“Shamanism is not ‘New Age.’ It is Stone Age and has been living ever since.” —Michael Harner

As shamanism in our modern culture grows, more and more students who want to learn its powerful healing methods come to FSS workshops having already studied other healing techniques. In recent years, many of us who teach Core Shamanism for the Foundation have been asked about how shamanic practice compares with various other holistic practices, particularly in the “energy medicine” category. The list might include: Reiki, qigong, yoga, psychotherapy, astrology, acupuncture, homeopathy, chakra balancing, hypnotherapy, and others.

Michael Harner had a simple answer to that question: Master shamanism and the discipline in question before attempting comparison or combination of different healing modalities. This concept was a centerpiece of his teaching, so important that he included in it in the introduction to his final book Cave and Cosmos, written 33 years after his seminal text The Way of the Shaman:

“I wish to add that in this book I am not trying to bridge disciplines. I am an anthropologist, a shamanologist, a practitioner of shamanism and, in the case of this book, a cosmographer of Western shamanic experiences. Nothing more. Those who wish to reconcile shamanism with another discipline—for example, psychology—should try to resist the immediate temptation, as in Casablanca, to “round up the usual suspects,” the standard reductionist tools. I have nothing against reductionism per se, but in my opinion it should only follow true mastery of any field being “reduced.” In the case of shamanism, it should include mastery of shamanism from extensive firsthand experience, experimentation, and study, in addition to a comparable mastery of whatever field is being compared. Admittedly this is not an easy task … but when was serious scholarship ever easy?”

—Michael Harner, Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality (2013, Introduction)

What he understood is that combining different systems, often by tacking on the word “shamanic” to them, without deep knowledge and extensive experience with both, weakens (reduces) the power and effectiveness of each of them. Shamanism is tens of thousands of years old, practiced on every inhabited continent. Today’s masters of Core Shamanism are part of this ancient lineage. We honor Indigenous wisdom and learn universal shamanic methods, engage with our helping spirits, and enact these core practices in a contemporary context. The compassionate helping spirits give us knowledge and provide us with the power to heal. It is a beautiful, transformative methodology, complete and sufficient unto itself—as are many other timeless healing systems.

When working with clients, respect each discipline you work with and do not combine shamanic methods with other methods in a single session. This is not only an issue of effectiveness, but also an ethical one. If someone comes to you for shamanic work, they need to know clearly what it is, in order to grant you permission, an essential component of the ethical practice of shamanism.

When we work toward mastery, we honor both ancient and modern healing systems. When we strive for depth and focus with discipline on mastering shamanic practice, step-by-step the compassionate spirits will reveal secret knowledge hidden from us until we are ready to receive it. And thus, each of us is part of an evolving, ever-upward spiral of power and wisdom—a long line of shamans stretching back from the beginning and flowing forth into the future.

Susan Mokelke, Narrye Caldwell, Robbie Staufer
FSS Faculty

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies offers in-depth training in core shamanic practices, based on the groundbreaking work of FSS founder, Michael Harner. We invite you to connect with our community, and explore our online and in-person workshops and residential programs.


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.m1721714924sinam1721714924ahs@o1721714924fni1721714924 with “Polestar” in the subject line.