The Writer and the Shaman

Joseph Campbell believed that "...each of us has an individual myth that's driving us, which we may or may not know." This forum is for assistance and inspiration in the quest to find your own personal mythology.

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The Writer and the Shaman

Post by FDamkar » Sun Jul 27, 2014 10:20 pm

I've been kind of postponing posting this, but I figured I might as well post it anyway. *laughs*

This is a follow-up to another thread I posted in another subforum, but I felt that it was necessary to place it here because it's a little more personal than my first thread about Christopher Vogler's Wordpress account.

For those who aren't familiar with his work, Vogler is a veteran story consultant for a lot Hollywood film companies and is a teacher to many students of film and writing. He was partly responsible for helping influence stories like The Lion King, Fight Club, The Thin Red Line, and many other films. He wrote a book titled The Writer's Journey, which isn't only a helpful guide for writers, but in a way, it's also a philosophy on life and the many challenges that come with it.

One particular section he writes about is the writer's journey, which is compared to that of a hero's journey: we each have Shadows (like low self-esteem or confusion about our goals), Tests and Ordeals (the struggle to sell our work), the works.
In the same section, he also writes about how writers are very much like shamans:
As writers we travel to other worlds not as mere daydreamers, but as shamans with the magic power to bottle up those worlds and bring them back in the form of stories for others to share. Our stories have the power to heal, to make the world new again, to give people metaphors by which they can better understand their own lives.
When we writers apply the ancient tools of the archetypes and the Hero's Journey to modern stories, we stand on the shoulders of the myth makers and shamans of old. When we try to heal our people with the wisdom of myth, we are the modern shamans. We ask the same ageless, childlike questions presented by the myths: Who am I? Where did I come from? What happens when I die? What does it mean? Where do I fit in? Where am I bound on my own Hero's Journey?
For me, I agree with Vogler because in our own ways, writers are definitely like shamans. We can travel to other places when we're writing, or even dreaming when we sleep, and explore parts of ourselves and the worlds in which we write in and discover answers to questions/solutions to problems. We can pick up things like warnings or signs of what can come because of our experiences, and basically we understand the world in a new light than when we did before.

So what are your thoughts on this?
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Post by Clemsy » Tue Jul 29, 2014 2:32 pm

Hi FDamkar! Interesting post and I need to find time to find out more about Christopher Vogler, though I had heard of him. I have one comment though on this:
apply the ancient tools of the archetypes and the Hero's Journey
I think, rather, it's the writers goal to allow these archetypes to express themselves, rather than consciously apply them.

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Post by Andreas » Tue Jul 29, 2014 4:01 pm

Volger's book is a very basic summary of the hero's journey. Reading Jung and Campbell, in the long run, is more beneficial.

I agree with Volger that writers are shamans but I am not sure if you can find them in Hollywood anymore. I mean, there are exceptions to the rule but in the vast majority most people who work for the studio system are doing it so they can make money, and money always come at the expense of the story, so... you do the math.
I think, rather, it's the writers goal to allow these archetypes to express themselves, rather than consciously apply them. - Clemsy
I wonder Clemsy, what do you think it is that stops us from expressing these archetypes, freely, without trying to control everything we write?
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Post by Clemsy » Wed Jul 30, 2014 7:12 am

Knowing about them! lol! Neil Gaimon is on record as refusing to read Hero with a Thousand Faces because he doesn't want the knowledge to influence his storytelling. I would imagine it difficult not to consciously keep a checklist in your head of hero's journey elements.
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Post by Andreas » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:15 am

It is difficult indeed. Exactly what I am struggling with, right now, in my writing. Btw, Neil Gaimon is awesome. I read The Sandman when I was 15 years old and got totally hooked on. I still remember the excitement waiting for the new issue. And I still have the original comics. ^^

OK, sorry for the small detour, FDamkar. Back to the subject of this thread.

From what I read, being a shaman is no easy task. Shamans suffer a psychological crack up, yeah like schizophrenia. I guess healing the world doesn't come without a cost. ;)

So when Volger says that writer are shamans, I am not sure he understands the full implications of what he is saying.

Btw, I forgot to mention guys that I am very opinionated on this subject matter. :P
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Post by FDamkar » Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:40 pm

First off, thanks for replying to my topic, all. I sincerely appreciate it, and I'm looking forward to debating. *laughs* (:

@Andreas:
Volger's book is a very basic summary of the hero's journey. Reading Jung and Campbell, in the long run, is more beneficial.

