Modern Shamanism America
Shamans still exist in some form in every culture on the planet, including our own modernized Western world. Engaging with the shamanic tradition is not about cultural appropriation or ripping off the
spirituality of any indigenous peoples. We all come from indigenous ancestors if we go back far enough, and they all had great shamans. Thus, the shamanic path is one of our birthrights and the ancestral precursor of all of our spiritual and religious traditions.
In the Western world, when we hear the word shamanism, many of us think of a costumed tribal person dancing around a fire in the dark, involved in some sort of mysterious ritual, accompanied by drum beats and singing. But inside that costume and ritual there is a woman or a man with a set of very real skills.
All true shamans are distinguished by their ability to achieve visionary states of consciousness in which they can redirect their focused awareness away from everyday physical reality and into the hidden, inner worlds, all while very much awake. This conscious shifting of awareness is called shamanic journeywork in the Western world, and it’s an ancient form of meditation that improves with practice. It has been my experience that most of us in the West can do this to some extent, and some of us are real naturals at it. In shamanistic journeywork, we quiet ourselves, focus our intentions upon the inner worlds, and watch. Shamanic practice thus begins with intention, and we trust that the rest just happens.
The first thing those with shamanic abilities discover is that the hidden inner worlds are inhabited by transpersonal forces that the traditional peoples call spirits—the spirits of nature, the spirits of the elementals, the spirits of our ancestors, the spirits of the dead, as well as higher angelic forces, many of whom serve humanity as helpers and guardians, teachers and guides, and there are others. The imaginary friends many of us had as children most likely fall into one or more of these categories.
It is this extraordinary ability to connect with the inner worlds of things hidden and the beings that reside there that sets shamans apart from all other religious practitioners. I remember asking Michael Harner long ago what qualities revealed someone as an authentic practitioner of shamanism. He replied, “Do they journey to other worlds? Do they have relationships with spirits? And do they perform miracles?” It is through their relationship with the spirits that shamans are able to do various things, initially on behalf of themselves and then increasingly on behalf of others.
And of the things shamans can do, many could be said to fall into the realm of the miraculous.