The form of shamanism that I use in my healing work is often referred to as core shamanism or neo-shamanism (in my academic writing). This is a healing form with its roots in ancient lineages of ancestors across the globe but is inspired by western cultural sentiments of self-exploration, spiritual growth and individual healing. In many ways core shamanism is simultaneously ancient and contemporary. I do not make claims to membership or initiation into a specific indigenous healing lineage, though many of my healing techniques were directly inspired from indigenous shamanic lineages. Through my teachers and my own personal work and exploration I have developed a deep and profound respect for indigenous healing traditions throughout the world.
Something interesting happened in the early 1980’s that led to the introduction of shamanism to western culture as an alternative healing modality. Anthropologists such as Michael Harner looked at different indigenous shamanisms throughout the world and noticed similarities in the ways that shamans were accomplishing their healing. Harner himself participated in shamanic ritual and understood that HE could experience many of the same visions that shamans reported.
Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) are central to understanding core shamanism. An ASC is similar to a mild hypnotic state or a lucid dream state. Harner asserts that these states are attainable by everyone without the use of plant medicine–that the realm of the shaman is no longer only attainable by a select group of remote healers. Core shamanism using auditory driving (repetitive drumming, rattling, singing) to entrain the brain into these states during the shamanic journey. While in ‘journey space’ participants enter into ASC and nearly everyone reports meeting helping spirit and guides in the form of ancestors, living teachers, animals, angels, or other archetypal figures. These interactions provide meaningful insights into the question being asked during the journey.
The founder of the shamanic counseling method, Leslie Gray, PhD, psychologist, describes the methods patients use during a session and the importance of relationship with helping spirits spirits for guidance in shamanic counseling in a 1990 interview with Larry Peters for ReVision Journal:
“The technology of shamanism, the use of altered states of consciousness for gaining information to empower people’s lives, is fundamentally human. It is a natural capacity we all have. Everyone can be taught the basic methodology. We all have at least one and usually more spirits with whom we can be in relationship. The “altered state” is the means to reach these spirits. One of the essential aspects of shamanism is developing a connection with an ally or guardian spirit who protects and serves.
I teach my clients universal shamanic techniques that enable them to have access to information that ordinarily would not be available to them. I show them how to contact rock spirits, plant spirits, guardian ancestor spirits, and/or “power animals.” Compared with their relationship with me, their relationship with their guardian spirit is the most important thing. Through that relationship, they can empower themselves and solve their own problems: find their vocation, work on personal relations, heal their dispiritedness or negativism (1990, p. 68-69).”