.. Interview with a Shaman ..

- Sandra Ingerman -

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Shamanism, an ancient and enduring practice, was an integral part of life for our ancestors. Urbanisation and science has since put shamans on the backseat, but today, shamans are making a gradual comeback.

Sandra Ingerman, MA, a world-renowned teacher of shamanism, is most qualified to address some common questions we have about shamanism. She is recognized for bridging ancient cross-cultural healing methods into our modern culture addressing the needs of our times. The author of six books, Sandra Ingerman was also invited to present her work at the United Nations in 2006.

We would like to thank Antoinette Biehlmeier of Regression and Therapy Centre for helping us connect with Sandra.

For the benefit of some of our clueless readers, what exactly does a shaman do?
The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia and it means a spiritual healer or one who sees in the dark. Shamanism has been practiced in Siberia, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland, and native North and South America.

A shaman is a man or woman who uses the ability to see “with the strong eye” or “with the heart” to travel into hidden realms. The shaman interacts directly with helping spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness and perform soul retrievals, retrieve lost power, as well as remove spiritual blockages. The shaman also divines information for the community. Shamans have and still act as healers, doctors, priests and priestesses, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.

There are a variety of ceremonies that shamans perform. They lead ceremonies to welcome children into the world, perform marriages, and help people transition to a good place at the time of death. They lead ceremonies to mourn the death of loved ones. There are important initiation ceremonies performed to mark certain transitions in a person’s life such as moving from childhood into being an adult.

One of the most common ceremonies performed is called the shamanic journey. A shaman is a man or woman who travels outside of time into what we call non-ordinary reality where the shaman has access to a variety of helping spirits who share a wealth of guidance and also healing help for a client or the community at large.

What is the spiritual philosophy of shamanism?
Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit. Shamans speak of a web of life that connects all of life and the spirit that lives in all things. Everything on earth is interconnected and any belief that we are separate from other life forms including the earth, stars, wind, etc., is purely an illusion. And it is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humankind and the forces of nature.

The indigenous person believes the universe is made up of two distinct realms ­ a world of things seen and a world of things hidden ­ and they draw no distinction between them.

Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit.
In shamanism it is believed that there is a hidden realm which we call non-ordinary reality. The Australian aborigines call the non-ordinary realms the Dreamtime. It is also referred to as the Other World in the Celtic traditions, or collectively as the spirit worlds by the indigenous peoples. In these hidden realities there are helping spirits ­ compassionate spirits who offer their guidance and also their healing help in behalf of all life on earth. These helping spirits take the form of animals, trees, the elements, nature spirits, gods and goddesses, religious figures, helping and loving ancestral spirits, and many others.

The power of the practice of shamanism is that it involves the principle of direct revelation. This means that we each have the ability to communicate with helping spirits and receive our own spiritual guidance.

How do shamans work with spirit in their work?
Shamans typically go into an altered state of consciousness to make contact with their helping spirits in order to access guidance or to bring through healing help.

The first step is for the shaman to do some preparation work so that he or she can move their ordinary consciousness out of the way to become what is written about in the ethnographic literature “a hollow bone” or “empty reed”. For the shaman must move out of an egoic state of consciousness to allow the spirits to come through.

Singing and dancing are the most common ways for shamans to prepare for their work.
Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to achieve an altered state in which visionary experiences become accessible. In Australia, shamans use the didgeridoo and/or click sticks, and some traditions like the Bon Po shamans of central Asia use bells. The Saami people of Lapland and Norway use monotonous chanting called joiking.

Once the shaman has achieved an altered state, the shaman journeys into territories in non-ordinary reality and meets up with his or her helping spirits, and the spirits provide the help that is needed.

From what you are saying, the role of a shaman seems rather similar to that of a channeler or medium. What is your opinion on this?

A shaman is a man or woman who goes to visit with his or her helping spirits in non ordinary reality and then returns with information and healing help.

In channeling and mediumship, a person is taken over by their helping spirits. This means that the spirits move into the body of the channeler or medium and speaks through them. In parts of Asia the shamans do act as mediums but this is not the case in most shamanic cultures.

Is shamanism the oldest spiritual practice today?
Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual practice known to humankind. We know from the archaeological evidence that the practice dates back to at least 40,000 years. Some anthropologists believe that the practice dates back over 100,000 years.

