Tag: neoshamanism

Real Wyrd, Just in Time for Samhain!

Real Wyrd - A Modern Shaman's Roots in the Middle World by S. Kelley HarrellFor years, as we neared Samhain and The Dead Time I’ve shared my true encounters of the supernatural. Experiences from waking to deathwalks in the night to seeing apparitions in the middle of the day, you name it and I’ve brushed up against it, whether I meant to–or not so much.

In Real Wyrd – A Modern Shaman’s Roots in the Middle World  I’ve compiled revised editions of all of the stories that appeared on my blog, along with never-before-published updates to those stories, and several recent encounters.

Not your usual bump-in-the-night true paranormal accounts, these trips into the Middle World aren’t always scary. Some are sweet, some are affirming. Regardless, some I’d like to never have again, yet all of them changed me in a way that I never looked at myself or Life the same, after.

As a lifelong intuitive and shaman by choice for two decades, not all of my experiences with the spirit world have had clear-cut direction, instruction, or even results.  Every one of them, though, has had meaning.  It’s not my way to just dabble in the supernatural for only the sake of stirring the mystical pot.  Instead, I approach such as an opportunity to learn about life out of form, and be of some kind of service to spirits in need.  Working with the other side of death equips me better this side of life.

There are many spiritual books on working with the dead and discarnate, though most of them only extol the wonder and awe of that work.  They don’t talk about the toll it takes on their personal lives, or of  perils they faced learning to be healthy conduits for spirits.   Indeed this work is wonderful and awesome, but it can also be scary, disorienting, and uprooting.  I share these accounts of paranormal exploration as part investigation, part curiosity, and part luck of the draw of being a human equally aware of her soul.

Reiki – Simple Healing, Powerful Ally

Hi Kelley. Some of my Reiki friends get upset because I use Shamanic techniques during my Reiki practice. These same friends, however, will use “psychic surgery” techniques including the psychic extension of their fingers to reach into a client’s etheric/physical body to dislodge or remove energy blocks. My question is: isn’t this “psychic extension of digits” essentially the same as shape-shifting? If so, that is a shamanic practice. If not, I can see little difference between the two, other than degree of transformation of the energetic/physical body. Thanks, R.

Just for today –
I will not worry.
I will not be angry.
I will do my work honestly.
I will give thanks for my many blessings.
I will be kind to my neighbors
and all living things.
The Reiki Principle, Dr. Mikao Usui

Thanks for your inquiry, Roger. Before going into the specifics of your dilemna, I’d like to tell readers a bit about Reiki, as it may not be familiar to them. I describe Reiki as a Japanese form of hands-near energy healing. I’m a Reiki Master and have worked with two different forms of Reiki for many years, one form of which is the original Usui practice, and another called Ascension Reiki (ask me why two approaches in another inquiry). The word ‘Reiki’ translates roughly to “spirit healing.”

There are many takes on the history of Reiki, leaving it steeped in a bit of conflict. As best I can tell from the divergent perspectives on the modality’s origins, it began in the early 1900s, when Japanese ascetic Mikao Usui had a vision that led him to powerful healing. Not an uncommon story in the halls of enlightenment, Usui’s experience spawned a great following that continues to captivate those interested in energy healing.

Heavily influenced by Shintoism, the religion predominant in Japan prior to Chinese influence, Usui honored the spirits behind symbols, believing that incorporating them with other components of etheric healing allowed the practitioner to embody a Universal life force capable of healing. Usui formalized his ecstatic experiences into a system of energy healing called Usui Reiki Ryoho, originally comprised of three levels of study.

Usui’s practice moved into western culture in the mid-1900s, where it took off like wild fire. Today it is likely the most-taught “New Age” healing practice. At best, we in the west practice hybridized Reiki, though that statement attracts all sorts of speculation. There is much argument around what Usuis’s true teachings were. That it is a spiritual practice and energy healing modality taken out of its native space, elements, and teaching, shaped in the form that best adapts to our culture–is what we know, and adapt it has. There are as many forms of Reiki as you care to look into. Given that, Reiki is culturally appropriated, a fact that goes without mention amongst many modern energy medicine circles.

