(Whilst reading this, please note that I am speaking from my experience, my connection with spirit, my training at the Four Winds Society and the teachings that I work with. Other shamans/shamanic healers may have different views. I am not speaking on behalf of the Q'ero, other Indigenous peoples or other shamanic healers and shamans. I am merely putting together a tapestry of information that I perceive as generally agreed upon information in a short text, briefly explaining the complexity and depth of the medicine path. To learn more about the complexity of shamanism and how it is a living/evolving tradition I recommend the book: 'Masters of the Living Energy' by Joan Parisi Wilcox as a starting point.)
Shamanism is our ancient, original connection to spirit (which includes all living organisms, the mountains, the wind...all of life). Whereas it is vital not to copy, steal and insult Indigenous traditions (something that the West has unfortunately done for a very long time), shamanism itself is found all around the globe in various forms in most cultures. There are commonalities such as drumming/trance states, plant medicines, connecting directly to the natural world and spirit, journeying (i.e. travelling between realms with your consciousness) etcetrea, but each culture has added its 'flavour'. Also, many 'modern shamanic healers' like myself do not use plant medicines but work with energy/consciousness/spirit only. In other words: the terms shaman/shamanism can mean very different things depending on whom you ask, how they were called to the path, how they trained, which lineage they were initiated into, if they are born in an Indigenous culture or have been initiated into sacred practices and so forth. In fact, you would never find an Indigenous person calling themselves a 'shaman' - this is a very Western term that inadequately describes our collective original spiritual practices across the globe.
The medicine path requires impeccability, hard work, great integrity and a willingness to walk boldly into darkness. Feeling the fear and not hesitating. Being willing to see ones light and dark shadows and always working for the highest good of all. Shamanism is a lifelong path where the healer makes an agreement with Spirit that says: 'When you call I will answer 100% of the time' and spirit responds 'when you call Spirit will answer 100% of the time'. The call is deep and powerful and requires a lot from the healer, unlike many weekend workshops in healing that we see in the West. The Shamanic path is not for those who are not willing to get their hands dirty!
I recently heard the Venetian proverb: 'the farther from the shore, the deeper the water' and I feel this is true both for spiritual development and shamanism. It is important to keep an open mind, understand that most spiritual traditions are using one of many ways 'up the mountain' and that as humans we know very little about what is really 'out there'. I tend to say that if someone tells you 'this is the right way/I know for sure what happens when we die' - run! Shamans are explorers of consciousness, healers and those that walk between the worlds to help others, but they are not someone who took a short course, dressed in ceremonial clothes from a culture they have no connection to and bought a drum for show...this is a deep path and one that requires ethics and integrity.
The first step for a Shamanic healer is to go through their own deep healing process, a 'death' to whom they have been. In my own training, as I made my way around the medicine wheel a couple of times, I was told that the first two of the four directions are technically not even seen as spiritual, because you have so much work to do in terms of your own healing before wisdom can be given to you and not just be cliche'. In fact, when I went around the medicine wheel I had been having shamanic healing for over a year already and had been on a deep spiritual path for almost a decade, yet, it was as if my true path started then and there.
Dr. Alberto Villoldo, founder of the Four Winds Society, Medical Anthropologist, Psychologist and shaman who spent more than 30 years training with his Q'ero teachers in Peru (who also makes it clear that he does NOT speak on behalf of the Q'ero and Indigenous teachers, but has agreed with them to spread healing information in the West to help the world and as he puts it 'train Western shamans') says that 'There is nothing more dangerous than a skilled but untrained healer'. Shamanic apprentices go through rigorous training to be able to handle the energies they have access to and to do so ethically and without engaging in sorcery. Technically any healing technique could be used for good or bad, however, the difference is the healer's intent and ethics. Shamans have access to powers, but if they are misused the cost for the shamanic healer would be great. I believe most shamans would agree with me that this path opens one up to reverence of the sacred, not entitlement & ego pursuits. With power comes great responsibility and the cost for a shaman who misuses the power is great. Shamanic work also requires that the healer does a great deal of ongoing work on themselves, their environment and catch themselves whenever they stray too far from what we call 'the centre of the wheel' (i.e. balance, harmony.)
It is fair to say that all humans unknowingly engage in sorcery, e.g. through sending angry negative thoughts to someone we have an argument with. The world is full of psychic attack and we do need to clear ourselves of these energies (and more importantly grow whole and strong that it does not affect us much), but as a healer the shaman takes great care to work with the highest, purest intention and not use tools for personal gain at the cost of others. In fact, we are taught to even begin to watch every thought we have, which is not an easy task! A sorcerer on the other hand, may go to a graveyard and find discarnate disturbed spirits in need of healing and 'employ' these as their helpers...rather different from shamans who avoid mediumship unless it is to assist in healing (e.g. helping an earthbound - stuck - spirit cross) and work with a lineage of wisdom keepers. Shamans do, however, face the dark, the uncomfortable and the pain, but do so with an understanding that a haunted house is filled with spirits that need healing, not what religion may call 'the devil'. Shamans believe in a benign universe that conspires on your behalf and that you have to be careful what 'you put out there' and that you have to live in right relationship ('Ayni' in the Q'ero language Quechua) with everything and everyone. In the shamanic traditions, we are responsible for our own actions and we work on growing whole, strong and fully transparent so that we are not targets. Standing in your full power is seen as a lot more important than 'protecting yourself'. After all, if you are whole and have cleared your affinities, family karma and shadow aspects, there is little that can hook into you...and when it does, there will be a shaman to help you!
