Shamanism and The Spirits of Nature

The sun is a circle
The earth is a circle
The moon is a circle
The drum is a circle
We are a circle
— ancient Sammi song

We humans have an interdependence with all life, and we share a unity with all things here on our planet. We are connected to the oceans, the whales, the mountains, the bears, the trees and birds, the sun, moon and stars.

In shamanic cultures it is understood that all the beings in the natural world have spirits animating and empowering them. Incense Cedar spirit, Ponderosa Pine spirit, lake spirit, lightning spirit, spirit of rain, snow spirit, star spirits… The natural world is full of living, compassionate nature spirits who help the shaman divine answers to urgent life questions. The voice of bird, the crackling of fire, the sound of wind and wave — all of these are the shaman’s helpers on her quest for knowledge, survival and healing.

When I think of the spirits of the natural world, I immediately go back in my heart to the great lake of Michigan with all its wild, blue faces, its perch and blue gills, its sand bars and its high, shifting dunes. The lake spoke to me strongly as a child though I had no conscious shamanic understanding of what this meant.

We all have memories of places in nature that touched us when we were young. For many of us these special, sometimes secret, places were our refuge from difficult life situations. That tree outside the bedroom window, the cornfield out back, the forest up the block, the dry arroyo down the street… what place in nature gave you solace and nurturing as you were growing up? These nature sites are important touchstones for us and are known as power places among shamanic peoples.

The natural world and wilderness hold a paramount importance for me. I followed the natural world at nineteen and landed in Santa Barbara, pulled by the mountains and the coast as much as by the university. Then Santa Cruz captured my heart with its redwoods, madrones, beaches and mountains. Finally Mt. Shasta’s magnetism won me over and after thirty years in Santa Cruz, I was drawn by the aura and power of the white mountain here, her lakes and trees and warm community of people.

Mount Shasta is and long has been a holy mountain. It is home to at least 28 spiritual traditions. For the Miwok Indians, it holds a very special place in their spiritual healing practices. It was one of four California mountains where the shamans buried giant “mother crystals” to be recharged by the power of the mountain. When these were ritually unearthed, shamans from around the area would bring their own healing crystals to charge them up with the spiritual force the mother crystal had received from Mt. Shasta.1

Since time immemorial, shamans have lived in intimate relationships with the spirits of nature in order to create healing, gain knowledge and maintain survival on the planet. The shaman has an intimate partnership with the rivers and rocks, the sun, moon, and stars, the mountains and plains, the winds and waters, the plants and animals. By learning from the spirits of the natural world the shamans have, for thousands of years, helped their peoples live in balance and harmony with the earth and all living beings.

In shamanic cultures it is known that illness, pain and suffering often have a spiritual component to them. The shaman’s work is to seek the spiritual aspect of an illness and bring the person back into connection with the wholeness of the universe. Working with the spiritual side of an illness may involve returning to the person what they have lost or extracting energies that do not belong to them. A shaman is concerned with alleviating both pain and suffering as well as reconnecting the person to their own sources of spiritual power. The spirits of the natural world support shamanic healing by reconnecting a person to the source of life itself — the sun and moon, stones and streams, stars and trees.

As a vision quest guide, I have seen tremendous healing happen for vision questers who spend four days and nights alone in a wilderness place of power. The stars sing to them, the animals and plants talk to them in a forgotten language, the rocks remind them of their belongingness to the earth and help bring them “home” again. Solitude in the wilderness fills them with power. Upon returning to their daily lives, they have new-found abilities to make healing changes and longed-for new choices.

As a shamanic practitioner, I work with clients who seek shamanic healing to help them heal addictions, feelings of fragmentation and powerlessness, and disconnection from themselves. With my helping spirits, I do soul retrievals for them, finding lost pieces of their soul and returning it to them. The soul may have been lost when they were quite young, other times illness, accidents and frightening situations caused the soul to leave when they were adolescents or adults. After soul retrieval, my clients report great joy returning to them, a new sense of well being or a surge of vitality filling them.

Following the soul retrieval, I urge them to build a relationship with their returned soul essence. One of the best ways to begin to do this is to go out into nature and find a tree you can comfortably spend time alone with. Trees are powerful beings who live their whole lives rooted in one place, and when asked, they show the client ways they can begin to welcome their soul back home again.

For those who want to deepen their spiritual relationship with our living planet by working directly with the spirits of nature for healing and knowledge, shamanism offers profound learning experiences. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies will be offering Shamanism and the Spirits of Nature, a weekend workshop in Mt. Shasta June 2 and 3, 2007. If you are hearing a call to discover your relationship with the spirits of the natural world and learn ways to restore and maintain balance on our planet, I urge you to heed that call. When we receive a call from the helping spirits, we are also given the ability to live it.

1. Michael Harner, Ph.D., Shamanic Divination Training, Foundation for Shamanic Studies, San Francisco, CA, July 2006. Back to article.

Shamanism and The Spirits of Nature