Contemporary Shamanism and Traditional Shamanism

One of the main differences between contemporary and traditional shamanism is that of the title of ‘healer’ which is often mentioned in the same breath when visiting or talking about a traditional shaman.


Those called ‘Shamans’ have the ability to see through into other worlds and pick up what is out of balance within you and with their healing ability and their wisdom assist in freeing you from it. In the traditional way a shaman would take on the energy of the wounded person and then transform it. They move into a state of trance to exorcise the imbalance and get the clarity they need to bring healing to the person in need. That may be by taking herbs, smoking the aura, doing rituals, rubbing the body with oils, instructing the person to do follow certain instructions etc.

Contemporary shamanism goal is not so different in that its aim in bringing healing to the imbalance is similar however the contemporary shamans main credo is to empower you to be your own healer by teaching you ways to free yourself from the challenges that hinder your life.


In time we will not be able go back to the small village where the local shaman does healing as they are all disappearing and the ones that are left are doing all they can to pass on the medicine they know so it does not die out in this ever-changing modern world.


Contemporary Shamanism can bridge the worlds of the traditional and the more modern by respecting the traditional ways and laws in how the medicine and teachings are used as well as create ways in which you can incorporate this medicine into your busy daily lives of modern living.


Shamanism is often referred to as a religion. I strongly disagree. If we look at the origins of the word religion we see that the word comes from old Latin: religio meaning “taboo and restraint” and even looking even deeper into the meaning we find the core: ‘return to bondage’.

Shamanism originated within the indigenous tribes throughout the world. A shaman is one who knows and see’s between the worlds and honors the laws of nature. The shaman is called on to assist people to be free of spiritual bondage.

The word religion comes from Roman times.  From the view of the western-based religions they saw the shaman as the priest and with the rituals projected the label of religion onto this ancient practice. This image was also projected onto Buddhism, even though Buddha was very clear that the middle path was not based in religion, it was and is a way of life.

Shamanism and Buddhism are very close cousins as they both adhere to respecting the mother earth, the laws of nature and all that live upon her, being in total awareness of existence beyond the body and teaching ways to find balance.

So I prefer to work within the shamanic world without dogma and to be honest you don’t need it, it can trap you and keep you in ‘bondage’.

In traditional shamanism plant medicine was a very important path for moving beyond the fears to access the other worlds without limitations. Today the plant medicine like ‘Ayahuasca’ and others has become a very popular pathway to accessing other dimensions and healing. However if not done with wise and supportive boundaries it can be very difficult to integrate what has been experienced after coming back into ordinary reality. Some people who are drawn to it (often there is a deep hunger to leave this ordinary reality) unfortunately end up in psyche wards as the journey was too fragmenting for them. The plant path is not one to be taken lightly so be sure in your motivation of why you are doing it and it’s very important to take responsibility for your energy and wellness after the journey. Without integrating the medicine into your day-to-day life you have lost the lesson completely.

Within the path of contemporary shaman plant medicine is not needed, as it is not necessary. The alpha state of where a drum or plant can take you can be easily accessed by deep guided relaxation techniques and believe me you can access all worlds just as you would do with a plant if your guide contains and supports you well. The difference is that the plant isn’t the vehicle that you are riding in. You are totally conscious, and fully aware of what is happening moving at your pace within a safe space.

You still get to face all the fears, challenges, bliss moments but without ingesting the plant. Integration then is easier and more natural.

For acutely sensitive people going the plant way is NOT recommended and a traditional shaman who is in their integrity will tell you that also. It is not worth the risk. Acutely sensitive folk are fragmented already and having a plant blow you out is setting you up for time in the psychiatrists chair with psyche medication, which will not be what you are looking for!

Traditional shamanism offers great insights and ways of listening to the earth and the world beyond. The elders that are left must be listened to, respected and honored for the teachings they have brought forth.

In contemporary shamanism we  respect the tools that have been offered from the original people and give thanks to the elders both in spirit and in form that have shared their teachings through the ages and dimensions.

We cannot go back in time to the old ways, and to be honest some of the old ways were very brutal, but we can take the gifts of the teachings with great respect to create a grounded recipe for each individual that works for them in this time of change.

