The Secrets of Shamanism with Michael Harner


In this article uncover the secrets of shamanism with Michael Harner, an influential anthropologist who developed techniques to heal from this practice.

Shamanism might have originated from the roots in the Russian word “šamán.” This Russian word, in turn, traces its origins back to the Tungusic languages, possibly from the dialect spoken by the Sym Evenki peoples or the Manchu language. Some believe that the word’s etymology is linked to the Tungus root “sā-,” meaning “To Know.” However, Finnish ethnolinguist Juha Janhunen raises doubts about this connection, pointing out phonological irregularities.

A fascinating connection arises when we explore the Sanskrit word “śramaṇa,” which refers to a wandering holy figure. This term, associated with Buddhism, spread to various Central Asian languages and may be the ultimate source of the word “shaman.”

The term “shaman” gained popularity among Russians who encountered Indigenous peoples in Siberia. We find mention of it in the memoirs of the exiled Russian churchman Avvakum. Twenty years later, the Dutch traveler Nicolaes Witsen brought this word to Western Europe after his encounters and journeys among the Indigenous peoples of Siberia. His book, Noord en Oost Tataryen (1692), became the medium through which English speakers were introduced to the term “shaman.” The word began to take root and spread.

Shamanism can be defined as a spiritual practice in which individuals, known as shamans, interact with the spiritual world to access information, receive guidance, and facilitate healing. Shamans act as intermediaries between the human and spirit realms, using their unique abilities to restore balance and harmony.

Core Beliefs of Shamanism

Shamanism with Michael Harner

Shamanism has a rich history dating back thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in prehistoric times when early humans sought guidance from the spirits to navigate the challenges of life. Shamanic practices have been found in diverse cultures such as Siberia, Native America, Africa, and South America.

Shamanism is based on several core beliefs that form the foundation of its practices and rituals. These beliefs include:

Spiritual World and Spirits

Shamans believe in the existence of a spiritual world inhabited by various spirits, including ancestors, animal spirits, and elemental beings. They perceive the interconnectedness of all living beings and recognize the wisdom and power of these spiritual entities.

Shamanic Journeys

A fundamental aspect of shamanism is the practice of shamanic journeys. Shamans enter altered states of consciousness through drumming, chanting, or other techniques to access the spiritual realms. These journeys allow them to communicate with spirits, receive guidance, and retrieve lost parts of the soul.

Healing and Energy

Healing is a central focus of shamanic practice. Shamans believe that illness and suffering are often caused by imbalances or disharmony in the energetic body. Through various techniques such as energy work, soul retrieval, and ritual ceremonies, shamans work to restore balance, remove blockages, and facilitate healing on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.

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Shamanic Practices and Techniques

Shamanism Practices
image by Munkhbayar.B via Wikimedia Commons

Shamanism encompasses a variety of practices and techniques that aid in spiritual exploration and healing. Some notable ones include:

Drumming and Chanting

Drumming and chanting serve as powerful tools in shamanic practices. The steady rhythm of the drum or repetitive chants induces trance-like states, enabling shamans to journey and connect with the spiritual realms. The vibrations of sound help to shift consciousness and access higher states of awareness.

Plant Medicine

Plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, peyote, or psilocybin mushrooms, are often used in shamanic ceremonies to expand consciousness and facilitate profound healing experiences. These sacred plants are believed to possess spiritual and therapeutic properties, providing insights, purification, and deep transformation.

Soul Retrieval

Soul retrieval is a vital shamanic technique aimed at restoring wholeness and healing past traumas. Shamans believe that during times of emotional or physical distress, parts of the soul may fragment and become lost. Through shamanic journeys, shamans locate and reintegrate these lost soul fragments, promoting healing and empowerment.

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Michael Harner: A Pioneer in Shamanism

Shamanism with Michael Harner
Image via Wikimedia Commons – Michael Harner

Early Life and Inspiration

Michael Harner, a renowned American anthropologist, and author, dedicated his life to researching and advancing shamanism. Born on April 27, 1929, and passing away on February 3, 2018, Harner’s work focused on identifying common elements in shamanic traditions worldwide.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Harner conducted fieldwork among indigenous peoples, such as the Conibo of the Peruvian Amazon and the Jivaroan tribes of Ecuador. These experiences shaped his understanding of shamanism, leading him to develop the accessible “core shamanism” approach. This approach highlights universal techniques used by shamans across cultures.

