Shamanism is a healing practice that has
been in existence for at least 10,000 years and perhaps
as far back as 50,000 years ago. Shamanism is not a
religion and does not have dogma. It is a spiritual way
of believing and a healing practice. Shamanism has
originated from indigenous tribes from all over the
globe. The most well-known today are Native American,
South American, Tibetan, Siberian, Mongolian, African,
and Celtic shamans.
Core shamanism is a set of common
principles found amongst all shamanic cultures. It
excludes anything that is specific to culture.
Anthropologists, such as Michael Harner and Mircea
Eliade, were pioneers in bringing core shamanism to the
Western world. Cultural shamanism is the medicine
practices of specific cultures or tribes and may include
some practices that are not universal to all shamanic
These are the essential
concepts of core shamanism:
exists is energy. Energy and matter are the same.
Everything has a vibration.
exists is connected to everything else in a web of
alive. Everything has spirit, awareness, and soul.
All beings have
an energy body that overlays the physical body while
incarnated. This energy body exists before birth and
continues after death.
All beings are
divine and enjoy direct access with Spirit.
non-ordinary (non-physical) realities that are just as
real as the physical world (3D).
The unseen inner
and spiritual realities affect visible reality.
can be entered by altering states of consciousness
through the use of sound, rhythm, movement, and/or
all realities can be developed with Spirits, who offer
guidance, healing, or power.
The following are some of
the roles that medicine people may perform in their
roles as shamans. This list is adapted from Colleen
Deatsman's list in her excellent book on shamanism
called The Hollow Bone:
rites of passage, training, and ceremonies
songs for clients and to invoke, connect with, and honor
plant energies, and plant spirits for healing purposes
life-force, spiritual, elemental, and personal energy
through hands-on healing
exploring universal laws and the ways of energy and
information, wisdom, and knowledge from the ordinary and
with nature spirits, such as plants, animals, rocks,
water, and weather elements
Acting as an
intermediary between the invisible spirit world and the
people in order to restore health, drive out unhelpful
evil spirits, and ensure success in hunting, gathering,
and agricultural endeavors
apprentices and the people certain spiritual ways
future and recognizing and reading signs and omens
possessing spirits, evil spirits, and souls who have not
crossed over from a person, family, group of people, or
power and soul parts
soul-crossings to the spirit world (psychopomp)
with the dead
sacrifices to appease the spirits and the gods
ETYMOLOGY & DISCUSSION OF TERMS
"There are those who argue against the assimilation of the traditions of other cultures into apparently alien spiritual ideologies. These individuals
imply that this is a form of theft. However shamanism in itself is not the property of any indigenous culture. The themes and practices of the ecstatic art are
remarkably similar in cultures that are separated geographically by thousands of miles." -P. M. Staunton
What is Medicine?
Medicine is derived from the Latin ars medicina, meaning the art of healing. Contemporary or Western medicine treats, diagnoses, and prevents illnesses,
diseases, and injuries through medication, surgery, and other forms of therapy.
What is Traditional Medicine?
Traditional Medicine (aka indigenous, folk, complimentary, or alternative medicine) comprises knowledge about plant, animal and mineral-based
medicines, spiritual therapies, and manual techniques that have been developed over many generations. This
type of medicine is usually transmitted orally through communities, families, and individuals. Many indigenous
communities have specific roles for healers (see definition of shaman below).
According to Native American beliefs, Medicine is an inner power that is found in both Nature and all individuals. Annie
Spencer defines Native American Medicine as "a state of being in harmony and balance with ourselves, the world, and with Spirit."
The simplest definition of medicine, then, is anything that is good for you.
What is a Shaman?
"shaman" originated from the Siberian word "saman", meaning
"he who knows" or "seer".
The "shaman" word spread from the Russians to the Americas via anthropologists.
In Siberia, shamans are chosen by the spirits at birth but are not struck down (dismemberment and rebirth) until later in
life (usually in their 20's). There are only two ways of being struck down: shaman's sickness and being struck by
lightning. Those with the potential to be a shaman are called
"butur" (cocoon). There are 9 degrees (levels) of
shamanism and it takes years of training to reach each level. The 9th level is rarely reached.
