Shamanism as a Path to Empowerment

August 23, 2021

Have you recently stumbled across Shamanism and nature connection? Are you drawn to this path but not entirely sure why?

Or perhaps you ‘get it’ but are unsure how to start learning. Or perhaps you have already started on this path and want to deepen your studies and experiences.

I know on my own path, when I discovered Shamanism, I was  perplexed as to what it was and why I was drawn to it so strongly. Unusually for me, I decided to dive right in and go for the experiential learning route rather than reading lots of books. I signed up to a year-long workshop programme and after the first workshop I was hooked.

Over the years I have deepened my knowledge in this path, and I often get asked by people how they can learn about Shamanism. So that’s the topic of his blog: how to find out more about Shamanism and nature connection and what difference this path will make to your life.

What is Shamanism?

Before I go into the ‘how’, let me just define what Shamanism is. A common definition is ‘walking between the worlds to bring back the energies most needed at this time’. Indigenous people across the world have ways of shifting consciousness and moving between the worlds. This was researched by anthropologist Michael Harner in the 1960’s and he named this Core Shamanism. The word is taken from the Tungus tribe in Mongolia, and is the title given to a common practice performed by indigenous, nature-based cultures of shifting consciousness to go into the spirit realm and bring back healing energies most needed by the community.

I was never drawn to other indigenous spiritualities such as Native American, Peruvian, or Siberian Shamanism. When I discovered Core Shamanism it was like an epiphany. Finally, I had found something which felt right and made such sense, after all my decades of seeking. My interest has been reclaiming something very ancient that was lost to us and relearning it here in Britain.

My thirst was for finding out what our ancestors knew living so close to the land here in Britain, that we have forgotten. It led me to develop a fascination with stone circles and other ancient sacred sites, the ley lines that interconnect them, and the old spiritual practices that were performed by our distant ancestors. Core Shamanism was an important route for me into learning a spiritual practice that is based on our traditions here in Britain. Through my professional sustainability work I quickly came to realise that this practice, above all other things, is most needed at this crucial time for humanity.

And what about nature connection?

Here at The Way of the Buzzard, we teach more than Core Shamanism through our Mystery School. We also teach nature connection and give equal weight to both subjects. The reason for this is simple. Indigenous people across the world have ways of journeying to the Otherworld’s. This is one thing they have in common. However, they also have another thing in common: they are all nature-based societies.

Indigenous communities live closely to the land and are in tune with nature. They understand the plants and animals around them, and they understand the cycles of nature. This is part and parcel of who they are. So, in The Mystery School we teach this too. In our Western culture we have become separate from nature, and this didn’t happen by accident. Laws were written to ban people from their traditions of revering nature.

For example, in the 11th Century, King Cnut banned ‘the worship of idols… the sun or the moon, fire or water, springs or stones or any kind of forest trees’. For a king to feel the need to write this in law shows how important this kind of connection was to our ancestors and how important it was for the Christian Church to stop people from doing it. Then there were the Witch Hunts of the Middle Ages, where millions of men and women were condemned to death for practicing the old ways.

Considerably closer to home and my lifetime, Jason talks of how as a boy he became a Jehovah Witness. Upon converting to the Christian faith, he was told to stop talking to the trees and animals. He was told it was the devil’s work. In my Evangelical up-bringing, I can’t remember being told specifically not to honour nature, but it wasn’t part of the practice I was taught to follow. Instead, it was made clear to me that humans had dominion over nature and could do with the Earth what they pleased.

So, it feels kind of revolutionary to claim back this lost knowledge and nature connection is an important part of our practice.

Where do I start?

A question we often get asked by people who are drawn to Shamanism and nature connection as a spiritual practice is: ‘Where do I start?’ A great place to begin if you like reading is by finding some introductory books to Shamanism. A good one is Following the Shamans Call by Mike Williams. When you choose your first books, make sure they are entry level, as there are some deep writings out there on Shamanism that are great once you have a foundation knowledge, but you may well get lost in them if you start out reading those.

Then, to complement the theory, it’s so important to get cracking with the experiential. We can do so much ourselves, but I believe it’s by learning from a teacher and learning from each other when our shamanic practice will really take off. The shamanic path is transformational, but it will only be so if we actually do it, rather than just read about it. If you are someone who diligently follows the exercises described in books, and this then forms part of your daily practice then you might get away with learning solo. But if not then you will need to seek out someone to learn from if you are really looking to embrace Shamanism and all it has to offer.

