It’s with great sadness that I report the passing yesterday -February 3, 2018- of the great shaman and famed anthropologist, Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and author of the groundbreaking book, “Way of the Shaman”.
Fittingly, as he passed over I was teaching a beginners workshop here in Mississippi about shamanic journeying using Harner’s methods and tools.
Without Michael Harner, I and many thousands like me, would never have understood that the shamanic journey is something anyone can do, and can greatly benefit from. (I have written about my own experience with Michael Harner futher down, if you are interested.)
Shamanic Journey Without Drugs
The great lessons that Harner brought to all of us are: 1) anyone can do the shamanic journey, and 2) you do not have to take a drug to do it.
In the cultures of indigenous and first peoples, sacred plant medicine was part of life. However, it was used in very specific ways and only under the guise of the elders and medicine people. Sacred plant medicine is not for “fun” or just because someone wants to “take a trip”. It is not the “easy way to expand the mind”.
Elders knew that it took many years to prepare someone for ayahuasca, peyote, datura and other entheogens. When taking a plant medicine, you first we required to have been called by the plant spirit and the trained in its use, reactions, and side effects by the medicine people, and then going through many trainings in your own spiritual growth before you were allowed…under guidance …to ingest the plant medicine.
Michael Harner had his own experiences with plant medicines while studying the tribes of the Amazon. But, he found that many cultures around the world achieved the same experiences by using a different technique called Sonic Driving, or Riding the Drum.
Harner discovered that beating a drum at a certain tempo induces the brain to the Theta wave, allowing a means to achieve the trance state without being controlled by a plant medicine. A journeyer using the drum has complete control of his/her experience and will not be running to the bathroom to purge!
My Journey with Michael
I learned about the shamanic journey here in Mississippi under the tuteledge of a great teacher and author, Jim Ewing. Jim gave a workshop using Harner’s book, The Way of the Shaman” as the basis for his instruction. He encouraged me and others to seek out Michael Harner, to get teaching “directly from the source”, as he put it.
In 2009, I did just that. Two friends, and I traveled to San Francisco and took the workshop “the Way of the Shaman” with Michael Harner and his No.1 apprentice, Susan Mokele (now president of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies).
There were 100 people in that room, and Michael Harner was definitely the star.
He was 80 years old at the time. He had a gentle, elderly manner about him, but when he spoke, you could have heard a pin drop. His voice carried the vibration of the many helping spirits, animals, plants and stones from around the Earth he had interacted with in the jungles, forests, mountains, swamps and deserts of the world while studying indigenous peoples. The magnitude of what he had encountered and done in his life was apparent in the energy that surrounded him, and in the grateful aura of the people who attended his teaching.
There were many unusual experiences with all of us at the workshop: seeing energy and spirits, experiencing healing during journeys, finding power animals, receiving messages – and when it was over, we all managed to have a word or two with Michael. He was so open, so friendly and patient to speak to each and every person, signing books and having small intimate conversations with everyone as they filed by.
My friends and I waited until the every end of the line, as we were in no hurry to depart his presence, and I waited until the very last. He recognized right away my Southern origins, my Mississippi accent giving me away. He told me how he dearly loved the drawl and character of Southern women, so much so that he had married one (his beloved wife Sandra) and we chatted a bit more. I can’t really tell you what he was saying, as I was transfixed by his eyes –they were astonishingly clear and piercing.
It was during this very few moments of interaction that I witnessed an amazing thing:
I saw Michael Harner shape shift into a young man.
I saw him as clear as bell, standing there in his prime, unwrinkled, tall and muscular, his eyes remaining exactly the same, focusing on me as he spoke. I swear to you, I saw a glint of a giggle in them, indicating he knew very well what I was seeing.
In a flash, it was gone – but I was immediately struck by my own ability to see something like that, and that he was the one who had given me that gift. Needless to say, I have never been the same.
A teacher’s gifts are like that. They come suddenly, unexpectedly, jumping forward into our awareness…if we are open and listening, accepting and grateful.
Through shamanism and the shamanic journey, he offered me the stepping-stone that opened my life, and I can truly say without his books and teachings, I would not be who I am today. I will always and forever be grateful and honored by the work, the sacrifice and the teaching that Michael Harner gave to the world, and to me.
Michael, thank you. I know you feel and see into my heart at this moment as I sit and write these words, your face clearly present in my mind. I carry the practices of shamanism and the wisdom you shared with me every day…and I am honored to have known you.
Wado, wado, wado.
I’ll be doing a personal ceremony for Michael later today, but for now I’m including some links to his site and other links about his passing at the bottom of this post. Those of you that follow Facebook will no doubt be able to find all you want about this online.
Just a sidenote here: The day after I returned from Michael’s workshop in CA, I met my now husband, Nick. True! As Nick and I were we were getting to know each other, I told him right way where I had been and what I had been doing in San Francisco the day before. Before that workshop, I would never had said to anyone new that I had just attended a shamanic training- but I felt so power-full after that event, and I think it was that very moment that I truly stepped into who I was meant to be on this earth.
After I excitedly described all I had seen and done, Nick didn’t bat an eye. He didn’t find it weird at all, and I think that’s when I knew I had met my one true love. So again, thank you Michael for helping matchmake my life, even if indirectly.