To answer your question, my understanding of Reiki is that it is an alignment with the true self–in other words with All Things–in such a way that there is no ego involvement. There doesn’t have to be. Working at that level of awareness there is no intellectual process driving what is done during healing. The job of the Reiki Master is to be out of the way and merely allow the life force to move through.  In that light, that means no elements are brought in from any healing practice, belief system, or viewpoint, because Reiki happens well above the level of those things. I think this unconscious (?) need to bring other modalities into Reiki is why other forms of it were created.  Is it that we can’t stay out of the way of Source?  Must we project ourselves into/onto it?  Or do we need to custom fit healing methods to what best suits our elements, our space, our teaching?

It is not my experience that you can lift a single technique out of a culture, bring it into another, and expect it to behave the same way.  This has been a concern around the appropriation of tribal healing practices for centuries.  This consideration generates questions like is it respectful to the originating practice to append your beliefs/symbols/deities/methods to it?  Is it respectful to the culture from which it came not to honor it at all in your application of the modality?  How do you honor the originating culture if you occlude it with your ego? Are you doing the same “kind” of healing if you change the foundation of the technique?

These are personal questions that require deep contemplation before you undertake working with clients, IMO, and are components that I teach in my Reiki classes.  To me Reiki is a spirit ally, much as a totem or fetish is.  It is a tool that allows us to connect with the Divine in a way that we can consciously process–symbols, movements, chants, often all at once–what might otherwise be too foreign to hold.  Reiki engages both hemispheres of the brain; thus, brings us fully present in our power. It allows us to be part of the process without having to worry about the process. I do not tell my allies what to do. In fact, I do what they tell me, and Reiki tells me to step aside. Can it tell each of us different things? That is the question, though given Usui’s original teachings, we’d never even ask that.

There are striking distinctions between Reiki and shamanism that should be noted. Part of the role of a shaman is to be active in the process.  Reiki in its true application is only passive. The Reiki Master embodies the life force, and that is the only role. A classic quote is attributed to Usui, though I’ve never read that he actually spoke it: “We do not master Reiki. Reiki masters us.” To me, that is what this quote means. We surrender.

Shamans have many roles, depending on what is needed, and those roles call on active knowledge of plants, animals, elements, symbols, so that we can engage our knowledge with our soul work. In shamanism, we engage the physical layer with the etheric. We spend years distinguishing between being active or passive in our work, as needed.   In short, we know the difference and we fall back on the best tool for the job.

Despite difference, these approaches to healing are very compatible. In terms of actual healing and benefit, I find that a combination of modalities is required, each in its own time. Reiki is often best-suited to people who are early in their healing process–those recovering, gaining strength, not ready for the full marathon. In the presence or absence of Rekik, at some point in the healing process, though, we must all become active participants. At that point Reiki gracefully steps aside for more involved techniques.

That said, I don’t mix modalities; rather, I do them in separate sessions.   I am in the camp that the whole point of Reiki is that I am not part of the process.  For me, Reiki is THE go-to tool that I don’t have to consciously direct.  I don’t drive it or tell it where to go, what to do, or how to do it.  In reality, this passive healing is a very Eastern (feminine) approach to accessing All Things, which flies in the face of the typical western push to be the active (masculine) principle in everything we do (which I hasten to add, “forcing” healing is common in modern shamanism, though ancient and indigenous cultures honor more of a balance–again, another article).  Perhaps this is the real reason that mutations of Reiki permeate western culture? As well, perhaps Usui shaped Reiki as a more passive system in an effort to promote healing without threat of spiritual emergency.

In short, I’m not in favor of psychic surgery or the use of shamanic techniques in Reiki sessions, especially if a client doesn’t understand the distinction, or hasn’t expressed a more active approach to energy healing.  There are plenty of energy healing modalities that do allow us to engage, use our intuition, be an active part of the process.  I reserve Reiki as a gift that is just sweetly here to use, without my or anyone else’s interference.

When we decide to go down any healing path as someone who will work with others, we have to consider the origins of the techniques we are learning, how honoring the originating culture factors into our work every time we use that technique, and how we can find integrity in upholding that heritage without undermining our own innate truths. Moreover, we have to consider when we’re doing none of the above.

Learn more about Reiki and energy healing from the following resources:

Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma, revised second edition now available, with a foreward by modern shaman, Christina Pratt.




