FSS Polestar: Spiritual Help for the Burning West

The original article, Fire Season 2000: Spiritual Help for the Burning West, was written by Nan Moss and the late David Corbin. (©Shamanism, Fall/Winter 1999, Vol. 12, No. 2.) It was revised and expanded by Nan Moss in September 2020. While originally written in 1999 during the drought in the Western United States, which experienced a series of calamitous wildfires, with drought and fires sweeping many areas of the world, this article is especially relevant today. Then, as now, many shamanic practitioners are moved to ask the compassionate helping spirits for assistance in restoring balance and relieving suffering. We offer this personal story from Nan Moss, one of our longtime faculty members, as an example of compassionate ethical partnership with the spirits in helping to restore balance and harmony in one particular situation. Read the article.

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.

FSS Polestar: Responding to Events in Ukraine

Please see TRAINING IN SHAMANIC METHODS TO HELP UKRAINE below for opportunities to train with others to apply shamanic methods to help Ukraine and its people. If you are doing something to help and would like to share with the shamanic community, please visit Core Shamanism Chronicles: Help for Ukraine and leave a comment.

The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has been receiving requests for advice and assistance from people who would like to work together with others to respond shamanically to the tragic events unfolding in Europe. We have also received announcements of various group efforts and shamanic ceremonies that are being organized by others. The situation in Ukraine and Russia, and increasingly across Europe, is truly heartbreaking. How it will resolve is unknown, but it is clear that many are suffering, and will be feeling the effects of these events for a long time to come. We are grateful to be part of a caring and compassionate community that is motivated by such a strong desire to be of service.

It is important to remember that in situations of great complexity involving many thousands of people, animals, lands and waters, we cannot always know what is best, or what should and should not be happening. It’s also important to remember that the ethical practice of shamanism relies on having conscious and informed permission from any individual for whom we want to do shamanic work. These two factors mean that, if we want to be effective, we cannot simply send our helping spirits into a complex situation and ask them to bring about the outcome that we would like to see. Appropriate ethics are an essential part of the effective and powerful use of shamanism – without knowledge of ethics, one may do more harm than good. Please see this FSS Polestar entry.

For those who know how to journey and have connections with helping spirits of the Upper and Lower Worlds, and who understand the ethical considerations, the spirits are a source of enormous wisdom, power and creativity. They are able to guide and inspire us towards powerful and effective ways to take action in ordinary reality to help alleviate the pain and suffering that are occurring around the world. This would be an important time to journey and seek their guidance, and perhaps to form groups with other shamanic practitioners. More about working with the spirits for ordinary reality solutions.

May balance, unity, and harmony be restored and compassion prevail.

In spirit,
Susan Mokelke
President

Thanks to Robbie Staufer for drafting this response.

TRAINING IN SHAMANIC METHODS TO HELP UKRAINE: If you would like to join with others interested in applying shamanism and the power of the spirits to find ordinary reality ways to help, please see the Shamanism for Inspired Local & Global Change calendar. Scroll down to the calendar listings and look for an offering that displays “Focus on Ukraine.”

For updates on shamanism and Ukraine and other important issues, add your name to our email list on the home page. To subscribe, go to shamanism.org, scroll down to the “FREE E-NEWS” on the bottom right and enter your email. Or, join the Circle of the Foundation as a member.

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.

FSS Polestar: The Shaman’s Song and Helping Spirits

The Shaman’s Song and Helping Spirits
A podcast with Susan Mokelke
From the series, Curious and Curiouser with Robin Johnson: a Great Mystery Podcast Series
October 25

This informative interview opens on a personal note, as Susan Mokelke tells the story of her path towards shamanism. It continues with discussions of some of the most widely asked questions about shamanism: the prominent role of songs and drumming; children and their animal spirits; shamanic healing in nature; and the innate ability of all humans, with training and practice, to access the worlds of the compassionate spirits.

For more from Robin Johnson, visit her website: greatmystery.org

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.

FSS Polestar: What is a shaman?

What is a shaman? How does one become one?
The re-emergence of shamanism in the West has been largely driven by the pioneering work of the late anthropologist Dr. Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. His lifetime of research, experimentation, and personal exploration led him to develop Core Shamanism, an authentic and powerful form of shamanic practice that is not bound to culturally-specific ceremony and ritual. Its emphasis is on universal, near universal, and common features of shamanism, making it the ideal methodology for present-day practitioners to engage in shamanism while respecting the rites and customs of native peoples. Since shamanic knowledge was overwhelmingly lost to Western society centuries ago due to religious oppression, the Foundation’s programs in Core Shamanism are particularly intended to help contemporary people reacquire access to their rightful spiritual heritage through quality workshops and training courses.

What is shamanism?

As shamanism has grown in popularity, confusion about what it is, and specifically who and what a shaman is, has also grown. The term “shaman” is often loosely applied to anyone claiming an affinity for a natural lifestyle or a nature-based spirituality.