The word "shaman" is often substituted or is considered synonymous with medicine person, witch,
wizard, sorcerer, magician, seer, sage, healer, herbalist, dream interpreter, priest/priestess, and spiritual advisor.
The word "shamanka" is Russian for a female shaman. In the Russian language, the feminine form has an
"a" at the end.
The label of "shaman" should not be self-assigned but is an honor bestowed out of respect on an individual by others of
the community. Sometimes term "shamanist" is used to mean a person who uses shamanic principles and techniques in everyday life for the well-being of
him/herself and others, but who does not claim to be a shaman. I prefer to use the term
"shamanic practitioner" to explain what I do. A "shamanic practitioner" uses the
practices of core and/or cultural shamanism in one's healing work.
Personal View on the Use of "Shaman"
"shaman" is becoming a mainstream term for earth-based spirituality much the same as
"Xerox" has become a generic term for "copy" or "Kleenex" for
"tissue". Many medicine people of many different cultures are now called
"shamans" when in fact they may
not even use all of the "core" practices that are traditionally considered "shamanism" by anthropologists.
Examples of this is calling the Q'ero paqos of the Andes
"shamans" and calling Native American medicine people "shamans". Neither culture owns the term
addition, there are Siberian shamans that do not appreciate the world taking their term "shaman" and applying in to other cultures.
I believe it is important to try to honor each culture by learning the correct terminology. Whenever I am invited to speak
on radio I make an effort to explain differences of terminology so people can become informed. Perhaps the world in need of an overall term that "medicine" people
can be called. As the consciousness of the planet evolves and as quantum physics begins to prove concepts of the spirit world, it there is an increasing interest
in alternative healing practices. There is a much needed coming home to our indigenous roots and beliefs.
THE SHAMAN'S CODEX
I believe a shaman is not defined by how s/he practices shamanic healing but how s/he strives to live every moment of every day in right
relationship with the Universe. I wrote the following to express what shamanic belief includes:
A shaman knows that everything in the Universe is a sentient being and so shows respect and courtesy towards everything. S/he
knows that everything is connected, originates from one source, and that nothing happens without a reason.
A shaman practices non-dogmatic spirituality. The entire world is his/her church and s/he serves the Great Spirit 24/7. S/he tries to make every thought prayer-based.
A shaman knows everyone has Free Will and that only that which is for one's highest good can be manifested.
A shaman ritualizes daily activities in order to raise them above the mundane, to honor and appreciate life.
A shaman is the master of ceremony. Ceremony keeps him/her in right relationship with the world.
A shaman can easily enter into a trance and freely travel to Alternative Realities and Dimensions.
A shaman communicates often with ancestors, spirit guides, and animal guides. S/he is guided by and channels Higher Spirits. S/he receives messages through feeling, knowing, and hearing.
A shaman honors and expresses gratitude to all the Nature Spirits, Gods, and Goddesses.
A shaman understands the Energetic Laws of the Universe and knows that everything in the Universe is energy. S/he is an alchemist with the ability to shift and transform energy.
A shaman develops a rainbow body by clearing, balancing, and energizing all of his/her chakras and energy channels.
A shaman is a master tracker and energy reader. His/her intuition is finely tuned.
A shaman is a spirit seeker. He/she uses soul sonar to find other soul connections.
A shaman embodies the archetypes of the Seer, Mystic, Prophet, and Elder.
A shaman is a Peaceful Warrior and courageously faces his/her fears.
A shaman is on the learning path and his/her quest for knowledge never ends.
A shaman recognizes that every concept has its polar opposite but that a person can be at any point along a continuum between the two poles. After experiencing the distant poles, a being will eventually come to balance in the middle.
A shaman is charismatic which means s/he is grounded, conscious, energized, and exudes love.
A shaman balances his/her life between meditative aloneness and interacting connectedness.
A shaman walk's his/her talk. His/her most important quality is integrity.
A shaman does his/her own personal work before s/he expects others to do theirs.
A shaman expresses unconditional and nonjudgmental love. His/her heart is love and light.
A shaman uses his/her empathic skills to know how it feels to walk in someone else's moccasins.
A shaman always carries his/her medicine bag, both literally and figuratively. A shaman has learned many healing tools.
A shaman is a healer, helping others to tap into their own healing powers and knows that each individual has the power to heal themselves. The shaman is the facilitator that makes the individual aware of the ability to heal.
