Norman W. Wilson, PhD.

 Quite often at talks on shamanic healing, I am asked what the difference between a shaman and a doctor is. My immediate instinct is to say ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ Fortunately, better judgment grabbed me. The question deserves a respectful answer especially in that shamanism as well as other healing approaches have been described as “alternative medicine;” a term I personally detest.

 First, both the shaman and the medical doctor spend a great deal of time in training. For some, it is years. A modern medical doctor will need a four-year undergraduate degree, four years in medical school and then three to seven years in residency training before they are eligible for medical licensing. That’s about 40,000 hours of training. National statistics suggest that doctors in the United States retire at age 65.

On the other hand, a modern shamanic practitioner(certified) takes anywhere from three-weekend classes, to eight to ten lessons via the Internet, or a three-year program. Having never taken any of these programs I cannot attest to their effectiveness. Local Native American tribes have different expectations for their healers. (Note I did not call the shaman. That word does not exist in Native American languages. Some Native Americans resent the word shaman.) I use the word because it is not common language not dissimilar to Kleenex has become a household word for tissues. One of my former college students was in training to be a healer. His grandmother was the tribe’s healer. She began his training at age four. He told me, at age eighteen,that by the time he was 21, he would be accepted as a healer. That’s a lot of years by any standard.

Medical doctors have to learn body parts, symptoms of diseases, what medicines to prescribe, what technologies to call for (X-rays, C-scans, etc.). The shaman learns energy points, disease symptoms, herbal and essential oil use (healers of old did not call plant oils, essential oils), plants and their healing qualities, He or she understands when an illness is emotional or mental related. The modern doctor may recommend a psychologist and counseling to a client; whereas, a shaman will travel to the spirit world for help. Note both seek help elsewhere. Today, we speak of specialists.

Dylan Smeaton, CBP in an article titled “The Difference between a Shaman and a Doctor”[1]states “The difference between a shaman and a doctor is that while the doctor’s knowledge of the physiology of the human body has never been better, there is still an element of care a shaman understands that a doctor still does not yet: the role that consciousness plays in physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.”

In my next article, I will expand on Smeaton’s statement by making a distinction between consciousness/soul, physical/mental, and spiritual/emotional from a shaman’s point of view.

[1] Smeaton, Dylan. OK In Health, July 2016.

Shaman and Transcendence

Norman W. Wilson, PhD.

Typically transcendence means experience beyond the normal and ordinary. It may be supposed that such things as “near-death”experiences be classified as an example of transcendence.  Generally, transcendence means one has gone beyond the ordinary limitations of physical realities, that is, one has become engaged in a spiritual state. For the shaman,it means the potential connection to a particular spirit in Nature, in universal energy fields, realms, and or parallel universes.

 Much has been written about the use of hallucinogens and shamanic travel. Not all shaman use drugs. They use sound and like hallucinogens,much as been said about that. When I talk about shamanic transcendence I mean a significant consciousness beyond that which is called normal for the human being, specifically one that has been altered.

For me, this shamanic transcendence really means a self-transcendence. This, in turn, means becoming part of that which is greater than your. I am not talking about developing a “God-complex.” What is inherently involved here is a move out of the mundane everyday world, the world of repetitive routine, of accepting things as they are. Researcher Pamela Reed in 2003 suggested that it is here the individual “connects with dimensions beyond the typically discernible world.” It is at this crucial juncture that the shaman connects to these other worlds. These worlds often called the Upper Realm, the Middle Realm, and the Lower Realm do not equate with some religious concepts of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. At this point, for the shaman, it doesn’t matter what it is that is greater than the self. The shaman’s concern comes after the shift from ordinary time to non-ordinary time occurs. It is then, with her or his spirit guide or helper, the shaman pursues the answers to her or his healing questions, questions related to the patient’s issues.

In Canto XXV of the Dhammapada, we find this sage advice that is most important to transcendence: ” Empty your boat . . .when emptied it will go lightly.”

Shaman as Healer

The word shaman has been brought into the common language from Siberia. Even there, the connotation is that of a healer. The shaman’s tasks might include praying for a good crop, conducting special occasion ceremonies, reading the future, or interpreting past events.

Healing is probably the most important job of a shaman.

In his medicine bag, the shaman has a vast knowledge of natural herbs and other plants that hold healing qualities. These he may make into a tea, a poultice, an ointment, or burn as an incense. He may add one or more of the vegetative material to a small fire and smudge the person who needs to be healed.

As a healer, the shaman attempts to restore the individual’s personal power. The old adage of mind over matter certainly applies to what the shaman does. Implied here, of course, is the notion that the body can heal itself.

