The Psychology of The Shaman (Inner Journey)

“The lifeway of the shaman is nearly as old as human consciousness itself, predating the earliest recorded civilisations by thousands of years. Through the ages, the practice of shamanism has remained vital, adapting itself to the ways of all the world’s cultures… The shaman lies at the very heart of some cultures, while living in the shadowy fringe of others. Nevertheless, a common thread seems to connect all shamans across the planet. An awakening to other orders of reality, the experience of ecstasy, and an opening up of visionary realms form the essence of the shamanic mission.”

Joan Halifax, Shaman: The Wounded Healer

Shamanism is one of the oldest, if not the oldest system of healing known in the world. It forms the prototype from which many other forms of healing are derived, such as modern psychotherapy.

The shamanic journey is an expression of the human condition, and despite the cultural differences around the world, the deeper structure appears to remain constant. They are archetypes, primordial images or instinctual patterns of behaviour that we are all born with.


Pecked cave drawing, Wind River Indian Reservation, Upper Dinwoody Lakes, Wyoming

The origin of Shamanism in the Palaeolithic period inevitably links it with the animal world of the hunt. The shaman became identified with the untamed creatures which provided food, clothing, and even shelter. They sought to become the masters of wild game and summoners of beasts. Animal sacrifice, bird shaman staffs, and animal costumes all play an important role. Each time a shaman succeeds in sharing in the animal mode of being, he re-establishes the situation that existed in mythical times, when the divorce between man and the animal world had not yet occurred. Arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen met with an Eskimo shaman who stated:

“The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls. All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, souls that do not perish with the body and which must therefore be pacified lest they revenge themselves on us for taking their bodies.”

Knud Rasmussen, Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos

For the shaman, all that exists in the revealed world has a living force within it, this is known as animism. This life force or mana is conceived of as a divine force which permeates all. Just as the human body is connected to the soul, so too are all living beings connected by the Anima Mundi (World Soul). For the shamans, depression, emptiness, lack of energy, anxiety, apathy, etc., are referred to as loss of soul, one of the most feared illnesses in primitive civilisations.

The word “primitive” is not used to refer to an obsolete or superstitious way of life as it may be used today, far from it – in fact, primitive people have a much deeper contact with nature and the unconscious which modern people generally lack. If not balanced, this one-sidedness often results in neurosis and psychic dissociation.

Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung writes:

“There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anaemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, and mountains, and from animals, and the god-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious. There we fool ourselves that they lead an ignominious existence among the relics of our past. Our present lives are dominated by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion. By the aid of reason, we assure ourselves, we have ‘conquered nature.’ ”

Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

We do not yet understand that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilisation. To recover our lost soul, we must reconnect with the sacred aspects of the natural and imaginal worlds.

The Shamanic Call

Don José (Matsuwa), Huichol Shaman from El Colorín, Municipio del Nayar (Mexico). Photo by Prem Das

At some point in our lives, we all experience a call to adventure that disrupts the safety of our ordinary world. This inner voyage occurs especially during an existential crisis, usually because of spiritual, physical or psychological illness. In order to be healed, one must become a healer.

When we are thrown into a life crisis our lives turn into chaos and confusion. We may not be aware why but still feel that something is not right, the unconscious is in a state of massa confusa, a confusing mass or inner chaos, because we have not dealt with its contents but rather repressed them. This is the soul’s cry for growth. It is what the alchemists call nigredo, or the dark night of the soul – a period of mortification, and putrefaction that is a perquisite for attaining the philosophers’ stone, a symbol of the wholeness of the Self.

Like the alchemist who goes through a psychologically transformative process of turning lead into gold, the shaman too turns chaos into order, when he overcomes his existential crisis. The shaman is a master of the sacred. He is a medicine man, wizard or seer who attempts to restore one’s psychic equilibrium. This is healing in its most fundamental form. The shaman is “one who knows”, one who has experienced and glimpsed the other world, revealed through an altered state of consciousness.

The recruitment of shamans can be through inheritance or most commonly, in the form of a call, occurring in a vision or dream in which he or she experiences a theophany (encounter with a deity), or through sickness which cannot be cured by medicine. It is rooted in a personal experience of vocation. This is not just a strong inclination to follow a particular activity or career, but a divine call to religious life, to becoming a healer of the human soul, such as entering into priesthood. The priest is an archetypal variant of the shaman, so too is the psychotherapist. Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

“The roots of both priesthood and psychotherapy lie in the primitive phenomenon of shamanism and the existence of medicine men.”

