Thesis: Angakut-Expressive Arts Shamanism

Angakut: Seeing with CLOSED EYES


A thesis submitted By Christine Selda, BA


Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of masters of arts in expressive arts therapy with a minor in psychology

European graduate school EGS

submitted to Heather Dawson and Sabine Silberberg



This thesis compares and contrasts shamanism and expressive arts therapy, the roots of both fields and the current philosophies and practices that are foundational to each, noting parallels and places of departure between the two. The research is based on a soul retrieval course where learned practices of shamanism and expressive arts therapy were used together in a four-day workshop. The work is based on the premise that both fields of healing minister to the soul. Soul and soul loss, ritual, liminality, and the role and use of the arts are examined from both perspectives. Shamans embody the arts in all ways. The research concludes that expressive arts therapy is a contemporary manifestation of shamanism and a returning to the expressive artist’s roots. I will also suggest that expressive arts therapy can offer ethics to contemporary shamanism.  Art is soul medicine. I suggest ‘expressive arts shamanism’ as an act of healing the estrangement from spirituality currently found in the field of expressive arts.


I dedicate this thesis to STAWAMUS CHIEF MOUNTAIN, my guiding source in this work and my faithful medicine dog TATLA.


I would like to thank all my teachers from the shamanic oral tradition, particularly Lois Ross and Jose luis Herrara.

I would also like to thank all my teachers from the European graduate school, capilano university studio art and the international school of interdisciplinarty studies.

Special thank you to my husband and daughter, Jamie and  River Selda for their constant love and support and to the rest of my family  for the encouragement they gave to this project.

Much gratitude to Cindy Stockdale and Heather Dawson.

1. Introduction and literature review: Bridging at the crossroads

The sun is shining brightly as I walk from my sculpture studio and I know that the rain will come when I finish my piece. Over the years I have witnessed this ritual of rain coming, like a ceremonial cleanse marking the completion of my art pieces that are focused on nature based spirituality and healing.  Nature is involved in my process as an artist and studying shaman. I am in art school, a place where I have come after losing my child, a place I have come for healing. I am performing my piece this evening. We, the Urban Shaman Collective, are presenting a series of sculptural installation performance pieces where different healers are being brought in to perform public healings as pieces of art. This is how my study of art as a healing modality and its relationship to shamanism commenced. From the inception of my career as an artist and healer I have never made the distinction between artist and shaman. To me, they have always had a deepness of relation that fuels my work. As I strengthen my study and practice in both fields I have been compelled to further my academic knowledge to substantiate my direct experience. As a teacher now in the field of shamanism and expressive arts, I am writing this thesis in order to better articulate how the shaman and the expressive artist are in relation and discover some underlying themes and impulses that exist within these fascinating fields.

This thesis will compare and contrast shamanism and expressive arts therapy, demonstrating how they effectively work as dynamic healing arts.   First, the fundamental principles of shamanism and those of expressive arts therapy will be examined. These two fields will also be compared in three sub-sections: 1) soul, -soul loss, and soul retrieval, 2) liminal space and ritual, and 3) the arts as shaman. This thesis will also look at the fields of shamanism and expressive arts therapy, noting where they intersect and diverge as practices of the healing arts, demonstrating how they are autonomous and linked at the same time. A case study will be presented to exhibit the use of both practices in a group setting with the focus on soul retrieval, and to demonstrate how these two fields dance with one another to create a deeply holistic therapeutic experience for the client.


Before engaging in complex task of defining shamanism and some of its fundamental practices, it is important to note that shamanism itself has many varieties and branches. Therefore, a definition of shamanism is not easily constructed. The specific manifestations of shamanic techniques are always in relation to the natural environment and cultural values surrounding the community in which the shamanism is practiced. There is not one kind of shamanism even though it is a global cultural phenomenon. Its practices have manifested in infinite ways and have survived in many cultures like Russia and South America—despite religious and political persecution (Walsh, 2007). My direct experience is from a type of shamanism that descended from the Qero people, mountain shamanic practitioners who base their work on prayer, ritual, and communication with pachamama (mother earth) and the mountain spirits of the Andes of Peru. For the purpose of this thesis, I will not go into the specifics of a singular type of shamanism. Rather, I will focus on the similarities that allow shamanism to be recognized worldwide.


