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Author: BethBeurkens

The Three Worlds of Shamanism

The Three Worlds of Shamanism

There is a world full of help and healing above you, a world full of unconditional love and guidance below you and gentle wisdom all around you, the ancient shamans tell us. You have a beneficent spiritual teacher living in the shamanic upper world who has been looking out for your well-being since you came here. You also have a power animal ally who lives in the shamanic lower world who has been protecting and guiding you all these years. And here in the middle world where you live are trees, birds, stars, sun, moon and stone spirits all calling out to you, singing you are loved, you are not alone.

As a child growing up in Michigan before I knew about “shamanism,” I was enchanted by nature and spent every minute possible climbing trees, canoeing, catching tadpoles, lightning bugs and listening to the meadow larks trill in the fields. It was a magical, highly animated world. I was one with these natural forces. We spoke the same language and shared the same joy being in water, on earth, in wind, in night and sunlight. I stayed connected with them all the way until graduate school when the bond was fractured through my living in the unnatural world of logical analysis, word swords and philosophical argumentation. My health suffered as well.

I left and moved to a cabin in the forest, splitting wood, hauling water, reconnecting with what shamans call the “spirits of nature,” and healed myself.

Perhaps you remember a time when you were in touch with the magical, healing world of nature — a special tree, a family pet who understood everything about you, a treasured place on the earth that welcomed you and put everything back to rights.
I did not know that I was walking the beginning of the shaman’s path until I was in my thirties, nor that the rapture of childhood and rupture and illness in graduate school were part of the initiation process.

What is shamanism, anyway? The word is often used but what is it talking about?
Shamanism is the ancestor of all the world’s spiritual traditions and goes back at least 40,000 years. Your ancestors and mine once practiced shamanism to celebrate the seasons, heal wounds, find lost persons and objects, ensure the success of the hunt, and prevent tribal warfare.

The word shaman comes from the Siberian language and means “one who sees in the dark.” A shaman is someone (female or male) who enters into an altered state of consciousness through the beat of drum or rattle, travels to other worlds to meet with spirit teachers and power animals, gathers answers and healing, and returns here to help alleviate the suffering of others. These “spirit flights” are ecstatic experiences for the shaman, and shamanism is often called the archaic techniques of ecstasy!

A shaman uses the shamanic journey to go to the other worlds by entering into a shamanic state of consciousness. In this altered state she is able to “see with her strong eye” and go through the barriers into nonordinary reality where the helping spirits reside. The helping spirits are both in animal form — horse, bear, cougar, eagle, wolf, etc. — and human form — Buddha, Merlin, Bridget, Tara, Mary, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Plenty Coups, Crazy Horse, etc.

Shamanism has existed on every inhabited continent and is now in a resurgence on the planet. Each shaman has her own helping spirits with whom she works in a powerful partnership to assist people who come asking for help. A shaman may, for example, journey into the upper world in search of a person’s missing soul or journey into the lower world to recover a person’s lost power. These two healing methods are known as soul retrieval and power animal recovery. They can help a person become whole again after accident or trauma and can cure illness and other misfortune.

Generally the word shaman is reserved for someone who is practicing in an indigenous tribal culture. Contemporary shamanic healers like myself prefer to be called shamanic practitioners in acknowledgement of the years of study with the spirits that it takes to become a shaman. It is also up to the community to decide that someone is a shaman. When a practitioner is getting consistently good results in the healing work they do for other, they may begin to be referred to as a shaman.

How does someone become a shaman or shamanic practitioner? Generally there is “a call” to shamanism. The spirits may call someone to the work through a vision or dream, or through inheritance by family lineage. Abrupt events such as an illness, psychotic break, or near death experience may serve as a “wake up call” reminding the person that their true vocation is in service to the spirits. During these experiences, a person may even cross over to the other side and learn about the territories of the spiritual realms.

A person may also be called to shamanism by an inner longing to be with the spirits and be of service to their community.

It is an honor and a privilege to participate in shamanic work. An excellent way to experience shamanism is to take a workshop, learn more about the three worlds of shamanism and have contact with your own spirit teacher and power animal in nonordinary reality. In the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Way of the Shaman weekend workshop, you will learn the classic shamanic journey method of the shaman, experiencing the power of divination (problem-solving) and healing work with your own helping spirits. Drumming, the dance of animals and singing your soul’s song all give you a hands-on feel for the ancient practices of shamanism.