A shaman is a caretaker. S/he mentors and nurtures others.
A shaman listens well and directs without Ego. S/he is a hollow bone, allowing the healing spirits to work through him/her.
THE SHAMAN'S COMMANDMENTS
THE SHAMAN'S MEDICINE BAG: TOOLS OF A SHAMAN
DEATH RITES (PSYCHOPOMP SERVICES)
A shaman often performs psychopomp services. A
psychopomp is a guide that assists souls as they cross
from life to death. Dying is the final rite of passage.
Death Rites help the dying person cross to the
Afterlife. Functions performed by a psychopomp may
1. Recapitulation and Forgiveness -
Listening to the dying person's confessions and life
review. Assisting the dying person in coming to closure,
which may include actions of atonement.
the dying person permission to die.
praying, and reciting a guidebook to the dying person.
the soul as it exits the physical body. Assisting the
energy body's release from the physical body.
the chakras after the soul has left the physical body.
the soul "go to the Light" when it is ready.
Despacho is a Spanish word used to describe a type of
ritual offering. The most common offerings are made to
honor Pachamama (Mother Earth) or the Apukuna (Sacred
Mountains). The despacho is a gift,
a reciprocity of what we receive every day in our lives.
The despacho places us in right relationship, right
ayni, with Pachamama. The offering consists of natural
items arranged on paper, prayed over, infused with
and thanksgiving, and
then folded into a bundle to be burned or buried. Every
ingredient has its own meaning and is placed on the
paper with specific intention. All the participants
blow their prayers into kintus (coca leaves). The despacho
can be created for many occasions such as births,
deaths, marriages, good luck, prosperity, longevity,
celebrations, memorials, and space blessing.
"The Drum is the Great Spirit's favorite instrument.
That's why we were all given a heartbeat." -Mano,
The drum is healing as it
sounds like a human heartbeat and vibrates at the
resonant frequency of the Earth. Drums serve various
purposes. One of the main ones is aiding the shaman move
into the theta state for shamanic journeys. The drum
(beat at approximately 180 cycles-per-second) is called
the "horse" the shaman rides to non-ordinary realities.
Most drums used for
shamanic ritual are a wooden circle (12" to 24") with
animal skin stretched across one side. A mallet is used
to beat a rhythm on the skin head. The spirit of the
drum has a totem animal. A drum is sacred and should not
be touched unless the owner gives his/her consent.
Always keep a drum face up when laying it down and place
it on a special square of material or mat.
A drum circle is a group
of people that gather to play drums, rattles, and other
percussion. The drums are played impromptu, each
individual playing off the rhythm of the others.
There are 2 basic types of energy that can penetrate the
aura: crystallized energies and fluid energies. If the
intrusion is another soul, the shaman can convince the
soul to leave for its proper destination in the spirit
world. The extraction process consists of scanning the
client's energy body to identify the crystallized
energy, extracting the energies and then illuminating
and re-energizing the chakras. After the extraction, the
shaman can fill the void left in the client with a power
animal retrieval or soul retrieval.
- Some negative energies can crystallize within the
energy body. The sources of these energies include ill
will directed at one person by another (whacks) or
energetic remnants of how one died, was hurt or killed,
in former lifetimes. Symptoms include: anxiety,
depression, addiction, and mood swings.
- Fluid energies consist of intrusive energies and
entities that are disincarnate spirits trapped between
this world and the next or one of our own former
lifetimes that has been awakened and wants to live
again. Intrusive entities feed on the energy of the
chakras and central nervous system. They have to be
extracted using a crystal.
The symptoms of spiritual
intrusion are: feeling low on power, sudden change in
personality, desires, or additions, confusion or
discomfort, illness, injury, organ transplant, or
localized physical or emotional pain with no obvious
The Illumination process has been practiced for
thousands of years by the medicine people of the Andes
and the Amazon. It clears the imprints (toxic memories
or fears) of karma and disease from the energy body and
transforms the heavy emotions associated with trauma and
disease into light. During illumination, the chakras are
cleaned out. The process can eliminate negative energy,
promote longevity, and strengthen immunity. The imprint
is the source, the chakra the pipeline, and the nervous
system the distribution network. The process includes
cleaning the affected chakras and embedding them with
healing light. During integration after an illumination,
one may experience vivid dreams or have sudden insights.
