What A Shaman Is Not!

Sometimes it helps to make the distinction between what a shaman is with contrasting what a shaman is not.

A shaman is not a mental health practitioner.

While many emotional and psychological dis-eases are labeled by the medical-modeled psychiatric practice as specific pathological disorders, many of these labels and the psychiatric or psychological approach to them is absent of the understanding of the role that Spirit and soul play into the process of becoming ill and in healing. While shamans often encounter people seeking help with experiences labeled as psychiatric disorders, shamans are not mental health practitioners, and do not adhere to the psychiatric model of diagnosis or treatment.

A shaman is not a holistic health practitioner.

Holistic health includes many different practices, modalities, and titled practitioners, with many different levels of education. The more advanced practitioners include, but are not limited to: chiropractors (DC- Doctor of Chiropractic), functional medicine doctors, (naturopaths (ND- Naturopathic Doctor), homeopathist (HD- Homeopathic Doctor), traditional Chinese medicine (TCM/DOM/DAOM- Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), and Ayurvedic medicine (DAM- Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine). While these titles and practices indicate extensive education, in the United States these degrees are not recognized at the same standing as the MD (Medical Doctor). Of similar ilk is the doctor of integrative medicine. Practitioners in these modalities can offer all different types of therapies including acupuncture, Qi Gong, herbal/vitamin/mineral supplementation, NAET treatments, kinesiology, dietary prescriptions, and a whole host of other treatments and approaches.

Included in holistic health practices are massage therapists, aromatherapists, hypnotherapists, and a whole group of specialty modalities, including but not limited to: biofeedback, neurolinguistic programming, EFT, tapping, and the like.

While people can see positive results from the various approaches and treatments offered by ‘alternative’ practices many of these practices still fail to account for the spiritual dimensions of the human experience. This isn’t to suggest that these approaches aren’t beneficial or effective, or that they all ignore the spiritual aspects of the person. Holistic medicine may be a viable alternative or compliment to allopathy for many people. But it’s very different than shamanism in most ways. To understand how that might be, review my What Is A Shaman? and My Services pages.

A shaman is not an “energy healer.”

The more esoteric practices that often fit into holistic health are various healing modalities such as Reiki, Theta healing, Hands of Light, etc. The concept of “chakras” or hands-on healing is not universally shamanic. Shamans work in the realm of Spirit and soul, and not necessarily in the material realm of the physical body. However, this isn’t mutually exclusive- some shamans are also energy healers. Not all energy healers are shamans. The two modalities can compliment one another very well, and can be integrated in some shamanic practices. But overall, shamans are not energy healers.

I’ve frequently heard from clients that they’ve felt energetic shifts in their bodies as I am doing shamanic work with them, but even in the case of physical dis-ease, the shamanic work is generally not to focus on moving ‘energies’ as much as it is on working with the Spirit of the dis-ease, and on moving Spirits. It may be nuance in basic understanding. And some shamans, such as the paqos of the Q’ero tradition do work with energies (hucha, or ‘heavy energy’). (However, some say that the Q’ero is not a shamanic culture and do not have shamans, but that the paqos are spiritual leaders and healers). The point is, shamans may employ specific energetic-shifting techniques, and may even work with the chakras, but a shaman in and of herself/himself is not an energy healer, as shamanism by definition is a work of the soul and in Spirit.

A shaman is not a professional medium.

Or psychic. Or oracle.

Shamans are mediums, psychics, and oracles. They are adept at discerning things in both the material realm and the spiritual realm. They are adept divinators. They work directly with Spirits. But shamans do not use these skills to provide direct (unfiltered) information or to be a conduit or channel for direct communications between deceased loved ones and living people. A shaman uses these skills and abilities to do shamanic work, and so they are always used in the context of informing the work. In other words, a shaman does not operate on the basis of the skill, but harnesses the skill to use it for the benefit of the work.

A shaman is not an ayahuasquero /ayahuasquera

The more accurate thing to point out here is that some shamans facilitate ceremony with plant Spirits/medicines/teachers. And some facilitators are not shamans. They simply hold space and ensure people are safe and the flow of ceremony is positive. But a lot of people come to know about shamanism through first learning about ayahuasca or other entheogenic plant medicines, and so it’s common for shamanism to be equated with ayahuasca. But like with other stereotypes of shamanism, there are overlaps between the roles, but the role of the ayahuasquero is not necessarily shamanic.