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An Overview of Shamanic Healing

by Dr. Michael Verrilli, D.O.


Shamanism is one of the most ancient of human spiritual and healing practices. It has been in existence for over 50,000 years and it has been found worldwide in all indigenous cultures and on all continents. It has survived and flourished because it offers a spiritual yet practical approach to everyday life problems: it works and works well under all life conditions to maintain health and wellness, and to cope with important issues such as death and illness.

Core Shamanic Beliefs

One of the central teachings of shamanism is that all of the world is alive with a spiritual consciousness that can communicate. As a result of this, we are all interconnected and interrelated at all levels of reality. Second, everything in the world consists of energy that has movement and can be transformed. Thirdly, the entire universe is sacred and has purpose and meaning. Finally, Nature provides us with the most direct and immediate experience of spirit, and through Nature we can access the love, wisdom, compassion and power of the spirit world in order to receive help for ourselves or to help others. Shamanism teaches us to live fully and respectfully in balanced relationship to this reality while maintaining a strong relationship to the world of spirit 1. In shamanism, the world of spirit is the invisible world that underlies and informs this everyday reality, and shamans work with helping and compassionate spirits (animal, plant, human or other) in this world who offer their guidance and healing on behalf of all life on Earth.

The Meaning of the Word Shaman

The word shaman comes from the language of the Tungus tribe of Siberia and originally meant "master of fire", "master of spirits", "one who sees in the dark"’ and spiritual healer. In ancient times, the shaman was a doctor, counselor, herbalist, healer, storyteller and diviner for the tribe, receiving guidance from the spirits about where to hunt or fish, find food and water, and how to use plants for medicine. Both then and now, it has also come to mean a man or a woman born into this life with specific extraordinary gifts: a person who interacts directly with the helping spirits in order to address the spiritual aspects of an illness; who removes harmful energies and energy blockages from the body; who does soul retrievals; who divines or receives information from the spirits about the past, present and the future; who helps the souls of dead people to cross over into the world of spirit; who protects the community; and who can perform ceremonies for the individual, the community and the land. Ceremonies include healing, births, deaths, marriages and initiations that signify certain transitions in life. A shaman is also a particular type of spiritual practitioner who can enter by choice into an altered state of consciousness or reality, typically using rhythmic percussion such as drumming. This type of practice is called the shamanic journey in which the shaman travels into the world of spirit in order to receive wisdom, power or healing for themselves or others, and it is the starting point for many shamanic healing practices2. During the journey, the shaman remains conscious, in charge, and returns with clear memory of the experience. The shaman then acts to apply the experience for the benefit of others, the community and Nature.

Shamanic Causes of Illness

Shamanic healing is an effort by the shaman on behalf of another person to bring healing and balance to their life. From the shamanic perspective, there are three common spiritual causes for an illness. In the first, a person may have lost their power, causing depression, chronic illness or chronic misfortune, and the shaman journeys into the spirit world in order to find and restore the lost power to the person, such as in a Power Animal Retrieval to restore the relationship to a helping animal spirit or ally. Secondly, a person may lose a part of their soul or vital life force essence due to trauma such as extreme fright, grief, abuse, accidents, disaster, surgery or war, and the shaman journeys into the spirit world to track, find and heal the lost soul part and return it to the person in a Soul Retrieval Ceremony3. Thirdly, a person may take on harmful energies due to soul or power loss, resulting in localized pain or illness due to energy blockages, and the shaman does an Extraction Healing to remove the harmful energies and restore natural power in order to prevent them from returning.

Indications for Shamanic Healing

Shamanic healing has been found to be very beneficial in treating many common illnesses, including all types of abuse, stress, fatigue, chronic pain or illness, including immune deficiencies, alcohol or drug dependency, and emotional or mental illness such as chronic depression or anxiety. Shamanic healing works well to support conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy in a complementary and beneficial way with many of these problems.

Shamanic Counseling and the Shamanic Journey

Shamanic counseling is used to teach a person to learn and use the shamanic journey for personal problem-solving and for spiritual inspiration, direction and purpose. By learning the shamanic journey, a person can recover their own spiritual power and authority. Shamanic counseling is also useful for helping a person to identify and release self-limiting beliefs and assumptions in order to live a balanced, vital and purposeful life. Shamanic counseling also teaches a person to live in a healthy way, to attract beneficial energies and to protect themselves against harmful energies.

Shamanism Today

In summary, shamanism is increasingly relevant today, particularly in view of common health and environmental problems. Its importance lies in its ability to bring healing, spiritual awakening,vitality, harmony and balance between ourselves, each other, Nature and the world of spirit. The majority of problems in the world today originate from a profound disconnection from Nature and spirit, and shamanism helps us to reconnect to ourselves, each other and Nature and to discover our purpose in life and to develp spiritually.

Dr. Michael R. Verrilli, DO, MS is a Board-Certified Osteopathic Physician who maintains a practice of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and Shamanic Healing in Northampton, Massachusetts. He can be reached at (413)584-5921 or email: apuausangate@hotmail.com.  His website is: www.theshamanspath.com

Join Dr. Verrilli on his Peru trip to the mountains Machu Picchu and Pachatusan this July - August 2008 - see www.theshamanspath.com or email apuausangate@hotmail.com


1. Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.Princeton University Press, 1972.

2. Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing. Bantam Press, 1982.

3. Ingerman, Sandra. Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. Harper, San Francisco, 1991

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