What is Modern Shamanism?

Oct 13, 2020

You might have seen them in a movie, dancing by the fire. Or guiding the native tribes in their hunt. They drum and rattle and enter altered states of consciousness. But under this veil of mystery, who are the shamans, and more importantly how have they adapted to the modern world?

Shamanism is the oldest form of spiritual practice known to mankind. Shamans were the ancient healers, those who tended to the illnesses of the body, but also to the illnesses of the soul and who guided their communities spiritually. Today we see a revival of these ancient spiritual and healing practices, but they have evolved and incorporated many concepts of modern psychology.


In traditional societies, the shaman candidates were identified pretty clearly and early. In the High Andes, for instance, if someone was struck by lighting it meant the Spirit World was identifying a future shaman. The person (assuming he or she survived) started a long apprenticeship with one or several elders and learned the specific spiritual and healing practices and the belief system on which they were founded. Eventually, they would become recognized and valued members of their community. At other times, the future shamans were identified by the elders (often from their own bloodline and often a grandchild) and trained for years.


Today, many of us from the Western world have been trained in one specific tradition or another. There are many internationally recognized shamanic institutes in the world. The one I trained with is called “The Four Winds Society” and has been founded by Dr. Alberto Villoldo, a medical anthropologist who has spent most of his life with the tribes of the Amazon and the Andes (www.thefourwinds.com). Their basic program takes 300 hours but it’s followed by case studies and supervision as well as various advanced classes.


As modern shamans, we’ve learned the specific practices and rituals and the meanings behind them and we apply them to bring back energy balance to our clients. Although we follow the traditional practices we learned during our training, as modern shamans we are also able to articulate these processes and explain them from a scientific point of view.


Traditionally, the shamans would treat patients exclusively from the point of view of external energy influences. If someone came to them seeking help or relief from a symptom, the traditional shamans would work to remove the energy of the spirit that caused it and viewed this energy as residing outside the clients’ own psyche. They believed the problem was external.


On the other end of the spectrum, modern psychologists treat patients today exclusively from the point of view of internal forces acting upon them, parts of their own psyche. They see the disturbances a client may suffer from as the clients’ own projections or unhealed states. They believe the problem is internal.


As modern shamans, we sit between traditional shamans and modern psychologists. We acknowledge that issues may have an internal cause but sometimes also an external one. We realize that it’s not efficient to remove energies from a client as long as the client does not integrate and process the inner aspects of his or her wound. We also realize that no amount of psychotherapy can help a client deal with a spiritual attachment. As modern shamans, we are aiming to bring together these two worlds – the traditional healing and modern psychology.


If you’re interested to learn more about modern shamanism, watch my free training course: 'Introduction to Shamanism" here.

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