Marie-Louise von Franz, Psychotherapy

Jung had carved an inscription above the door of his house, which stated: “Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit” (Called or not called, God will be present). This was to remind his patients and himself of their true vocation, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

When the call of the neophyte or initiate is recognised by the master shaman (the archetypal wise old man), he must undergo the first trials. Thus begins the search for his lost soul, in the world of spirits (or what we would call in psychological terms, the archetypal contents of the unconscious).

The withdrawal into solitude through sickness opens the way for the inner initiation to take place. It is the beginning of a visionary journey, in which the initiate’s soul moves into the non-material realm and encounters spirits (malignant and benign).

The approach to this infinite mystery is made alone. Physical, solitary, and silent rituals are the ones that register most deeply with the unconscious. When our ego attitude changes in response to our dreams and visions, the unconscious responds. The unconscious is like a mirror. The face we turn towards it, is reflected back to us. Hostility lends it a threatening aspect; friendliness softens its features.

Becoming a Shaman

Rattle fragment, polychromed wood, Northwest Coast, collected late 19th c.

The journey to become a shaman can take years. If the initiate passes the trials and is approved by the spirits, he or she becomes a shaman. The central element is the death and symbolic resurrection of the neophyte. After such an experience, it often happens that the shaman can understand the secret language of spirits or animals. He has access to a region of the sacred not accessible to other members of the community.

The shaman has overcome death and is no longer the same person as before. To have contact with the dead signifies being dead oneself. The shaman must die so that he may meet the souls of the dead and receive their teaching; for the dead know everything. As such, he possesses vital information for the sick. The shaman himself does not heal, but rather mediates the healing of the patient with the divine powers. This is what distinguishes the shaman from the neurotic person, who is unable to find a cure.

One of the main works of the shaman is to encounter and retrieve the lost or stolen souls of his people, establishing a soul-to-soul connection. The shaman can also encounter and guide the souls of the dead (human or animal). He is responsible for the religious direction of a community, and guards its soul. This is the sign of the true shamanic vocation, a spiritual condition in which one temporarily transcends the profane condition of humanity.

Symbols of the Self: Animal Spirits

Arctic Tale – Susan Seddon Boulet

The neophyte is not completely alone during his journey. He often has the help of spirits with animal form, such as a bear, eagle, wolf, fox, deer, etc. These act as tutelary figures or psychopomps, guiding one through the untamed lands, where one must face the most strenuous of all ordeals, initiatory rites necessary to become a shaman.

For the Ainu shamans of Japan, the world is inhabited by kami or spirits. Animals are considered gods in disguise, who live in their own god-worlds, invisible to human eyes, but who also share a common territory with humans.

von Franz writes:

“[M]agical animals are often the symbols of the Self. In the North, it is usually the bear who is the embodiment of the Self for the shaman, because he is a great nature deity. The shaman acquires his healing power and creativity from the bear. In Africa, lions and elephants represent the Self, and sometimes also other magical animals who embody the supreme divine power of the psyche and nature. From the fact that the Self appears in animal form in the dreams and visions of medicine men and creative individuals, it is clear that it is first perceived as a purely instinctive unconscious force, greater and more powerful than the ego but entirely unconscious. It embodies the complete wisdom of nature yet does not possess the light of human consciousness.”

Marie Louise von Franz, Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales

Just as animals have no need to be taught their instinctive activities, so too do we possess primordial psychic patterns, and repeat them spontaneously, independently of any teaching. The path towards the Self consists in bringing these unconscious contents into consciousness, balancing our instinctual animal nature with our human and ethical way of life.

Shamans bring their inner life into consciousness by crafting sacred objects, musical instruments, clothing, etc, all of which have a symbolic meaning and are used in rituals.

The Three Worlds: Shamanic Cosmos

Image from the Red Book – Carl Jung

The shaman passes from one cosmic region to another – from the earth to the sky or from the earth to the underworld. Thus, there are three worlds in the shamanic cosmos. The Middle World is the ordinary world as we know it, the Underworld is a dangerous and terrifying realm of the dead, and the Sky Realm is where the gods reside. One is often warned to be careful on the journey to paradise, for one must first pass many trials and suffer.

