Exploring Modern Shamanism: Practices, Challenges, and Benefits in Today’s World

Shamanic studies program classroom

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In a world where technology reigns supreme, the ancient practice of shamanism continues to thrive, evolving to meet the needs of our modern era. Modern shamanism, a dynamic blend of traditional shamanic practices and contemporary adaptations, stands at the intersection of the past and the present, offering a unique spiritual path imbued with wisdom and healing. But what does it mean to be a modern shaman in today’s world? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of contemporary shamanism and explore its practices, challenges, and benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Modern shamanism is an evolving spiritual practice that integrates traditional shamanic methods with contemporary life, aiming to navigate between physical and spiritual realms and address modern-day issues while adapting to diverse cultural contexts.

  • Contemporary shamans engage in various healing practices to address physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances, utilizing techniques such as journeying, spirit communication, and working with plant medicines while offering spiritual guidance to individuals.

  • Training to become a modern shaman involves rigorous personal development, including overcoming personal crises and immersive shamanic studies, which aim to establish authenticity, respect for indigenous wisdom, and effective healing practices.

Understanding Modern Shamanism

Modern shamanism altar with spiritual objects

Shamanism, a spiritual practice with roots traced back to the indigenous peoples of far northern Europe and Siberia, is more than a collection of rituals and ceremonies. It’s a way of life, a worldview that recognizes the interconnectedness of all beings and the existence of spiritual worlds alongside our physical ones. The word ‘shaman’, derived from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia, refers to those who intentionally alter their consciousness to acquire knowledge from the ‘spirit world’, acting as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual realms.

Modern shamanism differentiates itself by integrating these traditional shamanic practices with contemporary adaptations, such as Core Shamanism, while accommodating diverse cultural contexts. It’s not a fixed set of practices but a living tradition that evolves and adapts to meet the needs of the time, offering a spiritual path that’s both ancient and thoroughly modern. Just as shamans journey between worlds, modern shamanism navigates the space between tradition and innovation, providing a bridge that connects us to the wisdom of our ancestors even as it guides us into the future.

Core Shamanism

A significant development in the evolution of modern shamanism is the emergence of Core Shamanism, a standardized practice established by Michael Harner, the founder of the Center for Shamanic Studies (now the Foundation for Shamanic Studies). Core Shamanism is the foundation for most contemporary shamanic practitioners, providing a structure encompassing universal, near-universal, and typical characteristics of shamanism found in various cultures.

At the heart of Core Shamanism is the belief that all living beings possess souls and that wisdom and guidance can be attained through inner senses during ecstatic trance, a spiritual practice. Primary practices and techniques encompass altering consciousness through sonic driving and journeying between the spirit world and ordinary consciousness with helping spirits.

Core Shamanism’s universal structure has influenced modern shamanic practices worldwide, affirming its relevance in our contemporary world.

Cultural Adaptations

Modern shamanism incorporates unique practices, including:

  • Unique prayers

  • Rituals

  • Languages These practices aim to induce altered states of consciousness. High ceremonial languages are employed in prayers and offerings, and traditional functions are modified to address contemporary issues, such as shamanic journeying.

Modern Shamanism maintains fundamental principles such as belief in a spirit-inhabited world and connecting with unseen realms, offering insights and healing tailored to the needs of our contemporary society. It aligns with local cultural beliefs by adjusting and integrating the shamanic practices and beliefs of the particular shamanic culture in which it is practiced. Thus, it continues to evolve, integrating ancient wisdom with new technologies and forms of expression, ensuring its pertinence in the modern world and its connection to shamanic cultures.

The Role of the Modern Shaman

Modern shaman performing a healing ritual

A modern shaman is an individual who has acquired the skills and abilities of a shaman through the study and application of traditional shamanism. This role is not just about knowledge acquisition but about a commitment to service. As in conventional societies, modern shamans utilize their expertise and abilities to provide assistance and healing to individuals within their community and the community as a collective entity.

