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)


Norman W Wilson, PhD

The shamanic trance, of all a shaman does,  is most often discussed and is frequently viewed as the ultimate experience in shamanism.  The shamanic trance is not something that can be achieved with one lesson from some site on the internet or can it be thoroughly learned from a seminar or internet course. Practice makes perfect is the credo.

Generally speaking there are four basic levels of a shamanic trance. Stages might be more appropriate. It is not the intent or is it the suggestion that a shaman goes through each of these levels each time he or she goes into a trance. Well practiced shaman may very well go directly to the fourth level or stage in the trance.

The first level is common among beginners. One has a sense of being physically relaxed; even drowsy. There is a tendency to just stare off into space, unseeing. The pulse rate slows.

The second level produces a feeling that the whole body is heavy; a sense of detachment occurs. There may be visual illusions and you will be aware you are in a trance.

The third level brings full recognition that you are in a trance. Here you may actually choose a part of your body to not feel pain.  There is a greater sensitivity to temperature changes as well as to atmospheric pressure. There will be loss of voluntary motion and reaction of external stimuli.

The fourth and final stage or level of the shamanic trance  your eyes may be opened and cause no ill effect in the trance. Control over several body functions such as heart beat, blood pressure, and body temperature become possible. Memories will be recalled and age regression may come into play. There will be a feeling of lightness, of floating or flying. Visual and auditory hallucinations are possible while at this level of the trance.

The shaman who is in this stage travels into dreamtime and there receives his or her instruction.



I approach the subject of shaman, shamanism, and shamanic powers with considerable consternation. And I do so despite the fact that the word shaman has become a part of American landscape. I use the word(s) because of its recognition and ask that those who have objections to accept a single fact: I mean no disrespect. Likewise the term ‘medicine man’ is not a term used in Native American Culture(s).

The word shaman as I understand it, is an import from the Siberian Tungus [Evenks]with some hint of a Sanskrit connection.  Literally, it means one who knows—a Promethean quality.  The question that needs to be asked is a simple one: What does the shaman know?

To answer that question we first have to accept the notion a shaman operates with a basic premise: The world is composed of invisible forces and/or spirits that affect all life—human and non-human.  Within this premise lies the notion that plants, rivers, lakes, oceans, trees, and rocks are all imbued with their own special qualities. Science tells us that there are invisible forces; invisible to the naked eye so the idea that certain individuals can tune into those forces should not be shocking.

Because the shaman has this ability to tap into this ‘universal consciousness’, he or she is called upon to function as a healer. Here the shaman’s role is to heal the community; to bring harmony to man and nature, as well as to individuals.  To do this, the shaman retires into an altered state of consciousness.

Some cultures as well as individuals use a variety of drugs to induce the shamanic state. I am an opponent to such use. Grave permanent dangers lurk for the novice. On that basis, there will be no specific hallucinogenic drugs mentioned.  The shamanic state may be produced by the use of sounds. Drums have been used for eons. Flutes and humming have also been used. Today there are tapes, CD and videos for altering the state of consciousness.  The use of OHM in meditation is a popular choice. Notice I have chosen not to use the word trance. It suggests a lack of control.

The seeker should go into a shamanic state with just a single question in mind; not a shopping list. Disappointment will be the end result.

There are, according to some authorities, three levels in a shamanic world. These levels have no connection to religions. The first level of the shamanic journey is called the underworld. At this level emotions, memories, and psychic healing take place. Sometimes, one’s power animal is encountered here.  Generally speaking, access to the underworld is achieved by going through a tunnel (as Enkidu in the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh), or flowing down an underground river. Other times, one may achieve this level through a sudden flash or a rappelling.  The second level is the middle world. Here plant spirits, spells, curses and ghosts are located just outside of reality. And please, don’t ask for a definition of reality. (Note the popular television series, Ghost Whisperer takes place at this level.)  The upper world is the third level of the shamanic world. Here spiritual teachers and Jung’s archetypes exist. The teacher arrives unbidden quite often and at first experience,  and at first may not be recognized.

The third level may be obtained through extensive meditation and the production of altered states. Native American musicians David and Steven Gordon, R. Carlos Nakai, the Native Flute Ensemble or Scott August certainly would help set the tone for such meditation. Listen and let their song carry you. The harmonics are surreal.

One does not just become a shaman. One may achieve shamanhood through transmission. That is, one may inherit that ability. Second, one may experience a ‘calling’ or what is sometimes called spontaneous selection and finally, one may personally quest it. In this case, expect long, long periods of training. One of my former students had been in training by his grandmother since he had reached puberty. He hoped to be ready by the time he was in his mid-twenties.  It’s not a semester course or a week-end seminar at a resort.

Back to my question: What does a shaman know? Generally, the shaman is a sensitive and knows, intuitively, what someone else is feeling.  He or she has a substantial background in organic plants and herbs used for  healing, and certainly he or she knows how to pray to whatever power there is. A shaman tunes in to the psychic and emotional needs of a person and leads that person’s  energies to help heal.

A cautionary word is essential in view of the recent tragedy in Arizona. Beware of the self-proclaimed. And I’m not implying the person(s) responsible for that sweat lodge experience is, but  it’s always a good policy to know your guide. The shamanic state is not for everyone. Massive spiritual cleansing and renewal is not for everyone.  A shaman by whatever name you wish to call him or her is not a catholicon. It that were true, then we would be living in harmony and peace and be disease free.