This is not a watered down version of the path of the shaman, this is a grounded empowered recipe of the best of what shamanism has to offer in a safe and supportive manner. This is a path of medicine that you can learn to integrate into your own day-to-day lives at your own pace.


Odette Nightsky


” The Guide To Contemporary Shamanism In Your Own Home”

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Written by Odette Nightsky

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8 thoughts on “Contemporary Shamanism and Traditional Shamanism

  1. Interesting how dogma can keep people enslaved; partly, I think, because there’s safety in it – it can sometimes give a kind of belonging-to-the-tribe feeling. Dogma in any form can be seductive, and very ego boosting – the very things someone genuinely in search of their soul selves needs to watch out for.
    Great stuff, Odette!

  2. Pingback: Contemporary Shamanism and Traditional Shamanism « Lady Philospher's Blog

  3. While I like and agree with points made at the start of this article, it is sad to see a lot of misinformation about plant spirit medicines.

    The point is made that some people end up in psych wards: many people go into psych wards without plant spirits, and there is enough evidence to say it would be the same people anyway. This point also ignores the many many people who owe the achievements on their healing journey to their work with the plant spirits. We inherit a fear of and a denigration of “drugs” in the west, and we need to move past this to understand we are talking about plants.

    The other point I disagreed with is the casual likening of the ayahuasca journey with drumming because they both create an alpha state. This comparison displays the naivety of modern reductionist science that would say that it is as simple as brain state, and ignores the subjective experience that many have of mother ayahuasca and these healing spiritual entities that are present during what is a deep healing experience. These experiences are far beyond drumming. (Similarly, drumming in the wrong environment, with the wrong support, is just as, if not more, ineffective, than ayahuasca, whereas ayahuasca can still elicit powerful healings in those scenarios – and probably the same with other plant spirits).

    It is quite common and popular to put down plant spirits, to say we don’t need to work with them nowadays as we can do it all ourselves. This displays the arrogance we have in feeling we are above nature, that we don’t need to work with these lesser organisms to meet the sacred. What we have lost is the respect and the humility that goes with the understanding that we need to work with nature.

    I have read a few of your articles and, in general, I really like them. This sort of thing however, while it echoes many’s attitudes in the west, I see as misinformation and incorrect. People need to respect that these plant spirits are deep water, and you must be able to swim; that other spiritual and shamanic practices can help us be stronger swimmers. However to suggest that they are not needed, and we can do just as well without them, or that they are more harm than good, is incorrect, it ignores the experience of huge numbers of people across the world who work with plant spirits, and it lacks humility and respect for the gifts of the teachings that have been passed down.

    • Hi Jonathon.Each to their own view and understanding 🙂 As a contemporary shamanic counselor and ex mental health worker I speak from my own experience.I have had more people than I can count come to see me because they have not come home from plant medicine and ended up in psyche wards due to it. I do not like how its glorified and disrespected. I honor the traditional shamans and the plant with what they do but not how it has evolved in the modern world. I work primarily with very sensitive people and as I said I have no problem with the plant, just how its used and abused. Blessings Odette

    • Firstly. I am not built of a western mindset. I grew up in Asia and have a lot of influences from old ancient practices. Secondly I speak from experience. Until you have seen and supported the number of clients I have who have been blown out by Aya, then you will not understand what I experience. Thirdly, I do not disrespect the plant in any way, I have huge respect for it, but I do not agree with it being used outside the land where it grows naturally and by people who think they are medicine gods and do not take good care of those that journey and that is what I am referring to. This I have also had a great deal to do with regarding neglect of those traveling to the point they were so disorientated that they got lost without anyone caring about where they were…just one example. Aya is not for everyone especially sensitive people (and thats who I guide), and nor should it be a new age bandwagon that lots onto as the next fad. Re the drumming. Maybe you don’t go that far in. I do and need nothing to assist other than containment. My clients all respond well as they have major issues with things taking control of them due to abuse. So I do not advocate ethno’s in my work for that reason. Again just to be clear I do respect the plant, all plants. I just find that many who talk about it so highly do not respect it in regards to supporting the journey of others. Blessings.

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