Q: What are Tarot cards?

A: The Tarot is a card-based system of divination. The first decks that we know of date to 1420-1450 CE in Italy - gorgeous, hand-painted and owned by the aristocracy.

While related and similar to a standard deck of playing cards, the Tarot is distinctly different:
There are four suits of cards
- each running Ace through Ten,
- and then with four Court Cards (not just three),
  - but then there’s also a fifth suit of cards, known as the Major Arcana (Latin for big secrets). These are twenty-two in number, each unique and dealing with a large, archetypal theme. 

With extra Court Cards and the Major Arcana group, a Tarot deck has seventy-eight cards instead of the playing cards’ fifty-two.

Q: What is divination?

A: Divination is when we seek answers from sources other than human, when we consult Spirit, the “divine” forces.
 
Q: So is our fate pre-ordained?

A: I see it more like this: As earth-bound beings, creatures in physical form, we have a limited perspective of everything, including Past, Present and Future, just like we can’t see around corners or over the edge of the horizon.

Spirit, however, has no such limitations, and can see our Past, Present and potential Future with a vast perspective that isn’t available to us. I say potential Future, because the future is open to change. That’s a vital function of divination: If we don’t like what we see unfolding - based on what has already been set in motion - as creatures of free will, we can take steps to alter those paths, or at least encounter them forewarned and better prepared. Otherwise, what would be the point of knowing anything in advance?


Q: I’m looking for a shaman, and you’re a “shamanic practitioner.”  What’s the difference?

A: In the tradition in which I’ve trained, you don’t call yourself a shaman. A community might gradually come to refer to someone as a shaman, having seen the work that person does. They’ve “walked their talk” and gradually earned respect and recognition. Imagine a teacher at your kid’s school announcing “I’m the children’s favorite teacher.” Contrast that with an image of your child enthusiastically saying “That’s my favorite teacher!” The latter statement is the one that matters.

The term “shamanic practitioner” describes what I do. And what I do is shamanic healing, teaching the practices of shamanism, and living in accord with a personal practice of shamanism in the context of modern urban America.

Q:  Is it better to deal with a “certified shaman” or “certified shamanic practitioner” or “certified whatever”? What does “certified” mean?

A: Some teachers issue a “certificate of course completion” to their students, to show that a training has been completed to the teacher’s satisfaction. Although this may be referred to as being “certified,” it is not a license for a regulated trade. Sometimes even the student holding the certificate doesn’t understand the distinction.

This isn’t like a license for an acupuncturist or an electrical contractor, where a professional governing body tests a person’s proficiency and empirical knowledge for their trade. There are levels of certification for Tarot readers (I’m certified!) but again we’re speaking of testable empirical knowledge, which in the case of Tarot certification is based on a solid working knowledge of the cards joined with an ability to communicate information.

Shamanism is different. The role of shaman or shamanic practitioner isn’t covered by state or federal licensing procedures, and there is no standardized testing/measuring authority, no certifying board, that oversees such things. Shamanism exists in the realm of spirit: If someone is working in a good way, their spirit allies avidly assist them, and the results are good. Government licensing agencies aren’t really equipped to measure this.

While I don’t issue certificates of completion to those who study with me, I gladly provide and verify references for those who have studied and successfully completed trainings. If you have questions, please contact me.

Q:  Some people call themselves “initiated shamans.” What does that mean?

A: The phrase’s meaning differs with each tradition of shamanism (and probably with each person). Anyone following a shamanic path is likely to undergo initiatory experiences, both in material-world ways (a formal initiation ceremony, perhaps) and in the realm of spirit, where many forms of testing and challenge occur, often spontaneously and in unforeseen ways.

Initiation ceremonies, while they may be beautiful and profoundly moving, don’t take the place of initiatory experiences that occur in the realm of spirit; some such outer ceremonies simply honor and recognize the inner work that has already occurred. In many traditions, true initiatory experiences are considered intensely private, known only to the spirits, the recipient, and perhaps a teacher/mentor who helped the recipient comprehend what occurred. Those who have had these experiences are often changed in ways that, even if subtle, don’t need to be announced.

Q:  What is a “wounded healer”?

A: Sometimes a person who has been wounded – injured or ill in some life-threatening, life-altering way – finds exceptional healing through Spirit, above and beyond any other means that were used to effect a physical cure. This has been perceived as an indication of special connection with Spirit. After a spiritual healing, some people discover they are able to work in spiritual ways to help heal others, or that they have become prescient or psychic, or are especially attuned to animals, the weather, or other forces of nature. Their wound led to their own transformative and initiatory spiritual healing, which in turn sparked their ability – and reciprocal obligation – to help bring spiritual healing to other beings.

