A Beginner’s Guide To Shamanism (& How To Start Practicing These Principles)

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What is shamanism?

Shamanism is a common term that is often associated with spirit animals, working with nature (such as herbs), rituals and healing. We have many images associated with this practice. What is it, really? And can you use (or may be already using) shamanistic rituals and practices?

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Shamanism is a very broad term used to describe many different traditions. According to shamanism expert Michael Harner, shamans have common characteristics:

  • Shamans serve many roles although their core role is always to use their talents and training in working across the worlds.
  • They gain access through the manipulation of their own consciousness to leverage the assistance of other worlds as an aid in healing.
  • The shaman may use ayahuasca or other plant spirit helpers to assist.
  • Many shamans have had deep, transformative experiences that dramatically shift their view of life and the “other worlds”, through their own healing journey.

In his book, One Spirit Medicine, Alberto Villoldo tells us, “In the west, we have a disease-care system, and medicine recognizes thousands of ailments and myriad of remedies. One Spirit Medicine… is a health-care system that identifies only one ailment and one cure. The ailment is alienation from our feelings, from our bodies, from the Earth, and from spiritThe cure is the experience of primeval oneness with all, which restores inner harmony and facilitates recovery from all maladies, regardless of origin.”

Sounds a little too "woo-woo?" This view of health and wellbeing is becoming more mainstream, as people look outside current medical methods and seek a more holistic approach.

Shamans use a very particular state of consciousness to gain access to spirit helpers to facilitate the healing process. They often use rituals to bring them to a trance state. Repeated use of ritual can help them gain access more quickly, and it neurologically changes their brain. The most experienced shamans can use subtle movements or intention to affect change.

Many shamans are trained by other shamans, but the best teaching comes through the work with spirit guides. How do you learn to work with your own spirit guides?

Shamanism is a prescribed set of rituals and steps that usually require formal instruction.

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However, you can incorporate some core aspects of shamanism into your spiritual practice (or recognize that you are already) by following these steps:

1. Access

The first step toward embracing shamanistic principles to develop access to spirit guides and the etheric realm. This is often reported as a spiritual experience or awakening. If you have had a mystical experience, you are not alone!

Reports of spiritual experiences are on the rise. In a Pew research report, 65 percent of adults express belief or report having experienced supernatural phenomena. In another survey, this figure is as high as 84 percent, and people used words such as “unity,” “at one,” “merging,” and “dissolving” to describe their experiences. It may be likely that you have already had this experience, perhaps only once.

So how do you maintain this connection?

2. Consistent Communication

Learning to identify and communicate with your spiritual guides requires expanding and learning to trust your intuitive skills.

We all get “intuitive hits” — information that we aren’t sure where it comes from, but it feels true. The most common forms of intuition include seeing pictures or movies in your mind, getting a “gut” instinct,” getting “chills” when learning information, hearing voices, or downloading streams of information.

This also requires that you re-pattern your neurological conscious states (brainwave states) so that you can sense this expanded information. Meditation, moving into trance states, practicing mindfulness, meditating with candles in dark rooms, using rituals and creative activities to manipulate your energetic field can help you expand and shift your consciousness.

These are the ways and means that our guides communicate with us. Learning to identify and deepening your own intuitive skills and expanding your awareness opens the door.

You may seek the help of an intuitive to identify your guides for you. Ask the intuitive for suggestions on how to communicate with them. For example, you can ask that your guide always be over your right shoulder, and over time, you learn to trust information only if it comes from that specific location.

3. Instruction

Just like learning how to talk with a new friend, over time you can learn to trust the information that you receive. It is important to remember that you always have free will and choice. Therefore, it is a good idea to test the information until you have full confidence and trust in your relationship.

You can “amp up” your relationship and ask your guides to teach and guide you. They can show you healing arts and how to work across the worlds.

At this point, you have learned to trust guidance and are ready to “surrender.” This sounds frightening from an ego point of view, but when you are spiritually ready and have this deep trust, you fully recognize that there is a much bigger realm that we operate in. Willingness to listen and follow the guidance with this deep trust, wisdom, and discernment is born from deep spiritual development and commitment.

4. Deepen Your Own Integrity

The intention of shamanistic work is to bring us to a unitive state of oneness. Integrity is a virtue that is critical in this work. This requires not just spiritual development, but more importantly, intense personal development and ego development.

A less developed ego has many shadow or unconscious motives. The shadow can be quite subtle but present nonetheless. The thirst for ego and power will misalign your intentions for more nefarious purposes. Willingness and ability to explore these shadow elements is critical for proper use of shamanistic and spiritual power.

The goal is to align a healthy and well-developed ego, not destroy it. Seeking the assistance of a therapist, coach, or another qualified helper can be a tremendous support.

If you have developed these skills and relationship, you may be interested in formal shamanistic training and guidance to further hone your abilities. Working with shamans and others with more advanced spiritual development can help accelerate your own development through structured learning as well as expanding your own energetic field.

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Marijo Puleo is a somatic coach trained in energy field work who helps clients achieve emotional awareness and further their spiritual development, so they can live their lives with flow, grace, and ease. Learn more by reading her book, How To Choose An Energy Healer: What To Look For In An Energy Practitioner, or by downloading her free podcasts that are loved by over 1 million listeners.

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