I agree with Volger that writers are shamans but I am not sure if you can find them in Hollywood anymore. I mean, there are exceptions to the rule but in the vast majority most people who work for the studio system are doing it so they can make money, and money always come at the expense of the story, so... you do the math.
Well, yeah, reading Jung and Campbell is beneficial, but Vogler, I feel, has a good grip on the workings of Joseph Campbell and he has to summarize it for those working in Hollywood because life in that place is very fast and booming quickly. And although there are people who do it for cash and to make a living, more often than one thinks, there are writers who are struggling to get stories told. Good stories that deserve attention and praise because of what these writers are trying to tell from their experiences in life. They do try to find someone who is in the big league in Hollywood who will look at the script and say that it can make money AND enrich people's lives for the better.

I mean, that's what happened with films like "Back to the Future". That was based on an original screenplay that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote based on an idea that Gale had, which was, 'Would my father and I have become good friends if we were in school together?' It took some time and effort, but luckily, it was able to be financed and released through Universal Studios.
OK, sorry for the small detour, FDamkar. Back to the subject of this thread.

From what I read, being a shaman is no easy task. Shamans suffer a psychological crack up, yeah like schizophrenia. I guess healing the world doesn't come without a cost.

So when Volger says that writer are shamans, I am not sure he understands the full implications of what he is saying.

Btw, I forgot to mention guys that I am very opinionated on this subject matter.
Ah, no worries about the detour. *laughs*

Oh, I feel that Vogler does indeed understand what he's saying, but for the case of the shaman, he's not going so much into specific and great detail as to what a shaman endures through suffering, but rather the overall journey of how a shaman becomes a shaman. Let me pull another portion of what he's written to help illustrate my point...
Shamans have been called "the wounded healers." Like writers, they are special people set apart from the rest by their dreams, visions, or unique experiences. Shamans, like many writers, are prepared for their work by enduring terrible ordeals. They may have a dangerous illness or fall from a cliff and have nearly every bone broken. They are chewed by a lion or mauled by a bear. They are taken apart and put back together again in a new way. In a sense, they have died and been reborn, and this experience gives them special powers. Many writers come to their craft only after they have been shattered by life in some way.
Now it's safe to say that many of us here, as writers, have been affected by the ordeals of life, whatever those ordeals may be whether it's an inner obstacle like schizophrenia or an outer obstacle like living off a small portion of cash, in some way or another-we've been through tough times and suffered in some way, shape or form because of them, but in the end, we came to an understanding of those times and thus, have a greater notion of what it means to be a human, the choices we can make of how to deal with those ordeals, and how to live in spite of those times.

@Clemsy: So, for the sake of making comparisons, you mean just letting the archetypes just write themselves like how spirits can come to a shaman rather than seek the archetypes out? I can say I agree with that! You get no arguments from me on that one. (:
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Aug 01, 2014 2:44 pm

FDamkar wrote:
@Clemsy: So, for the sake of making comparisons, you mean just letting the archetypes just write themselves like how spirits can come to a shaman rather than seek the archetypes out? I can say I agree with that! You get no arguments from me on that one. (:
Exactly. Archetypes are organic; they will find expression in any story. Indeed, you can't have a story without them, no? I can imagine a skilled writer may be able to consciously manipulate them to good effect, but, seems to me, one runs the risk sounding contrived.
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Post by Andreas » Fri Aug 08, 2014 9:43 am

I don't know, Fdamkar.

I remember watching this interview, I think it was with Coppola, and he was asked by a student about going to Hollywood. And his answer was, "you can go to Hollywood and make money but if you do, you will never discover that new thing", something along these lines anyway.

For me, the degree of illumination matters, and currently I am having trouble seeing the entertainment of Hollywood as a mediator for our souls. :)
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Post by FDamkar » Fri Aug 15, 2014 10:17 pm

Well, to each their own, but I feel that even though part of Hollywood's agenda is to make a lot of cash, there is also that part where the rewards for enriching lives comes in the form of storytelling. There are even some portions in companies that, although they do care about cash, they also care about giving people what they want.

The Hollywood now might not be a mediator for our souls, I agree, but just as Hollywood transformed itself multiple times, from the first talking film to the first 3-D animated feature film, what's not to say it can't be changed again in the future?

