One of the best things for me in practising contemporary shamanism is the experience it provides daily of the oneness and sacredness of all things. “Everything that is, is alive.”
When Michael Harner, an American professor of anthropology, began teaching shamanism and shamanic healing in the early 1970s to Westerners, it was largely unknown outside of academia. Now modern-day shamans, typically referred to as “shamanic practitioners,” can be found throughout the US and Europe. Many thousands of them owe their education to Dr. Harner and the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS), the non-profit organization he began in 1985 to study, restore, and teach shamanism and shamanic healing worldwide. His book, The Way of the Shaman, is recognised as the pioneering work in the field of contemporary shamanism.
Shamanism is not a religion or a set of beliefs. Shamanism is the world’s most ancient spiritual healing practice, possibly more than 30,000 years old based on the archaeological evidence. Shamanism was practised on all inhabited continents by indigenous peoples such as the Sami (Lapps) of northernmost Europe, the aboriginal peoples of Australia, the Kung Bushmen of southern Africa, and the Native North and South Americans. Religious and political persecution and the general decimation of their populations and cultures led to the near extinction of the indigenous shamans and the loss of much of their shamanic knowledge.
Starting in 1961, Dr. Harner was trained by shamans in two different Amazonian Indian tribes and engaged in extensive research on shamanism worldwide to discover its fundamental cross-cultural principles and practices, which he named “core shamanism.” Through diligent research and experimentation, he developed the training programs offered by FSS, which allowed motivated and disciplined persons to receive initiations into the way of the shaman and learn how to help others through shamanic healing. Core shamanism is especially suited for Westerners who desire a relatively culture-free system that they can adopt and integrate into their lives.
For me, my venture into shamanism began when I had a kind of mystical experience regarding my soul and a spirit animal. In trying to understand this experience, I discovered its shamanic nature and came across the work of Michael Harner. I began training in shamanism with FSS. Each workshop and training programme took me deeper in my own understanding of shamanism and I learned how to use shamanic methods to heal others. I received profound personal healing as well.
As a shamanic practitioner, through monotonous drumming or rattling, I enter a type of trance, the “shamanic state of consciousness,” in order to access what has been termed “non-ordinary reality.” In that altered state, which can range from light to deep, a trained shamanic practitioner engages in the central practice of shamanism, the out-of-body experience. In the journey experience, I can interact directly with benevolent spiritual beings to diagnose, heal, and seek advice on behalf of others.
For experienced shamanic practitioners, shamanism is not a matter of faith. You no more believe that there are spirits than you believe that the sun rises in the east. You know there are spirits because you see, talk, and interact with them, both in journeys and in your daily life – and because they help you to help others.
When you journey to the realms of the benevolent spirits, you discover that in these worlds wholeness, compassion and unity are the norms. This ecstatic experience changes you and you become more than you imagined – and you realize that this world, too, is much more than we imagined.