Personal Faith and the Heart Path

Are you Teaching a Religious Progam?

IMG_0261No. As anthropologist Michael Harner said, “Shamanism is a methodology, not a religion. It is a system of knowledge, based on firsthand experience, not a belief system.”

This is an important distinction for those who assume anything dealing with the sacred involves some kind of religion. The term shaman, from the Siberian Tungusik language, means one who knows, or one who sees. In the clan-based community the shaman was not a religious pastor or worship leader in the modern sense; she was a wise and helpful spiritual guide, healer, and wayfinder. She kept her job if she was effective; she lost her job if she wasn't.

As such, there is no need for the practical wisdom of these traditions to conflict with one's personal faith. Just as one can practice yoga without becoming a Hindu, or learn a helpful meditation practice without becoming a Buddhist, one can enjoy the insights from a shamanic drum journey without becoming an indigenous Siberian. There's little to conflict with anyway: shamanism is not a book-based, institutional religion with doctrine to argue about, church history to safeguard, or property to maintain. It is an experience-based, wisdom and healing tradition passed on orally for tens of thousands of years through stories and practices.

If anything, the study of these ancient traditions has opened and expanded my own personal faith to include the appreciation of the sacred in all living things, not just in human beings and human institutions. As for those holding no religious belief at all, “shamanism is for skeptics”, says Harner. “It's a system of direct experience."

In my own programs here at Great Plains Guide Company the accent is on the heart, not traditional shamanism. Shamanism provides the conceptual orientation for those who need one, or want to delve deeper into the history and anthropology of the lineage. But I'm more interested in the practical wisdom of our ancestors that is alive, active, and available right now, in these times, for anyone who seeks it.


“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