How does shamanism vary in different cultures?
All shamanic cultures around the world agree that the spiritual worlds are organized into three primary levels – the Lower World(s), the Middle World, and the Upper World(s). These could be expressed as plural rather than singular because there are numerous levels in both the Lower World and also in the Upper World. Descriptions of these non-ordinary worlds are subject to cultural interpretations.

Shamans journey into similar territories to do their divination and healing work. The spirits that are met will appear in different forms in different cultures. The healing methods that shamans work with will also have different forms. And the shaman will perform ceremonies that are specific to their culture and the needs of the people. The ceremonies are culture specific but the underlying spiritual beliefs are the same.

Modern science seems to have relegated shamanism as superstitions. What are your thoughts on this?
Modern science has taught us that only what we can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste in the tangible world is real and everything else is in our imagination. By seeding this belief into our modern day culture, we have been cut off from the richness of spiritual life. We had a sense of the magic of life as a child but only believing in the material world has left most adults feeling empty.

Indigenous people have a joy and sparkle in their eyes that Westerners long for. And this is because they have such a deep inner life that most of us are missing today.

The scientific view has basically left our modern day world spiritually bankrupt and this is creating physical and emotional illness.

But there are some scientists who are having a change of heart. Quantum physicists recognize the web of life and that there is an energy that connects us all.

For years now, the majority of my workshops on shamanic healing have been attended by psychotherapists who feel they have hit a wall with only using traditional methods in their practice. And now I am amazed at how many medical doctors are showing up at my workshops.

I see this as very promising as we move forward into an evolution of consciousness that embraces spirit.

Could you share with us briefly the ideas behind soul loss and soul retrieval?
Shamans look at the spiritual form of illness, which might manifest on an emotional or physical level. When I was doing the research for my book Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, I found that most shamanic cultures around the world believe that illness is due to the loss of the soul.

It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma, a piece of our soul flees the body in order to survive the experience. The definition of "soul" that I am using is that the soul is our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.

The types of trauma that could cause soul loss in our culture could be any kind of abuse ­ sexual, physical, or emotional. Other causes could be an accident, being in a war, being a victim of a terrorist act, acting against our morals, being in a natural disaster (a fire, hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc.), surgery, addictions, divorce, or death of a loved one. Any event that causes shock could cause soul loss.

It is important to understand that soul loss is a good thing that happens to us. It is how we survive pain. If I was going to be in a head on car collision the last place that I would want to be at the point of impact is in my body. My psyche could not endure that kind of pain. So our psyches have this brilliant self protecting mechanism where a part of our essence or soul leaves the body so that we do not feel the full impact of the pain.

In psychology, we talk about this as disassociation. But in psychology, we don’t talk about what disassociates and where that part goes. In shamanism, we know that a piece of the soul leaves the body and goes to a territory in what shamans call the non-ordinary reality where it waits until someone intervenes in the spiritual realms and facilitates its return.

Although soul loss is a survival mechanism, the problem from a shamanic point of view is that the soul part that left usually does not come back on its own. The soul might be lost, or stolen by another person, or doesn’t know the trauma has passed and it is safe to return.

It has always been the role of the shaman to go into an altered state of consciousness and track down where the soul fled to in the alternate realities and return it to the body of the client.

There are many common symptoms of soul loss. Some of the more common ones would be dissociation where a person does not feel fully in his or her body and alive and fully engaged in life. Other symptoms include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress syndrome, immune deficiency problems, and grief that just does not heal. Addictions are also a sign of soul loss as we seek external sources to fill up the empty spaces inside of us whether through substances, food, relationships, work, or buying material objects.

Anytime someone says I have never been the same since a certain event and they don’t mean this in a good way, soul loss has probably occurred. Coma is also soul loss. But in coma, there is more of the soul out of body than in the body.

The key for keeping ceremony and ritual relevant today is to keep discovering what ceremonies and rituals speak to the need for our modern day culture.

What is your opinion regarding rituals and ceremonies? Are they still relevant today?
Rituals and ceremonies are a wonderful way to create communication between ourselves, the helping spirits and the divine. The power of ritual and ceremony is that they do create change.

