story, to change one’s life.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life (2014) is a book about stories: our personal stories that we live, the stories we continually tell as our personal truth, the stories that determine our ways of being. “Each of us is living a life about which a story can be told. The story has chapters about our body and health; our relationship to a higher power; and our ways of being in service to the world” (p. 15). It seems that most Westernized humans believe the stories they tell about themselves and lack awareness and skill to explore the veracity of their personal stories. “Every chapter is an important part of the larger whole, yet we can be blind to the patterns in the story and the themes that are interwoven throughout, tying together seemingly disparate events” (p. 15).
Greer, as a trained Jungian analyst and Shamanic practitioner, gives his readers theory, story, and methods to lead us through the maze of being, witness to one’s own stories and ways to rewrite the stories we believe and tell ourselves and others. “We find it difficult to see a unified tale when we are reacting to the details of life and are caught up in our experiences. But if we step back from time to time and reassess our stories, we can make conscious choices about how we might change them and tell a new and better story in the future” (p. 15).
The ‘fanboy’ part of me was ecstatic with Greer’s words and methods; the ‘critical skeptic’ part of me said “Yes these are great, but none of this is really new.” And, the answer to both my parts, the fanboy and the critical skeptic, is that bringing together or comparing Jungian thought and Shamanic knowledge is neither new nor novel. However, the way Greer brings these two disparate yet sister worlds of thought and practices together is both new and novel. Not only is he a wordsmith, but Greer is a wise Jungian and Shamanic practitioner who gives us theory and exercises for those of us who are looking to change our stories and thereby change our lives. For the person who is completely satisfied with his/her life or has neither impetus nor desire for change, this book will not have the impact that one might wish.
The chapters of this book lead the reader through Greer’s theory about the creation of stories of self, interwoven with stories from others, and interspersed with interesting exercises in order to help the reader go deep into what one is reading about.
To better understand how Greer has put together his book and to see the progression of his thought, the chapter titles are as follows:
1) Transforming Your Life Through the Power of Story; 2) Shamanism and How it Can Help You Change Your Story; 3) Exploring Your Current Story; 4) Writing a New and Better Story; 5) Preparing for Shamanic Practices; 6) Journeying and Dialogue; 7) Taking Shamanic Journeys; 8) Understanding the Energies That Influence Your Story; 9) Working with the Archetypal Energies of Death and Initiation; 10) Working with Dreams and Nature to Manifest Your New Story; 11) Using Ritual and Ceremony to Manifest Your New Story; 12) Writing New Stories for Society; 13) Living According to Your New Story.
Alberto Villoldo, Shamanic teacher and practitioner, writes in the foreword of Change Your Story, Change Your Life, a succinct nugget which is what I feel this book is really trying to help the reader understand:
When I first began to study the wisdom teachings of the ancient shamans of the Andes, I struggled to understand what my mentors were trying to explain to me. It wasn’t a language barrier that stood between them and me so much as a barrier of perception. I had plenty of academic knowledge, but a Western way of thinking and perceiving that kept me frustrated until I learned to turn on my intuitive mind and quiet my analytical mind. Only then could I access wisdom and energies hidden from my awareness and use them to create a new path for myself. (p. 13)
This is exactly what Greer is helping the reader explore through theory and exercises in Change Your Story, Change Your Life.
In the first chapter, Greer provides an understanding of the organization of the book, the ways of using the material and the challenges some might come up against. In the second chapter, Greer gives a brief understanding of Shamanic practice and his training and experience with Shamanism. As a Shamanic practitioner myself, I understand Shamanism not as a religion but as knowledge and practices that help us understand and explore our selves, our world and our universe available to anyone of any faith. Greer points out that most Shamans see the human body as made up of energy and being an energy being gives us connection to all humans and to all energetic beings in the universe. This is why the pairing with Jungian tools is equally important. Jungian knowledge gives the bridge from the intellectual-brain-only way of being for most in the Westernized world to understand the energetic levels of being in the Shamanic world. In this chapter, Greer helps us find these bridges and come to terms with the work needed for change. On a personal note, Shamanism, as well as much of Indigenous knowledge, is dismissed as animism or non-science and for a person who understands Shamanism in this way, I suggest reading Gregory Cajete’s Native science: Natural laws of interdependence (2000) in order to gain a better understanding of how to relate to Indigenous knowledge.
The remaining chapters are the core of the work in the book. Greer skillfully leads us through many actions and exercises intended to bring stories into the light and to help us write new stories that are more appropriate and more truthful about our being, right now, in this moment. I found Chapter 8 to be extremely helpful. Even though I have trained at Pacifica Graduate Institute in a Depth Psychology doctoral program, I find that going back through archetypes, anima/animus, personas, shadow, and complexes to be fruitful. Here, Greer makes the connections between one’s personal story and the work to be done in relation to these areas of being needing work. In latter chapters he also tackles the fear of death, a difficult concept for westernized people who are habitually separated from ideas, actions, and elements related to death. This fear of death may keep us from using death as an ally in our work of changing our story. In many stories, in many cultures, a human must meet death through dreams or initiation in order to become changed, renewed, or restored. Whether it is Inanna’s decent into the underworld and her transformation, or Oyo, who lives at the gates of cemeteries and prods us into change or transition, or the Death card in the Tarot, death is and becomes important to us who are willing to do the work to change our story, to change our lives.
This book is about co-creation, tools and theories to help us give the gift of death to stories that do not serve us and to create new stories that are more truthful and that may serve us in better ways. In the afterword, Greer shares a story, a story in which he gets to know himself through Shamanic practice which led him to be able to be known by others. He shares his hope for us, that we can “co-create with Source the life you want, and that your dance with the Quiet is loving, soulful, meaningful, and ultimately joyful, and that you can connect to the unconditional love in the Quiet and radiate its essence” (p. 219).
I found Change Your Story, Change Your Life to be a useful tool and an easy read. One can pick it up and read it, not doing the exercises, and may gain a few insights from it. However, the best use of this book is to take the time to work it and to let it work you. Do the exercises, do not rush, re-read and redo the exercises over time. I would suggest that this book, though maybe not a bestseller for its lack of promises of quick fixes, is an important book for those wanting to explore change of self, change of story, and change of life; those willing to do the work. For those of you who have grown weary of the stories you tell yourself and that you tell others, you need this book! For those of you who see a need for life change, small or large, you can benefit from using this book, too. Those of us in need of change will learn to dance with archetypal energies and the transpersonal realms and work towards our personal healing and the healing of the world through our use of this book. This is the work I believe is needed and which is gently demanded throughout this book.
Eliade, M. (1951/2004). Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cajete, G. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Books.
Deloria, V. Jr., Deloria, P. J., & Bernstein, J. S. (2009). C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions: Dreams, Visions, Nature and the Primitive. New Orlean, LA: Spring Journal, Inc.
Greer, C. (2014). Change you story, change your life: Using Shamanic and Jungian tools to achieve personal transformation. Dyke, Scotland: Findhorn Press.
Smith, C. M. (2007). Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue: Retrieving the Soul / Retrieving the Sacred. Bloomington, IN: Trafford Publishing.
Jesse Howard Lash Masterson is a Ph.D. candidate in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He holds an M.A. in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute; a Master of Divinity from Naropa University; and an MS Counselor Education from Emporia State University.