Conversely, those who are still mainly focused on the wound itself – its severity, its traumatic impact, the my-wound-is-worse-than-your-wound cycle, and generally “showing off their scabs” – may still be in the process of traveling toward that transformative spiritual healing, still more wounded than healed. It’s a sacred process, working in its own time-frame, and we can’t “push the river.”

Q: Are mind-altering plants necessary to shamanic work?

A: No. It’s true that in some parts of the world, psychoactive “entheogenic” plants, such as ayahuasca, are used by adepts in their healing and visionary practices. These spiritual uses of specific plants have a few key points in common: They tend to be used in areas with lush plant life; some of these areas are so humid it’s difficult to keep a drumhead taut; and the people using the plants have gradually created a strong and respectful working alliance with these “green allies.”

It’s true that visitors who take part in plant ceremonies while visiting an area may have intense experiences, but that’s not the same as building an alliance with the plant spirits. (Did you hike thirty miles to harvest that plant in a sacred manner?) Many visitors simply encounter the plant prepared and ready to ingest. In fact, one current term for this type of plant-sampling travel activity is “mystical tourism.” Some guides work with great integrity; some others, inevitably, not as much.

Since I want a living, readily accessible spiritual practice, one of the things that most impressed me as I began my own shamanic studies was that I didn’t need to ingest plants.

Thousands of people, probably hundreds of thousands, work in this manner - through the shamanic journey, without ingested plant allies - and are doing amazing work in their own lives and with their clients and communities.

Q: I’ve been told [by a psychic, a shaman, a Tarot reader, a healer I’ve worked with, etc] that I’m meant to be a shaman and a healer. I’m not even sure what that means! Where do I start?

A: On questions of prophetic information, my first response is usually “How do you feel about what the person told you? Does that information ring true for you?” Especially when we’re going through confusing times, it’s natural to seek clear direction. But check in with your own inner barometer:

•    Does this feel true, right, cosmically familiar, appropriate, appealing?  
•    Or does it feel – at least for now, at this point in your life – baffling, unappealing, maybe weird or even scary?
               
We are never obliged to rearrange our lives based on the information delivered by psychics, readers or shamans – really! This is true no matter how much you paid for the reading/session, or what glowing recommendations led you to that consultant. If what you were told doesn’t ring true or feel right for you, sit with it. This doesn’t mean going to other readers, telling them what you were told and asking for verification – it just means: Sit with it, until it feels clear. If this path is really yours, it will reappear.

If such a message does feel right, a good starting point is a basic workshop in shamanic practices and journeying. Just reading about shamanism in books can only take you so far — workshops provide experiences and context. Once you’re journeying regularly and developing a strong alliance with a Power Animal or some other Spirit-Plane Guide, your own allies will let you know if yours is the path of the healer. Without a strong alliance with your Spirit Guides, a shamanic healer’s path isn’t possible. Healing work is directed by your allies, so building that alliance of mutual trust is the vital beginning.

 If you’re meant to follow a healer’s path, your own Guides will make sure you know, even rather insistently or over your own objections.  
Q: Sliding scale!? What does that mean?

A: Some of us are in good shape financially, some are temporarily pinched, and some are truly strapped. I believe in keeping my healing work accessible, so I suggest using a self-determined sliding scale: Basically, within the price range shown, you decide what to pay based on your financial resources.

Q: How to know where I fit?

A: Here goes:
- If you’re salaried, or have benefits through your job, or have a well-funded retirement, or enjoy some financial ease through family or spousal circumstances, if you can vacation well and shop readily for non-essentials, but especially if you pay full price when consulting other practitioners or taking other classes, please go to the high end of the range.
Wise use of abundance is honorable!

- If you need to be at the low end of the fee-range, that’s fine. You needn't share any financial details. Just make your own honest personal assessment that you need this bit of fee-flexibility.
Discerning use of resources is honorable!
When I’m teaching, it’s generally in the Denver area, along the Colorado Front Range, and further afield by invitation.

To find shamanic teachers in other parts of the USA and worldwide, please visit: www.shamanicteachers.com

To find shamanic practitioners—those trained in shamanic healing practices—please visit this companion page.

To find teachers of Witchcraft and other metaphysical subjects in other parts of the USA and worldwide, consider visiting your local shops (metaphysical, spiritual, witch, occult) or look around on www.meetup.com

The shamanic teachers site and the practitioners site hold the names of folks whose training parallels my own, i.e. through Sandra Ingerman and by teachers she has trained. I’ve met many of these folks when we studied together, and I feel very comfortable referring people to this site. Ask and explore: If curious as to someone’s suitability as a teacher for you or to perform healing work on your behalf, ask them to share some information about their background and training.*

Meetup isn’t metaphysical-specific - anything but! - but has become a popular way to get the word out to interested people for discussion groups, classes and the like. Meetup facilitates meetings between like-minded people, but remember that the site does no screening or vetting. That is in your hands, so embrace it.*

Where to start in the Denver area? Several very accessible pagan-witch connections are Earth Temple (rituals for the New Moons and Sabbats) and Hearthstone Community Church (rituals for the Full Moon). Each has a rotating range of officiating Priestesses and Priests, so attendees can experiences an array of approaches.