Shamanism is one of humankind’s most ancient traditions, spanning tens of thousands of years. The American anthropologist Michael Brown points out that  “shamanism, not prostitution, is the world’s oldest profession”  (Brown, as cited in Walsh, 2007). The pursuit of knowledge lies at the heart of shamanism. This is indicated by indigenous terms for shamans from cultures all over the globe. The term shaman itself comes from the Evenki language of Siberia and means ‘the one who knows’ (Scott, 2002, p. 12). Other terms for shaman refer to key characteristics of their public performances, including Sakha- oyuun, ‘to jump, leap, or play,’ Yurok- kegey, ‘one who sits or meditates as a practice,’ Buryat -khatarkha, ‘to dance or trot like a reindeer,’ and Huichol mara’akame, ‘singer’ (Narby, 1998, p.  45). Because shamans are able to prophesy, to see and know things that ordinary people cannot, in Inuit they are called wabinu, ‘seeing person’, and angakut, ‘seeing with closed eyes’ (Tedlock, 2005, p. 123).

Mircea Eliade was the first to complete a comprehensive anthropological study of shamanism in 1964. Eliade’s definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous definition follows: “ shamanism= archaic techniques of ecstasy” (p. 3). He goes on to define the shaman as

…a magician and medicine man who is believed to cure, like all doctors, and to perform miracles of the fakir type, like all magicians, whether primitive or modern… Beyond this, he is a psycho pomp, and he may also be an inspired prophet and healer, a charismatic religious figure with the power to control spirits (p. 4).

Larsen (1976) explains the shaman in terms that labels them also as an “artist, a priest, a dramatist, or a physician” (p. 36).

My contemporary definition of a shaman derived from my studies with Peruvian shamanic teacher Jose Luis Herrara and my self-exploration on the topic claims that a shaman is a person of power and a technician of the soul. Herrara (personal communication, October 9, 2009) explains a shaman to his students as “a person who sources from direct experience, you and the Mystery, there is no theology as a validation mechanism, as a mechanism of truth.” He goes on to state that this definition is the basis of all shamanism throughout history. Herrara furthers his definition declaring that  “the job of the shaman is to be an open conduit for the healing powers of the land; to actively co-create with spirit.” Herrera fortifies this belief by quoting his mentor Don Manuel Quiespe, a shaman of the highest status in the Andes, when saying that

Shamans are medicine people who are stewards of the processes of the land, the active curators of guiding mythologies of the land.  The practices of shamanism are active when an individual inspires the village, moves the energy of the village, to breathe life again so the land and community are fertile. Destiny drives the shaman.

Park (1938) has a similar belief. In his explanation of North American shamanism, Park declares that shamanism is defined by the supernatural power that the shaman acquires as the result of a direct personal experience. Park extends the term shamanism to “all the practices by which the supernatural power may be acquired by mortals, the exercise of that power either for good or evil, and all the concepts and beliefs associated with these practices” (p. 67). Perhaps the most holistic definition found for shamanism comes from Roger Walsh (2007) who explains his statement as a synthetic definition:

Shamanism can be defined as a family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirit(s) interacting with other entities, often by travelling to other realms, in order to serve their community (p. 15).

From this array of viewpoints we can see that shamanism in its enormity defies one definition, however it is possible to define the roles and skills practiced by one particular shaman in the context of their culture, community, and cosmology. An important aspect to consider when defining shamanism is that it is only a method, not a religion with a fixed set of dogmas (Harner, 1990). Also, a shaman can take on the role and titles of a vast array of things such as artist, prophet, healer, poet, ceremonialist, sacred politician, singer, dancer, dramatist, and psycho pomp (an escort for newly deceased souls to the afterlife), mystic, and medicine person. Regardless of the role he or she is filling, the shaman is always able to voluntarily induce a trance state (a technique of ecstasy) through which to contact and mediate the spirit worlds.  The shaman is said to co-create with the spirit world and is always subscribing to the powers that animate nature to disclose sources of dis-ease. He or she will always source from direct experience and so will arrive at his/her own experience-derived conclusion about what is going on in the universe, and about what term is most useful to describe reality (Harner). The shaman is said to have supernatural powers that are used to serve the greater collective or community. The shaman engages in the active pursuit of knowledge to see clearly in both this world and the spirit realm. This knowing of the spirit realm engages at symbolic, literal, mythic, and essential levels of understanding. This seeing of what is undisclosed to the untrained eye embraces the Evenki term ‘shaman’ which translates as ‘the one who knows’ (Scott, 2002).


