How Now Brown Cow is a nonsensical phrase, the origin of which is up for debate. Was it really used in Scotland as a way to order a beer, or/and to teach elocution? Whatever the origin, the phrase is outdated and by many, forgotten.
Language is constantly growing and shifting, picking up new words and letting go of others. Shamanism is on a similar trajectory. The language and words used to describe it have shifted and changed, dropping some things and adding others. The origin of the word is often referred to in an off handed manner, with little, or no, meaning attributed to it.
This newsletter is not going to be a diatribe on the shift of the word, although you, my constant listener, may have heard me refer to my thoughts on same. Shamanism has shifted in practice and meaning through the 25 years I have been involved. It has not been a very popular word, and in fact, so unpopular most people in the city I live in, still have no idea what the word means or applies to. This is my pondering: has the dilution of the word come about as a way of making it more palatable? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have mental meanderings.
If you have studied, even a titch, the use of the word shaman, it is used to refer to a person using a narrow and specific set of practices, which in turn, define it. I will admit, I live in a narrow spiritual world, where if it does not discuss shamanism, or provide me a tool to explain it better, it is highly likely I am not in “the know”. Has the proliferation of the words shaman and shamanism, dummied it down to the point it now lacks any reference to its narrow definition?
I did a quick search on combining the word ‘shaman’ and product, and much to my expectation, there are businesses using the word shaman in association with a variety of products not even associated with the very archaic practice of shamanism. Am I appalled? Well, some days, I really am. Some days, I stand completely in Ego and the Place of Judgement and declare (internally and externally) my despair and bereavement of the notion there is nothing sacred left to the word.
Language changes, we lose origins, meanings and depth of understanding. I, too, have changed. My understanding of the word and the practices have changed. I have to remember my role in the changing relationship between the sacred and the profane. If the word and the practice are as important to me, as I profess, I need to remind myself of the impact of my voice. Language bends and winds itself around us, to accommodate our shifts in consciousness and awareness. Even if that means, I must relinquish my belief I can control the way the word is used. The practice of shamanism isn’t a “what was”, it is a, “what is”.
As I wrote above, I live in a narrow spiritual world. Albeit, a world with amazing depths and heights of spiritual and internal exploration, narrow to the whole of humankind, it is. How do we make the frightening, or the discomforting, path to awareness palatable, if not by diluting the intensity? I don’t know. And I do not know where the line should be drawn. Perhaps these questions need to be answered by those less invested in the purity of the word and/or practice. The popularization of shamanism is bound to lead to a dilution of the mystery. I don’t think mystery remains mysterious when lights are shone brightly into the darkness. The lights disperse the shadows. It is the shadows, and the darkness however which keep the mystery of shamanism potent.
One day my words will equate to How Now Brown Cow, because the world will have moved on. “What is” changes on a daily. “What was” confines us and only partially defines us. I will continue to explore the words shaman and shamanism. I will continue to attempt to remain true to the definition of the words, all the while remembering definitions widen and change to accommodate the shifts in awareness and practice. I will, in all likelihood, stand as close to purity as I can, resting in the knowledge my relationship to shamanism changes, as I change. Instead of looking outward and rolling my inner eye to the changes in the word, I want to remember I too am a voice. A voice expressing the desire to keep the mystery, mysterious.
Origin of “how now brown cow”: