Home Healing therapies Introduction to 21st Century Shamanism

Introduction to 21st Century Shamanism

Trance Shamanico
Trance Shamanico (2012) is an oil paiting of Anderson Debernardi, one of the most prolific rainforest visionary artists in Peru.

It has been my experience that each of us has the ability and the opportunity to develop a wonderful and close relationship with our own Spirit. Just as well, you can all develop the connection with your own inner healer and to heal yourself emotionally and spiritually. It’s a long journey of self-discovery and healing. I would go as far as saying, it’s a challenge, yet amazing, full of surprises and rewarding. Thanks to Chakana.me team, I now have the chance to share with you some of personal experiences and life lessons as they happened during my last five years.

I spent one year and a half in a shamanic center in Spain where I met two shamans—British Ross Heaven and South-African La Gringa living in Cusco. Then I went straight to the roots of the teacher plants in Peru where I spent around my 3 months as an apprentice. I left Peru and then came back to spend more than one year in the Amazonian Jungle of Iquitos and in the mountains of Cordillera Blanca, keeping specific diets with local shamans, also known as vegetalistas, who have a long tradition with this practice.


Firstly, I would like to clarify that Shamanism is not a religion, but a spiritual practice that involves a relationship with all things in nature, be they animate or inanimate. Shamanism may be the oldest of all the healing therapies.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have dated shamanistic practices as ancient as 40,000 years. Evidence of shamanic practice can be found on all the continents in the form of rock paintings, carvings and relics. The oldest archaeological evidence of shamanistic practices comes from the Altai and Ural Mountains of Russia and Mongolia. These practices  have been concluded to have been some of sort of religion, a word that I would not associate with shamanism.

Remember that until about 12,000 years ago, there was no form of religion on this planet, so people attained some kind of access to the sacred through various practices. Therefore, shamanism then becomes about technique, or a way of living, and if any of you are students of the literature of shamanism, you probably know that one of the great overviews of shamanism is contained in Mircea Eliade’s book, Shamanism: The Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.

Various sources claim that the word “shaman” most probably originates from the Evenki word “šamán,” most likely from the southwestern dialect spoken by the Sym Evenki peoples located in Russia and China. Romanian Mircea Eliade, the world’s most influential historian of religions to date, noted in his writings that the Sanskrit word “śramaṇa“, designating a wandering monastic or holy figure, has spread to many Central Asian languages along with Buddhism and could be the ultimate origin of the Tungusic word. In the Tungusu-Manchurian language, the word “shaman” means, “to know”—which means to know without knowing, to receive the information from higher self as a Hindu would say.

The modern term “shaman” has now been adopted by many as a catch-all word to describe those who by spiritual means seek direct access to information and healing power not ordinarily available. In Peru, healers do not call themselves Shamans. Mostly they call themselves ayahuasqueros, tabaqueros, vegetalistas, curanderos, wachumeros, depending on the type of Sacred Plants they are working with. Their choice of working  with the spirit of Tabacco, Ayahuasca or San Pedro Cactus depends on their region and tradition. The best and simple way we can call them  is “The medicine man/woman”, so then everybody can understand. This naming has to do with their their knowledge of the plants and how to use them to cure different disease. Imagine that after the ceremony where they use the psychotropic plants, they are able to recommend you a diet with just one plant or two plants out of 80 000 species growing in Amazon region.

The way they are working with psychotropic plants is sacred they are having a different approach from the modern society who consider them just simple drugs. In a way the modern society discovered through science about the healing properties of some plants, while these amazing the medicine man knew all about them for thousands of years.

The path of the Shamans

The shamanism in Peru is known as curanderismo (from Spanish “curar” which means “to heal“) and the healer is known as either curandero in the Andes or vegetalista (“the man or woman who works with plants”) in the Amazon Jungle.