Shamans do more than practice spirituality; they act as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds. They possess an enhanced ability to journey in non-ordinary realms and utilize their spirit connections to bring about tangible changes for healing individuals or the community. These unique abilities set shamans apart from other types of practitioners, as they bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual worlds, acting as a conduit for healing and transformation.

Healing Practices

Modern shamans employ various healing practices to address physical and emotional imbalances. Some of these practices include:

  • ‘Entering the body’ of the patient to address and heal the spiritual ailment directly

  • Expelling evil spirits that are causing harm

  • Utilizing indigenous medicinal plants and recommending herbal remedies

  • Working in collaboration with the spirits of the plants to utilize their therapeutic attributes

These shamanic practice techniques allow shamans to provide holistic healing to their patients.

Significant in shamanic healing are totemic items and icaros or medicine songs. Totemic items like rocks imbued with unique powers and spirits are essential in shamanism. Icaros are crucial as they are used to summon spirits, imparting these songs to the shaman before invocation.

The shaman also strives to become an unimpeded pathway for spiritual energy to flow through, amplifying their healing and guidance — a state often described as ‘becoming the hollow bone’.

Spiritual Guidance

Spiritual guidance from a modern shaman involves seeking wisdom from the spirit world through practices like the shamanic journey and fostering a constant relationship with the spirit. It deepens the connection to oneself, others, and the natural world.

Typical tools and techniques employed by contemporary shamans to offer spiritual guidance encompass drums, masks, rattles, meditation, music, costumes, and the utilization of psychedelics and botanical plants. By seeking spiritual guidance from a contemporary shaman, individuals can receive practical and pragmatic solutions to everyday problems, assist in reclaiming their power, navigate life’s challenges with resilience, and manifest their desires.

Training and Becoming a Modern Shaman

Shamanic studies program classroom

Becoming a modern-day shaman is a serious commitment, requiring in-depth training and personal growth, often achieved through shamanic studies programs and personal experiences. This process is akin to an intensive level of personal development, surpassing the intensity of a typical university degree program.

Becoming a shaman is not just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about transformation. Overcoming personal crises, often seen as a shamanic call, holds considerable importance in becoming a modern shaman. These crises are traditionally viewed as signs of an individual’s destined path to embrace the shamanic role, encompassing the healing of mental and spiritual trauma.

Shamanic Studies

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, established by Michael Harner, offers shamanic studies programs that provide comprehensive training for aspiring modern shamans. These programs include:

  • The Way of the Shaman Basic Workshop

  • Advanced Shamanic Training

  • Retreats

  • Workshops

  • Seminars

  • Webinars

  • The Applied Shamanism Training Program

The curriculum for a Shamanic Studies program typically encompasses:

  • Learning about the shamanic path from ancient to modern times

  • Engaging in powerful practices and ceremonies

  • Immersing in nature

  • Acquiring knowledge of various healing modalities

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies instructors must have completed an intensive program of study and participate in the FSS Faculty Intern Program.

Personal Development

Personal development is of paramount importance in the practice of modern shamanism. It encompasses self-reflection, self-awareness, and the nurturing of internal advancement. Furthermore, it is crucial in developing fundamental skills such as shamanic journeying.

Overcoming personal crises, commonly perceived as a shamanic call, holds considerable importance in becoming a modern shaman. These crises are traditionally viewed as signs of an individual’s destined path to embrace the shamanic role, encompassing the healing of mental and spiritual trauma.

Shamanic studies prioritize personal development as a life path, focusing on:

  • achieving harmony with spiritual energies

  • practicing discipline

  • engaging in inquiry

  • fostering trust in one’s inner experiences.

Modern Shamanism and Indigenous Cultures

Modern shaman respecting indigenous traditions

Modern shamanism respects indigenous cultural traditions by acknowledging and honoring ancient spiritual practices, maintaining a deep connection with nature, promoting environmental harmony, and recognizing the evolving cultures of Indigenous Peoples. It addresses concerns of cultural appropriation by acknowledging the significance of locality, refraining from replicating shamanic rituals in contexts outside their original setting, and honoring the authority of Indigenous peoples to determine which aspects of their traditions are suitable for sharing.