Oftentimes and traditionally, a shaman does not choose this path but gets thrust onto it through a near-death experience, psychotic break or other difficulties that he/she then has to heal from. In my own experience, it was more like a deep call from the bottom of my being but that ultimately led to a deep healing process although I thought I was healed after a decade on my spiritual path (how wrong I was!)
Shamanism is a path of direct revelation - there is no guru or middle man between the healer and spirit. Shamans are self-referencing and work directly with spirit. It is every human's birthright to connect with spirit and the unseen realms, but that does of course not mean that we are free to mimic and profit from taking Indigenous traditions and making them our own without training, permission and the blessing of the peoples these traditions originate from. Holding a Cacao ceremony (as an example) without permission, training and walking the medicine path is not appropriate and yet another way that the West is still supporting colonialization. Cultural Appropriation has to be addressed and dealt with and as a Westerner who has been blessed to be initiated as a shamanic healer, it is my responsibility to highlight this issue rather than shying away from it. I am sure I will fall short at times, but I will always do my best to walk with integrity, ethics, and respect. I would also like to point out that beyond structured training in shamanic healing, ceremony and similar, the ongoing growth will come from the healer's own work with spirit. No two shamans will ever be the same.
The beautiful, humble, wise and heart-centered Q'ero Inca Shamans (Paqo Andinos, Wisdomkeepers, Laika) are sharing their wisdom and healing with the world, although the genocide in the Americas almost destroyed their entire lineage. The prophecy of the Inca says that the world will be saved when East & West come together and in these urgent times the sacred healing teachings and techniques of the Q'ero are shared with the world. This is only made possible thanks to some of the highest Wisdomkeepers hiding in the mountains for 500 years till the 1950s, keeping the wisdom, healing, and legacy intact. I urge you to read the story behind this to gain insight into how sacred and special this lineage is and the fact that we are now able to help the world through these teachings (https://thefourwinds.com/blog/shamanism/the-laika-and-the-conquest/) It humbles me that I have been able to answer the calling in my heart thanks to the generosity of these beautiful people. Even so, the mining companies are now threatening to destroy the Q'ero villages and I hope those of you called help to support the 'Willka Yachay' project (link in footer) that is trying to stop that from happening. 10% of all orders on this website will also be donated to this beautiful cause. It is the least we can do to give back to the Q'ero who have opened their hearts to the very people whose ancestors tried to destroy their communities.
The shamanic traditions are the feminine medicine paths that honour the Earth (Pachamama - our home in time and space) and all living beings. The feminine way is to live in harmony and balance, to nurture and to create shifts through loving care, not through war, conflicts and destroying the rainforest. Our Earth is suffering mass-extinction and a global environmental crisis because of the harsh and destructive ways we have lived for hundreds of years. We have forgotten that we are part of the environment and that we must not take more than we need or more than we give. This all links back to the rise of agriculture (land became valuable and had to be 'owned') and forcing belief systems/faiths onto people (as opposed to allowing everyone to be spiritually free to seek from a loving mindset, not fear) and the decimation of Indigenous peoples who lived in harmony with the land and connected to spirit. The feminine ways are returning (and remember, there is feminine and masculine within all of us, it is not men vs. women nor spirituality vs. religion. It is time we all move beyond anger, fear and set our differences aside!) and we are forced to return to harmony, live with respect for the Earth, our bodies, animals...all of life, if we are to have an Earth to live on. The world is in crisis and it is up to each and every one of us to begin healing from within and expanding that light into the world before it is too late.
Shamanism is not a religion, black magic or dogma. Shamans are not sorcerers! Rather, it is the collective name for a variety of approaches to a deep spiritual path of direct revelation. It is animistic: shamans recognize the spirit and life in everything from the mountains to our spirit within. Shamans believe that to create shifts we need to work on the level of spirit, i.e. change the blueprint or make the river move far upstream, as opposed to fixing the symptoms and clearing the riverbanks. Shamans and shamanic healers transcend what we call 'ordinary reality' to track information, connect with helpful spiritual beings, the lineage of Earth keepers & Wisdom keepers etcetera, to help others restore balance. When we feel harmonious, when we are consciously connected to spirit and when we strive for balance in all of life (including being in right relationship with everything around us) we can reach our full potential, support our body's natural healing abilities, upgrade our mind, connect with our highest spirit and live an authentic life. We are then in charge of our path, we don't simply live out the karmic and genetic destiny that was pre-selected for us based on when and to whom we were born. We also don't collude with consensual reality and simply say 'saving the world is not my problem'. We understand that how we live, how we fuel our body, how we care for the planet and that even our thoughts do matter.