And us writers, or shamans, can be the ones to change that. Will it take time? Of course it will. But even the smallest of changes can start off a chain of events that can ultimately turn things around in Hollywood, with people like Vogler around. I mean, Coppola does bring up the point about making money, but I feel that even though that is a truth in some ways, it's not the ultimate truth about Hollywood. That kind of society really does its different sides and shades of grey, and for the writers, or again shamans, I feel it is up to us to see the light through those shades and bring it back somehow.

There are people who love being in Hollywood for the sake of writing or producing or whatever the job may be. Yes, they do it partly for cash, but they do it more so for the notion of being alive and because their job is something they truly love doing. So they're pretty much following their bliss, as it were. *laughs*
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Post by Dyre42 » Mon Oct 13, 2014 4:21 pm

Andreas is kind of right. The personal subjective experiences of shamans are nothing like writing. You live out and often hallucinate your stories.

However defining how the brain naturally functions as a "psychological crack up" is unfair.
Its believing what you are experiencing that makes you delusional.Ala author Robert Anton Wilson who."... at times claimed to have perceived encounters with magical "entities" (when asked whether these entities seemed "real", he answered they seemed "real enough," although "not as real as the IRS" but "easier to get rid of", and later decided that his experiences may have emerged from "just my right brain hemisphere talking to my left".

I only say this because the same thing started happening to me and I at least was read enough to understand it and logical enough to not believe it. The trick was getting it to stop.
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Post by FDamkar » Mon Oct 13, 2014 6:19 pm

Andreas is kind of right. The personal subjective experiences of shamans are nothing like writing. You live out and often hallucinate your stories.
Isn't that what artists and writers do to an extent, anyway? Hallucinate and live out stories like shamans?

And I feel that although your argument is valid, I respectfully disagree with you on some points. The human brain works in similar ways for everyone, but no one exactly thinks alike; what may turn out to be a delusion for someone else may be real for someone else. What people may believe to be God, may be something else for another person.

True, we need to reel in our brains before they go wild, but oftentimes, when we're writing or performing in the arts, there's something that grips us, a ghost if you will, that allows us to be inspired and do something with our creations, constant change them until they become something we've never thought they'd become.

For instance, Ray Bradbury himself stated in his concept for "Fahrenheit 451", that the protagonist's name, Guy Montag, seemed to have come out from somewhere. Bradbury didn't think of it right off the bat; the name came to him in his writing.
And I've experienced this phenomena myself, when I was creating a protagonist-out of nowhere, I'm not sure where, the name for her seemed to have spring up and I managed to go with it because it felt right and because it was as if, to somewhat paraphrase Bradbury, "she came to me and told me her name."

Perhaps it came from the subconscious, who knows, but all the same, writers/artists and shamans have more in common with each other than people realize.
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Post by Andreas » Tue Oct 14, 2014 9:14 am

Yo guys. Just for clarification. When I said, that the shamans suffer a "psychological crack up", I didn't meant it to come across in a derogatory way but this is what happens. Also I am not saying that writers are not shamans, I just don't believe you can find them in Hollywood.

Fahrenheit 451, Seven Samurai, Blade Runner, all these stories are archetypal masterpieces where in Hollywood you mostly find stereotypical junk. :P

Anyway, that is my opinion.
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Post by Seti » Fri Oct 17, 2014 9:03 pm

Thank you for this topic...

As an anthropologist, student of shamanism and a documentary filmmaker I am excited to enter this discussion.

I personally believe that the writing experience can be analogous to a shamanic experience, but writers themselves are not shaman. First, with shamanism there are no absolutes and no dogma, it is simply an anthropological term that describes the common spiritual, but non-religious practices found around the world. While not all practices of shaman can be found amongst all shamanic practitioners, there are common practices. One of those practices is the ability to transcend the realm of consciousness via an induced trance state or also stated as an entry into an altered state of consciousness. This “psychological break”, that is neither schizophrenic nor psychotic is spiritual. The trance can happen through the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances such as ayahausca, magic mushrooms, peyote, Iboga or other plant based entheogens, or it can be attained by long periods of hypnotic drumming, or dance or meditation. I find the writing process to be a meditative practice. I lose concepts of time and find myself in other worlds in a transcendent way What comes out of me I consider a spiritual experience, so yes I do agree that the writing experience can be considered to be analogous to a type of shamanic practice, but writers are not shaman, in the same way that shaman, who are storytellers are not writers.

