Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Shamanic Meanings of Animals

People are always asking about the shamanic meanings of various animals. The truth is that the meaning depends on the context, the species, the circumstances---and you. 

There is a new Houston Shamanism Examiner post on that topic:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Know the Native Plants and Wild Animals Where You Live

The foundation for shamanic work is local energy, the energy of the local land, animals, plants, weather, water, and other spirits.

To tap into that land you need to know those energies. Yet most modern people are largely unaware of the native plants and wild animals around us in our own neighborhoods.

Here is a Houston Shamanism Examiner quiz to see how well you know the indigenous plants and animals where you live and help you get started observing and learning about them:

Take it for fun if you want to. Your answers may surprise you.

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Houston Shamanism Examiner column: "Shamanism: It's not about you!"

 I have jut published another column on Houston Shamanism Examiner. This one was inspired by a post on, touting shamanism as a daily practice for everyday life. Some people will write anything for money.

No matter what the popularizers say, shamanism is not a path of personal growth. It is a path of service---to the spirit world and to this world.

Sure, you will grow spiritually, but....well, please just read the column and let me know what you think.

or if that link is too long for your browser, try this one:


White Cranes

P.S. No, it is still not about you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Animist-Shamanist Terms for Animal Spirits, Totems, Power Animals, Animal Guides

English has few spiritual terms, compared to other languages. It is hard enough to describe completely nonverbal experiences in words in such a way that others can get a sense of what you are describing.

It is impossible if you literally do not have the words for it.

So spiritual terms are precious, and we need to use the same definitions so that they do not lose their usefulness, as many formerly useful words and phrases in English already have.

Taking the time to learn and understand the few spiritual terms that we do have for the fields that you are interested in seems pretty basic to me. So it bothers me that people seldom seem to bother to do that.

In shamanic studies, the constant misuse of the word totem is particularly annoying. And the misunderstanding of the meaning of the term power animal is not far behind.

As I read or listen to (or try to participate in) conversations about shamanism, I often find that people are using the same terms to mean different things. That results in confusion for all concerned.

If people notice the problem, they can agree on terms to use, but generally they do not even seem to notice.  The result can be either arguments or superficial conversations that go nowhere.

That is not totally their fault, since there are plenty of books on the market that misuse the terms and confuse readers as to what they actually mean. That's bad, because it is difficult enough to discuss spiritual experiences in English anyway.

I have just posted a new Houston Shamanism Examiner column on totems, power animals, spirit animals, and animal guides.

I won't recap the whole article here, but please stop by and read it. (It is pretty short.) And then, if you will, please leave a comment.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Learning to Experience Land Spirits

Learning to experience the land spirits wherever you happen to be is sort of basic to shamanism. I wrote a Houston Shamanism Examiner column in August explaining why it is important.

This week someone asked me to explain more about how to learn to experience land spirits, so I have. You will find it at

In case you have problems with that one, here is a shorter link:

I hope you will stop by, read it, and leave a comment. Or just stop by and say Hi.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do shamans need psychedelic plants?

Here is my new column at on shamans and psychedelic drugs:
This is a topic that came up in an interesting discussion Saturday at the World Gratitude Drumming Meetup.

For a list of all the Houston Shamanism Examiner posts so far, see
Please stop by and leave comments, questions and/or suggestions for future topics. Or just stop by and say hello. All are welcome.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Altars, masks and fetishes

For shamanic ceremonies, I always build an altar. It is part of the process of recreating the energy of the space and putting up spiritual protection for the participants.

On the altar are always a lot of animal fetishes, both the stone-carved Zuni kind and the ones I have empowered by using them, as described by Hal Zina Bennett in some of his books. I also usually wear several animal fetish necklaces.

People ask me about all those things, and most of them are shocked when I say they are fetishes. Apparently Americans only know of the word fetish from the derivative psychological term, sexual fetish. So they do not know what I'm talking about, but it sounds naughty.

I am always having to explain the meaning of the word fetish. So I wrote an article about masks and fetishes for my Houston Shamanism Examiner column.

African sacred masks are sometimes fetishes, and Europeans and Americans usually completely misinterpret their purpose, so I discussed masks in the article, too.

You can read the two parts of the article here:

Please stop by, take a look, and tell me what you think. There are photos, illustrations and interesting links, too.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Meditation and Shamanic Journeying Are Not the Same Thing

I just posted an article about the difference between meditation and shamanic journeying at Houston Shamanism Examiner

There is scientific evidence that meditation and shamanic journeying take place at different levels of brain function. Medical researchers hooked up seasoned meditators and indigenous shamans to electroencephalograph (EEG) machines.

They found that the meditation takes place at the alpha brain state, while shamanic journeying by real shamans takes place at the theta level.

To read the rest, go to the Shamanism Examiner web page. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Drums and Shamanic Journeying

I just posted a couple of articles on my new Houston Shamanism Examiner column on drumming for shamanic journeying and on how to choose a shamanic drum.

