What Is Shamanism

In shamanism, the maintenance of one's personal power is fundamental to well-being. ~ Michael Harner

Shamanism : Soul-Healing by Colleen Deatsman
Published January 2003, The Healing Garden Journal

Though shamanism is the oldest living path of spirituality and healing, many people have never heard of it, or do not know what it is. Shamanism is not a religion, it is a method of healing and a spiritual way of living based in animism. Animism is the understanding that all things are living and have a soul; trees, animals, this magazine, the chair you are sitting in, and you and I. Shamanism represents the most widespread and ancient methodological system of mind-body healing known to humanity, according to Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. It is estimated to have been an effective healing method for approximately 40 thousand years and still exists on all continents. Shamanism is cross-cultural and non-denominational, coexisting with and complimenting all other religions, including Christianity.

Shamans are the healers, visionaries, counselors and psychologists of their communities. Historically shamans have been the medicine people that looked out for the well-being of the entire tribe, clan or community, as well providing individual treatment. The term Shaman has been adapted from the Tungus people of Siberia meaning one who sees in the dark. This name denotes the ability of the Shaman to journey out of space and time to diagnose and treat illness. The Shaman is the middleman between ordinary and non-ordinary reality. They are often called seers or knowers because of this ability to journey into non-ordinary reality and experience information and energy first-hand.

Studying shamanism and learning basic journeying techniques does not make one a shaman. To become a shaman requires a deep, undeniable internal calling, intense self-exploration, initiations, and a lifetime dedication to study, training, apprenticing, experiencing, healing, and practicing. It is no easy undertaking and one that few ever consider. However, learning to use the shamanic journey for personal use is easy and powerfully healing and enlightening for many people. We all have a natural ability to connect with Spirit and the energy of the otherworlds.

Shamanically speaking there are three worlds, the middle world, the lower world, and the upper world. The middle world is the world in which we live that has both physical and spiritual aspects. It is both the ordinary and the non-ordinary worlds overlapped. It is the world of balance and integration. The upper and lower worlds are places of power where we directly access guidance and empowerment. The lower and upper worlds are non-ordinary worlds that have nothing to do with heaven or hell. These spiritual worlds are referred to as the otherworlds or spirit realms. These otherworlds exist within and around all of us, just outside of our daily perceptions. They are the places that shamans and journeyers experience and can be accessed through gateways, doorways or tunnels.

A shaman or journeyer enters a trance state in order to access the otherworlds in an ecstatic state that is commonly termed the shamanic state of consciousness (SSC) and/or non-ordinary reality (NOR). This state of deep awareness allows the journeyer to place the conscious critical left-brained mind at rest while exploring the realms of vast possibility in the otherworlds. The trance-state used by shamans and journeyers is the theta state of brain wave activity, the state that is the closest to sleep. Thus, many shamans are called dreamers or are said to be dreaming the journey. This state feels similar to daydreaming though much much deeper. The shamanic trance is often entered into with the assistance of monotonous rhythmic drumming, rattling, singing or movement. Once the shaman enters this state of consciousness, they journey to meet with their Spirit Teachers and fulfill the intention of the journey whether it be for growth, guidance or healing for personal use or on behalf of a client. Spirit Teachers, commonly referred to as Spirit Guides, may appear as energy or may take the form of Power Animals or Totems, Angels, Religious Deities, Mythological Beings, or Ascended Spirit Masters to name a few.

What happens at a Shamanic Healing session?

From a shamanic perspective all illnesses, whether mental, emotional or physical, are spiritual imbalances that can be corrected with spiritual intervention. Individual shamanic healing centers on restoring spiritual wholeness, energy and power to clients, and establishing harmony and balance in the client's world. A shaman accomplishes this by entering into the journey with their, and the client's, Spirit Teachers, diagnosing the nature of the imbalance, and performing the specified shamanic techniques. Energy obtained by the Shaman on behalf of the client is blown into the client's energy field and the journey and healing treatments are thoroughly described. Healing takes place on an energetic and spiritual level that affects the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical bodies of the client. Most people find the session to be calm and relaxing, yet energizing at the same time. Shamanic healing can be performed both in person and at a distance. Three of the most commonly used techniques for individual healing are soul retrieval, power retrieval, and extraction.

Soul Retrieval

Soul loss is a spiritual and psychological illness where a part of soul, or core essence of a person, splits off. This loss can cause symptoms such as: depression, addictions, numbness and inability to fully live life, a weakened immune system or frequent illness, and feeling empty inside. Soul loss can occur when a person experiences trauma such as: a child separating from a parent, an accident, surgery, break up of a relationship, substance use, witnessing a traumatic event, any type of abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. To correct soul loss the Shaman journeys with their Spirit Teachers to the lost soul parts where they may be shown or told a story about why the soul part left. The Shaman then brings the soul part(s) back into ordinary reality and blows them into the energy field of the client and describes what was experienced in the journey and the gifts that these soul parts bring to the client now that they are re-united.

Power Retrieval

Power loss occurs when a person becomes dis-spirited, losing connection to their Spirit Teachers. Symptoms of power loss can include: chronic fatigue, chronic illness, depression, weakness, on-going misfortune and problems. Shamanic cultures believe that everyone is born with guiding Spirits that protect and share power with us. Guardian Spirits often take the form of what is termed a Power Animal or Totem. This Guardian Spirit may also take the form of Angels, Spirit Masters, etc. Michael Harner learned in his world-wide studies that a Power Animal or Guardian Spirit not only increases one's physical energy and ability to resist disease but also increases mental alertness and self-confidence. This Spirit help may be lost for many reasons. The Shaman restores a person’s spiritual power by journeying to reconnect the client with their Spirit Teachers.


Extraction is the technique of removing obstructions from the energy body, called intrusions, that block the free flow of personal life force energy. An intrusion is characterized by localized chronic pain or discomfort. A Shaman with the help of their Spirit Teachers journeys to identify and remove the intrusion. Shamanism can be used to augment counseling, psychotherapy, modern medical treatments, and mind/body therapies and may provide the missing link to your recovery.

Personal Shamanic Journeying

Personal journeying is a healing technique born from our shamanic ancestral past when we lived connected to the divine and close to the Earth in clans and tribes. It is a simple technique that most peoples and cultures worldwide have utilized throughout the millennia for accessing spirit healing and guidance. It is based on the concept that there is an interconnected web of power within all life that we call spirit. This spirit web is the life force and power of life. For most people the world appears to be an ordinary place comprised of a physical environment explained by science. We perceive people and objects as being solid and material. The spirit web of life is a non-ordinary world that encompasses, underlies and runs through the ordinary physical world. The ordinary world is dependent on the web for its life force energy and existence. The web pervades all of life and is real and present, just outside the perception of most people. Journeying is a technique that unveils the non-ordinary world and allows us to touch and perceive the web. Shamans use this technique to see the interconnectedness of life and utilize this power and knowledge for healing and guiding others. In this same way, the personal journeyer can access the web for power to heal one's self. Through conscious intention of connecting with the power of the web, the journeyer becomes power-filled, thereby accessing powerful life force energy that heals. Used in this way, the power of personal journeying is unmatched as it facilitates restoration of wholeness and power to the mind, body, emotions, and soul.