To further understand the phenomena of the shaman we must examine the cosmology and fundamental worldviews that shamanism subscribes to. One of the cross-cultural similarities we see in shamanism is a clear defining of the cosmos or the world and how it works. What is the nature of the shaman’s cosmos? Although there are numerous cultural variations, there are also many similarities. One similarity is that the shaman’s universe is often three-tiered. It is comprised of an upper, middle, and lower world. The upper and lower worlds may be multilayered. What makes the shaman a ‘cosmic traveler’ is the ability to traverse these multiple worlds at will. Eliade (1964) claimed that

The pre-eminently shamanic technique is the passage from one cosmic region to another- from earth to the sky or from the earth to the underworld. The shaman knows the mystery of the break-through in plane. This communication among the cosmic zone is made possible by the very structure of the universe (p. 183).

The very structure of the universe to which Eliade (1964) refers is its interconnectedness. The three worlds are often linked by an axis mundi or world axis. Eliade pointed out that in diverse myths the essential concept is to be seen, even after being exposed to various influences. There are three great cosmic regions, believed successively traversed because they are linked together by a central axis. This axis passes through an ‘opening’ and it is through here that the gods are said to descend to earth and travel to the dead and the subterranean regions. Through this place, the shaman’s soul moves upward or downward, allowing him/her to journey to these various worlds of seeing.

Three forms of the central axis are common to diverse cultures and myths. The first is the “cosmic mountain” at the centre of the earth, such as the seven-story mountain that the Yakut shaman climbs. The second is the “world pillar” that often holds up the sky and the third is the “world tree” used as a symbol of life, fertility, and sacred regeneration that the shaman climbs to other worlds (Walsh, 2007). Whatever its form, the world axis symbolizes the connection between worlds that the shaman alone is able to traverse.

The shaman’s worlds and levels are more than interconnected; they also interact with one another. Shamans believe that these interactions can be perceived and affected by one who knows how to do so and that the shaman, like a spider at the centre of a cosmic web, can feel and influence distant realms (Walsh, 2007).  All parts of this interconnected universe are seen as alive and conscious to some degree. In contemporary philosophical language, these would be the doctrines of hylozoism and animism. Hylozoism is the belief that all objects are imbued with life. Animism is the belief that every object is invested with a mind or soul (Walsh). When western intellectuals hold this same belief, it is renamed panpsychism.

As metaphysicians, shamans tend to be ontological realists. Where westerners might regard the upper and lower worlds as mental construction, shamans regard them as independently existing realms. Harner (1990) points out that for the shaman, “the mind is being used to gain access, to pass through a door into another reality which exists independently of that mind.” This is another example of the literal and realist interpretation of experience that often characterizes the shamanic worldview. For the shamans’ tribes’ people, this multilayered cosmos is a myth and article of faith, for the shaman, it is direct experience. They alone navigate these layers and turn a cosmology into a road map, which they can then use to acquire information and power (Walsh, 2007). This means that only shaman can transform a cosmo theological concept into a “concrete mystical experience” (Eliade, 1964, p. 179). This is critical to our understanding because it demonstrates the difference between the religious life of people and the religious experience of a peoples’ shaman, the latter being a personal ecstatic experience.


1. Shamanic practitioners share the conviction that all entities are animate or imbued with a holistic life force, vital energy, consciousness, soul, spirit, or some other ethereal or immaterial substance that transcends the laws of classical physics. Much of the shaman’s long training is dedicated to developing a high ethic, a value system founded on a deep reverence for all life (Tedlock, 2005). The Polynesian ‘mana’, Lakota ‘wakanda,’ Peruvian ‘causay’, Chinese Taoist ‘ch’I’ are conceived of as powerful life forces that permeate everything.

2. Shamans believe in the web of life in which all things are interdependent and interconnected; there is a cause and effect relationship between different dimensions, forces, and entities of the cosmos.