Please contact me if you’d like information about the Way of the Shaman.

In closing, I want to share a beautiful story with you about an Eskimo shaman, Uvavnuk, who gained her spiritual power in one dramatic instant. The story is told in Shamanic Voices by Joan Halifax.

A ball of fire came down out of the sky and struck Uvavnuk senseless. When she regained consciousness, the spirit of light was within her… And when she sang, all those present were loosed from their burden of sin and wrong; evil and deceit vanished as a speck of dust blown from the hand! And this was her song:

The great sea has set me in motion
Set me adrift,
Moving me as the weed moves in a river
The arch of sky and mightiness of storms
Have moved the spirit within me,
Till I am carried away
Trembling with joy.

Soul Retrieval: Singing Your Soul Home Again

Soul Retrieval: Singing Your Soul Home Again

We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole and great body.

– Joan Halifax

Shamans have been healing the living and the dead for forty thousand years. Shamanic healing is a spiritual practice that deals with the spiritual aspects of problems and illness. In the shaman’s worldview, there are basically three common causes of illness. The loss of one’s personal power can cause repeated misfortune, depression and chronic illness. When this happens the shaman journeys in a trance state to find and retrieve the lost power in the form of a spirit animal.

Another cause of illness from a shamanic perspective is when a person has taken on negative energies which create blockages or pain in localized areas of the body. From a shamanic perspective, taking on negative energies is another cause of illness. In this case the shaman works with the person to extract these intruded energies.

A third and frequent cause of illness is when a person loses a part of their soul. According to shamanic traditions, partial soul loss can occur during times of emotional or physical trauma. This loss of soul can result in depression, illness, addictions, post-traumatic stress syndrome, or even coma. The shaman tracks the parts of the soul that have fled and recovers them in a soul retrieval ceremony.

I have been a practitioner and teacher of shamanism here and in Europe for many years. I was in a wooden chalet on a writing retreat in the Swiss Alps the first time I heard about soul retrieval. I had a book with me that had a list of typical soul loss symptoms and a description of healing the soul through shamanic retrieval. Having even one of these symptoms (which I did), can be an indication of soul loss.

• Chronically ill as a child
• Problems with your immune system and your ability to resist illness
• Difficulty staying present in your body, feeling outside your body, looking in
• Feeling numb, deadened, apathetic
• Difficulty moving on after loss, divorce, death of a loved one
• Struggling with addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling
• Looking for external things to fill an internal void or emptiness

-Sandra Ingerman
Soul Retrieval : Mending the Fragmented Self

It became immediately apparent that soul retrieval was the next big step in my healing journey. I needed to have my vital core essence returned to me and with it a sense of joy, presence and wholeness. I looked out the small window, down to the alp trail below. There stood an enormous bright red fox looking up at me, the power of the universe confirming my knowledge that my soul fragment wanted to come back home to me.

As I was growing up I noticed how some people changed after illness and loss. My grandmother was never the same after her beloved sister died tragically. And after her husband left her with five children to raise, my other grandmother remained completely stuck in the past. One girl in high school, who experienced an epileptic seizure out of the blue, was never present in the same way again, even though the condition was medically under control. Another family down the street whose handicapped daughter died, never recovered from the loss.

We all know people who, having gone through divorce, remain deadened for some time afterwards, or who, after a car accident or other personal tragedy, never fully recover their spirit. We see soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder, who feel that they are not completely here anymore.

These are all situations where the person may be suffering from the departure of a piece of their spiritual essence or soul. Soul is our vital essence and when it is fully present we radiate joy, vitality and life force. Soul loss can keep us from feeling our connections with others, from creating healthy relationships and from living the life we really want to live.

The shaman is concerned with the soul and its adventure -in all the realms the soul moves through, in all its stages – birth, life, and the passage through death and back into life again. (see Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy)

Where does the soul fragment go and how does the shaman track and retrieve what was lost?

Shamans divide the spiritual cosmos into three worlds; the Upper World, the Middle World, the Lower World. A missing soul essence may be found in any of these worlds.

