Shamanism: An Introduction to the Healing Art of the Shaman

by | April 2, 2020


You are lying on a stone outcropping in a verdant forest.  Your eyes are closed, and you wait in anticipation touched with fear, for everything to begin.  You hear the low murmuring of the man with you; the man standing above you.  He is said to be a healer, and you need some serious healing.  The barely audible sounds  emitting from the healer’s lips steadily grow in volume, steadily grow in intensity, until the sounds of the words are clear to you and all the animals and curious spirits of the forest.  The words are in a language unknown, and unheard of by you, but they have a terrible musical quality that sends lightning up your spine, causing involuntary, unceasing spasms throughout your body.  Is this what they call a healing crisis?  Now the healer’s hands are upon your chest, and your body suddenly drains of all tension and the spasms subside completely.  You lay there, fully relaxed and drift into the arms of a dream…a healing dream?

Now that was a fictional account of a possible shamanic healing ritual…or at least as how I envision one to be.  But to assume that my fictional account is correct, or that it would be the only healing method in the shaman’s box of healing tools, would be a false assumption.  Let’s explore this topic of Shamanism…shall we?

What is Shamanism?

The best definition I can come up with is: Shamanism is a practice of healing oneself, other living beings, the environment, and the community at large through various strategies, techniques, practices, and recommendations. Shamanism as a practice and worldview has been a part of human culture since before recorded memory.  An important aspect of the shamanic paradigm is that everything, and I do mean “everything”, has a form of consciousness – is alive, in a sense.  This is a model of reality that works for healing, regardless of its ultimate truth.  It’s effectiveness is more important that its reality.

Who are the Shamans?

The shamans were the wise women, medicine men and women, the witch and wizard, priest and priestess, and even the therapist of their age.  They would heal anyone in need in their community, with any and all effective means, at any time the need arose.  There are still those who practice the shamanic healing arts to this day all over the world.  they can be found in small and large communities, in the countryside, and in urban centres.  We can even find them within the digital landscape of the internet and its infinite web-like structure.

Most cultures do not call their healers “Shamans.”  They have their own names for these talented healers in their own tongue.  The term “Shaman” is a borrowed word in the English language.  It is derived from a similar word in the Tungus language of Siberia.

How do they accomplish their healings?

The modern shamanic healer uses any number of methods to achieve their healing goals.  Any and all effective methods are used, often in tandem.  These include:

  1. Shamanic journeying.  Shamanic journeying is a form of visualization, meditation, and dream work.
  2. Energy work, such as laying on of hands.
  3. Massage
  4. Ritual
  5. Magick, or the calling on of help from non-corporeal beings (of the imagination?), such as spirit helpers, power animals, gods, goddesses, cultural heroes, and even long dead ancestors.
  6. Herbs
  7. The Power of imagination, visualization and guided meditation with the direct participation of the one needing healing
  8. Even a form of Psychotherapy may be used to initiate, and aid in the healing.
  9. Allopathic medicine may be recommended as an adjunct to help with the body’s healing

Two approaches to Shamanism

From what I understand, there are essentially two approaches to the Shaman’s healing arts.  One is to see oneself as a warrior fighting dis-ease, or evil spirits who have caused the dis-ease in the land, person, community.  It involves the personification of the dis-ease.

Or one can see oneself as an adventurer whose goal is to aid the land, person, community, etc., to heal itself by any means necessary.  The adventurer shaman doesn’t envision an antagonist to battle.  The adventurer shaman sees disharmony and imbalance that needs to be brought back into harmony and balance so that nature and the body’s inherent healing ability can do what it does best – Heal.