Cave & Cosmos by Michael Harner

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Michael Harner is often referred to as the ‘father of Western Shamanism’. An anthropologist, since the 1960’s he has been studying the spirituality of  indigenous people across the world. Michael noticed a commonality with the spiritual practices between them all, and termed this ‘Core Shamanism’. He has been teaching this to westerners for many decades.

It is these principles that Jason and I bring through in our work, and apply to our lives. We prefer this to taking another cultures spirituality, such as Native American Shamanism, or Peruvian Shamanism, their animals and plants, and specific methods.

Cave and Cosmos is a brilliant book for getting inside the minds of our ancestors. Have you ever wondered what the intention was behind the art which was drawn on cave walls across Europe and the world for over 80,000 years? These are more than just pictures, and we have already reviewed a couple of books by archaeologists connecting this art with the shamanic spirituality of our distant ancestors, The Mind In the Cave and The Quest for the Shaman.

Michael Harner went and partook in a cave power quest… the ultimate way to research these things. He shares his story in the early part of this book. He draws on his experience as well as other research to explain the workings of the shaman’s mind. He shares different methods of ‘journeying to the spirit realms’ across cultures which is a fascinating account of how each culture saw the importance of accessing the non-ordinary reality, and finds that the most common vehicle for the shaman’s journey is auditory driving in the form of a simple, monotonous percussion sound, such as the drum.

He also talks of the effect of adapting core shamanic principles rather than trying to imitate the methods of particular traditions.

“For most Westerners, learning and practicing core shamanism, including shamanic journeying, is a far more productive approach than imitating a shaman’s practice in a single culture, for each culture has its own symbolisms, mythology, and conceptual elaborations. If that is not your own  culture, then those elaborations, specialisations and meanings will not be appropriate for you in the way they are appropriate for that particular indigenous people.”

In the latter part of the book Michael talks about some of the many, many journeys he has documented over the years from people he has taught. It offers a fascinating insight into the similairty of experiences in the different realms, and the information which has come back to support people in their lives.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the mechanics of shamanism, written by the person who has spent over sixty years researching into shamanism and bringing it to the Western world.

This summer we have a couple of rather special Ancestor Wisdom retreats running in the Yorkshire Dales. ‘Craft and Creativity – Getting inside the Minds of our Ancestors’ and ‘Finding Freedom Through Rewilding’ which will be of interest to anyone with a desire to explore and implement the lost wisdom of those who have gone before.

Reviewed by Nicola