Dispelling Some Common Myths About Shamanism

I just spoke to a student of mine who is very interested in pursuing further shamanic training. I’ve encouraged her, noting her natural talent for the work, and the rich rewards she has already experienced. Indeed, her own Helping Spirits have counseled her to pursue work as a healer. So this seems like a no brainer for her, right? Well actually, no. My client is reluctant because she is worried about what her family will think.

Shamanism still seems a little weird to many people with no experience of it. And I’m no stranger to these doubts myself. When I first became involved in shamanic practice a decade ago, I had already been a Licensed Acupuncturist with a private practice for many years. Believe me when I tell you that acupuncture is easily considered mainstream medicine now, relative to shamanic practices like soul retrieval, extraction, and journeying into non-ordinary reality. So in the early days, I kept this other work pretty quiet, only venturing into it with clients I knew would be receptive.

But now, years later, I enthusiastically share my shamanic healing and divination practice. This is partly because I’ve matured as a practitioner and no longer worry about what other people think of me; but also, and perhaps more importantly, because I’ve seen such powerful results on both a physical and spiritual level, that I am inspired by the need to restore a shamanic way of life to our culture. An important part of this process is to correct some of the misunderstandings that abound regarding shamanism.  Here are some that I often hear:

  1. “Shamanism is a religion, and I don’t think I believe in it.”

Shamanism is not a religion but a technique for spiritual exploration. It has no doctrines or creeds that must be accepted on faith. Any conclusions about the nature of Spirit, Spirits, or cosmology are arrived at through the practitioner’s direct experience. This process of exploration and validation through personal experience is crucial, and is one thing that distinguishes shamanism from religion.

In actuality, shamanism is compatible with all sorts of religions. I grew up a Quaker, and am still active in the Quaker community. I also have strong connections to Taoism through decades of involvement in Chinese medicine and martial arts, along with Celtic and pagan influences that come through my ancestry. All of this is entirely compatible with my shamanic practice.

2. “You have to be Native American (or from some other indigenous culture,) to practice shamanism.”

Not at all. Shamanism is the oldest spiritual practice on the planet. It used to be the natural heritage of all human beings, not just the province of certain tribes.  All humans, no matter their ancestry, have an inherent right to reclaim this powerful visionary practice that can put them directly in touch with spiritual wisdom and restore their connection to Spirit and Nature. One of the reasons I teach Core Shamanism is that it utilizes techniques that are shared by all shamanic cultures. Individuals are encouraged to tailor their practice in response to the guidance offered by their Helping Spirits and in ways that are in alignment with their personal cultural traditions.

3. “Shamanism is scary, strange, and weird.”

Most people are surprised by how comfortable they feel with shamanic practice, once they know what to expect. There is now a growing community of shamanic practitioners who come from all walks of life. We’re a pretty normal bunch of people who hold down “regular” jobs and have families. Some have healing practices in a number of different modalities. Shamanism works with all of this. Shamanic healing and divination sessions typically take place in a context of grounded communication, respect, and professionalism.  Yes, there will probably be drumming, rattling, and maybe even some singing. But everything is explained and the client is always made to feel completely comfortable. I have never completed a session in which the client didn’t tell me afterward how relaxed and at ease they felt the whole time, even people with no previous experience of shamanic practice.

4. “Shamanic healing should be free since it’s not “real” medicine and indigenous shamans historically never took money.”

Wow. This one takes my breath away. Let me just say this: healing happens when there’s flow. The recipient of healing must be willing to give something meaningful in exchange for the work; this honors flow. In the old days the medium of exchange may have been different, but the principle was still honored. A patient often scraped up everything he or she possibly could, to give to the shaman in exchange for the work. Today’s equivalent is money. I have never turned a client away for lack of money. On the other hand, I make it clear that the work has immense value and requires a meaningful exchange to honor it. This is called integrity. Enough said.


Narrye Caldwell is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Classical Feng Shui consultant, Astrologer, and Shamanic Healer. She teaches core shamanism in Santa Cruz, and Qigong and Tai Chi at Five Branches University. She will be teaching Michael Harner’s Way of the Shaman®, the Basic Workshop, in Soquel in November.  For more information see Classes at www.narryecaldwell.com.  

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