by Kate Durda, M.A.

Originally published in Healing Garden Journal: Sept./Oct. 2006 Issue

Our ancient ancestors lived a life close to nature. Across cultures, around the world, they lived in very similar ways, even though they had little to no contact with each other. Their ways of living and healing we have now come to call “Shamanism”, from the Tungus (Siberian) word ’saman. ’ Mircea Eliade, anthropologist, wrote that ‘saman’ refers to one who “specialized in a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld”. (Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Princeton University Press, 1972).

The practice of shamanism does not require or hinder any specific religious beliefs per se, but it invariably encourages practitioners to see the sacred in the world around them, i.e. to discover animism. Our ancestors believed that all created things- humans, plants, animals, etc. have an intelligent communicative life force or spirit, or energy. Their beliefs often led them to live a life in harmony, in balance with their environment, particularly when compared with contemporary western society.

Shamanism is the oldest known spiritual practice with evidence of shamanic cultures over 40,000 years old, yet one that is still practiced today! For example, in the former U.S.S.R, in many remote regions, traveling shamans still today are the only source for healing, as there are no hospitals, visiting doctors, etc.

How is it that this ancient system still is of such value to us today? Shamanism is not dogma, with old rituals, beliefs, and formulas holding sway. Information is directly revealed to the practitioner. Shamanism is a spiritual practice and system of healing and personal instruction based on partnerships with helping spirits. Truth accessed is fresh, attenuated to what is needed in the current time of practice. This speaks to the inherent and lasting usefulness of shamanic healing methods.

Michael Harner, Ph.D., founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, coined the term “Core shamanism”, referring to that body of “core” healing practices, which are found across all cultural shamanic traditions. Joseph Campbell (in a video entitled “The First Storytellers”) describes shamanism as the bridge from old ritual to new ritual, and attributes to shamanism the role of helping cultures transform. Practicing the techniques for “core” shamanism allows the shamanic practitioner to meet the needs of his/her client in contemporary society, the healing issues and outcomes of which will differ considerably from healings done 300 or 2,000 years ago.

As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it” The Shaman was and is able to access whatever information is of use for the problem or need at hand. It is important to note that the Shaman does not ‘do’ the healing; just as in other forms of energy work like Reiki, the practitioner acts as a ‘hollow bone’, clearing the ego, and allowing divine healing energy to do its work.

Over time, our ancestors developed this remarkable system of methods to maximize human abilities of mind and spirit for healing and problem-solving. More than a healing practice, it was their way of life. Arguably, the key practice was the ‘journey’ to the hidden world of energy, or source. This world has been referred to variously as dream time, the spirit realm, and “non-ordinary reality” (by Carlos Castaneda). Modern day physicists and scientists refer to it as the “Universal Field” of energy, or the “Quantum Field” of energy. The ordinary person normally contacts this field only through myths, dreams or near-death experiences, and perhaps spontaneously at other times, but they are not masters of this. On the other hand, the mystic, shaman or other advanced spiritual practitioner can contact this realm at will, readily crossing the veil between ordinary consciousness and ‘non-ordinary reality” (NOR) as needed. Michael Harner, Ph.D., founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies states… “ Everything that has ever been known, everything that can be known, is available to the Shaman in the dreamtime… This total source of knowledge is accessible.

The shamanic journey is accessible to everyone. While not all of us are or desire to be ‘healers’, through the practice of journeying you can foster self-healing and empowerment, enhance creativity, achieve inner peace, live in balance and harmony, and deepen your connections to others and to the natural world.

It is no coincidence that shamanism was practiced around the world, as this way of life is as natural as breathing - it is our birth right, fostering the development and heightening of our natural physical, psychological, spiritual abilities and very being! Everyone one of us has an indigenous ancestral shamanic heritage, of which many of us have lost track. There is much of value that we can re-learn from our ancestral lineages! Shamanism is the root of our ancestral tree!

Kate Durda, M.A. , and Stephanie Tighe, MSW ,are co-founders of  Spirit Weavers (, an organization that is committed to fostering spiritual community, and to increasing the understanding of and access to shamanism as a spiritual practice and healing modality.  They reside in the Lansing area, but frequently travel for teaching and healing work.