Shamans when they are children

I’m reading a powerful book by Martin Prechtel, who left the United States to live in Guatemala and eventually was initiated as a Mayan shaman. The book is called Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: A mayan shaman’s journey to the heart of the indigenous soul.

In it he describes young children who are born to be shamans.

Shamans were usually born frightened and more frail and timid compared to the more confident Tzutujil children. What scared them so early on was the fact that since they were more allied with nature, they were not blessed one hundred percent with the normal human spiritual amnesia at birth. Therefore they could still see and remember the other worlds where they came from; sometimes toddlers who were destined to become shamans spoke to these spirits in other layers. But it wasn’t the other worlds that terrified them; they were made afraid by this world, the one they were born into. They just couldn’t understand the inability of other people to see the big picture of all the layers. This world seemed harsh, and people seemed self-centered. The people thought children like this were dazed and distant. (112)

I know children like this, and I am guessing that you do, too. Can you imagine, if these Mayan children were upset at their indigenous world, how little shamans must feel coming into our Western world, so intent on consuming resources and serving the masses of people – at the expense and resultant demise of thousands and thousands of magnificent species?

Prechtel continues his explanation by explaining that these children often become:

powerfully sick, unable or unwilling to live. Sometimes they did die — this world was too sharp for their tender soul. The shamanic nature power, the spirit, who had called for the child’s birth, would come in the delirium of the illness or in a powerful dream to bring the child back to life. But then the little shamanic candidate was sometimes almost melted away and killed by the curing power itself afterward, as it can be so strong. So another initiated adult shaman would be summoned, and that person would, recognizing the plight of the prospective novice, cure him by ritually containing the child’s oversized power. (112)

If the child were saved, the “little shaman” would be directed to a teacher, a shaman who could protect and teach as the child grew into this power. “The Tzutujil didn’t have dynasties of shamans, or shaman families, they just showed up where the spirits decided, in all kinds of families” (113).
I don’t know what little shamans do in our culture. Perhaps some die, as Prechtel explained. Perhaps others keep to themselves and to the woods. Perhaps they become lost in books. Let us hope they find a way to survive and bring their gifts to us, for a tribe without its shamans is unbalanced and dangerous.

Prechtel, Martin. Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. NY: Tarcher/Putnam, 1998.

12 thoughts on “Shamans when they are children

  1. Good Morning Jennifer!
    Perhaps you were one of those children, as was I. If you were to meet Martin, you would doubt he was such a child. He brims with energy, humor, and passion. He also knows the dark side of being human, having lost many friends, and almost himself, to the Mayan genocide. One one hand, being a shaman or medicine person brings the danger of being human perfectly to the front. On the other, one is indeed aware of the spirits, and the beauty underlying all things. Our Earth is indeed Paradise, yet it contains suffering. Such a paradox! If you ever have the opportunity to dance or play with Martin (he also teaches splendid writers’ workshops), take it!

    My best to you.

    1. Good morning, Michael!
      Thank you for the beautiful description of this earth and for the wise advice to dance and play with Martin. I would love that opportunity – his book is quite beautiful and inspiring. I think perhaps I was one of those children, but it took time for me to understand and embrace that side – and, of course, I am always still learning!

      My best to you, as well.

      1. Jennifer,

        I hope we are always learning. The shaman’s world (shaman is an odd term in English, as most shaman, world wide, are women!) is ever changing. It gives us something to write about. I also imagine most of us come to deep knowledge slowly…….

    1. I am so glad that you appreciated my post about this. I remember that I bought the book in a used bookstore in a small beach town in North Carolina, so I’m sorry I do not have any insight or tips as to how to buy it. Perhaps the author has a website? Perhaps it is the same book under a different title? Best of luck to you!

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