The Middle World is the world of human affairs, and the gateway to the Underworld, where the deepest structures within the psyche are found: communion with the world of spirits, trials by fire, dismemberment of the body, confrontations with chthonic and demonic forces who devour, etc.

The Gold in the Shadow

Image from the Red Book representing the Shadow – Carl Jung

Evil spirits often turn into allies after the neophyte has passed the trials. The cannibalistic act in the Underworld represents the potential for rebirth or integration of the shadow, the unknown dark side of our personality which contains everything we have no wish to be.

There is gold in the shadow, and this gold needs to be mined and brought to the surface as psychological insight. Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson writes:

“Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides. To draw the skeleton out of the closet is relatively easy, but to own the gold in the shadow is terrifying.”

 Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow

There are two wolves fighting inside all of us. The first one is evil, the second one is good. Which one will win? The one you feed. However, if you choose to feed only the light wolf, the shadow wolf will be starved and resentful, and he will attack you when you least expect it. But if you feed both wolves, inner conflict turns into inner peace. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

In other words, it is not the light element alone that does the healing, but rather the place where light and dark begin to touch. This is the alchemical union of opposites that is at the core of attaining wholeness of personality. Factors that appear to be mutually contradictory actually co-exist. When we lose sight of this, we tend to split the world, claiming good for ourselves and projecting evil on others.

The Underworld: Death

Dante’s The Divine Comedy: Hell. Canto 8 – Gustave Doré

The neophyte’s confrontation with the shadow takes place in the cosmic womb of the Earth Mother, in the bowels of the Underworld. In many Arctic traditions, the realm of the dead resembles the world of the living except that all that exists there is upside down or inside out. Death is a reversal of life. The trees grow downwards, the sun sets in the east and rises in the west, and rivers flow against their courses. The world, life’s phases, and daily human activity are all inverted, like reflections on the surface of a still pond.

To get to this realm, one often has to navigate unknown territory or traverse a black river with a spirit canoe or corpse boat. These dark, boiling waters frequently appear filled with unfortunate souls that writhe in agony. The shaman’s soul is also portrayed as traversing through icy winds, burning forests, bloody streams, through the throat and body of a serpent, etc. One must pass through the valley of the shadow of death. There are also frequent visions of corpses and skeletons from fellow travellers who could not make it out alive.

Turning away from everyday life and turning inward ultimately opens the shaman to the infinite cosmos. The move away from the world takes the shaman-neophyte through the wound-door to a realm of terror and sacrifice, decay and death. Destruction thus becomes instruction as the initiate surrenders to the untamed forces of nature.

In everyday life, each of us have to make a descent in order to gain experience, encounter deeper aspects of ourselves, and emerge again, transformed, in the process of initiation. While we may not choose the descent to the underworld consciously, the Self may send us downward to our destiny because it is there where we will garner wholeness through direct experience of the challenges and conflicts life brings.

The World Tree

From Northern Antiquities, an English translation of the Prose Edda from 1847. By Oluf Olufsen Bagge

The three worlds are linked together by a central world axis, the Axis Mundi, at the centre of which is a tree, pillar or mountain; symbols of perpetual regeneration. Perhaps the most popular image is that of the World Tree, related to the idea of creation, fecundity, and initiation, and finally to the idea of absolute reality and immortality. The World Tree is a tree that lives and gives life. It is a Tree of Life, as well as a Tree of Knowledge. In Norse mythology, this mighty sacred tree is known as Yggdrasil, and is at the centre of the cosmos. Around it exists all else, including the Nine Worlds. When the tree trembles, it signals the arrival of Ragnarök, the destruction of the universe.

Every inhabited region has a centre, that is to say, a place that is sacred above all. The shamans did not create the cosmology, mythology or theology of their respective tribes; they only interiorised it, experienced it, and used it as the itinerary for their ecstatic journeys.