A bag of varying sizes usually made of animal skin or
hide and usually decorated with fringe and beads. The
bag is used to carry spiritual objects. The Druids call
the medicine bag a crane bag but it has the same purpose
as the medicine bag. (Also similar is the gris gris,
mojo, or ouanga bag.) All items in the bag as well as
the bag itself should be smudged and can be energized in
a special dedication ceremony. The bag and its contents
are considered sacred to the owner and should never be
touched or opened by another. The medicine that the bag
creates is the energy from the combination of items
inside the bag and the energy bond created between these
items and the individual. Some suggested items for the
Plants, Herbs, Seeds, Leaves, Twigs, Roots, Pine
Cones, Nuts, Bark
The 3 Sisters = Corn, Bean, & Squash
Sacred Ceremony = Tobacco, Sage, & Sweetgrass
Good Aromatics = Lavender, Cedar, Juniper, & Pinion
Salt (represents the earth), Rocks & Soil, Minerals,
Crystals, Sea Shells
Hides, Feathers, Fur, Claws, Bones, Teeth
Hair, Nails, Blood, Body Fluids
Oil, Incense, Prayer Scrolls, Personal Symbols, Totems
A medicine wheel is a circular cosmology based on
specific cultures. It is a circle that encompasses the 4
directions (East, South, West, and North). The wheel
represents the unending cycle of life, death, and
rebirth. The medicine wheel comes from many ancient
cultures all over the world. Physically manifested, it
can be a small circle hung like a dream catcher or it
can be a large group of rocks out on the Earth. The
wheel itself is considered sacred space and is used for
many rituals. The wheel becomes a mini vortex of power
or a sacred altar.
To view medicine
wheels from various cultures, go to
MUNAY KI RITES (RITES OF ENLIGHTENMENT)
Munay-Ki rites are initiations that help
become a person of wisdom and power. When a person
receives the rites, they are connected to the lineage of
the Inka healers and priests. Munay-Ki comes from a
Quechua word that means "I love you" and "Be as thou
art". The rites are derived from the Laika, the
Earthkeepers, from 30,000 years ago. The rites activate
the Energy Body and its power to manifest and create.
The rites plant seeds in the energy fields of the
chakras. They help the initiate acquire the rainbow body
where the chakras glow with their original radiance.
Once implanted, these seeds need to be germinated and
grown by light rituals. The first 9 rites are:
Bands of Power
- Protect and break
down any negative energies.
- Activates healing
Harmony (Ayni Karpay)
- Connects one to
the organizing principles of the universe.
- Awakens one's ability
to perceive the invisible world of spirit.
Daykeeper (Pampa Mesayok)
healing and balance to the Earth. Heals the inner
Wisdomkeeper (Alto Mesayok)
- Helps one
to step outside of time and taste infinity. Heals the
Earthkeeper (Kurak Akuyek)
stewardship of the entire Earth and brings healing and
balance to any situation. Helps one to dream the world
Starkeeper (Mosak Karpay)
acquires stewardship for the time to come and all future
generations. Downloads the final codes into one's energy
body and anchors one into the future now.
Creator (Tai Tanchis Ranti)
the God-light within. One acquires stewardship for all
Shamans recognize that plants have specific spirits.
They journey to the spirit of the plant to find out what
purpose the plant is to be used for. Many plants are
used for healing purposes. Some shamanic cultures use
plants that have hallucinogenic properties to connect to
alternate realities. These plants are used in sacred
ceremony and are led by experienced medicine people.
Note that not all shamans use plant medicine. Some
common plants used for these purposes are: Ayahuasca
(the spirit vine), San Pedro, Peyote, and Mushrooms.
POWER OR TOTEM ANIMAL
A power animal is an animal spirit guide that watches
over a person from birth. A person can have multiple
power animals that serve as guides and spirit helpers.
Each animal has specific traits that can be used to
provide positive qualities for an individual as needed.
(To read about specific attributes of power animals,
refer to Animal Spirit Guides by Steven D.
power animal can be retrieved on a guided meditation by
an experienced practitioner, by having a shaman journey
for the retrieval, or by an individual journeying for
his/her own animal. During a power animal retrieval
journey, an animal should appear a minimum of 4 times.
