THE WAY OF THE SHAMAN: A Guide to Power and Healing by Michael Harner

THE WAY OF THE SHAMAN: A Guide to Power and Healing

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Harner may be a professional anthropologist (and a department chairman at the New School), but this glib popularization is unprofessional to the point of irresponsibility. It assumes that shamanism--like karate, perhaps, or Szechwan cuisine--is a simple practical skill that any Westerner can acquire, with a modicum of effort and this handy set of instructions. Why not, since Harner himself, albeit a rationalist and hardboiled atheist, managed to become a shaman, simply by asking the Jivaro and Conibo Indians, among whom he did his field work, to show him how. Never mind that Harner's account of his initiation tells us almost nothing, since it consisted of various hallucinations induced by a potion called avahuasca, followed by a nightmarish ramble in the rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. After this vague apprenticeship, Harner proceeds to preach the gospel of the SSC (Shamanic State of Consciousness). He's not quite sure of what it is or how it works, but he knows how to get there, and he offers the reader a number of techniques for doing the same. First, of course, you have to identify and get into touch with your guardian spirit(s). ""Dancing your animal"" (Crane, Tiger, Fox, etc.) is often helpful in this regard. Then with the aid of your guardian creature you can journey into the Lowerworld, cure sick friends, reinvigorate your soul, and so on. Throughout this bizarre manual Harner makes no attempt to translate primitive thought into meaningful contemporary terms. He downplays the would-be shaman's need for natural talent, careful training, and long discipline. Worst of all, he vulgarizes this rich and complex subject by pulling it out of its original context and suggesting that any curious American can pick it up. If Harner really is the ""master shaman"" he claims to be, he should have known better.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row