Frequently Asked Questions

What is Shamanism?

We define shamanism as the study of energy- how it is perceived and used. In the shamanic world-view, everything is energy and, when we learn to use energy correctly, we can step into balance. The shamanic world-view emphasizes the need for us as human beings to learn how to align ourselves with the other worlds of Grandmother Earth (minerals, plants, animals) and with the energies that make up the Universe. This creates positive change and healing in our lives. Illness, disease, mental and emotional disorders, on the other hand, are seen as manifestations of imbalances in energy.

How is this different from a cult, sect, or religion?

The Sweet Medicine SunDance Path is one of many spiritual paths. We see the different spiritual schools and religions of the world as one great wheel on which each tradition holds a special function. Unfortunately, there have also been many ways in which sacred knowledge has been corrupted throughout the ages, robbing human beings of their autonomy and freedom. Cults- and even religions- may ask you to hand over your power to an authority within the organization. They may require you to believe in doctrine and dogma. This path asks the opposite of you. Because the teachings of the Sweet Medicine SunDance Path are offered as tools for self-growth, you are expected to question the teachings and to test them in your own life in order to see whether they work for you. You do not need to believe anything you are told; just keep the knowledge that works for you. We have no priests. We have teachers who share their knowledge and experience with an open heart. On this spiritual path, you learn to communicate directly with Spirit and with the energies of the Universe.

Do I need any special background knowledge to participate in these teachings?

No. At ICSS, we offer many programs that anybody, regardless of their background, can participate in, such as the Red Lodge program and Vision Quest. Black Lightning Lodge, which is the community lodge that works in partnership with ICSS, also offers ceremonies and introductory experiences for the public.

As a student, what is expected of me?

At ICSS, we want our students to become inquisitive, free-thinking, autonomous individuals who take responsibility for their lives. This means that, as a student, you need to take charge of your own growth and put in the work and energy that is required. If you find that the teachings work for you, then you are welcome to become an apprentice on this spiritual path. You will then enter a step-by-step ceremonial “gateway” process. This is what gives our path its structure. It is important to note that taking part in the teachings and ceremonies of this path will not interfere with any other spiritual path or faith you may have chosen, nor will you be asked to abandon it.

How do I become an apprentice? What does this entail?

A student of our teachings may decide to make a deeper commitment to the SMSD path and become an apprentice. Those who choose to do so enter what we call a ‘gateway process’ of spiritual growth. An apprentice begins at the First Gateway, completing all the ceremonies in this gateway before proceeding to the next one. This is similar to the way one progresses in a martial arts discipline, for example, by demonstrating competence in certain techniques in order to progress to the next belt.

Many of the teachers and leaders at ICSS are qualified to guide individuals through this process. Any student who wishes to become an apprentice makes a personal request to the qualified teacher of his or her choice.

In traditional cultures, a shaman or medicine person would dedicate him- or herself to the service of their people. In the same way, apprentices on this path ― especially when they advance beyond the first three gateways ― are called to be of service to their community and to be leaders in their own lives, while constantly working on their self-growth.

I want to help other people heal. Will studying at ICSS enable me to start practicing as a shamanic counsellor/teacher/healer?

The courses at ICSS are mainly aimed at giving students tools for self-growth. We believe that constantly doing work for our own personal evolution is essential, especially for teachers, counsellors, and healers. Just attending ― or even completing ― our programs does not instantly qualify a student to become a shamanic practitioner.

At the same time, ICSS students who choose to become apprentices on the SMSD path may be able to incorporate shamanic tools into their current practice, or even to begin careers as teachers or shamanic counsellors on this path. Once an apprentice is in the Second Gateway of ceremonies, they may apply to become a Study Group Leader, which enables them to offer teachings to the public. Apprentices who wish to pursue this course of action should discuss their available options with their apprentice guide.

Is there a monetary fee associated with the teachings?

ICSS is a school. It provides its students with a rich, comprehensive, educational curriculum. In order to provide our students with safe, comfortable facilities and useful resources and handouts, as well as to honour the time of the teachers and teaching assistants, we charge a fee for our educational programs. However, to respect the traditional ways of our lineage, we do not charge for any ceremony. Ceremonies included within our programs or requested individually by a student (such as healing ceremonies) are seen as an energy exchange. To honour this exchange, the participant is expected to give the ceremonialist a gift of the participant’s choice (called a ‘heart gift’ or a ‘medicine gift’).

But what about the profits ICSS makes from the teachings? Isn’t monetary profit anathema to the native philosophy?

Our intent is for our school to thrive and improve over time. If we make any profits from our programs, these are invested back into the school: for example, repairs and renovations to our building, development of new programs, training of staff, scholarships, etc.

Is ICSS affiliated with any Native American or First Nations groups?

The Institute for Contemporary Shamanic Studies is not formally affiliated with any Native or First Nations groups. The teachings are designed for people of diverse backgrounds and are intended to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their ethnic background. Both students and teachers come from mixed heritages.

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