Shamanism: An ancient practice for today’s world

Ken Emerson

Shamanism is a 40,000 year old worldview and set of practices found in every indigenous culture throughout the world. In these cultures, the shaman (sometimes referred to as medicine man/woman, seer, “person who knows”) helps hunters find food or game, manages the weather, provides healing and spiritual guidance and conducts rites of passage. Shamans view the world as a physical and a spiritual place and all of nature as sacred and alive. The shaman works with both the physical and spiritual worlds using a technique called “journeying” to access special knowledge and help his community.

One of the first anthropologists to study shamanism was Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), professor of history and religion at the University of Chicago. His most well-known book, Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, is considered to be the foundational text on the subject. Michael Harner, Ph.D. (Berkeley) followed in Eliade’s footsteps, conducting extensive personal research and receiving training in the Amazon, Siberia and central Asia. He became recognized as a shaman by the indigenous shamans with whom he worked. Harner went on to found the Foundation for Shamanic Studies ( to preserve and share what he learned. Harner has had such an impact communicating the beauty and benefits of shamanic work that it has been said, “What Yogananda did for Hinduism and D.T. Suzuki did for Zen, Michael Harner has done for shamanism.” In fact, shamanism is becoming so popular that it is often offered as an adjunct and complementary practice to traditional medicine. Practitioners can be found in many cities in the U.S. including Tucson. Recently a vacationer to Arizona asked the hotel concierge if they could locate a shaman for her!

In the old days, there were two ways someone could become a shaman. One was to be born into a family of shamans and apprenticed; the other was to be chosen usually through a near death or other profound experience. Some say first there is a call from the spirit. It can be as dramatic as a seven-year illness or a simple as a dream. The call functions to awaken the knowing of one’s true self and the yearning to express that self through the artistry of the shaman. Today, it is possible to receive training through various resources including the Foundation for Shamanic Studies or other teachers, including Sandra Ingerman, M.A. (, who offer workshops and long term programs. Miraval even offers special sessions of shamanic healing.

SaddleBrooke resident Ken Emerson trained personally with Michael Harner, Sandra Harner, creator of Harner Shamanic Counseling™ and Sandra Ingerman, internationally renowned expert in soul retrieval. He conducts trainings locally and a has a private practice in SaddleBrooke where he offers the traditional shamanic arts of soul retrieval, power restoration, psychopomp, shamanic drumming for healing body and spirit and clearing ceremonies for the home and land. He specializes in sound healing with drum, rattle, singing and flute. He can be reached at Ken 784-1475.