3. Shamans organize this complex reality in a series of levels that are connected by a central axis in the form of a world tree, pillar or mountain (Tedlock, 2005).  Shaman travel to these worlds moving up or down through the cosmic levels and sometimes sideways into alternative worlds upon the earth. The shamans of the mountains in Peru travel through a three-world cosmology, the ‘Ukhupatcha’, the underworld, the ‘Kaypacha’, the middle world, the world as we know it, and the ‘Hanakapatcha,’ the upperworld. There are sub worlds of stones, plants, ancestors, angelics and more. The shaman will travel to these worlds to perform soul retrievals, destiny retrievals, and healing for the community (Wilcox, 2004).

4.           Societies everywhere designate certain individuals as taking on the role of shaman for their group. Such people have the capacity to understand and change events in the ordinary world. They can accomplish this during normal waking consciousness or more typically they will enter an altered state of consciousness by rattling, drumming, fasting, undertaking a vision quest, engaging in lucid dreaming, and luminous awareness.

Shamans are people of percept. When they want to change the world, they engage in perceptual shifts that change their relationship to life. They envision the possible, and the outer world changes (Villoldo, 2000). The shamans are highly artistic and creative people and in fact may be considered the first artistically active people (Larsen, 1976). Compared with their peers, shamans excel in insight, imagination, fluency in language, and knowledge of cultural tradition (Walsh, 2007). They are known for their superb concentration. For example, during a journey they must focus for long periods without distraction, but their attention is not fixed immovably on a single object, as is a yogi’s, rather, their attention is fluid, moving freely as their journey unfolds (Tedlock, 2005). The shaman is an empiricist; he or she depends primarily on the firsthand experience of the senses to acquire knowledge (Harner, 1990). The shaman only operates in non-ordinary reality a small portion of the time, and only as needed to perform shamanic tasks, for shamanism is typically a part time activity and the shaman is usually an active participant in society (Eliade, 1964).

5.     Shamans recognize extraordinary forces, entities, or beings whose behavior in an alternative reality affects individuals and events in our ordinary world. They understand that actions or rituals performed in the ordinary reality can lead to effects in the alternative sphere.

It is important to recognize that in tribal society one does not elect to become a shaman but is chosen for one’s ability as a seer and a healer (Tedlock, 2005). In numerous instances, the position of shaman descends by inheritance, in either the male or female line, according to the prevailing system of tribal descent (Halifax, 1982). Larsen (1976) provides contradictory information,

Contrasted with this hereditary principle, we find many tribes where it plays at best but a small part. That the position is anywhere regarded as exclusively to be attained by inheritance seems not to be the case. More commonly the hereditary element is only moderately developed, and the position of shaman may equally well be obtained as a result of individual initiative, the man or woman seeking to acquire the gift, the position being regarded as open to all (p. 142).

There is also something like a supposed selection of the individuals by the supernatural beings who force him or her to enter the ranks of the shaman, and who punish refusal with death (Halifax, 1982).

Sometimes, the individual selected for shamanic initiation has some physical or psychological traits that distinguish him/her from the rest of society. For example, an illness or trauma may make it difficult for an individual to take on a normal role in his/her society (Levy, 1993).  Lommel (as cited by Levy) argued that “certain shamanistic phenomena correspond to the modern definition of certain mental disorders,” but went on to say that “precisely this ability to cure himself and progress from, let us say, a ‘negative’ psychological state to a ‘positive’ and productive one constitutes the difference between him and the modern psychotic”  (p. 15). For Lommel (1993) the shaman gets relief from his neurotic condition, among others, in artistic expression. Other anthropologists do not share Lommel’s view of shamanism as a kind of neurosis. Elkin (as cited by Levy, 1993) maintained that “aboriginal shamans have taken a degree in the secret of life beyond that taken by most adult males, a step which implies discipline, mental training, courage and perseverance” (p. 16).


“The old gods are dead and dying and people everywhere are searching…” (Campbell, 1988, p. 12).

We find today the world of shamanism is awakening. After long being demonized by clergy, diagnosed by psychiatrists, and dismissed by academics, interest in shamanism is thriving. How could this be? How could a tradition many times older than the pyramids survive in an era of space ships and superconductors? How could humankind’s most ancient healing discipline coexist with modern medicine? How could spiritual practices that preceded the Bible, Buddha, and Lao Tsu by thousands of years become popular in our Western scientific culture? Yet such is the case. Once there was a serious concern that these ancient practices might be lost forever. Now academic texts pour from printing presses, and there are waiting lists for workshops offering introduction to these archaic techniques of ecstasy. This explosion of Western interest reflects many factors, some are cultural, some academic, while others reflect a direct interest in the very nature of shamanism and the insurmountable benefits found from its techniques (Walsh, 2007). This cry for shamanic healing is a reflection of the shift of consciousness we are experiencing in this post-modern era. The western world is widening its lens of perception and opening itself to other worldviews. The ecological crisis of our times and the severe sense of separation experienced individually and collectively are lending itself to a nature-based spirituality, which shamanism offers. The people studying shamanism are no longer looking from the outside but are participating and learning the shamanic way, by direct experience. The Internet and increased world transportation has shrunk the world to a global village. Shamanism has become available to the world, emerging from underground in response to this cry for healing.

