Regulars and Shorts

The Spiritual Path: Shamanism

By Troy Marsh

Wisdom and healing for a changing world.
by Troy Marsh

It was 4 a.m. when I awoke abruptly from a deep sleep. A voice was calling to me. I sat up in bed, believing for a moment that my young family was in danger. Three times I heard the same words spoken as clearly as if from someone in the next room. The words were mysterious. They penetrated my soul.

Unable to return to sleep, I re­treated to another room to meditate. As I began, a marvelous vision unfolded. What I saw was so profoundly beautiful. It filled me with extreme love and joy. My body began to tremble.

I know now that this was my initiation to the shamanic path. My life has been a spirited adventure since.

The path of a shaman often starts early in life with unusual experiences and is never a smooth passage.

Spirits visited me as a child. They never spoke but they came often while I slept in my bed. Some nights I awoke feeling a presence and they would be standing there in my bedroom watching me. This frightened me and for years I repressed the experiences.

The call to a spiritual path like shamanism may come in a vivid dream, visits from deceased ancestors, sudden recovery from severe illness, an emotional crisis, or a variety of omens.

In 2008 I traveled to the Kalahari with my friend and mentor Brad­ford Keeney, author of The Bushman Way of Tracking God, and saw further evidence of this. In Shamans of the World, he writes:

Mynah was a weak and sickly child who grew up in a village in Africa and seemed to be close to death when, to everyone’s surprise, she started laughing. She said that her grandmother appeared to her in a dream and told her to laugh and make others laugh and this would make her well and enable her to heal many people. She became a powerful Sangoma [traditional healer] of the highest order and many people from far away villages came to her for help.

What is a shaman? The word saman comes out of Siberia and means “one who is excited, moved, raised.” Personally, I do not label myself as such, for there is little agreement and many opinions on what a shaman is or does. The popularity of shamanic practices is growing, however. Shamans are sought for help with physical ailments and emotional or spiritual crises, and they assist in ways that traditional therapies cannot. “The world of shamanism is awakening,” writes Roger Walsh in The World of Shamanism. “After long being demonized by clergy, diagnosed by psychiatrists, and dismissed by academics, interest in shamanism is thriving.”

The first shamans and our oldest ancestors were the Kalahari Bush­men who were known for their ecstatic trance states and “shaking medicine.” Elders were filled with and could transmit n/om—non-subtle life force energy—with their trembling hands, spirited sound and loving embrace to those who needed healing. In extreme states of love, the Bushmen shamans opened doors to spirit and mystery, and provided a sustaining boost to the way of life that required a relationship with the land and each other for survival.

Today, indigenous cultures like the romanticized Bushmen and their healing wisdom traditions are being eradicated from the planet. My trip to the Kalahari was one of the last chances to interact with the grandmother shamans who knew the old ways and wanted their message told to the world.

Despite the rapidly changing planet and the disappearance of indigenous cultures, shamanism is evolving. It stands the test of time. It provides the seeker a path to transformation and awakening to a new paradigm—relating to the world and discovering the joy of our true nature.

Troy Marsh is a full-time professional therapist who teaches with wife and transformation coach, Shari Philpott-Marsh. Both are apprentices with the Keeney Institute for Healing and the White Flame Institute for Contemporary Shamanism.


This article was originally published on December 30, 2013.