Frequently-Asked Questions
About Shamanism


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.  The honorary title of ”shaman” is used by others as a term of respect.  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 focussed 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 it 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 question 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:

  1.     Does this feel true, right, cosmically familiar, appropriate, appealing? 

  2.     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 healerWithout that 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.