In 1979, Harner founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, a prominent organization that promotes research, training, and cross-cultural understanding of shamanism. He authored influential books like “The Way of the Shaman” (1980) and “Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality” (2013), which remain highly regarded in the study of shamanic practices.

Michael Harner’s contributions brought shamanism to the Western world’s attention, revitalizing and safeguarding traditional shamanic knowledge and techniques. His impact on anthropology endures, inspiring countless individuals to explore shamanic practices for personal and spiritual growth.

Foundation for Shamanic Studies

In 1979, Michael Harner founded the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS), an organization aimed at teaching shamanic techniques, conducting research, and preserving indigenous traditions. The FSS has trained countless individuals in shamanic practices, spreading awareness and appreciation for this ancient spiritual path.

Michael Harner’s Contributions

Michael Harner’s contributions to shamanism are immense. He developed the “core shamanism” approach, distilling universal shamanic techniques that can be practiced by individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Core Shamanism encompasses the universal and near-universal aspects of this spiritual practice, including the vital element of journeying to alternate realms.

Training in Core Shamanism involves instructing students in the use of non-drug techniques, such as sonic driving through repetitive drumming, to alter their consciousness. Through these methods, individuals can explore their own hidden spiritual reservoirs, effect personal transformation, and acquire the skills to aid others in their journeys. Unlike certain shamanic practices that incorporate ceremonial rituals, such as those performed by Native American medicine men and women who engage in both shamanism and ceremonial work, Core Shamanism primarily focuses on the utilization of classic journey methods.

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Benefits of Shamanism

Benefits of Shamanism

Shamanism offers a multitude of benefits for individuals seeking personal growth, healing, and spiritual transformation.

Personal Healing and Growth

Shamanic practices provide powerful tools for self-discovery, healing past wounds, and fostering personal growth. Through shamanic journeys, individuals can gain insights, release limiting patterns, and develop a deeper understanding of themselves.

Connection with Nature

Shamanism emphasizes the profound connection between humans and the natural world. By engaging in shamanic practices, individuals can develop a heightened sense of appreciation for nature, deepening their understanding of the interdependence between all living beings.

Spiritual Transformation

Shamanism offers a path of spiritual transformation and awakening. Through direct experiences with the spiritual realms and the guidance of shamans, individuals can cultivate a deeper connection to their own spirituality, expand their consciousness, and experience profound shifts in their perception of reality.

Shamanism in Modern Society

Shamanism has found its place in modern society, as people seek alternative spiritual practices and holistic approaches to well-being. Here are some key aspects of shamanism in the modern world:

Integration into Western Culture

Shamanic practices have been integrated into Western culture, with individuals from various backgrounds embracing shamanic techniques for personal growth, healing, and spiritual exploration. Shamanic workshops, retreats, and ceremonies are becoming more prevalent, providing opportunities for individuals to learn and engage with this ancient wisdom.

Ethical Considerations

As shamanism becomes more popular, it is essential to address ethical considerations. Cultural appropriation and exploitation of indigenous practices are concerns that need to be acknowledged and respected. It is crucial to approach shamanism with cultural sensitivity, honoring the origins and traditions from which it emerged.

Shamanic Communities and Gatherings

Shamanic communities and gatherings have emerged globally, offering spaces for like-minded individuals to connect, learn, and practice together. These communities provide support, guidance, and a sense of belonging for those on the shamanic path.

Questions About Shamanism

What is a shamanic journey?

A shamanic journey is a practice where individuals enter an altered state of consciousness to connect with the spiritual realms, seeking guidance, healing, and insights from the spirits.

2. Is shamanism a religion?

Shamanism is not a religion in the traditional sense. It is a spiritual practice rooted in ancient indigenous traditions that focus on connecting with the spirit world, healing, and personal growth.

3. Can anyone become a shaman?

Shamanism is often considered a calling. While anyone can learn and practice shamanic techniques, becoming a fully recognized and initiated shaman typically requires specific gifts, training, and guidance from experienced shamans.

4. Are there any risks involved in shamanic practices?

Like any spiritual practice, shamanism should be approached with caution and respect. It is essential to work with experienced practitioners, maintain personal boundaries, and engage in practices that align with your own well-being and safety.

5. How can I find a shamanic practitioner near me?

You can start by researching reputable shamanic organizations, workshops, or communities in your area. Networking with like-minded individuals and seeking recommendations can also help you find a qualified shamanic practitioner who resonates with you.

Disclaimer: Please note that the content presented in this article is meant solely for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of trained medical or psychological professionals.


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