Shamans most often use the beat of the drum to take them into an altered state of consciousness and carry them in spirit flight into the hidden universe of these worlds. Once there, they meet with their helping spirits, power animals and spirit teachers. It is the spirits who then lead the shaman to the places where lost soul essences are found. Working hand in hand with their spirits, the shaman retrieves the lost soul and carries it back to the person who is awaiting its return. The soul is sung back, blown into the body and welcomed home in a beautiful ceremony. This work takes training, great skill and compassion on the part of the shaman.

In my shamanic healing practice I have, for many years now, had the honor of helping people recover their souls and discover how to live from a place of renewed wholeness after the soul retrieval. Every practitioner experiences the spiritual worlds in their own ways. I often find lost souls waiting in the Great Forest of the hidden universe, in the Cave of Lost Children, in the Ocean of Souls and in the Void. Occasionally I discover a soul part is still in the Middle World, in the childhood home where a trauma occurred.

After the soul retrieval, life changes for the person. For some that change is major and immediately evident. For others it is more subtle as the returning essence enters into one’s present life. When welcomed home, the return of one’s soul can bring more enthusiasm back into life, help break old patterns and open up more choices in life.

All shamanic healing is a gift from the helping spirits.

The stars call out to you
the trees and streams sing your name
the moon and sun call out to you
the mountains, animals and ocean, too
saying, you belong to a greater whole,
you have a unity with all of life.
You are not alone.

Secrets of the Shamans

Secrets of the Shamans

Shamans worldwide have long known the secret that there is another reality. In this other world, filled with power and healing, live beneficent helping and healing spirits that work with the shaman to help alleviate pain and suffering in others. They are the animal allies and spirit teachers who can help us solve life problems and give us strength and protection. Each person has her own helping spirits but may be unaware of who they are. The teachers are known by many names — Tara, Jesus, Buddha, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Merlin, Kuan Yin, Old Woman, Ix Chel, Guadalupe and Isis, to name just a few of the thousands.

Shamans work in partnership with their healing spirits and have been helping people for over forty thousand years on every inhabited continent — in Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe.

But what is a shaman and where is the other reality? How does the shaman get there?

Shamans are women and men who are called by the compassionate spirits to help people in their community solve problems, heal illness, and restore well-being. The word shaman comes from Siberia and means one who sees in the dark. Listening to the beat of rattles or drum, a shaman enters an altered state of consciousness and is then able to travel into the hidden universe on behalf of those who need guidance and healing.

Imagine entering a darkened room with a candle burning and fresh, aromatic cedar incense. You’ve come here to meet the shaman to ask for help. You have an important question that urgently needs an answer. Or perhaps you seek healing for symptoms you are experiencing — lost passion, health problems or missing the feeling of being really alive.

You request the shaman to seek spiritual help for you. You lie down next to the shaman on a colorful tribal rug and the drumming begins. The shaman enters a shamanic state of consciousness and travels on the sound of the drum as on a herd of horses, into the other reality where hidden sources of wisdom and healing await her.

She arrives into the spirit world which may appear as rugged mountains, red desert, meadow or starry night sky. She greets her spiritual helpers. They may be a herd of reindeer and an old woman teacher or perhaps a council of aboriginal elders and a black panther. She knows them intimately. They have chosen her to be a shaman who helps others.

She greets them joyously and presents your problem or symptoms to them. They are here to assist you with all the power of the universe. Perhaps you have asked for help to heal your broken heart or prepare you to meet your soul partner. Maybe you need healing to recover from a car accident or the loss of your mother.

If there is a spiritual dimension to your problem or illness, the spirits and shaman are able to help you. They eagerly go to work on your behalf.

Lying beside the shaman, you make yourself open and receptive to receive the healing help. You have surrendered into the healing hands of the compassionate spirits. You feel welcome and safe here.

The shaman travels far, perhaps flying on the back of her eagle spirit or on the cloak of her spirit teacher. Together they are seeking the power you need for your life. They come to a vast indigo lake and there, in a small boat rocking on the waves, is a part of your vital essence which you lost when you were quite young during a difficult time in your life. This soul essence of yours may show itself as a brilliant flower, a radiant diamond or a joyous young child. Next to it is a powerful animal who also wants to come back to help strengthen and watch over you.

After some delicate shamanic work, the shaman reaches out and embraces your soul essence and your animal ally. Together they travel back through the spirit world, over green forest, turquoise seas, and black slate mountains, back, back towards this reality where you are waiting for healing help.

