Shamanism is a spiritual approach to life, the earth and the Universe. It has a long history; undoubtedly longer than
any of the world religions known today. It seems to have been a global phenomenon, with almost all cultures
showing evidence of Shamanic practice of one sort or another, though practitioners were not always known as
Shamans. The name given was very much dependent on geographical location. For instance, in Western Europe
those who were knowledgeable about herbs and healing were practising some aspects of shamanism and were
known as witches or wise women. On other continents they were known as Medicine Men, houngans or manbos.
Shamanic practice was so widespread purely because it was based on spiritual and healing practices that came
naturally to our ancestors, facilitating personal experiences that were authentic and gave tangible results. It is not,
and never has been, classed as a religion. Rather it is a way of experiencing the world. A nearly universal shamanic
worldview is the belief that everything is alive, conscious, dynamic, connected, and responsive. A Shamanic
Practitioner is in contact with spiritual beings who advise and help in many different ways.
The word Shaman is derived from the Tungus language of Siberia and is usually translated as “one who knows” or
“one who sees in the dark”. Traditionally, Shamans were those members of a community who experienced vivid and
powerful dreams and it is in the language of the dreamtime that the Shaman receives his/her power. Many modern
day practitioners, however, do not use dreaming as a basis for shamanic practice, preferring to explore the different
levels of reality in an altered state of consciousness. This can be achieved quite easily by the use of sound (e.g.
drumming) or silent meditation. Traditionally, Shamans would use hallucinogenic plants in order to access the
hidden realms, but in contemporary shamanic practice hallucinogens are used rarely, and are not recommended for
use in Shamanic dreamwork.
Shamanic journeys are undertaken in order to access knowledge or healing, conduct soul retrievals or find power
animals. During such journeys one can meet all manner of beings to whom one can request and receive help,
teaching, protection, healing and guidance. The essence of these powerful beings is thought to be beyond our
understanding and, therefore, unexplainable, but Shaman’s talk about them as if they were “real” three-dimensional
entities. This can mislead those unfamiliar with Shamanic practice, who may be inclined to believe that there is a
naivety about the Shamanic view of the world. It is perhaps better to describe these beings as visual symbols
constructed by our conscious mind to represent an entity or energy beyond our normal range of perception. The
experienced Shamanic practitioner knows that these other worlds and the beings that populate them are just as real
as the realm described by most people as “everyday reality”, and can affect our lives in both negative and positive
ways. In addition, the experienced journeyer knows that the veil separating the worlds is thin and is easily breached,
and that the energy contacted in one reality can manifest in another. Thus, omens and synchronistic events are
taken very seriously by those on the Shamanic path and their messages are acted upon.
Shamanic journeying can be in any of the three main realms; the Lower World, the Upper World and the Middle
World. Within these worlds there are an infinite number of other worlds and in order for you to participate in
shamanic dream work, it will be helpful that you have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the three main worlds.
Clicking on each of the links below will bring up descriptions based on information provided by Shamanic
practitioners who have explored these realms over the ages. Later, I will tell you how to take a shamanic journey into
the dreamtime, using your dream as the starting point.
“As you become an active dreamer, you will learn how to step outside time and embark on conscious dream
journeys to places of initiation and adventure inside the Dreaming where spiritual teachers and protectors are
waiting for you.” Robert Moss, Shamanic Counsellor and Dream Teacher
Modern Shamanic Dream Practice
Today Shamanism is experiencing a revival as more and more people are drawn to the idea that we must protect
ourselves and our planet if we are to survive as a species. The great authority on Shamanic practice was Mercea
Eliade and his book is still cited as the main authority on historical Shamanic practice. Although all Shamanic
practitioners can access non-ordinary reality, there are those who maintain that true Shamanic experiences come
only through our dreams. Indeed, one of the roles of a traditional Shaman was always as an interpreter of dreams for
the whole community. The dreaming mind is an expansive, creative force with limitless potential to explore the
universe that exists inside the mind. Dreams for the shaman are a source of infinite wisdom and understanding.
So, what is a modern Shamanic Dreamer? It’s someone who brings their dreams into consciousness and explores
them in all their possibilities as if they were from another reality. To do this you will combine what is, in my view, the
most effective dreamwork technique known as Active Dreaming or Dream Re-entry with powerful shamanic
journeying; in this way you will learn to shift your consciousness from the everyday world inhabited by the ego, into
what is Shamanically referred to as “non-ordinary reality” (NOR).
“Dreaming is daily practice. Active Dreaming is a discipline, to be studied and practiced on many levels.”
When we expand our consciousness and travel into our interior universe to explore other dimensions of being, we
open ourselves up to powers or energies that can guide and deliver us to a body of knowledge and potential that can
serve the whole of humanity, not just ourselves. This is the essence of Shamanism. Contemporary shamanic
dreamwork attempts to understand the spirit and energy contained within the dream and so bring about integration or
resolution on an energetic level.