Michael Harner, in his book, The Way of the Shaman, tells us that shamanism is an ancient methodological system of mind-body healing. Modern science provides numerous examples of the mind healing the body.

 If the nature of the person’s illness is serious enough the shaman may go into an altered state of consciousness. In the trance state, the shaman works to restore the patient’s personal power. He does this by direct communication with the Spirit World. In this state, he hears, sees and feels the presence of other entities. It is within this framework that he asks for help to heal his patient.

 ©Norman W. Wilson, Ph.D. 2010. Originally published by ezinearticles. com May 31, 2010


ClockThe Greek Sophist, Antiphon claimed time was not a reality but a concept. Philosopher, Parmenides maintained time was an illusion. Time is accepted as a dimension during which present, past, and future events may occur. Later philosophers Leibniz and Kant held time to be neither an event nor a thing, and that it is unto itself and is immeasurable. Further, they believed time could not be traveled. For some, time has a subjective element; that is, one feels it as a sensation or an experience. For others, it is a construct, specifically a mental abstract one at that. And there are those who adhere to the idea that time does exist independently of human consciousness.

It is quite true that many of us live our lives without thinking about time as an abstraction.  And frankly, why should we? After all, it is such an integrated part of our daily lives

However, in today’s world, science has demonstrated time travel is possible on the molecular level by teleporting an atom. This is quantum entanglement. For the experienced shaman, this is nothing new and a part of his or her existence.

Whatever the viewpoints may be, it is agreed we can’t have time in a void. There would be nothing to relate it to. It would not exist. To understand time, it must connect to something. Time is a form of perception and for the shaman, that’s all it is—a perception of three divisions, present, past, and future. It is not ticking like a clock time nor is it the day-week-month time. It simply is, and the shaman moves in and out of these three “zones”  depending upon the world and the need for which he wishes to migrate.

During an altered state of consciousness (trance), the shaman is oblivious of all time for he is all time. He, frequently with his animal helper, is concentrating on finding the answer to a health issue for a patient. Depending upon the need, the shaman may travel to the Upper World or the Lower World. If, during his altered state, he senses the answer lies within the Middle World (the world in which he normally lives) he will seek help from the spirits dwelling there.

This movement into the other realms is a non-ordinary reality or a parallel universe. And in such a universe, time, all time, flows seamlessly. It is never linear. It is simultaneous. This gives the impression that a shaman is here and there at the same time. And he is. Copyright: Norman W. Wilson, Ph.D. 2018


Whenever the word shaman is mentioned people conjure up an image of a half-naked wild aboriginal dancing around an open fire. That’s as wrong as is the movie version of Native Americans who say “ugh” and “Me want wampum.”  There’s so much more.

Images of drugged up glazed eyed  hallucinating chanting figures  calling up spirits from the nether world  are just as illusionary as the late Jeff Chandler playing Cochise.  Then, what is this more?

Some anthropologists have classified Shamanism as an archaic magical-religious phenomenon in which the shaman is the great master of ecstasy. Ecstasy needs definition if we are to come to an understanding of what a shaman does.  We are talking about a state of being carried away by overwhelming emotion not a drug.

It is known that some shamans do use drugs to induce a state of ecstasy. When this is the case, it is generally for the purpose of experiencing the subconscious. This writer does not advocate the use of drugs. There are safer ways of arriving at an altered state.  Those who use meditation also generally frown upon the use of drugs.

The shaman creates emotional ecstasy in a patient,  besides through the use of drugs, by the use of music. In aboriginal terms this might be flute or the repetitive resonating beat of a drum. It can also be created by the voice of the shaman when he makes a high-pitched sound.

Unfortunately, many westerners have turned to the aboriginals in the jungles of South America and the mountains of Tibet for the experience of enlightenment by taking hallucinate drugs.  A healing shaman does not necessarily pursue this approach despite the fact he is primarily a holistic thinker.

The shaman uses various herbs and plants from the natural world to help his patient. Poultices, steam with an infusion of herbs, and rich broths are standard. Many have the function of cleansing the human system.

The use of music, sounds, and the dance is more for effect and show. Yet, one may not discount the psychological affect they produce in the patient.  Evidence suggests the human body can heal itself. The shaman’s goal is to increase that potential.


Native American Shaman

As a shamanic healer and as a non-Native American, I recognize that not all tribes appreciate the word “shaman” being applied to their healers. Each tribe has its own language and terms for one who heals. I use the term because it is widely recognized as a part of common language.  At no time, is there any intent to insult the First Settlers of the North American  Continent. The image below is of a Navajo healer.

Native American Shaman

Hastobiga (Navajo)