Before leaving the spiritual world, the shaman pauses and thanks all of her spiritual helpers for their assistance. Without them, the shaman is powerless, unable to search for and return with the healing her clients so urgently need. She is like a hollow bamboo, making the link between the two worlds, carrying the power back from one world and into the other, the master of two realities.¹

The shaman returns and sits up. Bending over you, she blows your soul and your animal back into your chest. Whoosh. It feels warm and expanding. You sit up and she blows the remainder of the power in through the top of your head. Wwhoo. They slide into you, bringing renewed life force and vitality. She picks up her rattle and, dancing around you, singing and rattling a healing song, she seals the power into your body and welcomes you home.

You listen as she tells you the shamanic journey she took on your behalf. You may feel the seeds of hope and healing taking root inside you as you hear the story of how your soul has returned to you. You feel more complete. She reminds you of all the life force you have to work with now and offers to continue to help you learn how to use the power of your soul to overcome any reoccurring habits and illness and to bring more joy into your life.

Returning soul and spirit animals helps restore power to the client. One of the secrets known to shamans is that power keeps you well. Being power-filled wards off illness, bad luck and misfortune. Power, in shamanism, is understood to be life force and universal chi. It emanates from our connections with our spiritual helpers and it must be fed and maintained.

The compassionate spirits want to help us. Working in partnership with them, the shaman is able to relieve pain and suffering and often perform miracles.

Beth Beurkens, M.A. is a shamanic practitioner and has been a teacher of shamanism for 17 years and a vision quest guide for 20 years. She has been a college instructor of religion and spirituality for 30 years and is a writing coach. Beth leads dynamic life-changing seminars on the West Coast and in Europe and has a shamanic healing practice in Mt Shasta and Europe. Beth has studied extensively with Michael Harner, Alicia Luengas Gates and Sandra Ingerman. She is an instructor at Rogue Community College, The Foundation for Shamanic Studies and is a creative writing teacher.

¹ Michael Harner, from a talk at Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma CA, April 7,2008.

Answering the Call to Shamanism

Answering the Call to Shamanism

There is only one great thing
The only thing
To live,
To see the great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.
– Inuit song

Shamanism is the oldest spiritual tradition on the planet, the ancestor of all spiritual paths. When you trace your bloodlines back through time, back to the continent where your bones and genes originated, you will discover all of your people living shamanically. Our ancestors relied on the practices of shamanism to communicate with the unseen world, locate wandering herds of animals and hidden medicinal herbs, solve problems using spiritual oracles and heal illness. It is because shamanism worked so well that our ancestors survived the rigors and wilds of Paleolithic and Neolithic living. Imagine the mile high wall of ice that our European ancestors had to live with during the ice age and the wooly mammoths, cave bears and cave lions running wild.

Shamanism was the way of life. And now in a planet out of balance and harmony, there is a revival of interest in its healing ways. Many people are finding themselves called to the shamanic method of problem-solving and curing illness, to meet and work with their helping spirits.

The calls that we receive to create significant change in our lives or to walk a spiritual path are wondrous. Where do they come from? How do we answer? What happens if we ignore the calls we hear?

In my work with people over the last thirty years as a vision quest guide and shamanic teacher and healer, I have had an intimate role in helping others from all walks of life listen to the calls they are receiving. Some are called to give voice to their creativity or spirituality, improve their work or family situation, others are called to live what their soul came into this lifetime wanting to express.

My call to shamanism came when I was two or three, living in Michigan. I had a deep rapport with the spirits of nature and spent a lot of time in my own places of power talking with the moon, trees, birds and the spirit of the great lake. My deepest alliance was with them. There were no words for this, only the most passionate feelings of intimacy. I felt their love and compassion for me; I was seen by them for who I was and who I would become.  Entwined in the mysticism of nature, I was being called by the spirits.

Answering the call to the spirits may be gradual, sudden or even on again, off again. For me it has been a continuum of finding my way in a very secular culture and answering the spirits on ever stronger and deeper levels of commitment. There were no shamans available to train me as a child. My maternal grandmother taught me about herbs, migrating birds and vegetarianism. My mother insisted we see osteopathic doctors so there were some alternative medicines around me, but I had to come to California to find earth-based healing and shamanism.

The trail led me to Evelyn Eaton, O’Shinnah Fast Wolf, Raymond Stone and finally to Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman. They pointed the way for me but the discipline and dedication of fully answering the call was up to me. A  Chinese proverb tells us “teachers open the door but you must enter by yourself.”

