For me, discussing shamanism starts with acknowledging the worldview out of which shamanism springs. That worldview holds a perspective that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. In other words, our consciousness, or soul essence, existed before our human incarnation, and it will continue after we’ve left our bodies.
Another aspect of this worldview is that certain beings, who are not currently in physical form, agree to help and/or partner with those of us who are. They guide, support, and protect us as we work through the denseness of human form in our efforts to live a good life. In turn, we become the hands and feet of those spirits, who still want to help in healing fragmentation and co-create a compassionate world for those in physical form, but have no body to do so.
If this worldview doesn’t fit for you, then shamanism will make little sense. However, if it has some resonance, then what follows will offer further insight and information that I hope you find useful.
There are many good ways to define shamanism. In my book A New Paradigm of Spirituality and Religion, I define it as ‘a system of inter-relatedness that exists among shamans, their cultures, and the spirits, as each interacts with the other(s) to provide and maintain spiritual healing, support and guidance for both individuals and the community. As a system, these inter-related components express themselves differently according to the cultures in which they function.’
Michael Harner, who coined the term ‘core shamanism’ and provided most of my core shamanic training, wrote on his website: ‘Core shamanism consists of the universal, near-universal, and common features of shamanism, together with journeys to other worlds, a distinguishing feature of shamanism.’ Learning to take shamanic journeys is a fundamental method used to meet and work directly with spiritual allies.
It is with both sadness and deep gratitude that I remember and acknowledge Michael, who died on 3 February 2018. I appreciated his teaching, guidance, and delightful sense of humor.
Elements of core shamanism include some type of shamanic vocation and initiation; a cosmology, or geography, of the nonphysical/spirit realms; soul flight or journeying; a shamanic state of consciousness, usually induced by drumming, singing, dancing, and/or monotonous rhythmic music; work with spiritual allies; shamanic soul healing of various types; and community support.
There are many types of shamanic healing. Among them are divination; power animal retrieval; soul retrieval; extraction of spiritual intrusions; psychopomp work with those who are dying or have died; depossession; and environmental healing. Sandra Ingerman joined with Michael in teaching me these healing practices.
If this interests you, I suggest you read books by Michael and Sandra, and if desirable, seek training with one or both of them. Of course, there are many other fine teachers of shamanic practice. I’m sharing those with whom I’ve worked specifically.