Power animal retrievals help restores a person's
personal power. After a person is introduced to his/her
power animal, a long term relationship is established by
honoring the animal through communication and paying
respect by "dancing the animal". A power animal will
provide protection in all 3 realms of body, mind, and
Rattles are usually made of natural materials, such as
dried gourds, turtle shells, or rawhide filled with dry
seeds, beans, or pebbles. The rattle is another vehicle
(besides smudge) used to cleanse and purify or to use
(besides the drum) for traveling to non-ordinary
reality. The rattle is a gentle way to call or release
the Ancestors from the 7 directions [East, South, West,
North, Sky (up), Center, and Earth (down)]. A rattle is
sacred and should not be touched unless the owner gives
his/her consent. It should be covered when it is not
When shamans journey to
the spirit realm, they enter a trance-like state of
consciousness. In this trance state the brain generates
theta waves. One can journey successfully listening to a
drum beat frequency of 4 beats-per-second for at least
15 minutes. This is a consistent beat of between 205 to
220 beats per minute. The drum is called the "horse"
that one rides into the journey state. Other vehicles
that can also be used to travel to the trance state are:
rattles, ecstatic dance, hypnosis, and hallucinogens.
The shaman's world
consists of 3 levels of non-ordinary realities: the
Lower, Middle, and Upper World. The shaman journeys with
a specific intent and meets power animals, spirits, and
Michael Harner calls ordinary reality
the Ordinary Sate of Consciousness (OSC) and the altered
state of shamanic trance the Shamanic State of
Consciousness (SSC). Mircea Eliade referred to the
shamanic trance as ecstasy. The 4 Spiritual Worlds
(Realms) consist of:
- Non-ordinary reality of the subconscious.
- Ordinary reality of the conscious. The world we
currently live in.
- Non-ordinary reality of the superconscious. This is
where the Higher
Below the Lower World
is the Under World, the place of the unconscious.
Above the Upper World is
the Celestial World, the highest power, the realm of the
Here is a chart listing the characteristics of each the
shamanic levels of consciousness:
Beta & Alpha
crevice in a rock
tree knothole or roots
Down a well
doorway or gate
waterfall or stream
Out the door
or a window
a gap in the sky
high up a cliff
flight of stairs
mountain that pierces a cloud
Up a ladder
jungles, meadows, forests, swamps, rivers,
communication is in symbols.
parallel of ordinary reality although many
features may be changed.
bright, ethereal, and airy.
interactions are verbal.
guidance, power, & healing
about finding objects
that are existential:
"Why am I
"What is my
"What is my
Here are some basic ground rules to formulating
questions to journey on:
Ask one precise, clear, and concise question.
Use the following words: Who, what, where, why, and how.
Avoid divination questions, such as questions that ask
when, unless you are doing a specific divination
journey. Asking about the future, changes the future.
Use simple and positive language.
Do not ask compound questions using "and" or "or". If
you want to ask additional questions, make additional
journeys. However, you can ask questions for
clarification while on the journey.
Only journey for yourself. Never journey for someone
else unless you have their permission. Remember, it is
not ethical to exert any energy towards influencing
someone else's path.
A client may be possessing soul pieces from others. In
the complete process of soul retrieval, it is important
for the client to release these bits. This can be done
through a personal ritual. The important point is the
intent behind the ritual.
Soul remembering is a way to find your true self after a
soul retrieval. An analysis of what one was like at
incarnation, what habits replaced the lost soul bits,
how to eliminate the habits, how to bring passion back
into life, and what beliefs are roadblocks, will help
integrate the newly returned soul pieces.
Soul parts may be lost in one of two ways:
During traumatic events, soul parts may be separated by
the individual for safe keeping or as a means of
defense or left at the scene of a trauma.
Parts of one's soul may be taken by others that want to
hold a piece of someone.
The symptoms of soul loss
are many and include: trauma, post traumatic stress
syndrome, shock, immune deficiency problems, chronic
illness, coma, chronic depression, suicidal feelings,
inability to heal, inability to move forward, long term
grief, addictions, disassociation, lost memories, spaciness, inability to feel, feeling lost, incomplete,
stuck, dispirited, or feeling unable to move forward,
feeling out of control, feeling like a part of you has
died, like something in life is missing, like someone
stole a part of you, or like you want to return to a
person/location for no good reason, or lost something
you can't get back.
journeying the shaman will determine what soul pieces
are safe to retrieve and bring them back for the client.