Through the body of the cosmic tree, life and death are joined. It is this tree with its life-giving waters that binds all realms together. The body of the tree transects the Middle World, the crown embraces the heavens, and the roots penetrate the depths of the Underworld, echoing Jung’s words:

“No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

Carl Jung, C.W. Vol. 9.2: Aion

This great tree stands at the very centre of the universe directing the vision of a culture skyward towards the eternally sacred. All life springs from the primeval waters that flow from the tree and gather at its base, waters which are limitless, an essential sea circulating through all of nature. These waters are the beginning and end of all existence, the ever-moving matrix that nurtures and preserves life. The World Tree, expressing its milky golden sap, symbolises a return to the centre and place of origin, the home of wisdom that heals.

Jung writes:

“Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.”

Carl Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

The Sky Realm: Awakening

Image from Splendor Solis by Salomon Trismosin

After passing through the Underworld, one begins the ascent to the Sky Realm. The neophyte flies through the Sun Door to the realm of the eternally awakened consciousness. The Sun is the symbol of the all-seeing and all-knowing.

The very act of sacrifice in the fire of initiation makes it possible for one to enter the realm of the immortal, as fire burns away all that is superfluous and evil. It is a process of catharsis. The solar region is beyond space and time. Those who have gone through death are reborn like the phoenix and have realised the dual unity of the mortal and immortal aspects of human existence. The shaman transforms into an eagle or Sun Bird and returns to the source – to the Sun Father.

The Sun Bird is the prototype of the shaman, sent by the gods in the sky to alleviate the suffering of humanity, assisting one’s ascent to the celestial regions. The eagle, rising to great heights, enters the gateway of immortality, and is seen perching on the branches of the World Tree. In many cultures, the eagle is depicted carrying a victim. This inevitably symbolises the rebirth into a higher order of existence.

The Sun Door that has received the sacrificed shaman is the very gate that opens within when the psyche is deeply awakened. The shaman, supreme master of fire, is the embodiment of a heat so fierce that its spiritual luminescence is associated with both purity and knowledge.

To attain the solar realm where consciousness is eternally awakened, to seek life in order to know death, this is the quest, the journey. The process of solarisation is the activation of this internal sun, the highest spiritual manifestation of totality. This rebirth can occur in the highest branches of the World Tree.

Death is not an end, but a transition. There is no death, only a change of worlds. The theme of new birth has its parallel in an earlier stage, that of regression and return to the womb of the Underworld.

The Return to the People

Visioning – Susan Seddon Boulet

The mythic journey climaxes in the solar realm. The life journey for a Holy One culminates in the return from Paradise to society. The shaman’s vocation focuses on the people – and too long a stay in the realm of the Gods can make the return impossible. Although shamans go through individual experiences in solitude while seeking inspiration, the ritual is ultimately that of service to the community. As the shaman is reborn, so are his people. Learning to integrate with the groups in collective life is often seen as the most significant factor for one who is ill.

Just like the monomyth of the Hero’s Journey, what is learned in the Special World is brought back as an elixir to be shared amongst the people. The shaman falls ill only to gain the insight needed to heal himself and others. As the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade writes:

“[T]he primitive magician, the medicine man or shaman is not only a sick man, he is above all, a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself.”

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Age, like knowledge, is highly valued in shamanic societies. It is often the case that with age comes wisdom, and from wisdom comes power. Wisdom comes when you stop looking for it, and live the life the Creator intended for you. People are taught to be respectful and good to their elders, for these in turn will pray to the Ancient Ones for their health, well-being, and happiness.

The Shaman’s Shadow

Masked Mongol holy man, seen on an Imperial Progress through Central Asia by Tsar Nicholas II

However, not everyone is ready to be the master of power. Power can easily corrupt, even shamans, or anyone that is involved in the healing process, such as the psychotherapist or priest. To be identified with the healer archetype is a common form of inflation, where one believes one has god-like powers and that the patient is not important in the process, a human, all too human tendency. This is the shaman’s shadow, the black magician. This figure demands authority on account of his power and experience with the world of spirits.

But this is incompatible with the shamanic path. The shaman’s natural authority is the product of overcoming his inner turmoil, and his capacity to heal and guide others. Eliade writes:

“The shamans have played an essential role in the defence of the psychic integrity of the community… they combat not only demons and disease, but also the black magicians… shamanism defends life, health, fertility, the world of light, against death, diseases, sterility, disaster, and the world of darkness.”

