Who Needs Shamanism?

shamanicdrummingWhen I tell people I do shamanic healing I usually get one of two responses. There are those who know something about shamanism, often through personal experience, and are intrigued and interested; and then there are those who think I’m some kind of new age nutcase—harmless but not to be taken seriously. People in this latter, and admittedly larger, group wouldn’t in a million years consider integrating shamanic healing methods into their treatment protocol when faced with any sort of illness, be it physical, emotional, or mental. For these challenges only “real” medicine is considered.

So what exactly is “real” medicine? It’s interesting how what any culture accepts as medicine is a moving target, a constantly changing set of beliefs and techniques shaped by societal mores, political expedience, prevailing religious influences, and technological trends. I’ve been a Licensed Acupuncturist for 25 years. When I started, acupuncture was still considered outside the mainstream of acceptable medical options, and clearly “alternative” in spite of its ancient roots and successful track record. This is no longer the case. These days, acupuncture is accepted by most insurance companies and integrated into medical protocols at major hospitals across the country. So what happened? Did acupuncture suddenly get better? No, what happened is the culture shifted; people who weren’t getting the results they wanted from conventional medicine sought out alternatives and demanded access to those modalities. Acupuncture moved into the mainstream because it helped people.

I expect the same thing to happen with shamanic healing. Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual and healing methodology on the planet, dating back at least 40,000 years. The fact that, for a relatively brief period in history, humans lost their connection with these practices is entirely due to religious suppression of indigenous shamanic cultures and practices. But that is no longer the case, and shamanic practices are experiencing a resurgence all over the planet. This world wide flowering of shamanism has been largely due to the work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (see www.shamanism.org) in supporting native shamanic practices. We now find ourselves in a world more open again to these extraordinary techniques for living in connection with spirit. This is an amazing opportunity for planetary healing.

If you’ve gotten this far, you may now be wondering if shamanic healing has something to offer you. How would you know when to seek out a shamanic healer, and for what type of complaint? Will it be weird and scary? Do you have to find a Native American shaman, or a Siberian shaman, or a Huichol shaman? How do you go about this? After all, the first thing most of us do when faced with an illness that doesn’t easily resolve on its own is drop by the local clinic or call the family doctor, right? How do you hook up with a shamanic practitioner, and why would you? This is not something you just look up in the Yellow Pages.

Let me see if I can help. The first question is, when might you seek shamanic healing? From a shamanic perspective, all illness has a spiritual component. That doesn’t mean that all illnesses are necessarily caused by spiritual factors. That would be oversimplifying. Illness is of course complex and often involves multiple inter-related factors. But to the shaman, spiritual factors must be addressed along with any physical medicine that is being used. So this means there is a range of ailments that can be appropriately addressed shamanically; everything from that old knee injury that won’t heal properly, to chronic difficult diseases, to depression and anxiety. All of these problems can be approached through the modality of shamanic healing. But that’s not all. There are types of suffering that humans experience that we have no physical medicine for at all–things like unhappiness, long spells of bad luck, losing one’s sense of purpose, loss of vitality, feeling disconnected.  These normal human experiences can cause untold suffering, but physical medicine doesn’t offer much help. And even counseling, the main modality we have to offer for mental and emotional pain, is not a panacea. This is where shamanic healing, with its emphasis on restoring vitality, empowering the soul, and reconnecting the client to their own heart and spiritual guidance system, can be the most helpful form of medicine.

So, how do you find a practitioner and what can you expect? It helps to have some guidance here, since shamanic healing is an “unregulated” alternative practice. This means that practically anyone can call themselves a shaman and hang up a shingle. First of all, I’d be wary of anyone who self-proclaims themselves to be a shaman. In indigenous cultures, the title of shaman was conferred by the community and always because someone had shown themselves to be skilled, compassionate, and actually got good results in relieving pain and suffering. In modern western culture, people who are practicing with good ethics usually call themselves “shamanic practitioners.” This means they use shamanic techniques and are mainly concerned with the client’s well-being, not with their own image as a “shaman.”

And what are these techniques? The main work of a shamanic practitioner is to connect with what are universally termed “helping spirits” to bring power and healing to the client.  These connections are made through the classic shamanic technique called “journeying.” The journey is the shaman’s method of entering non-ordinary reality to get help and healing from these unconditionally loving and evolved helping spirits. The journey is most typically supported by drumming or some other method of sonic driving. Then, with the help of the spirits, the practitioner can restore power to the client, find answers to questions, and access other forms of healing that may be required. Typically, a session with a shamanic practitioner may last for 1-2 hours, during which time you are usually lying comfortably on the floor tucked into a blanket. Well trained, ethical practitioners, are aware of making a client comfortable and being sure they feel safe and are not surprised by anything.

There are two ways to find a good shamanic practitioner. One is to ask someone who has had a good experience, for their recommendation. The other is to go to a respected organization, like the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and peruse their list of trained practitioners for someone in your area. In either case, you should expect the practitioner to have a conversation with you, either on the phone or in person, to get to know one another a bit and answer any questions you have. You should feel comfortable about the whole process. Be aware of anyone who refuses to answer your questions, or promises you miracles. And it is perfectly acceptable, and common practice, for a shamanic practitioner to charge for their services. They have to pay rent and eat too, just like you. Some do this by  receiving “contributions or gifts”, some by sliding scale, and some by a fixed fee. All of that is fine and normal. But whatever the arrangement is, it shouldn’t be completely out of line with what any other doctor or therapist charges for a similar amount of time. And they should be happy to explain in advance their method of receiving payment.

And finally, I want to return to the question I asked in the headline to this article. Who needs shamanism? The answer: all of us.

Blessings of the helping spirits to you,


ncgarden-002Narrye Caldwell practices shamanic healing and teaches workshops for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in Santa Cruz, CA. Her next workshop in Core Shamanism is Nov. 5&6, 2107.  Click this link for registration and details: https://www.narryecaldwell.com/way-of-the-shaman-basic-workshop/



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