Cultural Responsibility and Ideals

Rattles are a collective subconscious form of art: they have existed for over 4000 years. They have had spiritual influence since their inception, and they continue to hold that place of honor in society today. The rattles I make are inspired by what I see in nature – often direct representations of pictures I have taken. I have placed my own unique style on Soul Shine Rattles and do not view them as cultural appropriation. It is an accurate statement to say that Native Americans make sacred rattles, but so do the Celts, Siberians, Egyptians, Japanese, and others. Baby rattles bring us into this earthly world, and death rattles bid us farewell. In between, we have the opportunity to study and understand varying artworks and incorporate their collective messages in unique ways. I have yet to come across rattles anywhere that use methods of pyrography to capture unique images of Alaskan wildlife, many taken with my own cameras.

I am a dual national – having citizenship in the United States and Ireland. I was born and raised in New York but have lived in Alaska since 1996. It would be impossible for me to say that I have not been influenced by a plethora of cultural graphic arts. As an Irish citizen, it could be deemed inappropriate for me to place Celtic crosses on my art. As a former New Yorker, it be deemed cultural appropriation to capture proprietary images from the Empire State. As an Alaskan, I capture images of my natural environment and use as much locally sourced material as possible to reflect what I am experiencing in the place I live. If I lived in Tasmania, my rattles would be vastly different and reflect accordingly.

I have been asked if I am a Shaman, and the answer is a firm no. One does not simply awaken one day and decide she or he is Shaman. Shaman is not a term to be used lightly, and is a title bestowed, not chosen. That does not mean that a person cannot revere nature, work with the elements, and value archaic symbolism; these feelings have been a constant since the dawn of time and carried across humankind. One of the qualities that make the Shamanic practice appealing and admirable is its generalized presence among all the groups that make up our predecessors. Yet, there is an abundance of neo-shamanism and core shamanism available today on a commercial level that can be viewed as fraudulent and abusive. Some, but not all of these fraudulent activities range from weekend retreats designed to teach journeying to international ayahuasca tourism. It is the unscrupulous entrepreneur who is truly committing cultural appropriation, often against the very cultures they were born and raised into.

Abuses perpetuated by spiritual fraud are only possible when
there is ignorance about cultures that said “shamans” claim to represent. This leads to a barrier between indigenous and non-indigenous groups which make difficult any type of collaboration to meet global challenges.

I have chosen to do my homework over the course of time. I have studied Shamanism extensively, mostly focused on the traditional Celtic world but not exclusively. I have read and digested numerous books and articles written by anthropologist Michael Harner, founder of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies. I have also delved deeply into John Matthews, D.J. Conway, and the works of Sandra Ingerman and Renee Baribeau.

One response to “Cultural Responsibility and Ideals”

  1. […] Cultural Responsibility and Ideals […]


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