Anthropologists have studied shamanism since the birth of their discipline. Some of those studies were initially ethnocentric and dismissive, but over time became more sympathetic and balanced. Some anthropologists in the 1960s such as Barbara Tedlock, Michael Harner, and Larry Peters began to not just observe but to learn and practice shamanism themselves (Walsh, 2007).  In doing so they began to appreciate the power of its practices, the impact of its experiences, and the potentials of altered states in ways they had not even suspected. For some of them, shamanism went from being an interesting academic study to a compelling personal practice, a practice they sought to share. They did this not only through academic reports but also through popular writings and workshops. So powerful has Harner’s (1990) impact been, that he is widely credited with being the prime mover behind Western popularity in the West of shamanic practices and the birth of so-called ‘core-shamanism’ and ‘neoshamanism’ (Walsh). Harner suggests that the contemporary interest in shamanism is the result of the fact that people no longer trust ecclesiastical dogma and authority to provide them with information about the realm of spirit or even evidence that there is a spirit. Instead, they require higher standards of evidence. The people of today require first-hand experience to draw their own conclusions as to the nature and limits of reality (Harner). Shamanism provides a way to conduct these personal experiments, for it is a methodology, not a religion.

Another factor is that Western culture has significantly changed. In our global village, with cultures living with and merging into one another, there is widespread interest in non-Western healing and spiritual practices. A clear manifestation of this is the current trend of popular culture embracing yoga and meditation. This love affair with spiritual practices now encompasses traditions from all parts of our shrinking globe. Jewish Kaballah, Christian contemplation, Sufi zikr, and Hindu and Taoist yoga all have western devotees (Walsh, 2007). It was surely only a matter of time before this newfound fascination would encompass shamanism.

Another powerful and controversial factor in the opening of the Western mind was psychedelics (Walsh, 2007). Their widespread use in the sixties found millions of people blasted into types of experiences and states of consciousness that were, quite literally, beyond their wildest dreams. A significant part of Western culture experienced powerful alternate state of consciousness but found they had no framework or discipline within which to place their experiences (Harner, 1990). What to make of these states and the drugs that induce them is still an unsolved puzzle for the Western world. However, it was surely inevitable that they would fuel fascination with tribal practitioners who use them in systematic, sacred ways for spirituality and healing (Walsh). “They searched in the books of Castenada and others for road maps of their experiences, and sensed the secret cartography lay in shamanism” (Harner, p. 23).

Shamanism has wide appeal today also because it is a spiritual ecology (Harner, 1990). In this time of worldwide environmental crisis, shamanism provides reverence for, and spiritual communication with, the other beings that inhabit the Earth and with the Planet itself. In shamanism there is a two-way spiritual communication that resurrects the lost connections our human ancestors had with the awesome spiritual power and beauty of our garden Earth. There is a strong link between shamanic practice and environmental protection. Our ancient hunting and gathering ancestors recognized that their environment held the power of life and death over them, and considered such communication essential for survival (Harner).

A final factor contributing to the popularity of shamanism in the present day is the availability and nature of some shamanic practices. Interested Westerners no longer have to climb Nepalese mountains or brave Amazon jungles, although a surprising number do. Most happily settle for a comfortable and nearby hotel where they can enrol in one of the many available ‘neoshamanic’ workshops. The classic shamanic methods work surprisingly quickly, and most persons can achieve in a few hours what might otherwise take years of silent meditation, prayer or chanting (Harner, 1990). “Some people with no prior training can walk into a workshop and, within minutes of listening to shamanic drumming, experience meaningful visions and insights” (Walsh, 2007, p. 27). Of course, initial workshop experiences are very different from traditional mastery that can require many years of arduous training and testing. In fact, there is debate about whether the aforementioned workshops for westerners should even be called ‘shamanic training’ and there is great conflict around the contemporary use of the word ‘shaman’ particularly in these western models. Harner (1990) speaks to this from his point of view as the founder of ‘neo shamanism’:

