What is Shamanism?

Shamanism is central to Hunter-Gatherer cultures throughout time and across the Earth.  Shamanism encompasses a deep connection with the Land and Nature and the energetic Spirit that flows through all things.  Shamans act as a go-between for the tribe, communicating with ancestors, allies and spirits of Nature.  Shamans provide knowledge and healing through their ability to journey with their dream-body to other world realities.

'Cave Shaman' by Amanda Reid

Some people struggle to understand what Shamanism is and what it isn’t.  Using an old encyclopaedia, my mother looked it up and found it said something about “interacting with bad and good spirits.”  As a person of the older generation, she thought that sounded very dodgy indeed.  Well, that’s one way of looking at it, but potentially misleading, unless you consider that the “bad and good spirits” are the very same ones that everyone is interacting with all the time.


Bad spirits, for instance, include illness, depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, anger, disease, stress, pollution, hate, negative thoughts, words and actions, and so on.  (But not death, death is not a “bad spirit”, it is a natural transition.)  And good spirits include love, care, kind words and deeds, giving, helping, honesty, laughter, healing, light and much, much more…


Everything is energy, and energy has its own momentum. Shamanism is rooted in Nature, in the Land.  The Land is understood by the Shaman as a ‘being’, just as the planet is a being.   Bolivia has passed a law declaring the planet, Mother Earth, and thus, Nature, as having equal rights to a human being.  This is in relation to the South American spiritual understanding that the planet is a deity called Pachamama and at the centre of all Life.  It is called 'The Law of Mother Earth', and they are the first country to legally recognise our planet as a living being with rights.


The elements of the Land; trees, mountains, rocks, rivers, are likewise energetically anthropomorphised.


The spirits, good and bad, that the Shaman meets upon the Shamanic journey can also be understood from a psychological perspective.  The dark energies and beings may be personifications of negative elements ‘attached’ to a person who seeks the Shaman’s help.  This may be the person’s fears or a disease presented in a symbolic way.  The human psyche works extremely well with symbolism, just as our dreams are symbolic.


The good spirits, guides and helpers that the Shaman works with are powerful energetic beings that increase the Shaman’s confidence, enabling the Shaman to feel supported and empowered.  They bring many positive qualities to whomever works with them.  They are there for all, whether we look for them or not.  They may be reflections of our own self or energies or beings from other realms, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that the experience of communicating and working with them is enriching and inspiring, and enables us to grow spiritually and help our self and others to heal.


Historically, Shamanism is rooted in Hunter-Gatherer culture, a mind-set we can only attempt to imagine when we live our daily lives in today's Western world.


Modern-day Shamanic practice seeks to make some fundamental connections to ‘the old ways’ through;


  • A deep connection with Nature.
  • Utilising the energetic connections with Nature for the benefit of the ‘tribe’.

Life is simply a ceaseless flow of energy, a give and take between people and Nature. Sickness and death follow if this flow is interrupted or obstructed.
Everything is imbued with Spirit, animated by Spirit.

Everything we imbibe; air, water, animals, vegetables and minerals, through our food, all are the energy of Spirit coming to us through Nature.


To the Hunter-Gatherer, the red deer hunted for the tribe is pure Spirit, a gift from Nature.  Today, we are very detached from the reality of what we eat, so it’s much harder to connect to Nature and Spirit as our ancestors did.   We are even more susceptible to polluted energy and an interrupted flow, causing illness and disease. Our connection is weaker and we need it even more than ever. 


Many people come to Shamanism because the conventional sciences do not provide the holistic understanding of well-ness we instinctively feel makes sense. They may not always heal us or help us feel ‘complete’.

Nowadays, when we come to Shamanic practice, we are first Shamans for our own healing, and then, if we are able and willing, we can become Shamans for others.


My kind of Shamanism is everyday Shamanism.  It involves being aware of good and bad energies every day and in everything I think, say and do.  In my daily life I worked for many years with people who are depressed and anxious.  I therefore benefitted from a practice that helped me remain well and balanced, a way of protecting myself from the heavy negative energies that are projected when people are going through very tough times.  I try to use the good, light energy that I nurture in myself to share with others, and this energy is drawn from Nature.