Both shamanism and witchcraft are spiritual paths that ultimately stress personal power and responsibility.  You are entitled to inquire about a potential healer's or teacher's training and qualifications, what they require of a student, and what they charge for their work (these are a started point, not the total).  

I encourage you: Make these inquiries! While there is no set criteria of “right” answers to these questions, the key point is that authentic, reasonable teachers and healing practitioners aren't offended by being asked.* Trust your own intuition and common sense.


Q: * How can I ask such questions diplomatically?

A: Write down a few questions before you call (or reread your out-going email), and aim to initially take about 5-10 minutes of the person’s time.

Try any or all of these:
  • Can you tell me something about your background [or training] in this tradition?
  • What do you charge for your healing [or teaching] work?
  • How long have you been on this path [or doing this work]?
  • What sort of commitment do you expect from your students [clients]?
Note: If you’re communicating through email, consider that you may get a clearer sense of the person if you speak by phone. If you’re open to that, start by offering your own phone number.

Listen to the replies with your ears and your heart, with both mind and spirit.  Credentials alone don’t overrule compatibility — they both count.  Hear the words, pay attention to how the conversation feels, and know that you have the right - the responsibility! - to be discerning.





Drum pounding steadily, lights dim, I lay down on my back, close my eyes and see the Great Plains washed in the deep colors of twilight. Mentally moving to the drumbeat, I envision my descent into Mother Earth, first stepping down a ladder and then diving headfirst down a slippery tunnel.

I emerge in the Lower World, a place within each of us where our Power Animals and other spirit helpers dwell, part of the internal geography that shamanic practitioner/writer Michael Harner identifies as Non-Ordinary Reality. This place is indeed far from ordinary, and after sixteen years I thoroughly believe the reality on this spiritual plane presents an elegant, subtle and often humorous counterpoint with what we call waking reality. 



My Personal Journey
My path to this work didn’t begin on a particularly joyful footing. One afternoon during the summer of 1986, I suddenly experienced a vivid memory of childhood abuse. Although I was seeing a therapist, the issues I pursued with her involved depression and relationships; we had discussed my family’s dynamics, but the subject of abuse had never been broached. Abuse was nothing I suspected, discussed with friends, or read about (this was 1986, after all, when the subject of sexual abuse was still fairly uncommon outside clinical texts).

At first, the next steps seemed clear. The work with my therapist took on a clear focus, and, of vital importance, my own Craft practices gave me protection and some measure of healing on a spiritual plane that modern psychiatry can’t provide. But something crucial was missing. Although external aspects of my life were smoothing out, I still felt internally incomplete, fragmented. My spirit had been injured by the abuse. Dealing with recovery as a logical grown-up didn’t repair that childhood soul-injury, and my otherwise-excellent therapist’s only spiritual advice concerned the goal of feeling Christian forgiveness for the perpetrator. Buzz-phrases about "getting in touch with your Inner Child" triggered anything from annoyance to grief. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t find that joyous, frightened, conflicted kid I vaguely remembered being, and all the stupid exercises that involved hugging fluffy stuffed toys weren’t helping a damn bit.

In the midst of mounting frustration, a women’s retreat to Chaco Canyon in late 1988 put me in touch with a teacher who beat on a huge drum and urged us to follow its rhythm to the place where our Power Animals would be waiting. Much to my surprise, one was waiting, an animal with which I’d had a strong, albeit long-ignored, childhood affinity. I returned to Denver, got a drumming tape and continued to journey as I’d been taught. I found that unlike the empty silence of Eastern meditation styles, Power Animal journeying could include transformation into one’s Animal, interactive direct communication with the creature (often shot with valuable insights and advice) and best, surprising amounts of humor. 

That joyfulness gradually convinced me I wasn’t imagining all this stuff. Not only was my Power Animal’s sense of humor significantly different from my own, he also found laughable the very situations that I considered the least amusing. My Power Animal certainly wasn’t my "Inner Child," but I realized that since his roots as my guardian-companion dated back to my childhood, he knew that child-part of me, which convinced me I was going in the right direction.

The following year I read a life-altering article on contemporary Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman in the Shaman’s Drum magazine. What she described immediately rang true. Ingerman wrote of working with her Power Animal and other spirit helpers to locate, retrieve and help reintegrate soul-fragments that have been lost through various forms of trauma. She mentioned having particular success with abuse survivors, and before I’d finished reading the piece, I’d vowed to pursue Soul Retrieval. Within two months, I found and took a basic shamanic workshop with Ingerman; in 1991, I experienced Soul Retrieval during the workshop with her in which I first learned to perform the technique.


