Contemporary Shamanism

Shamanism: A Modern Take on an Ancient Practice by Cris McCullough, MA

The practice of Shamanism is a cross cultural phenomenon which has been practiced for thousands of yers. Shamans have long assumed that humans are part of the totality of nature. We are part of an integrated “biome” consisting of animals, plants and all biological forms of life. Another basic assumption is that there are two realities, our ordinary, physical, everyday reality and a non-ordinary reality. How we perceive and experience these realities depends on our state of consciousness. Both kinds of reality are empirically encountered and each has its own knowledge relevant to our human existence. Shamans are trained in the ability to “walk between the Worlds”, that is, access and communicate with Compassionate Spirits by astral traveling to either the Upper, Middle or Lower worlds. In the 1988, Anthropologist Michael Harner published a groundbreaking work called “The Way of the Shaman”. He translated his research into the beliefs and techniques of the numerous Indigenous shamans he worked with directly into , what he termed, Core Shamanism. Subsequently he went on to create the Foundation for Shamanic Studies ( to preserve and honor shamanic traditions around the world and to teach Core shamanism practices. The most common technique used by Shamanic practitioners for their clients is called “Soul Retrieval”. Good health and the absence of serious injury is the base line of the human condition, except in the case of the very elderly. Holistic Integrative therapies have accepted the concept that there exists a Spiritual/Emotional component to the experience of disease. Shamans have always accepted this as so. They believe that Spiritual factors can contribute to or bring about illness. Either the subject/patient has lost a power spirit important to their well being or they may have acquired a spirit detrimental to their well being. The Shaman’s job is to guide the subject to a renewed connection with their Compassionate Spirit/Totem or to remove attached miasma. This is accomplished through a shift in consciousness induced by drumming or rattling or some form of rhythmic sound that moves the subject and practitioner into an altered state of consciousness where they can common with the appropriate Guide. In a typical treatment, the practitioner will first do an intake to ascertain the client’s needs. Depending on the information gathered, the client will be directed to lie down, sit or stand in a particular pose which will connect them to the appropriate “reality”. The practitioner then uses some form of sound induction to transport participants to the alternate reality where they may commune with their helping Spirit for information was to how to best heal the current condition. When my clients come to themselves, I generally have them journal or draw their experiences before we discuss them. I also send these quiet moments transcribing what I have experienced while on the journey. Oftentimes our experiences overlap or are the same! I will then discuss complementary and supportive healing options with the client. Collaboration with other practitioners is always welcome. Shamanism is and always has been a form of complementary treatment. It is common for the Shaman to refer clients to other herbal or physical healers, working together for the best of their common client. Shamanism’s place in modern healing practice is in the acknowledgement of the Spiritual component in the treatment of physical imbalance.

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