However, that is not to say that only energy work is needed, on the contrary - as part of the training I personally underwent we studied diet, nutrition, supplements, how to detox and upgrade the brain and also went through a 10 Day Detox Program to upregulate our own systems. Although these particular teachings are based on science and the work of Dr. Villoldo, Dr. Hyman and Dr. Perlmutter, they have their roots in the Amazon and Andes where various plant-medicines were put together for millennia to assist human's health. The shamans of old were not eating donuts, fries, and cheese three times a day. They were eating clean, organic, free-range and low sugar.
As you can see: shamanism is old (perhaps older than 50 000 years, most likely since the beginning of humankind) however, it is also a living body of wisdom to which each practitioner adds their 'medicine' (i.e. their unique skills to help with spiritual healing, their energy, their soul essence - not medicine the way we think of it in the west!) Today, in such a toxic world, we cannot ignore our physical health if we are to have a deep spiritual life. I like to say that it does not matter how clear a signal is, if the radio receiving it is not tuned in properly, the broadcast will not be clear. It is the same with higher states of consciousness and our brain. If we live on sugar that feeds the 'old' basic brain as opposed to the higher newer parts of our brain, ignore our physical health and only work with energy we can only go so far. It is, in my opinion, time to take an integrative approach to all of life including our health.
Shamanic healing is, however, not curing. Curing is the business of doctors and treats symptoms and the physical body. Healing, instead, is a comprehensive spiritual and energetic approach that helps us understand the deeper patterns in our lives and why we are in the situation we are in in the first place. Healing is NOT a substitute for Western medicine and shamans do not 'play doctor'. However, it is my personal opinion that miraculous transformations do take place when we bring balance back to our mind, body and spirit, but as a healer, I do not 'treat physical ailments'. There is some incredible research on the power of healing out there too: both the work by Sandra Ingerman on water and more traditional studies in lab settings discussed in the book 'The Field' by Lynne McTaggart.
Shamans are map-makers, helping clients (and in a traditional sense their village) come up with a more expansive, better approach (bigger map as Dr. Villoldo calls it) to a problem. We cannot fix a problem from the level where it was created. In the West we love focusing on the issue and being mesmerized by our flaws, wounds, and problems. We love to talk about what is not going right and get dragged into the drama and the stories that live inside us. The shamanic approach is instead expansive and takes the issue into consideration, but looks at the soul level to see what needs to be done. When we are deeply aware of our pain and wounds, but place our focus on what we DO wish to create in our life, we can progress. When we change 'our stories' and whom we play in them (e.g. victim, perpetrator, rescuer) and when we stop defining ourselves by our past, our stories and who we have been, we can create a new more original story for our life.
As a shamanic healer trained at Dr. Alberto Villoldo's Four Winds School of Energy Medicine - the World's most Renowned School of Energy Medicine - (https://thefourwinds.com/), I have been initiated and connected to the lineage of the Q'ero. However, this does not in any way, shape or form make me an Indigenous medicine person. I was trained to help people in my society, to help undo the damage that has been done and to help create unity, love, peace, and healing for all. It is vital to receive proper training if called to the shamanic path, especially as a Westerner. Copying and stealing from Indigenous cultures and appropriating their sacred traditions is never okay (and oftentimes in the West we are not even aware that we are doing it - which is why I feel obliged to highlight the issue of cultural appropriation in this text!) In other words, shamans (for the lack of a better word) are born in all cultures, and the call to become a shamanic healer can be heard by a Westerner, however, comes with great respect, reverence and an understanding that none of this is 'ours to take'. It is not the ceremonies, rites or techniques that make a person a shamanic healer, it is the intense work he or she has done (and continues to do) to heal him- or herself, to connect with spirit and help the Earth.
If you wish to learn more I highly recommend the following amazing videos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s43BfozuKDw&feature=youtu.be (Q'ero High Mountain Shamans, Wisdom Keepers of the Prophecies)
The beautiful, heart-touching film 'Paqo Andino' http://wisdomkeepersproject.org/wisdomkeepers-paqo-andino#the-film-1
Jon Rasmussen, initiated by the Q'ero and having worked as a Shaman for 30 years, explaining Shamanism and Shamanic healing very well (keeping in mind that there are of course differences in how each healer works): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5ZFt8GoG3Y
Asunta Quispe, sharing her view of the medicine way, why her village helps each other and the tourists and our connection with Mother Earth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo24mgsi0zA .
The beautiful documentary 'Healing the Luminous Body' with Dr. Villoldo:
I also highly recommend Dr. Villoldo and Sandra Ingerman's books (more on that below) and Joan Parisi Wilcox's book 'Masters of the Living Energy' as mentioned earlier.