spirit canoe drum beat
It's All About the Power
  “T here are no trial runs in shamanism,” I can hear my teachers saying. “You just do it!” It’s one of their favorite things to say, and now I say it in almost every workshop I teach. The moment we call on wise and compassionate spirits to ask a question or do a healing for someone, they respond, even if we’ve never tried to do it before. It’s one of the things that can seem the most miraculous to us about this work. While we may be inexperienced and just learning, the spirits we call upon are not. The first time we attempt a power animal retrieval, we can restore a spiritual connection that our partner somehow knew was there all along. When profoundly wise counsel comes in response to our first attempt to do a divination journey for someone, it can change both their life and ours.

When I was first beginning to practice shamanism, it was this phenomenon that encouraged me to keep going, keep trying, keep learning. While it’s true that most of the time, we can do the work the first time we try, it’s also true that we get better at it with practice. Finding opportunities to practice with friends and family, in a drumming circle, in the workshops, is essential to becoming comfortable and proficient with the healing techniques. So, grateful for the first successes and encouraged by their beauty, we keep on going.

The more we move forward with shamanism, however, the more it becomes clear that there is much more to it than those early successes might indicate. The longer I do this work, the more I come to appreciate the depth and power of it. That has continued to be true for as long as I’ve been practicing, and as I look to those who are years ahead of me on the path, I can see that it continues to be true for them. I begin to understand other things I’ve heard my teachers say over and over again — Michael Harner, Alicia Gates, Amanda Foulger — about the importance of accumulating power, and building our capacity to hold power. I’d heard them say these things from the beginning too, but what did they mean?

The compassionate spirits we work with and interact with every day can appear personable to us, loving, friendly, easy to talk to about the concerns of our everyday lives. In fact, they are immensely powerful beings, who live in direct connection with the power of the universe. They are able to do extraordinary miracles of healing when they find shamanic practitioners who can call on that level of power, hold it while the work is being done, and then release it to flow back to the universe. In indigenous cultures, shamans have learned how to do this. They have intentional practices they engage in, and have undergone challenging initiations to cultivate their ability to connect with the powerful spirits they work with.


With time and commitment, the same can be true for us. As we practice, and as we deepen our relationships with our helping spirits, our capacity to bring these powerful connections to bear on the healing work increases. There are no short cuts for this. And, for those with a deep desire to be of service as healers, there are no substitutes for the initiations that we can voluntarily or involuntarily experience. There are practices like vision quests or power quests that we can undertake with intention, as well as life-altering experiences that come unlooked for, and can be initiatory in nature. These experiences work hand in hand with time and practice, to enable us to bring more of the power of the spirits to our work.

So let’s take those early successes to heart, whether they were years ago or last week, and continue to practice, continue to deepen our spiritual connections, and be willing to do whatever we can to increase our capacity to connect strongly with the power of our helping spirits. This work is much needed in the world we live in — now more than ever.

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