"Ancient Traditions for a Modern World"

Urban Shamanism


The term "Urban Shamanism" speaks to the organizing principles behind my work. We are urban peoples and our people and our cities are in serious need of healing and transformation.

Urban Shamanism is the contemporary application of shamanic practices for use in healing, problem solving, self-discovery, and personal growth. It is a living, evolving system of healing tools.

These tools transform and heal the conflicts between body, mind and spirit created by the chaotic pace of modern life.

Shaman is a Siberian tribal word that defines certain medicine people who use altered states of consciousness to travel to the hidden worlds of spirit to obtain help and guidance for healing on all levels. These hidden worlds mainly known through myth, dream, and near-death experiences.

Shaman are "myth travelers", "dream travelers".

Over thousands of years, our ancestors all over the world developed their abilities to connect with Spirit for transformational work.

Earthen Shaman

(c) 1995 Annah James

This ancient connection to Spirit brings useful and pragmatic tools to heal and transform urban people. These tools are our human birthright and our legacy.

Shamanism gifts humanity with daily magic and powerful, daily communication with the divine forces of the universe.

One tenant of shamanism is: Everything is a dream, AND all dreams are real. As a corollary to this, shamanism also believes that all systems, including shamanism, are arbitrary. All systems are useful descriptions and metaphors, which allow various things to be accomplished. But if the system is not working for a particular situation, then change the system. Even leave the system, if you need to. The main thing is to effectively generate the healing.

Shamanism is a spiritual system. It is not a religion. It is based on the concept that we are all one with everything. We are all spirit. We have the ability and right to connect with the worlds of spirit. In the shamanic world view, everything is alive and conscious.

Shamanism uses various techniques to contact and communicate with the world of spirit. Shamanism believes that there are beings, spirits that inhabit other worlds invisible (usually) to our eyes. These spirits are frequently benevolent and interested in helping people.

Shamanism is very practical. It is about "now". Shamanism is less concerned with what experiences in your childhood that shaped who you are now. Shamanism asks the question "Does who you are now serve you? If not, then let's go find the things you need to change that!"

I believe that shamanism is being revived today because the balance has been lost between the realms endangering the life on our planet. The spirit world is activating anyone and everyone that it can to reestablish this balance and spiritual/material connection.

I believe that there is a symbiotic relationship between the worlds of spirit and the worlds of humanity.

Spirit lives because we live; we live because Spirit lives. The sickness of one injures the other. So Spirit endeavors to keep us healthy and it is our critical duty to keep the spirit worlds healthy.

Spirit grows and learns because we grow and learn. And, of course, we grow and learn because Spirit grows and learns.

Realize how different the world will be when people recognize and honor that everything is alive, conscious and deserves honor and respect.


The shamanic techniques that I use and teach are based on the work pioneered by Michael Harner. The research of Harner and others uncovered what is called Core Shamanism. They realized that there are certain techniques for doing shamanic work that are the same throughout the world and throughout time.

These are archetypal techniques, to borrow a Jungian concept. These techniques are the keys to the doors into alternate realities of the shamanic universes.

One core element is that most shamanic cultures relate to the non-ordinary reality, "shamanic consciousness", in terms of 3 realms: The Lower Worlds, the Middle Worlds, and the Upper Worlds.

These worlds are populated by powerful beings to whom one can request and receive help, teaching, protection, healing, guidance, etc.

These worlds and the beings you meet are just as real as you and I, Denver, or Portland, or your backyard.

Typically, the Lower Worlds are where you find power animals and nature spirits. In the Upper Worlds you find teachers, and guides. The Middle Worlds are where you go to deal with the things of this world - like lost cats, or information about which job to take.

My experience is that any of it can happen anywhere. My usual strategy is to call on my power animals and ask them to take me where I need to go to accomplish my intention of the journey.

The Lower Worlds are wonderful, beautiful worlds. They just happen to be places that are accessed by traveling down. This is not to say that there aren't dark and scary places - but these places exist in all the worlds. There are an infinite number of Lower Worlds, Middle Worlds and Upper Worlds.

In fact, if you travel infinitely up it eventually loops around to the Lower Worlds, etc. The fact that there are an infinite number of Middle Worlds, not to mention that time can operate differently there, is why Middle World journeying can be tricky. I guarantee that you can travel into the Middle Worlds and discover winning lottery numbers - but for which "ordinary" reality, and exactly which week - well, that is the challenge. Finding lost cats or people has the same problem.

By the way, for lost animals, I usually do some shape shifting into that animal to find its energy, and cast a net to herd the animal home.

Another core shamanic element is that shaman primarily use two methods to achieve a non-ordinary reality state, a state of shamanic consciousness; shamanic drumming and spirit plants such as Peyote and Banisteriopsis, known by its drink name of Ayahuasca - "vine of the soul". There are other methods such as piercing your back with bone needles and dragging buffalo hides around in circles. (It is doubtful that anyone would choose to follow a shamanic calling if that was your only access!) There is a journey swing where the shaman is placed in a free moving cage suspended from a tree and blindfolded. A modern, high tech method would include the isolation tank where you are floating in neutral temperature salt water, in a dark tank with your eyes and ears covered - essentially isolating the user from all external sensory input.

The method I use is drumming. Drumming is, in many circles, considered the most powerful method to access the shamanic state of consciousness. This is because the shaman is in control of the journey the entire time. Journey by drum requires development of focus, attention, will, memory, and intention. All skills that are vital and useful in any shamanic activity.

It is known and measured, by those who like to measure things, that the brain waves actually change when exposed to the type of drumming that is associated with shamanic work. Many people who become skilled at shamanic journey techniques eventually reach a state where they can journey whenever they choose to do so; the drum becomes a useful, but not essential, tool .


As a footnote let me conclude by mentioning that there are two predominant motifs of shamanism which can broadly and loosely be defined as the Warrior shaman and the Bard shaman. Both paths are powerful, effective and to be honored. Both paths have elements of the other. It is not a black and white separation.

In general the Warrior path tends to personify and anthropomorphize the experiences and then develops personal power and tools and weapons to deal with the entities he/she are faced with.

The path of the Bard shaman is more like a traveler in a foreign country looking and meeting new people and friends. The Bard shaman tends to view experiences as energies and lessons, recognizing, for example, that all things have power and proper uses -- like the difference between using electricity to play your stereo and grabbing a hold of a high voltage line. The Bard shaman is looking for lessons, songs, treasures, experiences, friends and help. The Warrior does too, but often perceives events as potential threats to overcome rather than lessons to be transformed and learned.

Shamanism is a powerful, sometimes subtle, healing system that connects one with the healing forces and wisdom of the universe.


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