That all being said, I remember a passage from Power of Myth where JC talks about the movies. But, first I want to also point out that in a later passage he says that in speaking about current culture “the function of the artist is the mythologization of the environment and the world.” Of movie production he says “what is unfortunate for us is that a lot of the people who write these stories do not have a sense of their responsibility. These stories are making and breaking lives. But, the movies are made simply to make money. The kind of responsibility that goes into a priesthood with a ritual is not there. That is one of our problems today"

Good storytelling can take many forms, this is why it is not necessary to always write a hero's journey, but the hero's journey is effective in making money and this is why the format is followed.

To what degree films have been made that would rise to the level of JC's call for mythologization I am not aware. Given the Power of Myth was recorded at Skywalker Ranch and that Lucas consulted with JC, it is obvious that JC does not include Star Wars in this exalted category, although he idd say it was a marvelous movie and used mythic structure.
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Post by FDamkar » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:49 pm

I would agree that while films are made to make money for the film studios, they are also made because they are, in themselves, worlds made created by other artists besides writers-directors, costumers, set designers, storyboard artists, the list can do go on. While there are films out there that are simply made to appeal to the masses and bring in money, there are also films that leave imprints in everyone's mind regardless if they were made with the intent of making cash or not.

Some of these films are made to appeal to a wide audience and to tell stories that everyone, or close to everyone, can relate to. For some individuals, this kind of act in the film business can be considered part of the shamanistic experience, or one close to it for some of them. Film production has been around ever since its humble beginnings in the early 20th century, even earlier than that if we are to look into Thomas Edison's accomplishments, and although the film industry has changed since then, the notion of creating stories has not, and so has the spirit of making a film because one enjoys the process of it.

I would also debate that writers, while most of them thoroughly enjoy the process and I certainly know that I and many of us here do the same thing, there are some who want to use this gift of writing as a means of getting paid. I feel it's not a bad thing to be paid for what you love doing, but I do agree that it's the love that comes first rather than the money.
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Post by JamesN. » Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:46 am

FDamkar said:
I would also debate that writers, while most of them thoroughly enjoy the process and I certainly know that I and many of us here do the same thing, there are some who want to use this gift of writing as a means of getting paid. I feel it's not a bad thing to be paid for what you love doing, but I do agree that it's the love that comes first rather than the money.
Although " Christopher Vogler's " work has come up from time to time in the forums I just happened to spot this entry as I was passing by and it reminded me of this lovely old " jewell " you might enjoy if you have not already seen it even though it may not directly address your topic. I believe it actually begins on page (2) so I started it there; but the context in some of these older threads sometimes wanders all over the place at times so be forewarned. There was a technical glitch that resulted in a scrambling of the threads that took place regarding a forum update years ago and alas in following the dialogue or train of thought in the conversations because of this sometimes becomes like " herding cats " if you know what I mean. As to the possibility of more treasure there is so much cool stuff buried within these forums over the years I think you might also find some more things of value if you have the time; but if not I hope this may be of some interest for you. The vaults are deep and the scramble has made searching through them a bit frustrating at times; but great insights can certainly be had if you are up to it.

http://www.jcf.org/new/forum/viewtopic. ... c&start=15

Namaste :)

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Addendum: As I was doing a short scan of the thread I came across this post:
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PostPosted: 02 May 2008 00:37 Post subject: Reply with quote


Incidentally, Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" has been a great help to me.

Something you may appreciate: The last cyborg story I wrote, I wrote it following what's called the "plot skeleton". It's a fairly vague form of outline, more a framework. Basically it goes, "You have a character, in a setting, with a problem. The character tries to solve the problem and fails. He tries again and fails. He tries a third time and succeeds, then realizes or otherwise reaps the rewards of his trials." I wrote the last story to this framework, and it went fairly well since it was vague enough that my subconscious didn't feel constrained by it. Then after I'd finished the story I started re-reading Vogler's book and wondered if the story would fit to the Hero's Journey cycle. It not only fit to it perfectly, but I found a theme of violation and healing that I hadn't consciously written into the story. It put an entirely new spin on the story that I hadn't known was there. It was like the writing equivalent of an optical illusion. Creeped me out for days.

Aunty Proton

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