In life, we all perform rituals and ceremonies on a daily basis. But the shaman knows that when performing ritual and ceremony with intention, we can manifest our desired result.

The fact that shamanism has been practiced for tens of thousands shows the ability and strength of the practice to evolve and change. The key for keeping ceremony and ritual relevant today is to keep discovering what ceremonies and rituals speak to the need for our modern day culture.

For example, a powerful ceremony that is performed by many modern day shamanic practitioners might be to let go of a limiting belief so that we can manifest our true creative potential. Thousands of practitioners have performed such a ceremony which would not have been performed in an ancient culture. But this is an important ceremony for people today.

As shamanism is based on the principle of direct revelation, one can journey to the helping spirits to receive information on specific ceremonies and rituals that will create healing and the needed changes in our communities and in our times.

In your opinion, what is the reason for the resurgence in the interest of the practice of shamanism today?

Currently there is a dramatic revival of shamanism in the West, with a wide range of people integrating shamanic practices into their lives including students, housewives, teachers, psychotherapists, lawyers, nurses, doctors, politicians, and scientists.

In our Western world today, defined by a pervading sense of separation and alienation, increasing numbers of people are experiencing a deep internal need to feel that direct, transpersonal connection with the web of life.

Shamanism teaches us that we are connected to the cycles of nature. People are attracted to shamanism for guidance in how to live in accordance with nature again and flow with the river of life.

Shamanic journeying is a method of direct revelation and is used to access personal spiritual guidance and healing to help others and the planet, and to reconnect with nature and its cycles and rhythms.

The shamanic journey is a way for us to feel personally empowered in our lives. It provides us with a way to have direct revelation and is a simple approach for accessing spiritual guidance. When we begin to learn that we have the ability to problem solve for ourselves, it raises our self-esteem in a grounded way.

Going to meet our helping spirits makes us feel valued and connected to the spirit that lives in all things. We feel loved by the power of the universe and we never feel alone again.

In your nearly 30 years of practice as a shaman, what is the most amazing incident that has transpired?
It is almost impossible for me to speak to just one amazing event that I have witnessed as I have seen one miracle after another in my years of practicing shamanism.

Many years ago, I was teaching a shamanic workshop where we embrace the principle of using divine spiritual light for healing the planet and ourselves. A long-term student of mine showed up to the workshop with a very challenging case of lupus. She could barely walk and had to use a service dog at home to help with the simplest of tasks.

We performed a healing ceremony where the intention was to heal the earth and she was lying in the middle of the circle during the ceremony. After the ceremony, she got up and started walking with ease. She went hiking the next day, and she has been fine ever since. Her doctor did document her miraculous recovery.

For our readers who are interested in shamanism, could you briefly explain which of your books they should be reading?

I have written six books but there are three people might wish to start with.

Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self is a book I wrote about soul loss and soul retrieval. As I am a licensed psychotherapist, I wrote about how soul loss has impacted our culture today and how we can integrate this ancient shamanic practice successfully into a modern-day culture.

Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide includes step by step instructions on how you can meet up with your helping spirits through a shamanic journey. The package includes a drumming CD.

And my last book How to Heal Toxic Thoughts: Simple Tools for Personal Transformation shares how we can transform the negative energy behind our thoughts and belief systems to heal ourselves and the planet.

I also write a monthly column titled “The Transmutation News” on www.sandraingerman.com. Each month I encourage people to keep up their spiritual practices to heal the planet. This column is translated into 8 languages so it is a way for us to feel connected to a global community that is working together on spiritual levels on behalf of all of life.

What are the requirements and how can someone interested learn to be a shaman?
A shaman is not a “profession” one chooses. It is destiny that leads one to become a shaman. The shaman goes through very intense life-long initiations including near-death experiences and life threatening illnesses where the shaman has spiritual experiences that give him or her extraordinary healing abilities.

But everyone can learn shamanic practices to engage in the practice of direct revelation to meet up with helping spirits. In this way we all claim our spiritual authority and can become conscious changemakers for ourselves and for our planet.

For people who would like to find a local shamanic teacher, you can visit www.shamanicteachers.com. This site includes a list of international teachers who have trained with me to teach shamanism. It also includes a list of shamanic practitioners if you are looking for healing help.