What is shamanism? What does it look like? How do we recognise it? Many of us ask ourselves these questions, and some of us travel a long way in the hope of meeting a “real” shaman. A shaman who looks like the photos we see from exotic and more tribal lands than here in the West. I don’t pretend to answer all the questions that led me to introduce this article, but I do want to make my contribution in the midst of what seems to me to be both a great deal of confusion and a huge business. 

There are many people who, in their quest, have met Native American shamans, shamans from South America, Mongolia etc… Even more numerous are the new shamans in the West, who are interested in spirituality (mostly Native American) and who call themselves shamans, having followed a shamanism training course. Sometimes they have even studied at a ‘school’ awarding shamanism degree. Some of them have even had the honour of being recognised as a “shaman” or “shamaness” by shamans of pure lineage and tradition, who saw in them one of their former incarnations. So why not?

And how could I talk about modern shamanism without mentioning drums! The drums that are sold on the internet or even made in a workshop, used in all sorts of ways, and without any real awareness. Have you ever seen a photo of a modern shaman without a drum? I haven’t. You’d think that this magical instrument could heal and cleanse anything, that it is the answer to everything. A bit of drumming and all is well! Whether the sound of the drum is played by a pure, conscious channel or not. Whether or not we know which animal the skin on our instrument comes from. Whether or not we’ve managed to connect with the spirit of the drum. 

Since the aim of this article is not simply to criticise ‘modern’ shamanism, but rather to provide some answers to questions such as what is a shaman and what is shamanism, I won’t go any further.

The answer I give is, of course, unsurprisingly for those who are somewhat connected: there is, of course, not one but MANY shamanisms. Being rooted in Animism, shamanism is present on every continent and in every region, because it draws its power from the place in which the shaman, who is a CHANNEL, finds themselves. The spirits of the place, the trees, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains… Some cultures, such as those of the West, have been cut off from their ancestral lineages and their elders, in order to set up a patriarchal-capitalist economic system and to erect technical-medical thinking as the only truth.  As a result, pure shamanic transmission has been cut off. Healers and witches were hunted down, murdered, burned, drowned and tortured; animist and pagan rituals were banned. That’s why we meet so many souls who want to reconnect with the shamanic tradition, with the elements and, of course, with themselves. What could be easier than the Native American or Mongolian spiritual traditions, when we feel this inner call, which are still alive in terms of bloodlines? Spirituality is a human need, a necessity. A human being without faith is like a child without parents or family, wandering on earth with no structure and no purpose.

So we are witnessing the rise of the spiritual trend and fashion of modern shamanism. I now assert that modern shamanism taught in workshops, training courses and schools is anthropological shamanism and not primitive shamanism. Let me explain: anthropological shamanism is based on knowledge and skills. For example, the medicine wheel is taught, with dispositions linked to the directions (North-South, East-West), such and such door is activated and such and such animal is invoked which correspond to each direction. Very specific rituals are taught, which become increasingly complex and subtle as the person progresses along their shamanic path. We work with wolves, bears, eagles, falcons, deer, etc. We use feathers, rattles and drums. We sing Native American songs, paint our faces, wear ethnic jewellery and dress up as shamans. In reality, we are reproducing what the white man saw when he arrived as a pretentious conqueror in these lands, which were much more tribal and non-industrialised than the West of the time. We learn what the white man witnessed during shamanic rituals, and a small part of what is perpetuated in today’s true shamanic lineages.

Primitive shamanism is pure shamanism, which can do without rigid rituals and apprenticeships. It is a permanent teaching, initiated by the spirits and not by books. Primitive shamanism does without objects, drugs and frameworks (yes, even drums!). It is deeply connected to the land on which the shaman lives. It also does without bloodlines, and reveals itself to the individual as a calling, as a duty. The spirits or guides initiate them into their true nature and even force them if they do not want to see who they are. It’s a gift that can’t be learnt in a workshop, or in a training course, or even after 20 or 30 years of shamanism school. The shaman becomes a channel through which healing energies and information go through. They live between and through the planes, in connection with the souls he guides, without trying to understand everything, to name everything, to categorise everything, to structure everything. The primitive shaman is a healer, a cleanser, a psychic, soul passer and a student/teacher.

Primitive shamanism is always right, because it draws its strength from the present moment. It is connected to the here and now. It also requires a great deal of trust and letting go on the part of the shaman and therefore from the channel, the person through whom the energies go through, who sort of ‘lends’ their body and connection in a way. But I believe that the most important aspect is also a great deal of grounding, in order not to get carried away or lost between the worlds. Primitive shamanism is constantly reinventing itself; it’s not fixed or explainable, it’s an essence, a journey. It can be passed down from generation to generation, but it can also simply reveal itself to an individual. The shaman is chosen by the invisible world; he or she is not searching, it comes to them.

In this respect, modern shamanism that we can study and learn, which I call anthropological shamanism, is fundamentally different from primitive shamanism. The two do not root their power in the same energy. One draws its strength from established teachings and traditions and within a precise framework; the other comes alive and draws its power in the moment, and when necessary, carried by a direct connection to the spirit world.  One is lived in ritual and the other in direct connection. One is understood and can therefore can be somehow mentalised, while the other is experienced in trance state, felt, experienced without control and sometimes without explanation in human words. 

As you will have probably guessed, I practise what I call primitive shamanism, I named it in order to feed the mind’s need for understanding and categorisation. In reality, it’s a connection, a gift, an essence, an opening, it’s there and that’s all. It’s there to serve humanity, and to facilitate the healing and enlightenment of beings as they reconnect with themselves and their own power, without crutches.  It’s the confidence to let ourselves be invaded by the magic of the invisible that lies within us, the courage to return to the depths of ourselves, in authenticity.



 1 .That said, connecting with your drum is a lifetime’s work, because it evolves at the same time as the shaman.  In a way, it is the shaman’s horse.

2.  Read Caliban and the witch by Sylvia Federici for a detailed and critical study of this key period in history.

"Les 3 étapes de création d'un autel chamanique"

Subscribe to the newsletter !

You have successfully subscribed !

"3 steps to create a shamanic altar"

Subscribe to the newsletter !

You have successfully subscribed !