These new practitioners are not “playing Indian,” but going to the same revelatory spiritual sources that tribal shamans have travelled to from time immemorial. They are not pretending to be shamans; if they get shamanic results for themselves and others in this work, they are indeed the real things. Their experiences are genuine and, when described, are essentially interchangeable with the accounts of shamans from nonliterate tribal cultures. The shamanic work is the same, the human mind, heart, and body are the same; only the cultures are different (p. 23)

Eleanor Ott (1995) contests this view based on the cultural context of our time, and urges us to take a critical look at shamans and ethics in a global world. She emphasizes that until recently the shaman was the heartbeat of a tightly knit indigenous or traditional community that integrated the social and spiritual, material and mythic realm (1995). She furthers her argument stating:

The shaman, as keeper of generations of accumulated knowledge and experience, entered ecstatic flight not for personal gain or to foster inner growth, but to maintain a reciprocal relationship between the human and other-than-human worlds, talk with spirits and return with wisdom and healing. Today many who dub themselves shamans no longer belong to a culture or community embedded in such a shamanic perspective, but rather come from the present generation of those primarily searching to find themselves (p. 280).

New shamans are isolated from a conceptual and contextual community that has an integrated worldview and mythos that is incomplete without the role of the shaman (Ott, 1995). It is both hard and easy to use the term shaman. Hard because it is not always readily apparent who among the various practitioners in a society are the shamans, or the healers, dreamers, witches and wizards, priestesses and priests? The lines between these categories and others are not the same among the many peoples of the world. However, the word shaman can be readily slipped on, like a second-hand sweater, even when there may be no justification for it.

“Shamans require a grounded cosmology and the support and criticism of their community to deal with their shadow selves and the dark side of power” (Narby & Huxley, 2004, p. 56). Without a community that recognizes the new shaman as an integral part of the culture, what makes these people in fact shamans at all, except that they so call themselves? How does the new shaman avoid problems of ego inflation, lust for power, greed, and other psychological issues that can arise to test the new shaman’s integrity? Ott (1995) furthers this inquiry looking carefully at power.

Power is directed by the shaman’s own inner will for evil or for good. In this sense, power itself is neutral and available to the shaman who shapes power by his own, by her own intention, desire, motive, drive and will. Especially for the new shaman isolated from a watchful community, it is more difficult to remain pure in heart with regard to issues of power. The facts that the petitioner receives information or direction from the spirit world to act in a certain way or to do a certain thing does not in and of itself justify that action or guarantee that that action will be benevolent (p. 290).

All manner of spirits are there to lead those who turn to the spirit world (Tedlock, 2005). Which spirits come to the petitioner depends totally on the integrity and intention of the one who is seeking them. “When the shaman holds clearly the map of the community’s mythos, then the shaman is able to discern among the spirits and to perceive the meaning or truth of the messages the spirits deliver” (Ott, 1995, p. 278). Either consciously or unconsciously each of us can be facile in duping ourselves into thinking or believing whatever serves our end. “Only with vigilance and the constant discipline of honestly examining one’s own motives, of bringing one’s deepest urges for power and control to light, can one get beyond one’s shadow self” (Narby & Huxley, 2005, p 39).

The many roles of the ancient shaman will never totally be acted out again; the world is too much altered and changed. Yet there are aspects of the ancient work that remain valid because all people share the basic human needs for the nourishment and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit. So long as these aspects of life remain ephemeral and uncertain, there will always be a place for the person who can provide relief from the illnesses, pains, and insecurities that humans suffer. The challenge for the new shaman today, if indeed there must be new shaman, is to maintain a strong personal ethical balance, free of self-delusion. This requires wisdom and knowledge and a lifetime commitment to this awesome responsibility (Ott, 1995).

Ruth-Inge Heinze (1991) addresses the criterion for calling oneself a shaman, the first of which being that the individual can access alternating states of consciousness at will.

The major difference between channels, mystics, prophets and shamans is that the former may be able to convey the encounter with the “Divine” while shamans facilitate its manifestations in the Here and Now and actively participate in the dynamic relationships between the explicate and implicate order (Heinze, 1991, p.56).

