Shamanism and the Environment

by Stephanie Tighe and Kate Durda

Shamans for ages have strived to live in harmony with the natural world, to honor and show respect for the gifts that our environment so boundlessly provides us with. These gifts include food, materials for clothing, medicines, with so much that we need to live and thrive. Much of shamanism involves our relationship with the environment. The health of our Natural world is of great significance in shamanism.

During work with Michael Harner (author of "The Way of the Shaman") he told a group of us who were concerned about the environment and how we could help to "just get people to journey, by journeying they will have a deeper understanding of Earth and her needs." He sees this as one of the classic teachings of shamanism. A journey that people who practice shamanism are often gifted with is one where they are able to deepen their understanding of and connection to the Natural world. It is a type of initiatory shamanic experience.

An example of this type of journey comes from a friend. In his journey he had the experience of becoming rain, of falling to the earth, of running down the hillside to the stream, of merging into the stream, of rolling along over the rocks and tree roots. He eventually was scooped up into a pitcher and turned into lemonade and was drunk by himself, nourishing himself. Through this journey he moved from an intellectual understanding of connectedness to an actual experience of it, bringing to him a new appreciation of water, of the rain, and so much more.

The Shaman’s focus has always been on learning ways to know, observe, and learn from the natural world. It is through shamanism that one can learn to communicate with nature, to understand the needs of the trees or plants in your yard, and in your neighborhood.

Myron Eshowsky, a shaman currently living in Wisconsin, told us that if people would spend an hour a day in Nature most of the depression seen in the United States would disappear. His comments are supported by current therapeutic literature. Psychologists have begun to investigate the absence of nature in our lives and the impact this is having on people. The University of Michigan is offering a seminar in the spring called "Ecotherapy" which focuses on nature and how it is beneficial in the healing process. James Hillman in "We’ve had a Hundred Years of Therapy and We aren’t Better Off" writes that people are depressed because of what we are doing to the earth. So perhaps if we spent time with the Earth, in closer connection with Nature, depression would be reduced or eliminated.

Species are disappearing, our brother and sister plants, animals and trees. Although this brings me much sorrow, through shamanic journeys I have seen beauty, I have seen healing and been able to participate in it. I have seen land be healed from its wounds. Through my relationship with nature I have learned many things, forgiveness, detachment, flexibility and the knowledge that I have much more to learn.

For those of you who journey I would like to recommend an intention for a jouney, to journey to the spirit of the land of your home or apartment. Talk with this spirit and find out what you can do to improve your relationship. You can also ask this spirit to keep your home safe and protected.

If you do not journey, I suggest a meditation where you ask for an experience of how all beings and this land are connected.

May your life be enriched by deepening your relationship with nature!