Respecting Cultural Traditions

Cultural appropriation, within the realm of modern shamanism, involves the utilization of spiritual practices from other cultures without adequate comprehension or reverence for their cultural significance. Conversely, cultural appreciation entails respecting and understanding another culture’s shamanic practices while honoring their beliefs and contextual framework.

The significance of authenticity in modern shamanism lies in the development of an intimate understanding of oneself through rigorous training and shamanic disciplines. It entails being present in the moment, addressing the client’s needs, and establishing a direct and functional relationship with the spirit, all of which are crucial for genuine practice. Issues related to authenticity encompass inquiries into the legitimacy and education of the shaman, the adoption and commercialization of indigenous customs, and the guarantee of cultural sensitivity and reverence towards indigenous knowledge.

Revitalization Efforts

Modern shamans have a vital role in rejuvenating traditional shamanism. They:

  • Preserve and practice ancient rituals

  • Use healing techniques passed down through generations

  • Share spiritual wisdom with others

  • Adapt these practices to meet the contemporary needs of individuals and communities

Revitalization efforts in modern shamanism encounter challenges, including difficulties in comprehending contemporary shamanic currents, contestations of disenchantment, and a decreasing confidence in the shamanic healing system. Despite these challenges, the methodologies utilized in the rejuvenation of traditional shamanic practices encompass:

  • Meditation

  • Power animal retrieval

  • Soul retrieval

  • Energy clearing

  • Divination

Challenges and Criticisms of Modern Shamanism

Like any spiritual practice, modern shamanism faces challenges and criticisms. The significance of authenticity stems from the highly personalized and cultural elements involved in the practice, which must be preserved with respect and accuracy, particularly in a contemporary context that tends to generalize and appropriate culture.

While there is a restricted amount of empirical evidence that substantiates the effectiveness of shamanic practices, some researchers have put forth theories explaining the development and operation of shamanism within human societies from a psychological or neurotheological perspective.

Authenticity Concerns

Within the realm of modern shamanism, cultural appropriation involves the utilization of spiritual practices from other cultures without adequate comprehension or reverence for their cultural significance. Conversely, cultural appreciation entails respecting and understanding another culture’s shamanic practices while honoring their beliefs and contextual framework.

The significance of authenticity in modern shamanism lies in:

  • the development of an intimate understanding of oneself through rigorous training and shamanic disciplines

  • being present at the moment and addressing the client’s needs

  • establishing a direct and functional relationship with the spirit

All of these are crucial for genuine practice.

Scientific Evidence

Though limited, scientific research on shamanic healing has been carried out and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. These studies include:

  • Clinical trials on shamanic healing for specific conditions

  • Research on changes in brain frequencies during the shamanic state of consciousness

  • Investigations into hallucinogenic healing

Despite the inherent complexities in determining whether healing outcomes result from the placebo effect or genuine energy manipulation, various methods are used to measure the effectiveness of shamanic healing in scientific studies. These include:

  • Assessment of positive effects

  • Treatment duration

  • Evaluation of safety

  • Feasibility

  • Healing effects

Benefits of Modern Shamanism for Health and Wellbeing

Shamanic healing promoting well-being

Shamanic healing adopts a holistic approach to health and well-being, harmonizing healing’s physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. It complements conventional therapies by offering a healing paradigm that can be utilized to comprehend fundamental elements of healing and to conceptualize additional healing methods, such as:

  • Energy healing

  • Sound healing

  • Herbal medicine

  • Rituals and ceremonies

  • Shamanic journeying

These additional healing methods can be used with conventional therapies to enhance overall healing and well-being.

Participating in modern shamanic practices can foster personal growth and self-discovery. Shamanic practices frequently lead to trance states, which, according to the ‘neurotheological theory’, may have an integrative impact on cognition. This impact aids in the communication among mental systems such as the theory of mind, social intelligence, and natural history, thus contributing to personal growth and self-discovery.