The South American indigenes are using medicinal plants from the Amazon and from the Andes Mountains in an old traditional way, inherited and spread from generation to generation. Also some people with some strong visions visits the local shaman and then the shaman might suggest after some ceremonies that the person who have suddenly some connections with spirits shows  that the spirits choose him/her to become a healer. So in this way some other people are trained to follow this path if they want. In this part of the world, the plants are used to cure various types of diseases and help us rediscover ourselves from a new perspective which will give us a fresh approach to life. Psychedelic experiences in a safe setting with teacher plants can help our consciousness open up to this sensation of connection and of being one with nature. The following trailer from the movie “Embrace the Serpent” can be a clear introduction into the amazonian shamanic way of living.

Embrace of the Serpent  – A film by Ciro Guerra, 2015, Colombia/ Venezuela/Argentina, 125′. It tells the epic story of the first contact, encounter, approach, betrayal and, eventually, life-transcending friendship, between Karamakate, an amazonian shaman, one of the last survivor of his people, and two scientists that, over the course of 40 years, travel through the Amazon in search of a sacred plant that can heal them.

Shamans play a vital role in maintaining an ongoing relationship between the natural and spiritual world, while helping people with their healing processes. Considering that often Shamans make journeys into the spiritual realm to seek help for the community, it is not just the people who benefit from the role of the Shaman in society, but also animals, plants and the entire planet. As you may know, Shamans as well as other healers from various corners of the world believe that the origin of the disease is of spiritual nature and is caused by psychological, emotional, spiritual factors too. Also they believe that most of the diseases appear because of invisible arrows of some malevolent spirits not because of some organically caused sickness and death.

Some anthropologists and religious scholars define a shaman as an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world, who travels between worlds in a state of trance. Once in the spirit world, the shaman would commune with the spirits for assistance in healing, hunting or weather management. Ripinsky-Naxon describes Shamans as,

“People who have a strong interest in their surrounding environment and the society of which they are a part.”

The path to becoming a Shaman or healer is not an easy one. It’s not a journey where others can join and stand by you. It’s a personal, solitary and long-term journey in the world of the Teacher Plants. It takes a fasting period with each plant he intends to work, or is showed by a teacher plant what he/she needs to diet. You can also get the advices and recommendations of a more experienced Shaman. As I have worked in the jungle with different Shamans and went through different apprenticeship diets, I realized that there are many and different gates that open once you start working with healing practices. I also understood that the only way to become a healer is to listen to my own intuition and forget what I’ve been taught until that moment of my life. It was a kind of mental reset, an new kind of openness that allowed me to become a channel for the teacher plants. If the person is ready and open to receive its healing, the plant knows what must be done and reveals for the person seeking to heal the healer within himself.

The aspiring Shaman begins his journey by going into an isolation for months and sometimes even for years in the depths of the jungle or on the top of the secluded areas of the mountains. This way he accesses the spirit world that hopefully will teach him the secrets of healing. By comparison with other types of healing, the aspiring Shaman finds his initiation all by himself and does not receive it from another healer or guru. This makes the Shaman a powerful medium for channeling the spirits of the nature in order to help people.

It is my personal belief that the path to becoming a Shaman is not necessarily linked with being part of a family where Shamanic healing is a tradition. If somebody feels “the calling”, he just needs to take the first step. As others before me, I do believe the path to becoming a Shaman is a very personal journey and after all the best teacher is the plant spirit. But, considering my own experiences in Peru and the many talks I had with well-respected Shamans, any apprentice must have some kind of guidance from the experienced ones at least for a while.

On my Peruvian long journey I met as “good” Shamans and also “bad” Shamans and that the reason I would advise caution when considering to work with a Shaman. You must be careful in which hands you put your trust, because as everywhere in the world the duality is part of our life. Before making your decision, do your homework, get references, look at their code of practice and ethics, see what patients have to say about their experiences. Try whatever it takes to make sure that the Shaman you’ll work with is mainly driven by his healing mission and not by his fight for survival.

The energy of the sacred Icaros …

I cannot end my first brief story about the Shamans without mentioning the amazing “icaros” songs used during healing ceremonies. Icaros are either whistled or vocalized in words and vocables. If I were to associate them with anything you are more familiar then it would be the special Christian prayers priests use when performing religious services. There’s a similar powerful healing energy.  Actually the power of an icaro is similar to an Indian mantra. Through the icaros the Shamans bring the spirit of the plants he dieted with to help the person in need. I warmly recommend you to listen to these Shipibo icaros. The Shipibos is the name of some indigenous minority tribes from the Amazonian rainforest very well-known for their Shamanic practices.