We are big on the experiential here at The Way of the Buzzard. I love theory, but I also love doing. When I first came to the Earth spirituality path, I used to practice on my own. I would do the exercises out of books. In our Mystery School our courses are full of both theory, which we research and share through video tutorials. They are also full of practical activities that we talk through and we give a choice of options in many of the lessons, so folk can do what appeals to them most. We take into considering that people are often doing this on their own and also might have limitations in terms of whether they can leave the house. This was particularly relevant for everyone during lockdown.

How can this practice help me?

Often people are drawn to Shamanism and nature connection but they can’t put their finger on why: it just feels right, and is a natural progression in their spiritual enquiries. I know this was the case for me. However, looking back I can see that I was drawn to this path for a reason, as it is so beneficial for the things that I most needed support with in my life.

Through the practices we teach you are accessing a level of knowledge that is far greater than the conscious mind. By undertaking a shamanic journey, you are going into the unconscious and into the universal mind. This means you can access help with anything that you need help on. It also means you can do this yourself, you are not relying on someone doing it for you. Yes, it takes some learning and mastering, but it is amazing to see how quickly people pick it up and begin to get results. There are different techniques we teach in our Mystery School. Shamanic journeying is one way, a really useful way, but there are other ways too, such as listening to the trees or deciphering a nature sighting of a particular animal when you are out for a walk.

To give you an idea on the benefits that might await you, here are the top five ways that this practice has helped me.

1. Remove that feeling of separation

Ever since I can remember, right from the onset of my adult life, I have felt separate. I thought and felt differently to everyone else I knew, but I always felt at home out in nature. At times when I didn’t have access to open countryside, my mental health suffered.

It is natural for humans to live closely with nature, entwined with the movements of the seasons and living side by side with the trees and animals. Bridging this gap between nature and the Otherworlds and humans is so important. Bridging the gap for me has meant I no longer feel separate from what is really important. It has meant I have felt a homecoming. As I pursued my line of enquiry I began to make friends with people who were like me. Now I am no longer alone, and in fact the opposite has happened, as through Jason and I The Way of the Buzzard have built a community of fellow travellers to share this journey with.

2. Help with making decisions

It might not look like it on the surface, but I am a pretty indecisive person by nature. In the past I have found it very hard to make decisions. As an example, I remember when I worked in the corporations, I was given a choice between two roles during a restructure. I fretted over the decision for months as I couldn’t decide which was the one for me. To help find an answer I even sought out a tarot card reader to help me choose.

Now fast forward to the moment just before a huge transition in my life about ten years ago. At this point, when I stepped onto the Earth path, all of a sudden decisions weren’t difficult for me anymore. Once I learnt how to go on shamanic journeys and how to read the signs in nature, I found making huge life decisions astonishingly easy. Putting trust in my guides, and following their signposts at every turn has enabled me to confidently make big decisions in my life. I have left a career on the strength of an encounter with a blackbird, and left a home on the back of an eagle sighting. I have known I am in the right place when hearing the call of a buzzard, created a micro-festival on the words of my ancestor guide and started a garden project following the instructions of my nature spirit guide. If I need support on anything, I know who I need to go and ask.

3. Help with health

When it comes to eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, I think it is fair to say this doesn’t come naturally to me. I think by nature I am a little bit lazy(!) and I am also a master of putting myself to the back of the queue and putting work over anything else. The result of this was that when I exited my career from the corporations, the stress of the years came out through my lower back, which I had damaged through a lifting injury a few years before. I also struggled with regulating my weight. I would do well at a diet and then relapse and put the pounds back on again as I used to have a really sweet tooth. My dad was a baker after all and my mum a cake decorator and so cakes were a big part of my life.

So why is this relevant to this blog? Well, when I left my career in sustainability I had a space in my life opening up in front of me. So, I journeyed to my spirit teacher to ask what I should be focusing on in my studies. I expected him to come back and tell me to continue one of the lines of enquiry that had interested me, such as ley lines, ancient sacred sites, or something along this thread. What he said surprised me and at the time confused me. He said: ‘Focus on your body Nicola’.

So, I did just that, and I am still following his advice to this day. Straight away I got a personal trainer. I also changed my diet to the Palaeolithic diet, which is a very low carb, high fat diet. I found an osteopath and took up yoga, horse riding and dancing, which were all activities that were good for my back. Now I have gone from not being able to lift a shopping bag to lifting 50kg weights in the gym. I still have a long way to go, and my back pain comes back more severe when I am stressed. I also took up a body therapy course for two years. My body is one of my greatest teachers and I wonder where I would be now if I hadn’t journeyed to my spirit teacher and received the guidance to focus on my body.

