What Is Modern Day 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, 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 shamanism are commonly referred to as “shamanic practitioners.”

Technology plays a tremendous role in facilitating the growth and maturity of modern day 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 Sobonfu Somé from Burkina Faso in West Africa, who was recognized by village elders at birth as being a teacher to the West—all of whom offer workshops and empowerments 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 core 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.

The Society for Shamanic Practitioners (SSP) and The Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS) are the largest membership organizations of shamanic practitioners and both provide directories for finding a shamanic practitioner. The Society’s mission supports the re-emergence of shamanism in the West through the documentation of uses and applications of modern day shamanism. The Society also provides a codified ethical construct for the profession. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies was founded by anthropologist Michael Harner, well known as a pioneer of core shamanism.

Another essential aspect of the shamanic healing community is the drum circle. 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 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.