Introduction: Travelling back home
A friend who knew that I had been on a spiritual path for many years before becoming involved in shamanism once asked me, ’Why shamanism?’ And, whilst giving her all kinds of explanations, I suddenly remembered the intense experience I had had during my first shamanic workshop, which I can best describe as the ecstatic feeling of a weary traveller who finally comes home. During that first workshop, something deep inside me woke up and I remembered how it felt when we still gathered around fires in the evenings, beating drums and telling stories, living lives that were infused by the mystical and sacred, a time when we were still deeply connected to nature, community, soul and spirit.
Having walked a fairly eclectic shamanic path now for many years, I am convinced that what I experienced during that first workshop — and the deep impact it had on my life — explains why we have seen an immense revival of shamanism and, over the last few decades, an unprecedented development of contemporary varieties worldwide. What I experienced at that time is what we now call ’the surfacing of the shamanic archetype into consciousness’, a kind of inherited memory pattern held within the collective unconscious and within each of us. Such patterns, which are also sometimes referred to as ’the shaman within’ and which exist already within each of us in potential form, are coming to the fore now because what they represent is needed in the world and because the time is right.
Shamanism is an umbrella term for both the most ancient spiritual traditions known on this planet and the many contemporary varieties. Traditional shamanism was our tribal ancestors’ way of exploring and working with the forces around them, including the energetic ’other’ worlds and spirit forces. The shaman, the ’one who knows’, formed the bridge between these energetic worlds and the material world of the manifested realms, working in alignment with the wishes of spirit for the benefit of the community and its individual members. To this day, shamans are healers, ceremonialists, visionaries, psychics, dreamers, manifestors, divinatory practitioners, psychopomps and more.
For me, shamanism was the last step on my spiritual journey. I had always been interested in human consciousness and knew from an early age that there was much more to reality than what we normally experience.
My early journey led me to travel the world, which opened my eyes and heart. I was drawn to Eastern spirituality, lived for some time in the Osho ashram in India, which was greatly liberating, and later became involved in Buddhist practices. During those times I had my first, very frightening, ’shamanic calling’, which brought me to the brink of death and which I only much later defined as a dismemberment experience, which is well known as an initiation practice in traditional shamanism. This experience, together with my meditation practices and some out-of-body experiences and visions, brought about by my use of psychedelic substances, changed me profoundly. I knew without any doubt that there were underlying realities that were energetic in nature, that consciousness could travel and that life was eternal.
After going to university to study psychology, I became a therapist specializing in trauma and then a university lecturer and trainer. The big adventures of my youth and early adulthood became pleasant memories as I lived a well-ordered life as a successful professional, a wife and a mother. Still, somewhere deep within me there was a longing, a hole, which my by now reduced spiritual practices, my quite fulfilling career, my social activities and even my love for my partner and daughter failed to fill.
It was at this stage in my life that I participated in my first shamanic workshop. This proved to be a turning-point. Over the following years, I became more deeply involved in shamanic teachings and practices. I attended workshops and training courses at home and in the USA with many well-known teachers in the contemporary field, and later I learned from and worked with indigenous shamans from Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico. Still, I was a reluctant shamanic apprentice. I could not say that shamanism had failed to enrich my life considerably or that I was not attracted to the immense variety of approaches and tools it offered. My reluctance was due to the realization that the deeper I delved, the more I understood that my work as a psychologist, therapist and trainer had to shift. Shamanism could not be something that was merely a part of my life: I was being asked to make it my life’s path.
There was much that I loved about shamanism in those early days. I loved that it brought the sacred back into my life and provided me with the means of experiencing the many layers of my reality — inner as well as outer. I loved the fact that it was dynamic and experiential, free of any religious connotations, and that most shamanic practices were conducted in altered states of consciousness. I enjoyed the work with the many forms of spirit and loved learning to experience and work with energies. I also enjoyed exploring the enormous variety of shamanic tools and practices, ranging from journeying, meditating, drumming and dancing to vision quests, nature work and ceremony, lucid dreaming, medicine wheel teachings, sweat lodges and psychedelic medicine plants, to name just a few.
Nevertheless, I continued to separate my ’serious’ work as a psychologist and therapist from my shamanic development. This changed only when I spent some time in Ecuador, learning from an indigenous shaman. During that time I had a dream that provoked the only critical remarks I ever heard from him, along the lines of: ’The dream shows that shamanism is in your blood. But you still refuse to be what you are meant to be. You have a choice: you take your innate power or you die slowly.’
After that I began to run shamanic workshops and training courses for laypeople and then, finally, integrated shamanic teachings into my therapeutic work with private clients and my various training courses with professionals, developing my own style of working in the process, to the immense benefit of hundreds of clients and students.
Incorporating shamanism into my professional life was a big step in the right direction, but it took another wake-up call, a dark night of the soul when I went through heartache I had not imagined possible, before I was able to take stock of my life honestly. All my defences broke down and, shaken to the core, I ended up in hospital with heart failure. At that point I had to decide what was important and what was not. Crucially, I felt very strongly that if I didn’t get my priorities right and complete the work I had been put here to do, I might as well leave this planet.
During my healing process I resigned my post as the course director of a large hypnotherapy institute, stopped working as a psychologist and began to write about ancient wisdom traditions and their incorporation into contemporary therapy. I ran more shamanic courses for therapists and spoke at conferences, trying to make professionals understand that as long as we refused to cater for the human soul, we were not serving our clients. My first book, Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012), pioneering the subject a few years later, was a result of this work.
I have never looked back. Now I feel more whole than I have ever felt before. I know my path, my calling and the life I want to lead — connected to spirit, to the shamanic community and to my own deeper self. I am able to tune in and out of underlying fields and use the powers and help we can find there to create a life that is in tune with my deeper self. I trust that shamanism will continue to help me in the process of becoming ’all that I can be’ in this life by offering exactly what I need, and I trust that I will be able to go with the process instead of resisting it.
Trying to define precisely what shamanism did for me — and what it can do for you — is not easy, but looking back at my own journey and at those of the many hundreds of people with whom I have worked, I can honestly say that it can do ’everything’ for you. It can certainly enrich your life, open worlds and enchant you. It can bring the sacred back into your life and enable you to become whole. It can help you to find meaning and purpose and expand your consciousness.
As this book will show, shamanism connects you to your Earth roots whilst helping you to branch out into the sky. It reconnects you to the lineage of humanity, starting with your ancestors and descendants and embedding you in a circle that loves you dearly. It also helps you to communicate with spirit, access spirit help and live your life in harmony with your own spirit essence.
As shamanism consists of a vast field of teachings, knowledge and practices, I have structured this book based upon what has worked for me and for the many people who have attended my workshops and courses over the last 15 years. I have also selected mostly practices that you can use by yourself, omitting or just touching on those that need training, such as, for example, soul retrieval, deep energetic healing and healing with herbs and plants. Part I presents an overview of shamanism, Part II gives you a wide range of tools for your own healing and development, and Part III offers some more advanced teachings, practices and tools, though not all of them lend themselves to being tried at home. I advise you to go through the book in chronological order, because the exercises build on one other, leading you deeper into shamanism and into yourself.
Once you follow the shamanic path, teachers and opportunities come your way naturally. So I invite you to get started and, as you embark on this journey, I assure you that the worlds you will find, the spirit help you will access and the healing you will experience will change your life.