Complementary Therapies

Shamanic healing complements conventional therapies by offering a healing paradigm that can be utilized to comprehend the fundamental aspects of healing and to conceptualize additional healing methods, such as complementary therapy. The fundamental philosophy behind shamanic healing as a complementary treatment underscores the significance of belief, faith, and introspection in facilitating self-healing. Shamans utilize altered states of consciousness to connect with the unseen realm and offer spiritual guidance for healing purposes.

Shamanic healing practices encompass unique techniques for altering consciousness and managing energy, which can complement conventional therapies. Additionally, they encompass concepts related to illness, change, growth, rites of passage, death and dying, and the utilization of imagery in healing. The integration of shamanic healing practices with conventional therapies has the potential to facilitate the clearance of negative energy, restoration of lost soul essences, and offer transformative healing for emotional traumas and blockages.

Personal Growth and Self-Discovery

Modern shamanic practices support personal growth by providing distinctive experiences that encourage self-exploration and the cultivation of a more profound comprehension of oneself and one’s position in the universe. Shamanic practices aimed at self-discovery and introspection may encompass the utilization of entheogenic methods and psychedelics, offering potent means to gain insight into thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Elements of contemporary Shamanism that can contribute to enhancing spiritual connections include:

  • A deep connection with nature

  • Recognition of the spiritual essence in all living beings

  • Assuming accountability for spiritual relationships

  • Participating in shamanic journeys to connect with influential animals and spirit guides.


Modern shamanism, a vibrant blend of ancient wisdom and contemporary insight, offers unique paths to healing, personal growth, and spiritual connection. This path has challenges, including questions of authenticity and the need for rigorous training. However, its potential benefits — from enhanced health and well-being to profound self-discovery — make it worthwhile.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of shamanism?

The different types of shamanism include medicine men and women who use rituals and medicinal plants to heal physical and emotional illnesses and priests who provide spiritual guidance for their communities.

What are the beliefs of shamanism?

The beliefs of shamanism involve a worldview organized into different but equal parts: the earth, the human world, and the stars, each with its own spirit. Shamans communicate with these spirits to heal the sick, guide the dead, and connect with otherworldly powers.

What are modern shamans?

Modern shamans are practitioners who have adapted traditional shamanic practices to meet the needs and challenges of the contemporary world. They combine ancient wisdom with modern techniques to address physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

What is neo-shamanic religion?

Neo-shamanism is a contemporary cultural phenomenon that involves the integration of indigenous shamanic and psychotherapeutic techniques by people from urban, Western contexts. It emphasizes contact with extra-material reality for healing purposes.

What is shamanism in modern society?

Shamanism in modern society refers to adapting traditional shamanic practices to address the needs and challenges of the contemporary world. Modern shamans combine ancient wisdom with modern techniques to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This practice incorporates communication with spirits, healing the sick, guiding the deceased, and connecting with otherworldly powers for the betterment of individuals and communities.

Is shamanism still practiced today?

Yes, shamanism is still practiced today in various cultures and communities around the world.

What is contemporary shamanism?

Contemporary shamanism is the modern application and adaptation of traditional shamanic practices in today’s society. It involves integrating indigenous spiritual techniques with contemporary knowledge and approaches to address the needs of individuals and communities. This practice emphasizes healing, spiritual guidance, communication with spirits, and connecting with otherworldly realms for personal and collective well-being.

How is a shaman chosen?

A shaman is chosen by the spirits, regardless of age or sex. The chosen person experiences a long illness and must accept their fate as a shaman, as refusal leads to continual disease. Generally, the call to shamanize is related to a visitation of the spirits, often following a near-death experience or severe illness.

What is shaman medicine?

Shaman medicine involves a multidisciplinary approach to healing, incorporating spiritual practices, physical healing, botanical medication, changes in diet, and other therapies commonly used for various disorders (date not applicable).

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