I hope you will take a look. Please comment with your thoughts and experiences.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shamanism Book & CD List

Because there are so many junky books out there on "shamanism" (with a capital "S" for silly), people are always asking me for book and CD recommendations.

Besides the extended resource list pages on my animism and shamanism web site,, I have a brand new list of recommended books and CDs at another site.

I just started writing a regional column on shamanism as the new Houston Shamanism Examiner. So I have added a list of books and CDs, with links to review pages, on the right-hand side of every page on my Examiner column. But you need to scroll down to find it below the ads.

I hope you find it useful. These are some of my all-time favorite books and CDs on shamanism, the ones we use in our Shamanism Meetup Group.

This new list includes some books and CDs that did not exist when I built the Shamanista web site. Let me know what you think.

One famous book is, so far, conspicuous by its absence. Let's see if anyone actually misses it.

If you have any suggestions, please comment here, and I'll take a look. I'm always interested in new shamanism information and resources.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why Shamanism Is Hard to Learn in Houston

I am the new Shamanism Examiner for Houston at I'll be writing a new column on doing shamanic work in the Houston area.

Here is the first post, on why it is hard to learn to do shamanic work in Houston in particular and large cities in general:

I hope you will stop by and take a look. I would love to read your comments.

If you have a question or want to get a discussion going, please leave a comment about it. I might write a column about it.

Thanks for taking a look. I will be back here to post again soon, I hope.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can Shamans Change the Past?

Recently someone wrote to me, asking for tips, insights, or books that included instructions on changing the past. He had been reading books on mongolian shamanism by Sarangarel, who had said that shamans could change the past. He wanted to know how.

Just in case you are interested, here is what I replied:

I cannot think of a particular book that mentions changing the past, though I do see it mentioned in books sometimes. Certainly we can change our feelings about past events.

Very few people are likely to be able to actually change an event that was witnessed by others. You would be changing their reality, too.

However, I believe that we do not make our own reality, or change it, so much as (if we are successful at our magical work) move ourselves into a different reality.

If you read some of the popular books on particle physics, you find that some of the greatest physicists of the last century believed there are multiple realities. They say that a new reality forms every time you make a decision.

My belief (as described in the novel, The Witch's Dream, by Florinda Donner) is that shamans and other magical adepts can indeed move into different, parallel time streams in which the reality is different, including the past.

The slippery thing about changing the past (or one's feelings about it) is that if you are successful, it seems to have always been that way. So you may not feel that you really did much.

If you read or listen to an account of someone else doing it for himself or herself, you may think it was their imagination. And, of course, it might be.

Personally I sometimes have the feeling that reality has changed, and I remember how it was.

Here is an example:

I have a bronze sculpture near my desk. I bought it in April of 2006. At that time, the sculpture consisted of a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and the god Ganesh, sitting on a swing (like a child's swingset, but ornate).

I'm very familiar with Lakshmi and have several sculptures and pictures of her around the house. So I know how she looks.

Recently, after moving a plant that had partially hidden the sculpture, I noticed that the figure sitting on the swing with Ganesh is now a Buddha. As a Tibetan Buddhist, I know Buddhas. I would not make that mistake.

So what happened? Somehow, I believe reality changed. I certainly did not set out to change the past involving that sculpture.

Maybe some other change I made resulted in the change in the sculpture. Or did it change my memory, so that I now think that I bought a sculpture with Lakshmi in it?

So the subject of changing the past is very tricky, but I believe it can be done.

The thing to remember is that shamanism and other forms of magic are not tricks. When they are effective, it is because we have developed our souls/spirits/minds in such a way as to be able to create the effects we want. Even then we are limited to going with the flow of the Universe.

As an analogy, in a very fast-flowing stream, paddling a canoe downstream, the current, may help you travel faster, but if you are trying to paddle against a very strong current, you probably will not make much progress. It is important to be in harmony with higher goals of the spirit world in choosing your goals.

And just as with any skill or talent, you need to work to develop your abilities. It may not happen immediately. But if you persist in living your life according to your spiritual guidance, with the goal of helping others, you will make progress and your abilities will grow.

If it turns out that changing the past is not relevant to your spiritual purpose after all, you will probably lose interest in it. However, if it is important for you, then you should eventually be able to change the past and to help others change their pasts.

That is my belief. Does it make sense to you?

Since changing the past is not a trick, not a special technique, persisting with your shamanic practice should eventually take you there.

For example, I feel the same way about soul retrieval. When I first read an interview with Sandra Ingermann, I reallized that I could do soul retrieval, but that I was not ready yet. A few months later, I was ready, and I started doing soul retrieval. After that, I took the Foundation for Shamanic Studies soul retrieval course and found that I was right.

Spirit will tell you what you need to know. When you are ready, you will do it if it is truly needed.

The spirit world seems to be pragmatic about such things. You are given what you need, not necessarily what you want.