Michael Harner, after noting that “definitions are often a contentious matter,” went on to provide the following: “Shamanism is universally characterized by an intentional change in consciousness to engage in purposeful two-way interaction with spirits. Its most distinctive feature, which is not universal, is the out of body journey to other worlds.” He pointed out that not all shamans journey, or journey in the same way, but “what they do share is disciplined interaction with spirits in non-ordinary reality to help and heal others.” (Cave and Cosmos, pp. 47-48.)

Animism vs. shamanism

Where things often get confusing is in understanding the difference between animism and shamanism. Animism is a worldview that posits the aliveness of all things in the universe, as well as the unity and harmony of all life. It sees humans as a part of the living universe, but not superior to any aspect of it. This view is universally accepted in shamanism. That said, though all shamans could be considered animists, not all animists are shamans. This is because they don’t necessarily do what shamans do (see above).

Who can be called a shaman, and how do they that achieve that status?

In traditional shamanic cultures, shamans do not proclaim themselves as such. Someone who works with spirits to help their people is often named a shaman by that community if they are successful in their work.

”Shamans are often called ‘see-ers’ (seers), or ‘people who know’ in their tribal languages, because they are involved in a system of knowledge based on firsthand experience. Shamanism is not a belief system. It’s based on personal experiments conducted to heal, to get information, or do other things. In fact, if shamans don’t get results, they will no longer be used by people in their tribe. People ask me, ‘How do you know if somebody’s a shaman?’ I say, ‘It’s simple. Do they journey to other worlds? And do they perform miracles?'” (Michael Harner, Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone, p. 1.)

The preferred term for modern persons who engage in shamanism is “shamanic practitioner.” This denotes someone who has learned the methods and discipline of shamanic practice, and works to help and heal others with these methods. If a shamanic practitioner is successful with clients over time, other people may call them a shaman, but it is considered inappropriate to name oneself a shaman.

How does one become a shaman?

Michael discusses this at length in his book Cave and Cosmos (pp. 177, 179, 182). Traditional methods include inheriting shamanic status from an ancestor; becoming a shaman through life-threatening illness or initiation; being born with shamanic gifts which are recognized and supported by elders; learning directly from the spirits; and in some cultures, the Shuar, for example, knowledge of the way to power is bought from a master shaman. There are many paths, including study and practice with reputable teachers. But the path one travels to become a shaman is not as important as a powerful relationship with your own compassionate helping spirits.

To sum up, here are two essential characteristics of those who practice shamanism:

  • The ability to shift consciousness at will, to interact with spirits from non-ordinary reality for the purpose of helping and healing others. (This is accomplished in 90% of the world’s shamanic cultures through sonic driving like drumming and rattling.)
  • The understanding, through direct experience, that everything in the universe is interconnected, alive, and has spirit.

Contemporary shamanic practitioners are those who successfully practice and embody the above characteristics, and who have ongoing relationships with highly-evolved, compassionate spirits who provide spiritual power, knowledge, and wisdom throughout life. A practitioner of shamanism who works with these highly-evolved spirits and succeeds in helping and healing members of their tribe or society, may be recognized and named a shaman by their community.

Narrye Caldwell & Robbie Staufer
FSS Faculty

RESOURCES for further study of shamanism

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.

FSS Polestar: Shamanism & Shamanic Practice, Information & Support During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Information & Support During the Coronavirus Pandemic

With the coronavirus pandemic, humanity is facing a test unprecedented in the modern world. One of the most difficult things for us to deal with is uncertainty about the future. Fortunately, we are not alone. We have our shamanic community and we have the wisdom and power of the compassionate helping spirits. Together, we can find a path through uncertainty. We can support and care for each other and call upon our spirits for advice and healing. We can practice shamanic “selfcare” to stay strong and connected with our hearts and souls (see the entry below – Shamanic Selfcare). We can find ways to ethically assist others and our world through shamanic practices, particularly using shamanic journeying and other forms of shamanic divination to come up with inspired ordinary reality actions.

The Foundation is providing this Polestar column as a resource during this extraordinary time. Though we may not be able to meet in person, we have available to us many powerful digital tools for face-to-face interactions, practice, and healing. In the coming weeks, the FSS plans to offer several opportunities to attend video conferences and webinars.

Please bookmark this Polestar column and check back frequently for updates and offerings. The column is divided into sections on: The Coronavirus Pandemic; In-Person Workshops & Training – Status; Online Video Conferencing & Webinars; and Shamanic Selfcare. Scroll down to the section of interest. Entries for the sections are ordered by date, with the most recent entry in the section listed first.

Remember that the greatest challenges offer the most opportunity to transform – both personally and collectively as humans – and we are not alone on this journey.

Together in spirit,
Your friends at the Foundation
info@shamanism.org

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Below are some links to resources that are updated regularly. The New York Times and the Washington Post have coronavirus sections that are free as a public service during the pandemic.

August 1, 2021
Information about Covid-19 vaccination, CDC: Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. CDC has updated guidance for fully vaccinated people based on new evidence on the Delta variant.

August 1, 2021
The FSS has postponed its in-person workshops since May 2020. In-person workshops will be rescheduled when it is safe to do so.

