History and Work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies

Michael Harner, Editor
© "Shamanism," 25th Anniversary Issue 2005, Vol. 18, Nos. 1 & 2

Originally published in the "Foundation for Shamanic Studies Newsletter," Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall 1991), with minor editorial changes. Republished in the 25th Anniversary issue of "Shamanism" © 2005 with an update by Michael Harner.

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Following his initial shamanic training in the Upper Amazon in 1961 and 1964, Professor Michael Harner developed his personal practice of shamanism and shamanic healing in the United States. He also began to teach about the practical importance of the ancient shamanic knowledge and wisdom of the tribal peoples of the world. As he wrote and lectured on shamanism, students and others began to ask him to introduce them to the shamanic methods. In response to these requests, he started giving training workshops in the early 1970’s to small groups of people. Interest in this training rapidly grew, and in 1979 he founded the Center for Shamanic Studies in Norwalk, Connecticut, to facilitate the training.

For eight more years Dr. Harner continued his duties as a university professor of anthropology, but at the same time he was aware that shamanic practice and training in tribal cultures was fast disappearing. It became clear to him that firm worldwide action had to be taken to help preserve the ancient knowledge and to transmit it to future generations. To this end, he increasingly took leave from the university to pursue shamanism and shamanic teaching.

Finally in 1987 he resigned his professorship to devote himself full-time to shamanism. At this point the Center for Shamanic Studies was integrated into a new non-profit organization, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, which he founded and headed. The organization was dedicated to the worldwide preservation, study, and teaching of shamanic knowledge for the welfare of the Planet. Immediately he initiated work to help the missionized Inuit (Eskimo) peoples in northern Canada to recover their once highly developed practice of shamanism, and formally initiated a Soviet-American shamanism program.

The Foundation grew rapidly, with financial support primarily coming from the shamanic training courses and workshops Dr. Harner taught, supplemented by private donations and membership contributions. From the early 1980’s onward, his teaching of workshops and training courses was augmented by others he trained, such as Sandra Ingerman and Sandra Harner. As interest in the workshops further grew, he invited some of his other students to join an international faculty teaching the methods of shamanism to an ever-wider audience.

At all times an objective of Michael Harner and the Foundation has been to provide reliable training in basic universal, or near-universal, methods of shamanism. Called “core” shamanism, these methods are provided worldwide to those interested. After learning the basic principles of practice, workshop participants are encouraged to work and gain experience independently. Often they join or form local, informal drumming groups or circles working autonomously to help each other, their friends, relatives, and communities.

For those who wish more advanced training in shamanism and shamanic healing, the Foundation provides specialized advanced workshops as well as longer-term and experimental courses extending up to three years. There is also training in Harner Method Shamanic Counseling, a new system in which the client employs shamanic journeying for personal problem-solving. Today the international faculty regularly teaches not only in North America, but also in Latin America (Alicia Luengas Gates), Japan (Michal Mugrage), Australia and New Zealand (Jill Bathgate). European teaching functions are coordinated through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies of Austria in Vienna (Paul Uccusic), and for French-speaking Europe, through Claude and Noelle Poncelet.

When asked, the Foundation also helps tribal peoples to revive their own threatened or destroyed traditional practices of shamanism. To this end, the Foundation has dispatched basic training teams and individuals to various tribal groups. They visit for as short a time as possible just to provide basic shamanic tools, so that the native volunteers can subsequently get most of their shamanic knowledge directly from the spirits, as is typical in shamanism. Groups to which such assistance has been lent, besides the Inuit, include the Sami (Lapp) people of northern Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and Native American tribes in the northeastern United States. The Foundation also sponsors a scholarship program for individual Native American students. These various activities are part of the Foundation’s Urgent Tribal Assistance program (UTA).

The Soviet-American Shamanism (SAS) program has included sponsoring, and financially supporting, grassroots shamanic training workshops in Kiev and Moscow, as well as in such countries of eastern Europe as Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and even before the Berlin wall came down, East Germany. The Foundation also has a contract with the Soviet Ministry of Health to introduce shamanic healing methods (there known as “Psychorhythmo-therapy [Harner Method]”) for the drug-free treatment of alcoholism and addiction problems. Michael Harner and the Foundation cooperate with anthropologists of the Soviet Academy of Sciences with regard to the study of shamanism and introduced the experiential study of shamanism to the anthropological academic community there.

Under the Shamanism and Health program, Sandra Harner, the Health Research Director of the Foundation, conducts experimental research regarding the effects of shamanic healing work on the human immunological system, as well as gathering case histories of persons for whom shamanic healings have been undertaken.

The Shamanism for Healing the Earth project (SHE) is embodied in various aspects of the teaching programs of the Foundation and emphasizes raising human consciousness, through shamanism, of the living, sacred nature of the Earth and of humans’ spiritual connectedness to all beings and to the Planet itself.

Another project, the Mapping of Nonordinary Reality, collects and analyzes cross-cultural data comparing shamanic journey, near-death, and other mystical experiences. This long-term project, directed by Michael Harner, is planned to continue for many years. The results are expected to challenge Western paradigms of the nature and limits of reality.