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shamanic state, sacred rituals, shamanic journey, symbolic manner

An Overview of Core Shamanism

Author: Dawn Firewolf

Core shamanism developed out of research done by Dr. Michael Harner. He discovered that all over the world, while the overall approaches to shamanism may be different, there were key elements in common. Dr. Harner then set about synthesizing these elements so that anyone could use them without pirating any culture's sacred rituals.

The Shamanic State

While several cultures have used drugs to induce the shamanic state, it is entered into by use of a drum or rattle in Core Shamanism. (Shamans of old used to call their drums 'horses' because without them, they were unable to ride into the other worlds). Eyes are covered by a bandana so that no ambient light enters and the steady, constant drumbeat induces what some have called a 'trance'. It is a relaxed state in which information is allowed to come forth, somewhat like a waking dream. Most times this information is given in a clear, straightforward manner but sometimes in a highly symbolic manner that can be understood by the questioner.

Also, unlike pathworking or guided meditation, the shamanic journey is completely 'unscripted'. The questioner goes into the shamanic state with one question in mind and the rest unfolds in a natural manner.

The Worlds

The shamanic universe is divided into three parts: the Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds. These have nothing to do with religion's heaven or hell.

  • The Lower World: Sometimes called the Underworld. This is the first level encountered when one begins journeying and it is where power animals are found. Emotions, memories, and healing usually are here - especially if one confronts their 'dark side'. Because of this, each person's experience in the Lower World is unique.

    The Lower World is accessed in different ways - going down a tunnel; a root, a burrow, even in escalators and elevators.

  • The Middle World: This is where faeries and devas are found as well as plant and rock spirits. It exists just outside of ordinary reality. Spells, curses and ghosts are also found here. Working in the Middle World is a personal choice. Some prefer not to work here very much because of the chance of running into a stray spell or curse while others work here with plant and/or rock spirits quite often.

  • The Upper World: This is where spiritual teachers and the Archetypes (gods and goddesses) can be found. It is also the one I have the least experience with at this point. (*grin*)

    The Upper World can be reached in several ways also - climbing a tree; riding a power animal up, as well as riding on escalators, and elevators.

Power Animals

The power animal is considered to be a guardian; teacher, a source of power and an alter - ego. They can be any animal except, usually, for insects (Insects usually indicates that there is a sickness). Upon the first journeys into the Lower World, the power animal will make itself known in several ways: directly stating that it is indeed your power animal; doing an 'act of power' which is something that the animal in ordinary reality wouldn't do, or showing itself to you four times.

Some believe that an power animal is always with you from birth or else we wouldn't survive childhood and its diseases and mishaps (In fact, who's to say that some children's imaginary friends aren't real?). It may be the same power animal throughout one's entire life or there may be several. They can become the most treasured of friends and family.

Some people, upon experiencing a journey for the first time, ask whether or not it was 'real'. As my teacher says, "So what? If you are getting something good out of it, does it really matter whether it's real or not?" Core Shamanism is a safe, fun way to get in touch with inner wisdom, no matter what faith you practice. If you would like to know more about it in general or about power animals may I suggest these books:

  • Way of the Shaman - Michael Harner

    A pretty good, if a bit dry in places, book. Has many accounts of journeys.

    And also :

  • Singing the Soul Back Home - Caitlin Matthews

    It says Celtic shamanism but it is remarkably similar to Core Shamanism. A very good, readable book. Goes into more detail than Dr. Harner's book. (In my opinion - read this one first and go back to Dr. Harner's book. It'll make more sense! lol!)

    Power Animals:

  • Animal-Speak - Ted Andrews

    A good dictionary type book with many entries. Gives information on natural habits; symbolic and mythological attributes of each animal.

    Other forms of Shamanism:

    Carlos Casteneda and Don Juan:

  • Travels with Power - Ken Eagle Feather

    A pretty good account of one man's experience with Don Juan. Also includes exercises on how to see in 'non-ordinary' ways.

  • Medicine Dream - Merilyn Tunneshende

    One woman's account of her encounters in Mexico; learning to Dream and dealing with AIDS. Very enjoyable.

    Native American:

  • Hawk Woman Dancing with the Moon - Tela StarHawk Lake

    The life story of a Native medicine woman. Includes information on herbs and ceremony pertaining to the feminine.

Suggested Pdf Resources

characteristics that differ from those of the core shamans. Winkelman has suggested a “take over” of the person's personality by a spirit.
Shamanic Dreamwork workshop, San Francisco, California. (Revised December 1, 2010).
She is a Teaching Associate for the Foundation of Shamanic.

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Suggested Web Resources

Core Shamanism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Core Shamanism is a system of shamanic beliefs and practices synthesized by Michael Harner.
An Overview of Core Shamanism | ®
Core shamanism developed out of research done by Dr. Michael Harner. He discovered that all over the world, while the overall...
Core Shamanism Workshops and Courses: Foundation for
Shamanism:: Foundation for Shamanic Studies founded by Michael
Core Shamanism