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Beware of Unearned Wisdom

Spiritus Animalis II – Peter Birkhäuser

Knowledge linked with a state of higher consciousness is perhaps the greatest means of fighting evil, as opposed to traditional knowledge without knowing its real meaning, that is, not being essentially connected with it through its symbolism. It is quite common for us modern people to celebrate holidays and rituals without knowing their meaning, a totally alien idea in primitive societies.

The temptation of using power to corrupt is high. This is why the ordeals that neophytes must endure before becoming a shaman are so demanding, and have a humbling effect. At the core of the spiritual death and rebirth is an ethical way of life. The shaman acquires direct knowledge from direct experience, and from this can come the opening of compassion and the awakening of empathy in the healer. One must beware of unearned wisdom.

The world of nature, humans, and spirits are all reflections each other. The cosmos has awareness and feeling. The shamanic world view acknowledges a kinship among all aspects of nature, and is a channel for the knowledge of the primordial ancestors: Grandfather Fire, Grandmother Growth, Father Sun, and Mother Earth, among others. These reside in the realm of gods beyond space and time. They are among us and yet unspeakably far away.

Ceremony and sacrifice can be regarded as attempts to re-establish the mystical unity of Paradise. We were all born from the spirit and once we have lived, we will return to the spirit. The shaman knows that he is a spirit that seeks a greater spirit.

Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Circle of Power – Claire Elek

The sacred awareness of the universe is codified in song and dance, poetry and tale, carving and painting. For the shaman, art allows one to attain some degree of control over the unknown and mysterious forces that structure our world. Through these acts, the shaman momentarily awakens people from the nightmare of sickness to the promised dream of Paradise, converting the profane into the sacred.

The shaman is not afraid of the universe but feasts on its forces while allowing its forces to feast on him. The inner figures whisper “fear not”, yet the dreams and visions are in general horrifying. However, it is only through traversing darkness that light gains its importance. After destruction, comes instruction. We must balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.

Eliade views the shaman’s role as a healer who practices archaic techniques of ecstasy. The art of ecstasy is a timeless primary phenomenon, it is to stand outside oneself without ceasing to be oneself. The psychological experiences of rapture are fundamental to the human condition, and hence known to the whole of archaic humanity.

The shaman portrays his adventures through the ecstatic action of trance, chanting, drumming, and dance. Entheogens (generating the divine within) have also been used for thousands of years in sacred and ritualistic contexts.

The shaman performs the journey physically while undertaking it on the spiritual realm. Thus, art becomes a living expression of the visionary realm, revealed and made known through performance. The venerated images of the awakened psyche are communicated as living symbols in the process of inner spiritual transformation. Order is imposed on chaos; form is given to psychic confusion; the journey finds its direction. Through creative expression, the human condition is elevated, mythologised, and, at last, collectively understood.

The shaman, however, does not allow other more powerful beings to take full possession of him. He does not lose his composure, and is not fractured in the manner of subjects characterised as schizophrenic. Volition and control are the keys to this distinction. von Franz writes of the shamans:

“They are not possessed by these powers, except during a short voluntary trance state. They do not lose their normal status as human beings, but they acquire knowledge concerning the powers of the beyond (of the unconscious) and are thus able to function as prophets and healers, and in many regions, also as the artists and poets of their tribes.”

Marie Louise von Franz, Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales

From the standpoint of modern depth psychology, the shamanic experience amounts to undergoing an invasion of the collective unconscious and dealing with it successfully.

The shaman functions as a mediator between the human and the divine, giving meaning to human suffering. Out of this myth of healing emerges a transcendent relationship to the celestial realm with the particular culture, whereby health could triumph over illness, and a vision of harmony can take place for the person who seeks the shaman’s services.

Carl Jung and Shamanism

Carl Jung

Jung sought to cure the soul of the sick and help them strive towards wholeness, which is true health.  Similar to traditional shamans, Jung wanted to establish a relationship between the sacred and the mundane, through our numinous relationship with the archetypes of the collective unconscious. In fact, the path of the shaman coincides with what Jung calls the process of individuation. To be in a situation where there is no way out or to be in a conflict where there is no solution is the classical beginning of individuation. If one is humbled by this, the superiority of the ego is knocked out, allowing the unconscious to flow into one’s life.

Jung distinguished himself from psychotherapies that sought to relieve the patient of these same visions and deities, who were considered abnormal and neurotic.

