Shamanic Practices

The Living Universe

Shamanism is an approach to spiritual healing that has been practiced by indigenous cultures all over the world for thousands of years. In the shamanic view, Spirit is all inclusive. Our existence is in a vibrating, living universe. There is also a vibrating, living spirit in all beings -- humans, animals, plants, trees, insects, rocks, fire, air, water, and the Earth herself.

Core Shamanism

There are many different forms of shamanism, each reflecting its own unique culture. The form of shamanism I practice is called “core shamanism” as taught by Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman.

Dr. Harner, an anthropologist, studied shamanic practices throughout the world. In the mid-20th century, he trained with shamans in the South American Amazon and with various North American Indian groups. Harner gathered together the core techniques that are common to shamans the world over. He adapted these practices into a form that could be used by the western world and called it “core shamanism”. The shamanic practitioners who do this work follow a set of basic guidelines as well as learn further techniques and methods from their own experience and their spirit helpers.

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A Shamanic Journey

Shamanic practice entails taking a shamanic journey into “non-ordinary reality” to the steady rapid beat of a drum or rattle. Core shamanism does not use hallucinogenic drugs. The body and psyche resonate with the vibration of the drum or rattle and the brain waves tend to match its rhythm. The rhythm is typically in the theta brain wave range (3.5 - 8 cycles per second) which is associated with deep insight, meditation, and creativity. This rhythm, as well as dancing, toning, singing, and the journeyer’s intention are important components for opening to sacred journey space and traveling into non-ordinary reality.

It is here in non-ordinary reality that the journeyer meets the helping spirits -- teachers and power animals who provide protection, guidance, healing, and information. The shamanic practitioner simply carries out the instructions and wisdom of the helping spirits.

Although in some traditions there are shamanic practices that deal with sorcery, in core shamanism the focus is on gathering beneficial information and on healing oneself and others. Sorcery is not a part of core shamanism.

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Disease and Misfortune - Causes and Alleviation

In my training with Sandra Ingerman, I leaned that there are three main reasons why a person may experience disease or misfortune, according to shamanic thought.

1. A person experiences a loss of power. This may result in a string of bad luck, disease, or depression. A shamanic practitioner may then retrieve the person's power in the form of a power animal. In the shamanic view, we all have at least one power animal who protects us from misfortune and disease. If the power animal leaves, we are left unprotected and vulnerable. The practitioner goes into non-ordinary reality and finds a former or a new animal who is willing to come to help the person.

2. A person loses a part of his or her life force or soul. This can happen from any kind of physical or emotional shock or trauma. Losing a part of one's soul may lead to symptoms such as post traumatic stress, a weakened immune sysem, addiction, a sense of disconnectedness, or a feeling of being "not all there". In the case of soul loss, the practitioner journeys into non-ordinary reality in order to retrieve the lost part or parts of the soul.

3. A third reason for disease may be from negative thought forms. These are "spiritual intrusions" which can bring about physical problems, typically in a single part of the body. It is only the spiritual aspect of disease that is addressed in shamanic work. In the case of a spiritual intrusion, the practitioner would perform an extraction, thereby removing the spirit of the disease. The practitioner then either puts the disease's spirit in water, or gives it to his or her power animal to take to the Light. Either way, the energy can be dispersed and neutralized. The disease's spirit is not seen as intrinsically evil. However, it does not belong in the body and therefore can do harm there. An extraction does not remove the physical aspect of the disease. The removal of the disease's spirit or power simply helps enable the body to deal more efficiently with the illness. Afer doing an extraction, the practitioner then replaces the spiritual intrusion with a power animal, soul retrieval, or the light of all-inclusive Spirit.

Shamanic healing should not be used in place of a physician or other health care professional. Shamanic healing supports but does not replace medical intervention.

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Shamanism and the Deceased - Psychopomp and Depossession

Another aspect of shamanic healing deals with helping the deceased move across the threshold into the Light. There are times when a deceased person’s spirit becomes stuck on the earth plane for one reason or another, and is not able to move on. A shamanic practitioner may then help guide the spirit into the Light in a psychopomp procedure.

A spirit that is stuck on the earth plane may attach itself to a living person’s body or energy field. A spirit can also attach itself to a house or land. Shamanic work would entail first releasing the spirit attachment in a depossession process, and then guiding the spirit into the Light by means of psychopomp. Both depossession and psychopomp are gentle and nurturing. The attaching spirit is not seen as evil but rather as a suffering being who has not been able to find peace. Depossession work is gentle, positive, and healing for both the client and the attaching spirit.

Core shamanism is a new yet ancient healing modality. Each practitioner, using a set of basic guidelines, looks to his or her own spirit helpers for guidance, information, healing, and inspiration for both self and others.

Pamela Harris, M.A., MT-BC

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