The Way of the Shaman teaches readers that the practice of shamanism isn’t a cultural thing, it’s a “human” thing. Harner gives a brief biography of his own beginning experiences, then a very short history of shamanism, what it is, and how the experiences during the shaman vision walks compare to ordinary reality. Then, he goes on to give a few practices for beginners to experience those states of consciousness for themselves. He gives methods for contacting your “power animal” and some basic healing techniques. I valued this book most for its discussions of shamanistic consciousness rather than the practices, but I could see both being of value for the proper audience.
On shamanism across cultural boundaries: Shamanism represents the most widespread and ancient methodological system of mind-body healing known to humanity. Archaeological and ethnological evidence suggests that shamanic methods are at least twenty or thirty thousand years old… One of the remarkable things about shamanic assumptions and methods is that they are very similar in widely separated and remote parts of the planet, including such regions as aboriginal Australia, native North and South American, Siberia and central Asia, eastern and northernmost Europe, and southern Africa. Even in the historical literature from the Classical Mediterranean, or from medieval and Renaissance western Europe, one finds evidence that the same basic shamanic knowledge once existed there until it was largely eradicated by the Inquisition.”pg 40-41 To western culture’s detriment, in my opinion.
One of Harner’s reasons for writing this book is to encourage everyone to deeper self knowledge: “…truly significant shamanic knowledge is experienced, and cannot be obtained from me or any other shaman. Shamanism is, after all, basically a strategy for personal learning and acting on that learning. I offer you a portion of that strategy and welcome you to the ancient shamanic adventure.” pg xxiv of introduction. A noble goal…the world could use more self knowledge.
How Harner has experienced the ineffable nature of shamanic consciousness: “His experiences are like dreams, but waking ones that feel real and in which he can control his actions and direct his adventures. While in the shaman state of consciousness, he is often amazed by the reality of that which is presented. He gains access to a whole new, and yet familiarly ancient universe that provides him with profound information about the meaning of his own life and death and his place within the totality of all existence.” pgs 21-22 I find it interesting how various religious practices and occult teachings mix, blend, and borrow from each other. Or perhaps, at their base, they’re all just the same thing- various ways of experiencing the non-ordinary consciousness from which all humanity springs.
I read a book by practicing shaman, James Endredy, called The Flying Witches of Veracruz back in December of 2014 and it seemed to be a total pipe dream. It was filled with amazing creatures and impossible actions, like flying, shape shifting, and jumping higher than humanly possible. James talked about the magical in the same breath that he talked about what he ate for breakfast. Harner explains in this book why it reads like that: “The emphasis I make here on drawing a distinction between the experiences one has in (ordinary consciousness) and the (shaman consciousness)…is not a distinction that is usually noted in the conversations of shamans among themselves or even with Westerners. Thus, if you were to listen to a Jivaro shaman talk, you might hear in his everyday conversation accounts of experiences and deeds which could seem to you, as a Westerner, to be patently absurd or impossible. … For his fellow tribes people, the Jivaro does not need to specify which state of consciousness he was in to have a particular experience. They immediately know…” pg 47-48. That whole book makes so much more sense to me now that Harner has explained that.
In the afterword, Harner closes with thoughts about why shamanism works: “Albert Schweitzer reportedly once observed, “The witch doctor succeeds for the same reason all of the rest of us (doctors) succeed. Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. They come to us not knowing this truth. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.” I liked that sentiment a lot. Be a healer by reminding people that they have the power to heal themselves.
If you’re looking for more books like The Way of the Shaman, try The Flying Witches of Veracruz: A Shaman’s True Story of Indigenous Witchcraft, Devil’s Weed, and Trance Healing in Aztec Brujeria by James Endredy or Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss.
Thanks for reading!