How To Become a Dream Shaman
In traditional societies a dreamer consulted a shaman to try and understand what the dream wanted of him because
dreams were seen as messages from the spirit realms. The shaman would journey into the dreamspace on behalf of
the seeker and return with answers. Ethically, however, modern dreamwork practice should empower the dreamer to
be their own shaman and not take away their spiritual autonomy by allowing another person to tell them what their
dream means. With this method, the responsibility, therefore, rests with the dreamer. To explore your dream as a
Dream Shaman, it would be helpful to you if you accepted that the Universe is alive, conscious, dynamic, connected,
and responsive, because you will need to ask what a thing is, not what does it mean. So, for instance, if you dream
of a white horse, the associations you make to it in your mind to try and explain what the symbol of the horse means,
are of no consequence. You need to know its essence, its energy, its message. You can only ascertain this by
meeting the white horse and speaking with it in non-ordinary reality. Also, because the Universe is dynamic and
things are in constant motion, it’s important to be on the look out for things within dreams that appear to be stationary
or stuck. These objects/people/things will have a lot to tell you about how and why you are stuck in your own life.
Where the energy is moving and active, be sure that this is something that is about to manifest in your life.
You will need to set aside at least an hour without interruption. The technique involves a conscious re-entry back into
the dream in a very relaxed or meditative state. The purpose is not only to understand the dream’s message, but also
to find an answer and / or an appropriate course of action.
1. First, using the descriptions above, try and ascertain in which of the three worlds your dream took place. It is
to this world you will direct your intention to journey. If possible, avoid middle world journeys. The reasons for
this are too complex to discuss here. Suffice it to say that answers received in the middle world are less reliable
than those received in the Lower or Upper worlds. Any dream that contains an animal, or is set in a natural
environment, is indicative of the Lower World.
2. Think about how you're going to get into the Lower or Upper World. Shamans use well known entry portals,
which they term Axis Mundi. You can use anything that you are familiar with in ordinary reality. For example;
you may use stairs or steps going down (for the Lower World) or going up (for the Upper World). Trees are
popular entry points; either up through the branches or down through the roots. Lifts, ladders, mountains, caves;
anything that will take your awareness either up or down is fine.
3. Next, decide what it is you want to know about the dream. Do you require more information? Do you wish to
converse with one of the dream characters to ask why it is in your dream? Do you want an answer to a specific
question? Whatever it is, write down your intention as clearly and briefly as possible, prefaced with "My
intention is to journey to Lower/Upper World to . . . . . ." Your intention at the outset is of the utmost importance
as it will drive the trajectory of your journey. If, during the journey, you start to lose focus, repeat your intention.
4. Decide what accompaniment you want for your journey; a drumming CD, relaxing music or silence. Anything
that relaxes without distracting is fine. Drumming CDs are preferable as they are designed to synchronise
brainwave activity into theta mode; this is the natural state of brainwave activity just before you fall asleep. They
also contain a "call back" signal that marks the end of the journey and a return to ordinary waking reality.
Without this, you are likely to fall asleep and remember very little on waking. You should plan for your journey to
last around 30 minutes.
5. Lying down is preferable. Make sure you’re comfortable and warm. Wearing a bandana over the eyes or an
eye mask is recommended. Five or ten minutes of slow, deep breathing before starting will help to relax you.
6. When you’re ready, state your intention and begin your journey. When you arrive in the Lower/Upper world,
re-enter the dream at whatever point you feel is appropriate. Engage in conversation with the beings you meet;
these may be characters or objects from your dream, but they may not be. As your journey progresses it is likely
to go beyond the dream. Accept this and remain open to new experiences and insights. The most important
thing is to engage in conversation with the things you meet. This is easier said than done as often one becomes
so enthralled by the journey that’s it’s easy to forget to do this! Remember, you are not trying to interpret the
dream, what you’re doing is tracking the images and identifying the energy within them.
7. If you're using a drumming CD with a call back signal (four lots of seven beats in quick succession) it's
recommended that you wait for this signal before returning. On hearing the call, bring your awareness back to
the room and slowly open your eyes. If you're using a music CD, or journeying in silence, return when you feel
you have enough information. A drink of water will help you return fully to waking consciousness.
8. Record the journey immediately, illustrating with sketches wherever possible.
9. Review the journey and the dream together, paying particular attention to the mythical, spiritual, energetic or
archetypal perspectives. Write down your findings.
10. Decide on any appropriate course of action and draft a plan, with timescale, detailing how you will proceed.
Dreams are a doorway through which the Shamanic practitioner can travel to the inner realms and gain direct
access to the unconscious impulses which gave rise to the dream. Nightmares can be transformed and their energy
released from the body. Creative potential within the dream can be released and given permission to perform magic
and miracles in your life. When the interior life has transformed, the exterior life or middle world is also transformed
and you can start to live a new reality.
Shamanic practice is a natural path to spiritual enlightenment. It honours the earth and everything connected to the
earth. It acknowledges the magic and mystery of life and the spirit of everything around us. More importantly, it
honours the human soul.
HARNER SHAMANIC COUNSELLING
Joan Harthan has received formal training as a Harner Shamanic Counsellor and is available for consultation. This
type of counselling is not a substitute for any traditional form of therapy, medical treatment or psychotherapy. It is a
system for discovering one's own spiritual power and the wisdom to deal successfully with daily life. It is also a way
for people to seek information about questions of importance to them. It's a very powerful technique in its own right
and may be a useful compliment to other counselling procedures.
HSC is a copyrighted system based on classic shamanism with the addition of certain important innovations created
by Michael Harner through years of his own practice of shamanic counselling. Client's will be counselled in the
Harner methodology and, at the end of the process, will be fully autonomous and able to apply the technique in the
future without further instruction.
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