The shaman then blows each piece back into the client's
body. Since negative habits or health has filled the
holes the missing soul pieces have left, the soul
retrieval process requires work to reintegrate the lost
Benefits of a soul
retrieval can be: feeling more present, feeling more
connected, moving forward easier, making decisions or
changes easier, feeling self-empowered, and feeling
integrate or whole.
Smudging is the ritual burning of grasses or herbs. The
smoke from the plants is brushed over a person either by
a hand or feather. Smoke carries away negative energy
and carries positive intention to the Sky World.
Smudging can be used for the following:
your physical and energy body of bad energy picked up
from others or negative emotions.
To begin a
special ritual or ceremony.
your physical environment such as home, work, and
your crystals, medicine bags, and other sacred
Different plants have
different purposes. Sage is the most popular and is used
to purify or cleanse by removing negative energy. Sage
can be followed with sweetgrass, which brings in
positive energy. Common plants used for smudging are:
Juniper, & Sweetgrass - Attracts good influences
Blue Corn &
Tobacco - Ceremonial offerings
Cedar - Cleanses and purifies
- Clears sacred spaces
Promotes peace of mind and inner calm
Protects and clears
The sweat lodge
ceremony (inipi, initipi, or inikagapi)
is a sacred purification ceremony. It is performed
inside a lodge made of bent willows covered with
blankets and heated with stones placed in the center.
The lodge represents the womb of the Earth Mother. All
behavior surrounding the lodge is conducted in a sacred
way. The ceremony may only be led or performed by those
who have been trained in how to pour a sweat.
sweat lodge is constructed in the following manner: 16
willow saplings, approximately 1" in diameter at the
butt end, are peeled and imbedded in the ground in a
circle approximately 6 to 9" in diameter. The saplings
are then bent over and tied with rawhide thongs to form
a dome structure, approximately 4" high at the center.
The saplings are arranged so that there are 4 on each
side of the lodge, with an entrance on the east. The
saplings are covered with blankets and tarps so that
when the door is finally closed no light will be
admitted into the lodge. The hole approximately 2" in
diameter and 2 feet deep is carved out in the center
into which hot stones will be placed. The earth which is
removed is used to form a sacred path approximately 8
paces from the entrance. At the eastern end of the path
the ground is cleared for the fireplace. One person, the
fire tender, lights it and maintains it. As the ceremony
begins, s/he hands in the rocks through the entrance.
Participants always move clockwise when entering and
exiting the lodge. When entering one says "Mitakuye
Oyasin" (all my relatives, meaning we are all
connected). Once the door is sealed the leader or pourer
sprinkles a ladle of water on the hot stones. Prayers
and songs are recited during each round. There are
usually 4 rounds and the total process lasts about 3
hours. If prayer ties were prepared for the sweat, they
are hung from the willow frame during the sweat and then
burnt in the fire after the last round.
Vision quest is a time set aside to be in isolation
usually in nature and usually while fasting. Solitude
and meditation allow the mind to be receptive to visions
and/or messages from the spirits.
rectangle, approximately 4 to 6" wide and 6 to 8" long,
is created by placing prayer ties around the perimeter.
The quester brings nothing in from society with the
exception a blanket (and sometimes water). Vision Quest
usually lasts 4 days within this rectangle and the
quester only leaves long enough to relieve him/herself.
Anthropologists have found that there are 3 universal
stages of vision quest:
Severance (Departure) - Preparation includes
separation, detachment, letting go of the old, and
preparing to die from one's old life.
Threshold (Trial/Initiation/Transformation) -
This is the time of aloneness, hunger, exposure and the
trials that will test one's spirit and purpose.
Threshold is entering into sacred space, ritual and
ceremony, and being with Great Spirit, one on one. In
order to be filled, a quester must empty out that which
no longer serves. Then s/he can be filled with all the
Great Spirit has to give. The quester is awakened to a
new way of seeing.
Incorporation (Return) - The quest will never
really end because the vision will be brought back to
make the world a better place and create changes for all