The second criterion furthers that the shaman serves his or her community and fulfils vital needs (Heinze, 1991). Lastly, “shamans are the mediators between the secular and the sacred, requiring artistic faculties to translate the divine messages into a language understood by all of the community” (Heinze, p. 59).

My first teacher in shamanistic practices often cautioned to those who want to call themselves a shaman that they better be able to call a thunderbolt from the sky, make it rain, and grow some corn. In my training I have never used lightly the term shaman. As I continue my studies I have encountered differing standards regarding the use of this term. My current teacher Jose Luis Herrara has no problem referring to his students as western shaman. He holds a cosmology where there is a hierarchy of power within shamans. He is also guided by the Qero people, a tribe of high mountain shaman, who prophesize of the new world where the eagle and the condor fly together, north and south America fly together, and the ancient teachings of the Incas are past on to the new shaman of the western world who want the knowledge and are ready (personal communication, October 11, 2009). This demonstrates that shamanism can be adapted and is adapting to the global community where we are all interconnected and the matrix of the cosmos and the earth are changing rapidly. The Qero see the need for change as being answered in this passing on of the ancient shamanic traditions (personal communication, April 12, 2007).

There are no doubt conflicting views on the contemporary practices of shamanism. Questions of ethics and integrity as well as appropriation need to be constantly addressed with critical thought. As a student and teacher of these contemporary shamanic practices, I am invested in this popular marketplace of shamanism. I often question the integrity of self-proclaimed shamans and will often critically look at some of the teachings I am given through my own study. I do not call myself a shaman. I consider myself a student of the practices of shamanism.  I practice belief based in experience so guide my own study as well as the training of my students into direct experience. Most new shamans arrive under their individual initiative, looking for their own healing, often to come out of a crisis as I did.  Currently what is being practiced is based mainly on the healing of the self.  This work of the personal is being bridged to the greater collective and service to the community. The emergent trends I am witnessing are still grounded mainly in self-discovery and healing. The techniques used for this self-discovery and healing are shamanic; to say my students and I are shaman I believe is incorrect. We are training to master ‘spirit flight’ and to evolve from the personal to the collective so we may be available to a destiny that will need contemporary shamanic practitioners to care for this global community and our connection with the animating forces of the land and the worlds of spirits.

In this way, new shamans must look to nature to learn the authenticity of these ancient techniques of ecstasy. It is possible that the community that will hold and question our integrity can be the animating land itself and the forces of the spirit world. We must strive towards mastery of mapping our communities’ collective unconscious and create the cartography through experience of navigating the spirit worlds and accessing the powers of the land.  I agree with David Abrahms (1996) when he says:

Anthropology’s inability to discern the shaman’s allegiance to nonhuman nature has led to a curious circumstance in the “developed world” today, where many persons in search of spiritual understanding are enrolling in workshops concerned with “shamanic methods” of personal discovery and revelation. Psychotherapists and some physicians have begun to specialize in “shamanic healing techniques.” Shamanism has thus come to connote an alternative form of therapy; the emphasis, among these new practitioners of popular shamanism, is on personal insight and curing. These are noble aims, to be sure, yet they are secondary to, and derivative from, the primary role of the indigenous shaman, a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes. Mimicking the indigenous shaman’s curative methods without his intimate knowledge of the wider natural community cannot, do anything more than trade certain symptoms for others, or shift the locus of dis-ease from place to place within the human community. The source of stress lies in the relation between the human community and the natural landscape (p. 25).

Shamanism at its best goes far beyond a self-concerned transcendence of ordinary reality. It is transcendence for a broader purpose, the helping of humankind. The enlightenment of shamanism is the ability to light up what others perceive as darkness and thereby to see and to journey on behalf of humanity. This is no small task.


At the heart of shamanic practice is the active pursuit of knowledge. Shamans are primarily concerned with the maintenance or the restoration of equilibrium in all elements of the individual as well as the cosmos. Shamans, like scientists, personally pursue research into the mysteries of the universe, and believe that the underlying causal processes of that universe are hidden from ordinary view (Harner, 1990).