The Soul Retrieval Process

The idea behind soul loss and retrieval is very straightforward: In traumatic situations, some part of one’s soul may split off and hide to escape the trauma. For example, we’ve all heard people speak of not remembering the instant of impact in a car crash, or "going numb" during an emotional crisis. This "splitting" is a useful survival technique but it becomes a problem if we remain fragmented after the trauma passes. Since this fragmentartion occurs on the spiritual plane, that’s also where the search and retrieval need to take place. Happily, Power Animals are able to help—after all, this is their turf.


When I journey on behalf of someone who suspects themself to be suffering from soul-loss, I first establish a clear intention (as crucial here as in any magical working) and then establish a strong connection with my Power Animal. He does the real work, while I provide the physical link with the client. Traveling with my Animal into Non-Ordinary Reality, I watch and follow him on the quest for missing soul parts. Our route may take us into the Lower World, an Animal-dominated place within the heart of Mother Earth; into the Upper World, where human-form spirit helpers predominate; or into the Middle World, which looks like our world but isn’t in the same time zone. A soul-part stuck in the Middle World might still be in 1956 or 1974 or whenever, still in the family Chevy at the time of the car crash, or still hiding in the treehouse to escape domestic violence.


While what I see may unroll like documentary news footage of the actual events, my training and experience have taught me to suspect that my journey-view of the client’s past is being played out metaphorically. Since there is no way to determine whether I’m seeing a soul-loss scenario literally or symbolically, I prefer to journey aloud, narrating as I go. This allows the client to hear and interpret the details reported, preferably with friends present to take notes and offer support through their own good, clear intentions. The soul-part recovered will likely still be the same age it was at the time of the trauma and may still remember all their reasons for splitting, but also holds all the potential of that individual child at that age. This is not a wounded “inner child” - this is the smart-survivor soul-part that left to avoid being wounded.


The client’s future role in all this is to truly reintegrate this retrieved part, so I also ask if there’s a Power Animal-ally for this soul-fragment. Generally, a Power Animal or other spirit-plane ally quickly appears on behalf of the recovered soul-part. Somewhere in the course of the journey, I’ll also ask my Power Animal what else can be done on the client’s behalf, and often I’m directed to do some Shamanic Extraction. Soul Retrieval locates and returns a vital part that should be there but isn’t. Shamanic Extraction does just the opposite, identifying and removing the spiritual manifestation of disease — dis-ease — something that is there but shouldn’t be, not necessarily negative but definitely misplaced. I complete my journey by thanking my Animal and any other spirit helpers, returning to this plane and physically blowing the retrieved soul-part(s) and/or Power Animal(s) into the client’s body.


Power Animals and Community

Power Animals are central to shamanic practices. While I initially viewed them sort of like Witchcraft-friendly alternatives to Guardian Angels, over the years my view on this has deepened. As there are fewer and fewer living animals on our planet, perhaps the remaining creatures have a greater-than-ever need to manifest in spirit through us. We need them: They have access to information we’re going to need to survive.


And there’s another crucial connection here as well, one that indigenous cultures understand and honor: The role of supportive community in healing work. I’ve written elsewhere about the differences between Witchcraft and New Age thought. One of the main differences I perceive is an insistence in some New Age thinking that each individual "chooses" and is solely responsible for creating their own reality for good or ill. Taken to extremes, this can become "blame the victim" thinking that denies the web of life and aggravates our isolation. 


In fact, we are interactive beings whose lives interconnect, and whatever ails us doesn’t occur (or get "chosen") in a vacuum: Abusive families, germs, industrial pollutants, random violence, vast social injustice and disparities, and other factors all have impact. By the same token, just as we don’t get into problems entirely on our own, neither do we need to solve them in isolation. There is incredible strength in unity when our intentions are clear and combined. The shamanic practices I’ve described occur between people. These practices work because one person is willing to act on behalf of another, to intervene on a spiritual level under the direction of personal spiritual helpers. Being a stubbornly self-sufficient person with a boatload of old trust issues, this emphasis on connection at first made me apprehensive, but I’ve come to recognize and appreciate it as an integral part of the healing process.


The trust and connection between people, and the joy inherent within the person/Power Animal alliance, are forms of energy that create well-being. Having your soul-parts back, feeling whole again after months, years, or even decades of fragmentation… that’s magical and miraculous.


Blesséd be,

Renna

2022



Suggested Reading, both by Sandra Ingerman:

- Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self,
San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991, 2006. 

- Welcome Home: Following Your Soul’s Journey Home, 

San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993.