10 Best Books on Shamanism

We live in a time perhaps unlike any other. On one side, we have an explosion of scientific knowledge and increased (assumed) objectivity yet, on the other, there seems to be an ever-expanding thirst for spiritual satisfaction and wisdom that lies beyond the reach of contemporary science. Coupled with the freedom to choose, many are running away from the “objective” positivity of the mainstream and into the more subjective aspects of our existence. Perfect control of every little bit of our life is given up for the sake of personal growth and a more “irrational” approach is taken on in order to attain spiritual heights that we never thought possible. One method, in particular, that seems to be slowly but surely gaining popularity is that of shamanism. Not directly tied to any individual culture, it is a universal term that covers tribal spiritual and magical practices from times gone by, where connection with nature and the divine was far more direct than it is now. In these circumstances, communion with higher beings was done by entering a state of trance reached through employing altered states of consciousness. If we wish to tread this path (in a safe and responsible manner) and rise above our material plane and into the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, there are a few things we ought to know. Since wise teachers and gurus are few and far in-between, it might be safe to assume that most of us will begin our journey through information provided in books. Below is a list of ten tomes that are bound to help the aspiring shaman build a foundation strong enough to propel them into the world beyond the veil.

Michael Harner – The Way of the Shaman (HarperOne)

The first on the list is a veritable modern classic and a work that should be mandatory reading for anyone even remotely interested in shamanism. This leading resource and reference book covers the ABCs of the practice and does so in a thorough yet accessible way. Shamanism – in its contemporary, cross-cultural form – encompasses a plethora of ideas and practices yet Harner manages to seamlessly weave them into a coherent story. The book is likely to satisfy the needs of the novice as well as the seasoned practitioner and create a foundation for further research and spiritual exploration of healing and the technology of the sacred. It is no wonder that this little tome has time and again been hailed as the one that kick-started the modern shamanic renaissance. With an author possessing impeccable credentials – both academic and spiritual – it is no wonder that it is so.

Michael Harner – Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality (North Atlantic Books)

Another from Michael Harnier, this book picks up where the previously mentioned has left off. Continuing to present the concepts covered in The Way of the Shaman, the shaman-anthropologist extraordinaire expands upon the ideas and practices in such a way as to go above and beyond what even the most ambitious shaman-in-training may hope for. In this work, he draws upon extensive research and takes into account over two thousand reports of Westerners’ experiences with shamanic ascension. Presenting these in parallel to his own visions, he establishes (sometimes glaringly obvious) similarities and effectively confirms that the world beyond – whether we decide to call it Heaven, Hell, the astral plane or something else altogether – does indeed exist in such a way as to present itself to one and all in very similar ways. Of course, the author does not stop there and actually provides the reader with practical core-techniques that will allow them to ascend into realms beyond our own and seek spiritual teachers. Your perception of reality is guaranteed to change.

Sandra Ingerman – Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self (HarperOne)

Sandra Ingerman is, much like Michael Harnier, an author that is impossible to bypass whenever shamanism is discussed. She has written a number of books on the topic, two of which are to be mentioned on this list. The first is Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, a tome more than obviously focused on healing one’s own soul as well as those of others. Instead of a cold, hard, sober, intellectual approach, a more intuitive and thoughtful stance is assumed by Ingerman who, in this case, advises us to open our hearts to love and compassion. She guides the reader with the warmth of a mother’s touch through the practices of visionary work and shamanic journeying that can help a person heal, face long forgotten (or long repressed) trauma, come to terms with it, and move forward in a healthy way so that all the negative aspects of it are left behind, valuable lessons are learned, and a fresh, improved version of ourselves comes forward into a new chapter of our existence.

Sandra Ingerman – Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide (Sounds True)

Another tome by Ingerman, this one is perhaps of a more general nature, as opposed to the previous one that is focused more on the healing aspects of shamanic experience and communing with the divine feminine energy of one’s nature. In Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide, the author retains a warm and compassionate tone but uses it to introduce us to all the basic concepts of shamanism in such a way that it can be adopted both by purely intellectual study and a more intuitive, empathic approach. A world-renowned teacher in the field, Ingerman knows exactly how the present the wisdom that resides within so that we too can take advantage of it and attain our own spiritual goals. With this practical guide in our hands, we can travel the invisible worlds beyond ordinary reality and perhaps find the answers we have been seeking our entire lives.