The helping spirits also have a large role in the inner calls we hear. In shamanism there is the understanding that it is the spirits who choose and make the shaman.

They may call us in our day or night dreams and in our yearning to be of service as a healer. They may speak to us through the spirits of nature in encounters with stars, trees and wild animals. They may call us through magical synchronicities — the right book, email or workshop flyer is given to us in an exact moment of inner readiness. We may also experience the call as an inner understanding that the healing spirits are present here and now in our lives, inviting attention and connection with them.

The call may be a whisper, a shout, or an unnamable tug on the heart.

Some get the call to the shamanic path through abrupt events such as emotional crisis, life-threatening illness and near-death experience. There can be a spiritual dimension to misfortune, calling our attention to the need to find greater spiritual meaning and healing for our lives.

One of the commonly asked questions I hear when I am teaching shamanism is whether or not an “ordinary person” can answer his or her call to shamanism and still retain their daily life. Yes. People from all different backgrounds and professions — lawyers, nurses, doctors, professors, nuns, mothers, writers, fathers, carpenters, architects — learn shamanic pathways and apply that practice to improve their lives. Shamanism has survived for 40,000 years because each person becomes his or her own spiritual authority. It presents a spiritual methodology that can change and heal our lives

After you hear a spiritual call, you have choices. You can say to the caller, ah sorry, you have the wrong number. Or you can use call waiting — can you hold please, I’ll get right back with you … in a year or two or ten. You can use call forwarding — oh, my son/daughter/partner/friend is better at this spiritual path than I am so, here honey, this call is for you. These are all variations on the theme of refusing the call. This choice can be dangerous as well as soul-numbing. It can lead to depression, accidents, and illness as the life force is dammed up and thwarted.

The other choice is — oh, it’s the spirits calling. I think I want to take this call, better take this call, need to take it, have been waiting for this call. Yes!

Why answer the call from the helping spirits? Because you are receiving it. It is an honor and a humbling privilege to partner with them and work with full compassion on behalf of ourselves and others who are suffering and asking for help. In my experience, we are not given calls and longings without also being given the help we need to fulfill them. In answering the call, the healing spirits will then be able to help you learn, help you grow, help you heal.

What, gentle reader, is the call you are hearing?

ORACLES, BONES AND STONES: Shamanic Divination

ORACLES, BONES AND STONES: Shamanic Divination

saamidrumHave you ever stared at the sky when it was scattered with clouds, searching for an answer to an important question? Or perhaps you’ve sought counsel in Tarot cards, the Chinese I Ching or the Celtic Runes. These are forms of oracular guidance and problem-solving known as divination. The many forms of divination seek to find answers from sources that are hidden from daily life. They show us the “divine will” in answer to important life questions.

Changes, challenges and questions fill our lives. How we respond to them can affect us for years to come. Shall I buy this house? Is this a good location for my business? How can I increase my creativity? How do I slow down to my own natural rhythm?

The ancient world had many sacred sites and temples available for divination purposes. People journeyed there on pilgrimages, seeking advice for their problems. The Delphic Oracle in Greece is perhaps the best known. Priestesses who possessed great spiritual power served as oracles there. They served the great mother goddess, Gaia, performing oracular divinations deep inside the earth beneath the Temple of Delphi.

The Delphic priestesses could see into the future and were in direct communication with Gaia who possessed the wisdom of the universe. When asked a question, the priestess would go into trance while holding a snake in each hand. She would speak an answer in a sacred language. Receiving direct revelations from Gaia, the priestesses were renowned for the accuracy of their predictions.

The Delphic Oracle was part of a time-honored shamanic tradition. As a spiritual problem-solving methodology, shamanism has been in use for the last forty thousand years. Shamans employ the divination tools of the drum, bones, crystals and spirits of nature. They are able to read answers in the rustling of leaves, crackling of fire and whistling of rivers. Nature is alive and spirit-filled. The shaman interacts with nature powers and thus is able to divine weather, diagnose illness, locate lost people and solve problems for individuals and the tribe.

One of the classic techniques used by shamans in the far north is the placing of a dried caribou scapula (shoulder blade) into a sacred fire and asking the spirits for an answer to an urgent question, such as where are the migrating herds of caribou. The cracked and blackened scapula is then pulled out of the fire and read by the shaman, just like a map. Time and again this method works. The herds are found in exactly the location shown on the scapula. The tribe survives another winter.

