Shamanic Healing

November 18, 2017

By using Shamanic practices a wide spectrum of healing work is possible. Shamanic practices are as old as humanity itself and are the basic and fundamental practices used by humans across time and space. It is a type of spiritual work that aligns us with our own nature, connecting us to Mother Earth, Father Sky and the four directions.   According to Sandra Ingerman (1991:1) the word shaman is said to have originated from the Tungus tribe of Siberia and adapted by anthropologists to explain a person who makes a journey in an altered state of consciousness (ASC) outside of time and space.

This idea of being outside of, what is termed ordinary reality, is described by Michael Winkelman (1997) as three major types of ASC traditions with the major difference being the manifestations of ASC, the first being the soul flight tradition of the shaman, the second the mediumistic or possession trance tradition and the third the yogic or meditative tradition.  Winkelman (1997) believes these differences are based on social and physiological conditions and the intent of the people involved.  He concludes that in all three traditions the physiological response to ASC, whether drug or non drug induced, results in a similar brain response based on a common underlying neurobiochemical  pathway (Mandell 1980, cited in Winkelman 1997).  This is manifested in high-voltage slow wave electroencephalogram (EEG) activity commonly referred to as a transcendent, transpersonal or mystical state.  

Generally a shaman will use percussion to enter into an altered state in order to bring back healing information or healing spirits to enable the person to return to a state of wholeness and remember on multiple levels their true essence and beauty.   Often the gifts, talents and strengths a person came into this life with, over time and through various life experiences, have been lost or eroded through trauma whether physical, emotional or spiritual.  It is the shaman’s role to act on behalf of the person, community or environment to restore balance through contact with the healing spirits and act as the “hollow bone” or vessel to allow spirit to perform the healing.

Recently I had a client who spoke of the trauma she had experienced following a recent visit to her ancestral place and home.    This conversation led into a type of shamanic healing termed a soul retrieval, where a piece of her soul that was stolen in her early childhood was returned.   In a soul retrieval the shaman is often taken to a scene which metaphorically represents the way in which the soul part was lost and what needs to be returned to the client along with any other healing instructions.   In this particular case I was also given a power animal to give the client which was reinforced by the recent gift the client had received from a close friend.  (please see attached photo).   

The power animal is not only the shaman’s guide through non-ordinary reality but also their primary spiritual helper.  Often a power animal presents itself in a healing journey to be brought back to assist a client in their healing process.  This then becomes a very strong, personal and ongoing relationship between the client and their helping spirit, one that must be treated with great respect.  Some recommendations for continuing this relationship come from Tom Cowan (1996:36) as follows:

. Make an invocation or say a “good morning” prayer to it each day.

. Put up a picture of your power animal where you will see it each day.

. Wear a charm or pendant in its honour.

. Make acknowledging your power animal part of your body practice by calling it to join you when you run, walk, ride a bike, swim or dance.

. Let your art practice include drawing, painting, sculpting, or writing about your power animal.


Often power animals do not like their identities revealed to others so it is wise to not speak openly or carelessly about your power animal.  However, in teaching or healing work, it may be appropriate or necessary to do so.  The best practice is always to ask your power animal directly and then honour its wishes.

I hope this article reveals a glimpse of the shamanic healing experience, one of continual learning and exploration. If you wish to examine this area further please see the references below or if you feel the need to experience a shamanic healing please see my website

Michele Walters



Cowan, C 1996, Shamanism as a Spiritual Practice for Daily Life, Crossing Press, Berkeley.

Ingerman, S 1991, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.

Winkelman, M 1997, 'Altered States of Consciousness and Religious Behaviour', in S Glazier (ed.), Anthropology of Religion, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, pp. 393-428.



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