Evelyn C. Rydyk – A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools: How to Make and Use Drums, Masks, Rattles, and Other Sacred Implements (Weiser Books)

The lengthy title of this book gives the potential reader a more than obvious hint at what is to be found within its pages. Shamanism is perhaps less elaborate than the ceremonial magic of the Hermeticist school but can still require some tools in order to be fully successful. With this in mind, Rydyk gives the earnest student of the craft all the information that they may need in order to obtain and make the essentials for a well-executed shamanic journey into the unknown. Drums, masks, and rattles are but a few of the items in mind yet the list goes on to include several other objects that can aid us in achieving our spiritual goals. Illustrated by the author’s own artwork as well as photographs of experienced shamans at work, it offers a clear and concise guide on how to add the correct spiritual implements to your shamanic tool kit and empower them for sacred use.

Jan Fries – Visual Magick: A Manual of Freestyle Shamanism (Mandrake)

A lesser-known but exceptionally interesting tome, Jan Fries’ Visual Magick is a fascinating compendium of ideas and techniques presented in a way that is almost unique. Drawing on the teachings of figures as varied as those of hermeticist magicians Austin Spare and Aleister Crowley, Norse pagan scholar Edred Thorsson and anthropologist Carlos Castaneda – Fries assembles a strange yet coherent system that is indeed fully freestyle yet surprisingly functional. Throwing together many different techniques, his method allows for freedom similar to that encountered in Chaos magic. Working with runes, sigils, ascended masters and realms beyond our own – it helps spiritual travelers, artists and therapists to reconnect with their higher self and take full control of their imagination and magical power. Fries’ Helrunar: A Manual of Rune Magick is also a must read, particularly for those interested in the religion and occult practices of the ancient people of the north.

Serge Kahili King – Urban Shaman (Touchstone)

Shamanism is a practice that is more than obviously linked to the lives and times of people of old, of tribes some decided to deem primitive but that lived in harmony with nature and knew what we, people of the modern age, seem to have forgotten. This is understandable as our existence is very different from what humans a couple of millennia ago were going through. Still, even in our own fast-paced world filled with technology and stress never known to the people of ancient times, out soul often aches to reconnect with these timeless practices and reach lofty heights, the path to which is not available through our laptops and smartphones. This is where Serge Kahili King’s Urban Shaman enters the picture and offers a city-dwelling creature of the 21st century a way out and into the planes beyond the material. There is no need to travel into the wilderness nor seek a guru. Adventures and spiritual experiences are available to us, no matter where we are.

Michael J. Winkelman – Shamanism: A Biopsychosocial Paradigm of Consciousness and Healing (Praeger)

As we already know, shamanism is a practice not tied to any particular ethnic or religious group, nor is it permanently fixed to a time frame outside of which it is unable to survive. It is a timeless practice that stretches all the way back to the age when the human race first exhibited some traces of civilizational development. Because of this, the progress of our kind can often be traced through the ways in which shamans of old did their work through their individual and group functions. Examining the concept of shamanism through both evolutionary as well as biological perspectives, this book offers great insight into how such an ancient practice can be implemented into our own modern world without losing an ounce of its power.

Alberto Villoldo Ph.D. – Shaman, Healer, Sage: How to Heal Yourself and Others with the Energy Medicine of the Americas (Harmony)

Shamanism is oftentimes perceived as journeying into the higher planes without a clear sense of purpose – just for the fun of it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every serious traveler is bound to tell you that all this effort is not for nothing and that each and every act, each and every journey, each and every lesson learned has a purpose. The wisdom that is gained through elevating one’s soul into higher planes has a very practical use in the “real” world. Healing – both spiritual and physical is perhaps the highest form of this art and is, in Villoldo’s book, presented as a coherent and logical system based on the experiences of the descendants of the ancient Incas. A classically trained medical anthropologist, he is more than qualified to guide us on our path to healing and spiritual freedom.

Carlos Castaneda – The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Washington Square Press)

No list of books on shamanism would ever be complete without the inclusion of at least one tome written by the legendary Carlos Castaneda. The truth is, he is perhaps the person to thank for the renaissance we are experiencing now, having almost single-handedly revived millennia-old practices that were on the brink of extinction. An anthropologist by vocation, he authored a series of twelve books which some consider fiction while others swear by them as an outline of a system that can lead an individual to the knowledge of the divine. Having had an almost revolutionary social and cultural impact, these titles have each stirred the public’s imagination in a direction which it has never considered before and are thus well worth exploring by anyone interested in old spiritual practices that, odd as they may at first seem, do indeed work. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is the first in the series but is very likely to make you want to go through all the others. You have been warned.