Personal Faith and Shamanism

Is Shamanism a Religion?

IMG_0261Anthropologist Michael Harner writes, “Shamanism is a methodology, not a religion.  It is a system of knowledge, based on firsthand experience, not a belief system.”  The word shaman is from the indigenous people of Siberia, and simply means one who knows, or one who sees.  The shaman is not a pastor or spiritual/worship leader in the modern sense; he or she is more like a wise and helpful guide who retains that status only as long as he or she is actually being helpful.

The practices of modern shamanism are practical tools that can help anyone,regardless one's personal faith.  You can enjoy the benefits of shamanic healing without changing your personal faith or joining some religious group just as you can practice yoga without being Hindu, or learn meditation without being a Buddhist.

This nonreligious character of shamanism can be confusing to people raised to divide the world into believers and unbelievers, into people of faith (their faith) and people with no faith.  It may be hard to imagine how one could have an authentic spiritual experience without a sacred book, a dedicated church building to worship in, ordained clergy to maintain correct doctrine, and so forth.  But shamanism is an experience-based wisdom tradition, not a doctrine-based tradition of books, beliefs, creeds, and particular human saviors or saints.

During his 20-year career in public and private hospital chaplaincy, Jeff supported people of all religious traditions, from around the world.  He understands the need to respect individual beliefs, and knows that a true healer is not a religious know-it-all but more like a border-walker: one who travels between the meaning-worlds of both faith and culture, and between the visible world and the spirit world.  This includes honoring the perspectives of people with no religious belief at all.  Indeed, “shamanism is for skeptics”, says Harner, “it is a system of direct experience”.  The accent in our programs is placed on the heart and soul rather than on "shamanism."  Shamanism just provides the toolkit for deeper exploration.

The earth-honoring spiritual practices utilized in our programs transcend particular religious ideology and have roots in every person's heritage, regardless of culture.   These ancient ways did become aligned with specific cultures over time.  But the realm of the human heart is universal and wide as ‘Christ consciousness’ or ‘Buddha nature’.  Thus the sacred "text" of shamanism is not found in a book written in ink or on stone tablets, but through the Great Spirit, alive in our hearts.

If anything, people who participate in our programs typically find their level of personal faith and spiritual maturity deepening and expanding.  Shamanic practice builds bridges back to spiritual practice for anyone, including those disillusioned with organized religion.  This is because the core value is a deeper respect for the Spirit alive in all things, not just in human beings and human institutions.  With that deeper respect comes wider love.  And when you open the door to love, you open the door to healing and hope for the entire world.


“I treasure my Christian faith, and I appreciate how Jeff can guide me to a deeper understanding of myself using the tools of shamanism in a way that feels very respectful to my faith.  The human heart is not easy terrain to explore, and Jeff’s help has been so valuable.”  -Jennifer, mother and graduate student

“I trust Jeff’s experience and training.  I trust that he has done ‘the work’ for his own inner journey to live generously with and for the rest of us.  He uses non-traditional methods that enable my heart to speak and be more fully alive.”  -Cynthia, MA, D.Min., Catholic health care chaplain