NOTE: As of September 2021, in-person residential programs are being rescheduled.
Harner Shamanic Counseling Training
Two Week Shamanic Healing Intensive
Three Year Program of Advanced Initiations in Shamanism & Shamanic Healing

Online Video Workshops & Offerings

April 22, 2020
In the coming weeks, the Foundation and the FSS faculty will offer opportunities to attend video meetings, including online shamanic training in the shamanic journey, as well as ways shamanism can be used to help yourself, others, and our world. At this time FSS online workshops will focus on content that offers powerful and effective methods to gain and apply wisdom from the spirits to resolve persistent problems facing humanity, our precious Earth, and its inhabitants. For links to current online offerings calendars and upcoming new online workshops, visit Online Workshops and Online Community Meetings

Shamanic Selfcare

March 19, 2020
Shamanic Practices to Support Well-Being
By Denise Paulette, FSS faculty member, Seattle, Washington

Often, when we find ourselves in a situation where we appear to have no control, a sense of fear, dread and panic can easily take hold of us. What I can offer right now in this moment is to remind you that we have beautiful compassionate helping spirits at our side and very simple but powerful tools we can use daily to access their support and healing.

The practices below, learned in the Basic Workshop, The Way of The Shaman, help us maintain our connections with our compassionate helping spirits; nourish our spiritual body, which in turn nourishes our physical and emotional body; and experience daily a renewal of joy, serenity and gratitude.

Practices

If you are not familiar with shamanic practice, you can now learn online with an experienced FSS faculty member. Visit our online workshops listings.

  • Dance and sing your soul song. 5-10 minutes is preferable, but any amount done consistently will effect positive change. Awaken and bring your soul forward so that all of your thoughts, decisions and actions for the day come from a place of true connection.
  • Dance your power animal. A light merge with your power animal not only strengthens your connection to your spirit animal, it also brings you healing and protection.
  • Connect to nature. Long or short, walks in nature will support your feelings of well-being. Add to that the shamanic practice of connecting to all that is: saying hello and introducing yourself to the earth forms and lifeforms you see: the clouds, the trees, rocks, all creatures and vegetation. Sitting with and hugging trees is a powerful way to release worries and fear and to take in strength, healing and wisdom. The sun is shining—soak it up. Ask it for calm and patience. And be sure to thank all the earth forms for all they offer us freely every day.
  • Take a shamanic journey of your own choosing, either for divination or healing. Ask for what you need. One of my favorites is to go to one of my most love-filled places in non-ordinary reality and receive love and support from the helping spirits.
  • Drum and rattle daily. The simple beautiful beat of the drum or rattle provides an amazing amount of healing and return to balance.

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.

FSS Polestar: Shamanism at the Inflection Point

Humanity has reached an inflection point—an unprecedented situation where one species can determine whether the Earth itself fades or flourishes.

The confluence of a pandemic, racism as graphically and inescapably laid bare by the homicide of George Floyd, vast disparity in global wealth and necessities for living, climate change and the desecration of our Earth’s ecosystems worldwide, has ripped away the illusion that we can continue on our current path.

Disillusionment, though painful and frightening, is the first step toward real change. One cannot find effective ways to help if the problem is unclear. So, in relationship with our helping spirits, let us find the strength within to open our hearts to the enormity of the suffering and allow ourselves to mourn—yet steadfastly refuse to let despair overwhelm us. And when we can see clearly, from that centered place, let us get to work healing our world. We work from a place of compassion, because we deeply desire it, knowing that as in all healing efforts, the outcome is not guaranteed. We go on because we have chosen this way forward and “we can do no other.” We strive for a restored Earth and a humanity that lives up to its promise, evolving toward an inspired future.

We are so fortunate in walking the shamanic path. We know that we are not alone in our efforts; we walk this path with countless numbers of people of knowledge, power, and kindness. And, we know that there is a vast realm of compassionate powers, the helping spirits, who guide our steps, hold our hearts, and feed our souls.

Here are a few resources to help provide context and insight on ways shamanism and shamanic methods can help us in these times.

In case you feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task facing us, and at a loss about what you can do, I would like to offer an anecdote that spoke to me. It is from an article in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum. The entire article is notable, but in the last paragraph, Ms. Applebaum tells of a WWII member of the Polish underground, Władysław Bartoszewski, who had been a prisoner of both the Nazis and the Stalinists, and later the foreign minister in two Polish democratic governments. Toward the end of a long life, he offered this simple philosophy that had guided him though such chaotic times: “Just try to be decent.”

I think the compassionate spirits would approve.

Susan Mokelke
President

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Polestar logo design by Carolyn Fee ©2010 Foundation for Shamanic Studies
FSS Polestar highlights some of the questions we are frequently asked about contemporary shamanic practice. “Polestar” is defined as “something that serves as a guiding principle.” It reflects our commitment to helping practitioners stay oriented to authentic shamanic methods and ethics, while maintaining their own independent spirituality, which comes from learning directly from the compassionate spirits. Send us your practice-related questions for consideration for Polestar. Use our CONTACT FORM, and put “Polestar” in the subject line.