The Shamanic Narrative of Tigger's Bounce by S. Kelley Harrell

Betwixt – The Shamananic Narrative of Tigger’s Bounce


This month I have the honor of being the guest blogger on Pagan author, Barbara Ardinger’s site. Barbara is the author of Pagan Everyday and Secret Lives. Barbara’s blog is exciting because she updates it each time the sun moves into a different sign. Her profound take on stellar movement and what it means in our lives is awesome to track through her blog.

My guest blog this month come from my friend S. Kelley Harrell. Kelley’s an urban shaman who lives on the opposite edge of the continent from me. We became friends on a listserv. I read her new book, Gift of the Dreamtime, which is now out in its second edition. It’s a terrific book. I hope you’ll read it, too. Here’s Kelley–

“Bouncing is what Tiggers do best. —Tigger, from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh

Since the birth of our twins a little over three years ago, I’ve delved back into children’s literature in an entirely new way. As someone who works as a shaman, I’m always intrigued by the shamanic narrative told in everything. This narrative is the story told to the shaman by the body or emotions, through symbols which are interpreted to bring healing to the individual. We each have this collection of symbols, some unique, some joined in collective meaning. In reading to my children a narrative I commonly find is the story of soul wounding and healing.

The Shamanic Narrative of Tigger's Bounce by S. Kelley HarrellThe most basic view of what a shaman does, thus the basic principle of the shamanic narrative, is an imbalance of power. Power is either missing from a place that it should be, or is in excess in a place where it shouldn’t be. A common state that results from this imbalance is called soul loss, perhaps the most common ailment shamans work with. Though I refer to it as “soul shelving,: it’s a state in which one (or more) of the infinite facets of the soul has wandered out and cannot reconnect with the manifest consciousness.

Wandering out is our natural state of widening our awareness, and we often accomplish this through dreams, creative processes, engaging new ideas and feelings. Upon experiencing trauma, soul parts leave and often can’t reconnect with the earthly consciousness, resulting in the state of PTSD. How this reaction to trauma manifests can range from severe self-destructive behavior to mild depression, the onset of physical illness, or the general sense that one isn’t quite one’s self anymore. This interrupted flow of life force abrupts personal power.

In reading to our kids, I see this journey from wounding to loss of power, to victorious balance and empowerment in children’s stories. Take the beloved Winnie the Pooh character, Tigger. Everyone knows him for his ability to revel joyfully in life, specifically for his ability to bounce as both a way to experience joy and share it with others. Because it is his most fond pursuit, it is his soul’s expression. Laura Driscoll’s The Search for Tigger’s Bounce, a later addition to the Winnie-the-Pooh series based on works by A. A. Milne, describes such a journey from soul wounding, through the story of Tigger’s lost bounce.

One day Pooh observes that Tigger isn’t his usual bouncy self. Specifically, Tigger is moody, his tail is drooping, and he’s very still. When Pooh presses him about feeling down, Tigger says, “I think I’ve lost my bounce!”

He can recall when he last bounced and that he doesn’t feel like bouncing now, but he doesn’t know the root of his lethargy and woe. Tigger realizes that his bounce has gone away, and that it went away so suddenly he didn’t know where he lost it. This is a typical description of the lethargy and sense of disconnection that occurs with soul loss. Senses and awareness we had prior are simply gone. Tigger’s ability to articulate how he feels and the symptoms around not being able to bounce demonstrate how we can intellectualize that we should be able to do something, be aware that it’s not working properly, yet we can’t just by knowing those things force it to be fixed. This is another symptom of soul loss.

His friends offer to come along and help him look for his bounce. This is a common facet of the shamanic narrative—the acquisition of spirit allies—Nature spirits, angelic guides—who support and assist along the way to healing. Eeyore, Piglet, Roo and Pooh set off to help Tigger find his bounce.

Roo suggests that Tigger return to the place he last had his bounce so the group can search for it there. This return to the source of imbalance is akin to the induction into trance in the shaman’s decoding of the narrative, and is also symbolic of Tigger having to face what caused his bounce to leave. In the shamanic narrative there is always some realization of returning to the source of trauma—figuratively or literally—in order to heal it.

In observing the stream where Tigger was playing when he lost his bounce, the group learns that he was bouncing on a fallen tree trunk, which bridged the stream’s banks. While bouncing on the fallen tree, Tigger realized he was above water and become very afraid.

