Lisa (Harmonybites)'s Reviews > The Way of the Shaman

The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner
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's review
Jan 16, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: non-fiction, reference, religion, psychology, self-help, spirituality, ultimate-reading-list
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Idiot's Guide to the Ultimate Reading List
Recommended for: Those Interested in "Magical Practice"
Read on January 16, 2012 , read count: 1

I read this because it was on The Ultimate Reading List for "Inspirational Non-fiction." It was one of only a few on that list I thought might be of interest to me given Harner was a anthropologist that had studied shamanism in the field as well as practicing it--I thought he might have some insightful things to say about it. I found this instead to be a rather silly book I couldn't take seriously. I probably should have known better given where the book was located in the bookstore--under "New Age - Magical Practice." I'm a thoroughgoing rationalist, really not the target market for this book, so I considered neither rating nor reviewing. In the end I decided to do so to:

1) Remind me I read this already and not to ever bother again to read Harner. (And let the Goodreads algorithm know not to recommend books like this one.)

2) Let those on my Goodreads friends list who actually believe in Wicca and the like know something about the book so they'll know if this is something they'd like.

3) Tell my writer friends, some of whom write speculative fiction, about this book in case they're looking for something upon which to model fictional magical practice.

Harner defines a shaman as a "man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness--at will--to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality to acquire knowledge, power, and to help other persons." In the first chapter, "Discovering the Way," Harner relates how after taking psychedelic drugs given to him by the Conibo tribe of the Amazon river, he experienced hallucinations he believed to be genuine visions. He then went back to an Andes tribe he'd studied, the Jivaro, and asked for mystical training--more psychedelic drugs, more "visions" and after that he became a practicing Shaman.

In his introduction he says of his book that the "main focus here is to provide an introductory handbook of shamanic methodology for health and healing." He proposes various exercises to alter consciousness without drugs, primarily through "drumming, rattling, singing, and dancing." His first exercise is designed to take you on a "Shamanic Journey...through the Tunnel into the Lower World." Also described are rituals such as a "spirit quest" to find your "power animal," and once found, how to keep this spiritual guide by regularly "exercising your animal." There is also mention of "power songs," "power intrusions" and "medicine bundles" filled with "power objects" that include the indispensable "quartz crystal."

In other words, the usual New Age stuff, but not anything that really discusses rigorously Shamanistic practices in indigenous and pre-Industrial cultures or useful to someone interested in ethnography or comparative religion.

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