The Way of the Shaman Summary & Study Guide

Michael Harner
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The Way of the Shaman Summary & Study Guide Description

The Way of the Shaman Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner is an introduction to the basic principles and practices of shamanism. Shamanic methods from all over the world share similar precepts about transcending everyday reality.

This book is a distillation of firsthand research of North and South American Indian spiritual traditions and ethnographic literature from scholars about shamanism in tribes and cultures worldwide. While referencing appropriate scholarship, Harner's treatment is phenomenological rather than explanatory. He does not seek to explain causes. Rather, he describes how shamans work, technically and metaphysically, within their own cosmologies. Harner also shows how Westerners can access the techniques for healing and spiritual enlightenment. Obviously a believer in the substantiated and unsubstantiated powers of shamanism, Harner appropriately labels his unsupported comments as opinion or speculation. When he can support a claim by scholarship or observation, he clearly does so.

Shamanism is a practice conducted within an alternative reality that allows the practitioner to perceive the world and events in "nonordinary" ways. In some cultures, the state that allows for this perception can be reached without drugs. Others use hallucinogenic substances to enter into the different reality. Either way, those entering this altered state of consciousness show different brain functions and patterns. They also report surprisingly similar images and experiences, regardless of where on earth they are or the culture through which they are practicing their shamanic arts.

Healing is the focus of shamanism as presented in this text. While referencing its use in sorcery and other purposes, Harner offers his experiences and scholarship as a guide for shamanism as a technique for healing. It is, the author says, to be used in conjunction with Western medical practices. He acknowledges the links between modern physical and mental health through visualization, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, stress reduction, and other methods. Harner says, "Shamanism is being reinvented in the West precisely because it is needed" (p.175).

This book is both a description of positive and healing shamanistic practices and a handbook for the beginner who wishes to experience basic shamanic experiences. Accounts of individual and group experiences, scholarly literature, and personal experiences support shamanic work and claims. Although he gives instructions for experimenting with basic shamanic principles, Harner clearly advocates for any real exploration to take place under the tutelage of an experienced shaman.

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