These icaros were recorded in the Amazonian Jungle almost 50 km away from Iquitos during Ayahuasca or Sage ceremonies.  

Believed to derive from the Quechua verb “ikaray”, which means “to blow smoke in order to heal”, the icaros are used for various purposes: to protect the space and those present at the ceremony, to enhance or to subdue the effects of plant medicines, to evoke the spirits of the plants, to invite the spirits of healers, to dispel dark spirits etc. It is said that the icaros are revealed to the Shamans by the plants themselves after special diets. The longer the relationship between the Shaman and the plant, the more powerful the icaro is.

The icaros are a gift from the spirits of the plants the Shaman dieted with and the way of healing through each icaro is different.  Experienced shamans can learn over the years hundreds of icaros which can be used during ceremonies for very specific healing purposes such as snake bites, communication with the world of the spirits, clairvoyance during the ceremonies, for calling the help of the healing crystals etc:

  • Icaro del tabaco — icaro for evoking the tobacco sacred plant;
  • Huarmi icaro — for winning the love of a woman;
  • Icaro del viento — icaro for evoking the wind;
  • Ayaruna — for evoking the help of the spirits of the healers that passed away;

Accompanied by the sound of the chapaka which is composed by a small bunch of plants with elongated leaves, who helps to connect with the jungle, who helps the shaman to clean the space and the persons from the ceremonies from the energies they don’t use anymore giving it back to the mother nature being helpful for a discharge of energy.

One cannot overlook the unmistakeable wonderful smell of the Holly Wood (“Palo Santo” in Spanish), similar with Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. The Palo Santo is part of the citrus tree family and has sweet notes of pine, mint and lemon and is used for energetic cleansing of the space before and during the ceremonies. The Palo Santo has similar healing properties as the Sage or the Cedar wood, enhancing a deeper connection to the Source of all creation. The tobacco, another powerful teaching plant, is used for cleansing and protecting the space.

All of these plants I’ve mentioned you about are tools for the Shamans only to create a protected space and to make it possible the healing process by opening the gate between the two worlds—our world and the spiritual one, by channeling the plant spirit through his body and by icaros making possible the contact the world of the spirits and this way the healing takes place. In other words, the diet given by the Shaman and the strong desire of the person looking for healing produces a switch consciousness that makes possible the disease to vanish away. If you want to find out about the Shaman practices, please feel free to visit innerpath.eu.


Despite of the fact that tens of thousands of years ago, shaman healing and other such practices were widely spread, the economic and scientific developments but not only alienated people from such practices and made us lose the contact with mother nature. The good news is that in the past 20-30 years more and more people are open to rediscover these ancient ways of healing.

I’m going to end this first introductory article on shamanism by quoting Terence McKenna:

“In other words, shamanism is not so much a religion, as ordinarily conceived, as it is a kind of, uh, pre-rational science; a kind of methodology for attaining a certain kind of experience. We are not bullshitting you! This is not yoga! This is not NLP! – not to knock those things This is real! It is so real that you can take the most hardened, rational, reductionist asshole and drop him into that environment, and he will meet his Maker, you know?! It dissolves you into a confrontation with authentic being, and this is what we are starving for; this is how we’ve gotten into the messes – and mess – that we’re in. Take seriously the techniques of shamanism. Study the plants. Make real choices, and then, don’t dibble the dose! Once you’ve done your homework, go for it! “.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first introductory article in the world of Shamanism and until next time, may peace be with you.

Recommended readings about Shamanism


  1. I’m extremely delighted to have on Chakana.me team a friend like Veronica who writes about Shamanism as she experienced for years in Peru with true shamans… not to mention the work she has done with Ross Heaven, director and principal teacher for The Four Gates Foundation. A world-known shaman, psychologist, author, healer, workshop facilitator and presenter, Heaven was described by Kindred Spirit magazine as “the straight-talking shaman”. Congratulations, Veronica! I hope we shall read more about the healing power of the sacred plants of Peru in your future articles.


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