Pooh then deduces that Tigger’s bounce had been startled out of him. Having an aspect of the soul leave in times of duress is a classic feature of soul loss. Often in trauma one can articulate the feeling of a part of self leaving, afterward feeling fragmented or that something is missing. In this case, Tigger’s bounce was missing. In being faced with a deep fear, his power had left him.

The group looks high and low for Tigger’s bounce, only no one finds a thing. No one can identify exactly what Tigger’s bounce looks like, so they aren’t sure how to find it!

Drawing on the expertise of yet another ally, Christopher Robin, he points out, “I think you got startled on that tree trunk. And then you got worried about bouncing. But you could never lose your bounce,” he says. [1] Christopher Robin represents the voice of the shaman, interpreting the symbols of Tigger’s story of losing his bounce, drawing meaning from them so personal to Tigger that he acquires a context in which to understand, thus overcome, his fear.

With the support of his allies and through the process of them witnessing his journey to reconnect with his bounce, and with Christopher Robin’s affirmation of his power, Tigger gains the confidence to try to bounce again. In the shamanic narrative, gaining the support of one’s tribe is the deepest fostering of healing. It is the bestowal of power. Within that support, power is recognized, thus balanced, and the wound released.

In the end, just like Tigger, we may not know where we lose bits of our power, but we fully recognize their absence. Armed with the insight of the shamanic narrative in All Things, we gain support to go back and find our bounce.

[1] The Search for Tigger’s Bounce, Laura Driscoll. Disney Enterprises, Inc., 2004.

My friend Kelley is author of Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma, now out in its second edition. Her shamanic practice is Soul Intent Arts. You can Google her name and gets lots of hits and also find her on Facebook, @SKelleyH, , GoodReads and (good for her!!!) The Huffington Post. Check her out. She’s very wise. Tell her I said hi.

Originally posted at BarbaraArdinger.com

S. Kelley Harrell's Gift of the Dreamtime - Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma

Birthday Gift – Gift of the Dreamtime, $1

S. Kelley Harrell's Gift of the Dreamtime - Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma

A lot of you already know that my 7th birthday is a pivotal event in my book, “Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma.” To celebrate my birthday Sunday, you can purchase the ebook from now until midnight Sunday for $1 when you enter the code: DU59V at SmashWords.

This memoir chronicles my transition from a childhood of PTSD and a young adulthood of confusion, to realizing my personal power and helping others do the same.

The Post-Traumatic Stress of Maternal Awakening

Kelley, Since the birth of my beautiful daughter 13 yrs. ago, I feel very emotional with too many things at one time. My work life, marriage, and neighbourhood, have caused me to have the feeling that someone or something does not want me to be comfortable in my own space/skin, and overall happiness. My dad passed just 3 months prior to his eightieth, Mom is eighty two now, and I fear my husband is leaving me. My resilience is gone. Could you help? Joy

The Post-Traumatic Stress of Maternal Awakening by S. Kelley HarrellThanks for your note, Joy. When I look into the era just after having your daughter, I feel a sense of being let down. This sense has nothing to do with your daughter, but with the general climate of postpartum and culturally finding one’s way into new motherhood. This feeling of having gained incredible insight and wisdom through pregnancy and childbirth, through the early developmental states of parenthood, only to share it with… every day life. You had this amazingly transformational experience that was so profound and life-altering, yet you didn’t really have anyone to share it with. Yes, you could talk about your daughter learning to walk, finding your way back to your own job and interests. This is not about those sorts of things. The deeper personal revelations about who you are and how you were changed went unheard, and eventually unspoken.

This unexpressed shift is where I see the source of the discomfort. When we have amazing experiences such as yours and have no one to witness them with us, no one who can serve as our tribe, the life force of that experience becomes bottled up. Instead of blossoming into new thoughts, new directions, it becomes a kind of post-traumatic stress cul-de-sac. Some people refer to this as spiritual emergency. The force of that wisdom is still there, it just needs expression.

To a degree coming from a marvelous experience back to the mundane is normal. We all have to pay the bills, wash the dishes. Yet underneath those things we still have to maintain some kind of current that supports our wild inner selves and hungry hearts.

At present you are undergoing many external shifts, which push buttons for these unhealed facets of your last major life change. Much of the tension you feel now isn’t really about the events happening now. It’s an echo from not being heard the last time you had such challenging yet formative upheaval. Knowing this distinction is critical to not becoming overwhelmed in the present.

