Plastic Shaman

plastic shaman by bobby dues

Plastic shaman [shey-muhn] is a pejorative colloquialism applied to individuals who are attempting to pass themselves off as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. In some cases, the ‘plastic shaman’ may have some genuine cultural connection, but is seen to be exploiting that knowledge for ego, power or money.

They are believed by their critics to use the mystique of these cultural traditions, and the legitimate curiosity of sincere seekers, for personal gain. In some cases, exploitation of students and traditional culture may involve the selling of fake ‘traditional’ spiritual ceremonies, fake artifacts, fictional accounts in books, illegitimate tours of sacred sites, and often the chance to buy spiritual titles. In Nepal, the term ‘Chicken Shaman’ is used.

Though the term ‘plastic shaman’ originated among Native American and First Nations activists, and is most often applied to people posing as Native American medicine men and women, the term has also been applied to frauds who pose as other types of traditional and alternative healers. People who have been referred to as ‘plastic shamans’ include those believed to be fraudulent spiritual advisors, seers, psychics, or other practitioners of non-traditional modalities of spirituality and healing who are operating on a fraudulent basis.

Critics of plastic shamans believe there is legitimate danger to seekers who place their trust in such individuals. Those who participate in ceremonies led by the untrained may be exposing themselves to various psychological, spiritual and physical risks. The methods used by a fraudulent teacher may have been invented outright or recklessly adapted from a variety of other cultures and taught without reference to a real tradition. In almost all ‘plastic shaman’ cases a fraud is employing these partial or fraudulent ‘healing’ or ‘spiritual’ methods without a traditional community of legitimate elders to provide checks and balances on their behavior. In the absence of the precautions such traditional communities normally have in place in regard to sacred ceremonies, and without traditional guidelines for ethical behavior, abuse goes unchecked.

Those using the term ‘plastic shaman’ to criticize these sorts of teachers believe that they are also potentially dangerous because they may harm the reputations of the cultures and communities they claim to represent. There is evidence that, in the most extreme cases, fraudulent and sometimes criminal acts have been committed by a number of imposters. It is also claimed by traditional peoples that in some cases ‘plastic shamans’ may be using corrupt, negative and sometimes harmful aspects of authentic practices. This has led to the traditional spiritual elders declaring the ‘plastic shaman’ and their work to be ‘dark’ or ‘evil.’

Plastic shamans are also believed to be dangerous because they give people false ideas about traditional spirituality and ceremonies. In some cases, the plastic shamans will require that the ceremonies are performed in the nude, and that men and women participate in the ceremony together, although such practices are an innovation and were not traditionally followed. Another innovation may include the introduction of sex magic or ‘tantric’ elements, which may be a legitimate form of spirituality in its own right (when used in its original cultural context), but in this context it is an importation from a different tradition and is not part of authentic Native practices.

Many of those who work to expose plastic shamans believe that the abuses perpetuated by spiritual frauds can only exist when there is ignorance about the cultures a fraudulent practitioner claims to represent. Activists working to uphold the rights of traditional cultures work not only to expose the fraudulent distortion and exploitation of Indigenous traditions and Indigenous communities, but also to educate seekers about the differences between traditional cultures and the, often distorted, modern approaches to spirituality.

‘Shaman’ is a term which originated in Siberia. Whilst occasionally ‘shamanism’ is used by Native Americans or First Nations groups to explain their traditions to those from other cultures, their spiritual teachers, leaders or elders are generally not called such. The categorization of diverse cultures’ spiritual traditions under the term ‘shamanism’ is seen in anthropology and other disciplines. The New Age use of the term ‘shamanism’ is seen as a cultural appropriation of Native American culture by ‘white’ people, to distance themselves from their own history.

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