What Is Experiential Shamanism?

In ancient cultures, shamans played a vital role in indigenous hunter-gatherer societies: they identified underground sources of water, healed the wounded, and assisted the dying. The path to shamanic apprenticeship varied depending upon the person and lineage. Some had a personal calling, others were born into a family of shamans, while others were divined by dreams of tribal members. The initiation process was grueling: years of mentorship and training and ultimately overcoming an insurmountable crisis, the proverbial hero’s journey.

Outside of indigenous cultures, shamanism was relatively unknown until the 1970s. Pioneering efforts of anthropologist Michael Harner and psychotherapist Sandra Ingerman introduced shamanic training to Westerners. In the past forty years, non-indigenous experiential shamanism in the West has transformed into a formal practice and spiritual path, with skilled and accomplished teachers who share the wisdom and traditions through teaching circles and apprenticeships. Like shamans of old, the path to becoming a shamanic practitioner is a lifelong undertaking that encompasses years of mentorship, study, and most importantly, practice. Adepts of modern day experiential shamanism are commonly referred to as “shamanic practitioners.”

Experiential shamanism outside of one particular cultural model. It is non-indigenous, however, many practitioners who come to experiential shamanism are ethnic and cultural practitioners. Experiential shamanism is cross-cultural. The helping spirits of experiential shamanic practitioners are power animals, gods and goddesses, ancestors, angels, plants, and other-world beings.

Technology plays a tremendous role in facilitating the growth and maturity of experiential shamanism. A student of shamanism in the United States has the opportunity to study with indigenous shamans without ever paying international plane fare—like don Oscar Miro-Quesada, curandero and psychology expert from Peru; Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche from the Himalayas near Tibet, who has authored books on sound and elemental healing; and Luisah Teish—all of whom offer healing and teaching throughout the United States. Learning directly from remarkable teachers like these allows a shamanic aspirant to deepen her understanding of the traditions and practices, and experiential shamanism synthesizes commonalities among shamanic cultures.

Although modern day shamanism is still in a relatively nascent stage, there is a growing body of evidence, both research-based and anecdotal, that supports its efficacy in treating a number of conditions. University of Minnesota Professor, Karen Lawson, MD, teaches and writes prolifically on the topic. Healing Stories inspire and reveal the variety and breadth of shamanic practice applications. Articles like Could Shamanic Healing Be The Answer You’ve Been Looking For? in Prevention Magazine have introduced shamanic healing into the mainstream.

Another essential aspect of experiential shamanism is drumming circles. Drumming serves as the heartbeat of a shamanic healing journey. The sound and beat of the drum guide shamanic practitioners through a journey and foster communication with the unseen world. When people drum together, they create connections that extend beyond strengthening the community. Drum circles are more than drumming: they generate healing energy, and provide opportunities to socialize and share. Social networking sites like Facebook and Meetup play vital roles in bringing together seasoned and novice shamanic practitioners alike, who are drawn to the power of the drum.

Resources like podcasts, books, and workshops can assist in providing additional information about experiential shamanism and indigenous shamanic traditions, practices, and tools. As many people discover through a shamanic journey, there are helping spirits in the unseen world that are accessible and available to provide guidance and reassurance to those who are open to the experience. With some training, you can learn to engage with your own helping spirits fairly readily.


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Laura Beann and Laura Beann, LCSW, P.C. reserve the right to cancel any of its workshops or training courses, or the participation of anyone for any reason. In such a case, fees paid in advance will be refunded.