From an early age, Jung noticed that he had two personalities. Personality number one was involved with everyday tasks, and his life as a young schoolboy. Later, it was involved with his intellectual and rational endeavours as a psychiatrist. Personality number two, on the other hand, was a part of himself remote from the world of men, close to nature, dreams, and the numinous. He writes:

“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.”

Carl Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Philemon was Jung’s wise old man and spirit guide who personally incarnated this second personality. The two personalities are always in opposition, but in the end trying to synthesise and transform to a new level of paradox. Eventually, they cross-fertilised one another to evolve a creative myth of healing, which Jung called analytical psychology.

Between the years 1913 and 1916, Jung experienced what the shamans would call loss of soul, he called it his confrontation with the unconscious, experiences that brought him close to death. He experienced an invasion of the collective unconscious, and penetrated through its core, to the Self. This initiation into the realm of darkness, was at the same time, the defining moments of his life. It was not madness, but a conscious and deliberate psychological experiment, which he recorded in his private journals, known as The Black Books, whose notes formed the contents of The Red Book.

“My soul, my soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned, I am here again… After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again.”

Carl Jung, The Red Book

Psychologist: Healer of the Soul

Journey of the Wounded Healer – Alex Grey

Jung’s life task was to bring the greatest possible amount of light into the darkness. For Jung, the psychologist is a healer of the soul, who facilitates the healing process that consists in bridging the psychic dichotomy at root in the individual, so that the cure would grow naturally out of the patient himself. As Jung writes:

“The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung, C.W. Vol. 12: Psychology and Alchemy

No rational arguments and no pep talks can stir up conscious will power to encourage the depressed person to step forward into the future. It is evident that the patient has no idea what to do. One must accept this situation. Finding a way out is beyond one’s rational powers. Only the irrational soul, with its transcendent function can find a way forward. Only the experience of soul, the discovery that one “has” a soul and can even “become” one’s soul offers any solution for a loss of soul.

Jung cured patients with mental illness who were considered lost causes, and some of his patients have said that he was the only analyst who could analyse dreams without hearing them. As if he could, at times, stare right into their souls.  

Jung, however, rarely identifies as a healer. He was a man concerned and affected by his patients, helping them cope with life without passing judgment on their final decisions. The doctor is effective when he himself is affected. It is here that Jung’s model of dialectical exchange between analyst and patient is significant.

“Someone who has not acceded to the depths of the unconscious and seen there “the ways of all spirits of sickness” can hardly possess enough real empathy for the serious psychic suffering of his fellow human beings. He will only treat them by the textbook, without ever being able to empathise with them, and this is often the key factor for patients.”

Marie Louise von Franz, Psychotherapy

The therapist who is unable to overcome his own dark night of the soul, will be less likely to help his patient with it. He will know the theory well, but not how to put it into practice. von Franz writes:

“When the training of a future therapist remains hung up in discussion of personal problems, in my experience, that person never turns out to be an effective therapist later on. Only when he has experienced the infinite in his own life has his life found meaning. Otherwise, it loses itself in superficialities. And, we might add, then such a person can only offer others something superficial: good advice, intellectual interpretations, well-meaning recommendations for normalisation. It is important that the therapist dwell inwardly in what is essential; then he can lead the patient to his own inner centre.”

Marie Louise von Franz, Psychotherapy

In the process of healing, we seek to unite the fragmented parts of ourselves so as to become whole. We are born integrated, we disintegrate, and we have to reintegrate. Wholeness only has meaning when we reunite our fragmented self.

As Jung stated, “only the wounded physician heals.” This is the secret myth of the Greek healing god Asclepius, which in its essence touches upon the archetype of the wounded healer, the central archetypal pattern of healing at the deepest level. The shaman is the wounded healer, par excellence, and this archetype comes from shamanic experience.

“The shaman is the great specialist in the human soul; he alone ‘sees’ it, for he knows its ‘form’ and its destiny.”

Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

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The Psychology of The Shaman (Inner Journey)

Shamanism is one of the oldest, if not the oldest system of healing known in the world. It forms the prototype from which many other forms of healing are derived, such as modern psychotherapy.

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3 thoughts on “The Psychology of The Shaman (Inner Journey)

  1. This is an exceptional summary of the journey that I encountered four times in the face of death
    I would like a transcript to share

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