Similarly, the shamans in old China used tortoise shells blackened in the fire. These are the origins of the modern I Ching Book of Changes. Thankfully, coins have taken the place of tortoise shells. According to the ancient Chinese, writing was also originally created as a divination tool to connect with divine source.

Many shamanic divination techniques are used for looking into the future. When a child is born, a shaman can see what the soul of the child is bringing in and what her soul wants to express. Once this is revealed, these talents and gifts can then be nurtured by friends and family.

Crystal gazing techniques are also well known among shamanic peoples. Natural quartz crystals are strong energy magnifiers, and a shaman can look into the crystal for an answer to a person’s question, seeing present circumstances as well as future ones.

The drum is used in many shamanic cultures as a divination tool. Among the best known peoples who used the drum are the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia. So popular was the drum in certain areas in the 1700s, that every household had one. (Drum-Time 20). They were used in everyday life to discover information crucial to survival. Small pictures and images were painted on the drum face and a ring of brass or a pointer of reindeer antler, was laid on the top. As the drum was beaten, the pointer moved over the figures. (Drum-Time 20). These pictures included whale, reindeer, boats, skis, elk, mountains, goddesses and so on — depicting important features of the world the Sámi lived in. The path that the brass ring took over the figures and where it stopped, could be read like an oracle.

A household might ask, “What weather is coming?” “Will the hunt be successful today?” “Where are the reindeer herds?” and “Will we have enough food this winter?” (Drum-Time 20). In these earlier times the messages of the drum were known to save people’s lives. Without their council, people would have starved to death or been overtaken by warring tribes. In those days there were no weather channels or cell phones, no GPS or helicopters. The oracular power of the drum was alive with the voices of the compassionate spirits.

Helping spirits in the form of power animal allies, spirit teachers and ancestors all help the shaman and the modern day shamanic practitioner to uncover guidance from hidden sources, information not readily available otherwise. Questions like, “Where should we move to?” “How do we prepare for the coming winter?” and “What crops do we best plant this spring?” are important divination ones. The shaman is like a human tuning fork, singing the truths of prophecy and divine wisdom through her bones.

Last year I was in a huge transition and wanted to have all my power and energy in one place. I needed to sell my home in Santa Cruz, and my tenant was creating havoc with the process. Distressed, I went out to walk in the hills in Mount Shasta, seeking the wisdom of the helping spirits. I was wrestling with the question of whether to pay a moving company to move my tenant out. Clearly I didn’t invite this extra expense, but she experienced it as a hardship to live in a house that was going on the real estate market.

Suddenly a magnificent bald eagle flew right across my line of vision, cutting through all my uncertainty. The answer was immediately clear. Be kind, do the right thing, share your resources. The movers were able to move her out within two days and the house was easily readied for sale. Serendipitously, a month later I learned that there were allegedly illegal things being grown in my backyard. This confirmed that I’d made the right decision. The helping spirits were in possession of even larger information than I knew at the time.

Shamanic divination methods help us see big truths about our past, present and future. When we ask the compassionate spirits for what we truly need, vast healing and wisdom open to us. We can change our story from being victims of circumstance and move into our empowered, whole selves. We can remember who we are, what our soul’s purpose is and what gifts we came into this lifetime with.


Works Cited
Westman, Anna and Utsi, John E.; Goábdesajgge (Drum-Time: The Drums and Religion of the Sámi) 1999. Print.

Beth Beurkens M.A. is a poet, creative writing teacher and shamanic practitioner of 22 years. She is on the faculty of Rogue Community College, College of the Siskiyous and the Foundation For Shamanic Studies. She has studied extensively with Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman.

Shamanism and the Spirits of Nature

Shamanism and the Spirits of Nature

The sun is a circle
The earth is a circle
The moon is a circle
The drum is a circle
We are a circle
— ancient Sammi song

We humans have an interdependence with all life, and we share a unity with all things here on our planet. We are connected to the oceans, the whales, the mountains, the bears, the trees and birds, the sun, moon and stars.

In shamanic cultures it is understood that all the beings in the natural world have spirits animating and empowering them. Incense Cedar spirit, Ponderosa Pine spirit, lake spirit, lightning spirit, spirit of rain, snow spirit, star spirits… The natural world is full of living, compassionate nature spirits who help the shaman divine answers to urgent life questions. The voice of bird, the crackling of fire, the sound of wind and wave — all of these are the shaman’s helpers on her quest for knowledge, survival and healing.

