The word ‘shamanism’ is popping up all over the place lately. But, in a world of cultural appropriation and new age misnomers, what does this actually mean? We’ve seen a ton of shamanic-themed retreats, workshops, sound baths, and breathwork sessions offered over on our calendar, so we wanted to touch in with someone who works directly with shamanic practices, for insights into the history of shamanism and how it can be used to support people today.
Below is a transcript of our Q&A with Angela Prider, a shamanic practitioner who runs an organization called West Coast Shamanic based in Vancouver. Angela’s work is meant to restore harmony and balance to the body, heal the heart, and help individuals gather soul wisdom to reconcile and resolve difficulties and trauma. Here’s what she shared with us…
Head + Heart: What does the word ‘shamanism’ actually mean?
Angela Prider: It might be helpful to clarify a few terms. “Shaman” is a word from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. There have been a number of translations such as, “One who sees” or “One who heals himself” or “Master of the fire.” Shaman is an honorific term and this is a person who is often responsible for the well being of the soul of a tribe – so this word carries great responsibility.
A Shaman is also able to enter into altered states and, with intention and discipline, move and mediate between realities for guidance and healing of an individual, tribe, or place.
Shamanism has its roots in Animism, which is the understanding that everything is alive, and everything is connected to everything else. Our ancestors lived as animistic peoples because they lived on and in the land with deep connections, not insulated from the land as we are today.
Today, when the word shamanism is used, it’s often in reference to rewilding or earth medicine, which is actually animism, not necessarily shamanism.
A Shamanic Practitioner however, is someone who is a practitioner utilizing shamanic healing techniques. And finally, a Shamanist, is a person who is practicing Shamanism as a spiritual path. So in their personal lives, they utilize Earth Medicine practices/ceremonies for their soul’s well-being, and they also practice shamanic journeying as a way to have direct contact with their helping spirits/ancestors to receive guidance and wisdom.
My own shamanic teachings have roots in a number of lineages. Mostly my work is rooted in the old Celtic ways (mainly Irish) because these are my blood ancestors, but I have also worked closely with teachers from the Andes and Blackfoot Siksika nation for a number of years now.
H+H: How did you come to know you had the gift of being a shamanic healer?
AP: Well, it certainly wasn’t a career decision. My entry into shamanism was quite traditional. As in, I had a near death experience and was in a serious healing crisis when I began to have spontaneous shamanic experiences and otherworld initiations.
This was at a time when there was no mention of the word “shamanism” in the mainstream. I was very grateful when I learned about shamanism, as it gave me a context for what was happening.
As far as my gifts go, traditionally speaking, I have the “sight” and have had this since I was a little girl. This means that I see things through my inner vision and I sense things through my felt sense. The healing that I offer today is something that I have learned and worked on for many years.
H+H: It is said a Shaman can enter other dimensions to seek communication with spirit guides and soul councils on behalf of a person you are treating. How literal can this be taken, and what is your experience of this?
AP: Yes, basically a shamanic practitioner can enter and exit other realities with intention and discipline to gather guidance and healing for an individual, community or place. In my own experience I have found that there have been far too many coincidences over the years for my cynical or doubting mind to continue to argue.
I have often been asked “is this real or are we making it up? Is it really happening? Are there other dimensions?” And my answer now is, “Is it helping?”
If we are practicing Shamanism as a spiritual path and it is helping, then that’s great. We as humans tend to need to understand everything, and in our culture, we tend to do everything we can to remove the Mystery. I think this is just because we need to feel in control. However, I don’t think that has been helpful to us at all because (as my teacher says) “when we think we know, we say no to everything we don’t know!”
So that’s my long way of saying, yes, I know and believe in Spiritual help from spirit guides, and this is a part of my current practice when I work with individuals.
H+H : Do you see spirits and receive ancestral messages that you then share with whoever you are guiding?
AP: Yes, I see and sense spirits and received messages from the ancestors. When I share those messages however, I am very careful. Sharing messages and guidance from the Otherworld is a craft and a medicine in and of itself. I have seen people really hurt from practitioners/psychics who have not been wise in what or how they shared information.
H+H: Can you share an example of a session that was truly transformative for someone you’ve worked with?
AP: I first need to say that shamanic healing can’t replace medical help, but it’s a great adjunct because if we can bring the soul on board, we can have more harmony in our healing.
Most commonly, people come to see me because “they have not been the same since…” which can mean many, many things. People also come because they feel stuck emotionally or they have a physical ailment and it’s just not budging.
One of the biggest reasons that people come to me is when they cannot move on since the loss of a loved on. For example, a man came to see me. He was in his early 40s, very healthy, living a vegan lifestyle. A few months earlier he had lost his older sister to a drug overdose. About a month after his sister’s death, he developed lymphoma. While he was attending all of the treatments needed, he had a gut feeling there was something else going on. When we had our session, I could immediately see that his sister was still with him. This is not uncommon in my practice. So I was able to be the mediator between him and his sister and help them both. We also did some somatic therapy to help his nervous system with the shock of his sister’s death and his own diagnosis. He recovered very quickly after that.
H+H: What words of discernment would you have for someone who is seeking out a Shaman for healing services?
AP: First of all, there is a saying “If someone calls themselves a shaman, run the other way!” This is because the term shaman is honorific; it is given to you by your Tribe and comes with a great responsibility.This is why I don’t call myself a Shaman.
Here are some things to look for and ask…
- How long have they been on the path?
- How long were they practicing Shamanism for themselves before deciding to offer services? (In the old Celtic ways, a Filidh (equivalent to a shaman) did 7 solid years of training, and in most animist cultures, the Healers have trained for many years.)
- Who are their teachers? Do they actually know them? How is their relationship with their teachers? This is important because a lot of the medicine is passed on through in-person transmission, so I don’t really recommend online training where there is not a strong, intimate relationship with the teacher. I know there are lots of people who don’t agree with this and that’s OK.
- Do they have professional liability insurance?
- Do they have other training to support their shamanic work?
Shamanism is a path where we grow our medicine and grow our power. With that comes the growth of the ego, if we are not careful. We already live in a culture without elders, so because Shamanism is new to our culture, we are really children playing with fire with no adults around. We need close relationships with our teachers or elders so they can hold our feet to the fire and call us out when our ego is out of check. They do this to protect us and ultimately to protect others. In the shamanic tradition, our human teachers are important because they teach us to deepen and navigate our relationships with our spirit teachers.
To learn more about Angela Prider’s work please visit www.westcoastshamanic.com or on social media @westcoasthamanic. We hope this interview supports your journey from the head to the heart. Let us know here if you have any questions or comments.