4. Help with finding time

You know the phrase: ‘ask a busy person and it will get done’? Well, that was me. I was a ‘yes’ person, and would always take on more requests from people, wanting to please them. What I discovered was that by saying ‘yes’ to things, I was saying ‘no’ to myself. It took a lot of work but I got there in the end. Therapy has helped hugely with this, and also my nature connection and shamanic work. I have learned that having time is related to self-worth. By giving myself permission to do the things that nurture me and that I enjoy, I am valuing myself.

It is natural for me to put work above all else. This is the way I have been conditioned from school right through my working life until I worked for myself. Then I found, even though I worked for myself I still didn’t have time to do the things I wanted to. Instead of an external boss, I had an internal boss telling me what to do. Diarising time out in nature, scheduling in trips to see sacred sites, making sure I go on a shamanic journey and write some poetry on a Sunday morning, are all things that help keep me on track, carving out time for me. My spirit guides are always there to advise me how I can avoid slipping back into old, conditioned patterns.

We know finding time is a big thing for many people. Which is why we have a specific course in our Mystery School about this.

5. Help with anxiety

The final way this path has helped me is with my anxiety. I am a worrier, or maybe I should say I used to be. I am a lot better now. Having the reassurance of my spirit guides around me has helped. Learning the old ways of coping that our ancestors used has helped. Having a connection with the trees has helped. Being able to read the signs of animals when I am out in nature has helped.

We live in challenging times. There is a lot happening to be anxious about. There is a lot on the horizon to be anxious about. Having an Earth-based spirituality practice helps keep my feet firmly on the ground… most of the time!

A path to empowerment

So, there we have it, five ways this path has helped me on my path to empowerment. There are many others, and other people who walk this path will have more to add too.

This is our heritage. Two thousand years ago we didn’t call it Shamanism,  in fact we probably didn’t call it anything. It was just what we did. It would be the equivalent of giving ‘eating’ a special title now. This is why every year Jason and I see hundreds of people just ‘get it’ straight away, and are hungry to learn more and more. Humans are just hard wired that way.

So, do you fancy diving in with us? Are you looking for that something that will give you the spiritual guidance that you are seeking? Are you looking to learn the old spiritual ways of our ancestors that walked our land? Then come along with us in this adventure. We would love to share it with you.

Useful links

If you would like to hear more about The Mystery School, where we teach about all the aspects of Shamanism and nature connection I have mentioned in this blog, please click here.

If you haven't already worked through our free course in Shamanism & shamanic journeying, here is the link to register. It will give you a great introduction to our approach that we teach in The Mystery School.

If you aren’t already on our email list and would like to keep in touch, click here and scroll to the bottom of our home page.

We would also love to hear your thoughts about what I have shared here in this blog. If you would like to tell us, please use the comment box below.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. This is a detailed and very interesting article, thank you. I suppose on reflection I have lived a shamanic way all my life at the edge of much and luckily some of my ancestors originated in Russia and Siberia. However I do think witch's and wise people from these lands lived in a shamanic way, with their familiars, herbal remedies and journeying.

    I journey through painting, connection with nature and dreaming, but find it difficult to journey in the traditional way with drums. At present there is a need for a connection to nature and the shamanic way, bravery and projecting what we want for the future. I think core shamanism is a great introduction to find our own way.

    I met John Perkins 9 years ago at a conference I was filming for the organisers. After knowing him for a few days he offered me to go to the Amazon with him and his team to study shamanic ways and I could contribute with filming some of it. I had no idea who he was and did not take up the offer, I could kick myself now. But it did encourage me to look into shamanism from the perspective of today and the lands where I was born.

    This is one of the things I like from Way of the Buzzard, as I think shamanism is a world wide way of being that has mostly been forgotten and we are now remembering. The connection to nature, each other, creativery, the magical, the spiritual, other realms and each other is a worthy path to find many answers.

    1. Hi Pete, thanks for your note here. Connecting with this old way is so important isn’t it. Fancy being invited out to the Amazon! It is great that although you didn’t follow that opportunity the invitation opened up a line of enquiry.

      1. Hi Nicola, in some respects I am glad I did not go to the Amazon, as it gave me an interest to find out about the shamanic way and link it to these lands.
        This is one of the reasons I respect and like your and Jason's approach with Way of the buzzard. I think the principles of shamanism are universal and very important. More so, especially today, as shamanism is key to create the future we seek.

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