In My Path in Shamanism, the interviewer asks Michael Harner: In addition to the compassionate spirits, are there malevolent spirits?

“Yes. Here in the Middle World the spirits have the whole range of personalities that also occur in ordinary reality. What is ‘malevolent’ is an interesting thing. Other species may view us as malevolent, such as when we kill and enslave them. But we don’t view ourselves as malevolent, and we don’t see our whole species as malevolent. So a lot of the so-called ‘evil spirits’ are often basically just trying to make a living and exist in their own way just as we are. More often than not, they don’t even know they’re dead. They’re just doing the same old thing, but they’re doing it in a Middle World of nonordinary reality.”

—Michael Harner, My Path in Shamanism

If we can label something as malevolent or evil, some people think that that gives us the right to do evil back. From a spiritual standpoint, many spirits in the Middle World are, as Michael notes: “Simply trying to make a living.” Similar to a spider in your bed, for example. Out of respect for the principle that “everything is alive and has spirit,” from a shamanic perspective, it is preferable to remove it to a place where it can do no harm—no need to label it or hate it. “Evil” might be considered as the intentional doing of harm. In Core Shamanism, we call using spiritual means to do harm “sorcery.” We work with fully compassionate spirits to help and heal and do not use the spirits’ power to do harm. Does that mean that we do nothing help and to address pain and suffering? Absolutely not!

If we have a client who is receiving some kind of spiritual influence or attack, we work to fully protect the client (with their permission obtained in advance) by empowering them, as with extraction and soul retrieval, and importantly, reconnecting them with a power animal. This creates a kind of spiritual immune system, where such attacks can no longer reach the client spiritually. We do not respond to attacks with further attacks of our own. If people are doing harm to others or the environment, we can ask the spirits what we can do in ORDINARY REALITY to help resolve the problem. Then, we can take spirit-inspired action in ordinary reality. This is practical hands-on work in everyday life, not magical thinking.

One thing I have learned from practicing shamanism for decades, is that shamanism in the larger sense is really about evolving as humans—moving beyond hate and fear to “compassionate neutrality.” We come to understand that we ARE the Earth and that when we advance spiritually, the whole world transforms.

Susan Mokelke, JD
FSS President & Faculty

More on this topic:
Ethical Considerations in Shamanic Healing
Shamanism and Personal Transformation
Shamanism & Personal Transformation online workshop
Shamanism for Inspired Local and Global Change: ONLINE or IN PERSON


Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Email gro.m1721766021sinam1721766021ahs@o1721766021fni1721766021 with “Polestar” in the subject line.