Your guides’ direction at this point is to pause, observe, and learn what the current changes have to teach you. As you become aware of how they educate and affirm you, write about it. Paint it, draw it–some form of external expression. Also, now is the time to find like-minded others with whom you can share the changes to your soulscape. They don’t have to believe what you do, or be taking the same spiritual route that you are. They just need to be able to listen and hold space for you to have your own experience. My sense is the result of sharing yourself in this way creates a bond with someone unexpected, someone who not only relates to your experiences, but can foster your growth in them.

My best to you, Mother Joy.

Pagan Is as Pagan Does

Soul Intent ArtsIn my shamanic practice, I work with people from all over the world. The first decade of working with others, easily three quarters of my clientele was international. That distant acceptance seemed to indicate that other cultures had a more accessible understanding of shamanism and of what someone acting in the role of shaman does. In more recent years the shift toward a wider range of healing paths becoming more mainstream has coincided with my client base being mostly within the U.S., with a good third of those people residing in my local area.

For those who don’t know, I’m a native North Carolinian and acting interfaith clergy. While there is strong support for and a very networked Pagan community throughout the state, half of my clients do not identify as Pagan. Specifically, they identify as various denominations of Christian. For some, stepping into a more mystical expression of spirituality is a comfortable and natural extension of their faith. Others don’t allow such an esoteric openness in their belief systems. Rather, they reach out to me because other venues haven’t brought them balance, including pastoral counsel with their own clergy.

Regardless of how they’re ushered into my work, it is within local circles that I encounter the most powerful misconceptions about shamanism. In talking with clients about how they find me, a startling idea emerged: For many of these clients the idea that I’m Pagan is softened by knowing that I’m a shaman, as if that role somehow makes the truth of my spiritual path somehow more approachable. Upon delving further into that assumption a deeper misconception was revealed: the assumption that I’m Native American. That I have a fine thread of indigenous blood runs entirely independent of my calling and choice to be a shaman. A handful of people besides myself would even know that fact, just as they don’t know that I’m Scottish, German or Irish. They don’t know, because it’s not relevant.

Had this assumption come up once or twice in the years of my work I’d consider it an anomaly — disturbing, but a fluke. The reality is, it’s come up dozens of times, leading to me to explore what drives it. Two base beliefs seem to lay in support:

  • The romanticized ideal of Native Americans being more spiritual than other cultural groups, an assumption that perpetuates the racist notion of the “noble savage.”
  • The replete misappropriation of all things shamanic to Native Americans, indicating a lack in base understanding of shamanism.

Both of these beliefs open a wide arena of cultural land mines, the least of which is cultural appropriation — the claiming of a facet of another culture as one’s own, historically for exploitation, personal profit or gain. Even though I do not claim the spiritual heritage of another culture, a good proportion of my clients assumed that I did, by virtue of projecting their ideals onto my heritage. That’s one problem. The other is that because they assumed my lineage, they rested comfortably in misunderstandings about my path. The message is that by assuming I’m Native American, my devotion to Earth religions is more OK than knowing I’m a modern Druid, Reconstructionist, Pagan.

Do most people not realize that in the animistic “country dweller” definition of Paganism, Native Americans are Pagan, under a diverse umbrella of spiritual traditions? Is there an instant, if not unconscious, distinction made between Pagans who are of European lineage and those who are Native American? And if so, does that not imply a judgement from many in the mainstream soul healing community that certain kinds of Pagans are better?

In the long run does it matter if the people who come to me for help know this distinction? Does it affect our work if they don’t know that shamanism is the tap root of all religions, branching through every culture? Probably not. All they know is something isn’t well in their lives and nothing else has brought relief.

For me it’s a question of how much integrity my path has if I leave clients making assumptions about my lineage and work that aren’t true. In my studies, personal spiritual discipline and work with others, I don’t feed the racist dispersions the western route into shamanism has cast; thus, I don’t want to mislead anyone about my ethical intentions.

For that reason I do take the time to educate clients who don’t understand how we arrived at shamanism in this age, and how I became able to carry a spiritual tradition forward in a new way that fulfills the needs of modern seekers while honoring an ancient tradition.

In the end, Pagan is just Pagan.