When I think of the spirits of the natural world, I immediately go back in my heart to the great lake of Michigan with all its wild, blue faces, its perch and blue gills, its sand bars and its high, shifting dunes. The lake spoke to me strongly as a child though I had no conscious shamanic understanding of what this meant.

We all have memories of places in nature that touched us when we were young. For many of us these special, sometimes secret, places were our refuge from difficult life situations. That tree outside the bedroom window, the cornfield out back, the forest up the block, the dry arroyo down the street… what place in nature gave you solace and nurturing as you were growing up? These nature sites are important touchstones for us and are known as power places among shamanic peoples.

The natural world and wilderness hold a paramount importance for me. I followed the natural world at nineteen and landed in Santa Barbara, pulled by the mountains and the coast as much as by the university. Then Santa Cruz captured my heart with its redwoods, madrones, beaches and mountains. Finally Mt. Shasta’s magnetism won me over and after thirty years in Santa Cruz, I was drawn by the aura and power of the white mountain here, her lakes and trees and warm community of people.

Mount Shasta is and long has been a holy mountain. It is home to at least 28 spiritual traditions. For the Miwok Indians, it holds a very special place in their spiritual healing practices. It was one of four California mountains where the shamans buried giant “mother crystals” to be recharged by the power of the mountain. When these were ritually unearthed, shamans from around the area would bring their own healing crystals to charge them up with the spiritual force the mother crystal had received from Mt. Shasta.1

Since time immemorial, shamans have lived in intimate relationships with the spirits of nature in order to create healing, gain knowledge and maintain survival on the planet. The shaman has an intimate partnership with the rivers and rocks, the sun, moon, and stars, the mountains and plains, the winds and waters, the plants and animals. By learning from the spirits of the natural world the shamans have, for thousands of years, helped their peoples live in balance and harmony with the earth and all living beings.

In shamanic cultures it is known that illness, pain and suffering often have a spiritual component to them. The shaman’s work is to seek the spiritual aspect of an illness and bring the person back into connection with the wholeness of the universe. Working with the spiritual side of an illness may involve returning to the person what they have lost or extracting energies that do not belong to them. A shaman is concerned with alleviating both pain and suffering as well as reconnecting the person to their own sources of spiritual power. The spirits of the natural world support shamanic healing by reconnecting a person to the source of life itself — the sun and moon, stones and streams, stars and trees.

As a vision quest guide, I have seen tremendous healing happen for vision questers who spend four days and nights alone in a wilderness place of power. The stars sing to them, the animals and plants talk to them in a forgotten language, the rocks remind them of their belongingness to the earth and help bring them “home” again. Solitude in the wilderness fills them with power. Upon returning to their daily lives, they have new-found abilities to make healing changes and longed-for new choices.

As a shamanic practitioner, I work with clients who seek shamanic healing to help them heal addictions, feelings of fragmentation and powerlessness, and disconnection from themselves. With my helping spirits, I do soul retrievals for them, finding lost pieces of their soul and returning it to them. The soul may have been lost when they were quite young, other times illness, accidents and frightening situations caused the soul to leave when they were adolescents or adults. After soul retrieval, my clients report great joy returning to them, a new sense of well being or a surge of vitality filling them.

Following the soul retrieval, I urge them to build a relationship with their returned soul essence. One of the best ways to begin to do this is to go out into nature and find a tree you can comfortably spend time alone with. Trees are powerful beings who live their whole lives rooted in one place, and when asked, they show the client ways they can begin to welcome their soul back home again.

For those who want to deepen their spiritual relationship with our living planet by working directly with the spirits of nature for healing and knowledge, shamanism offers profound learning experiences. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies will be offering Shamanism and the Spirits of Nature, a weekend workshop in Mt. Shasta June 2 and 3, 2007. If you are hearing a call to discover your relationship with the spirits of the natural world and learn ways to restore and maintain balance on our planet, I urge you to heed that call. When we receive a call from the helping spirits, we are also given the ability to live it.

1. Michael Harner, Ph.D., Shamanic Divination Training, Foundation for Shamanic Studies, San Francisco, CA, July 2006. Back to article.