The shamanic perception of well-being does not only encompass physical health in the medical sense, nor is it restricted to mental health in the psychiatric sense. It includes good nutrition, good friendship, prosperity, and successful business and warfare. All of these things depend on ideas of balance, flow and equilibrium in the environment, and on ideas of giving and withholding, love and anger, and motivation and intention among the spirits that animate this environment (Tedlock, 2005).  Shamanic healing methods work effectively for treating many conditions. The methods take into consideration not only the patient’s physical symptoms of illness or injury, but also the patient’s beliefs and psychological and social needs. Shamanism is a holistic approach to healing that treats the individual as a part of the community and natural world.

Birth and death provide key actions and metaphors within these shamanic systems, and novice shamans are said to ‘to be born to’ or ‘to die to’ the profession. Later, in their subsequent practices, they may assist at actual births and deaths (Tedlock, 2005). In the distant past there probably were purely shamanist communities, but today shamanism is only one spiritual strand mixed together with others, including, in various degrees, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and various folk religions. As it lacks an institutional framework and a central figure, shamanism appears, disappears, and reappears in varied historical and political settings (Tedlock).

Shamanism fulfills deep-seated spiritual needs and offers a form of help and healing that other arenas in society cannot (Tedlock, 2005). Shamanism is also open ended, meaning that it can be changed to meet new circumstances, whereas religious systems generally emphasize following traditional practices, so they are more resistant to change. The ancient origins of shamanism give it extra special value, as it has been improved over thousands of years and has been modified in response to changing cultures and conditions (Walsh, 2007). What remains central in the shamanic belief is that human beings are a reflection of nature’s balance and imbalance.

Shamanic practice does not need to conflict with currently held beliefs, one can think of shamanic practice as an addition to beliefs already held (Harner, 1990). Shamanism has complemented my personal practice of healing through the arts and ceremony, cultivated belief based in experience, and opened space for more growth and integration.


The shamans across land and time have been considered masters of the imagination and use the arts to move energy (Herrara, personal communication, October 11, 2009). From our variety of definitions we can see that the shaman was known as the artist, performer, and poet. The anthropologist Carlton Coon stated, “Whatever else he may be, the shaman is a gifted artist” (Levy, 1993, p. 12). Levy furthers this claim declaring:

Shamans have been the intermediaries between ordinary and non-ordinary states of reality. Shamans have visions and record them in poetry, song, and the visual arts for the spiritual and therapeutic benefit of the community. In addition to being seers, shamans are also artists- painters, carvers, musicians, dancers, and storytellers (p. 16).

Eliade (1964) in his epilogue remarks on the likeness between shamanic ecstasies and certain epic themes in oral literature. He goes on to postulate that, “what a magnificent book that remains to be written on the ecstatic “sources” of epic and lyric poetry, on the fabulous worlds discovered, explored, and described by the ancient shamans…”(p. 511). The adventures of shaman in alternate realities, in an ecstatic state, are not unlike that of the archetypes we see in popular tales and literature. In fact, it may be that these images and characters of our epic tales were rooted in the recollects of shaman’s journeys. Eliade also argues that poetry may have first grown out of shamanism and that the euphoria one would experience prior to the ecstatic state is the perfect breeding ground for poetic thought. In preparing for trance, the shaman would drum, ring bells to summon his spirit guides to speak a secret language or animal language like the song of birds. In the end, the shaman is left with that which provides the impetus for the creation of word play and the rhythm of poetry. Poetry is “an act of perfect spiritual freedom” (Eliade, p. 515). Having come from a secret language, the language of a personal universe, Eliade argues that poetry seems “to re create language from an inner experience,” (p. 513) which can be said to, “reveal the essence of things” (p. 513).

The shaman’s successful contact with the spirit world is the source of his or her visions. They can then act on or express the information given in a way their community will understand through different art modalities (Tedlock, 2005). Heinze (1991) determined that the many roles of shaman require artistic faculties. “Divine messages tend to be ineffable, then shamans have to create symbols, metaphors, and rituals to translate and deliver the message, i.e., they shift the attention of their clients through their art” (p. 39). Shamans are the mediators between the sacred and the secular when they translate the ‘divine’ messages into a language understood by all (Levy, 1993).

For example, the shaman may use a sandpainting as a visual guidance for the client’s illness to be extracted from his or her body and placed into nature where it can be taken care of by spirit. In this way, the client can witness this process. A shamanic sandpainting comes in many different varieties depending on the culture the shaman is practicing in. Essentially, sandpaintings are mandalas made in nature with organic items. This often circular or animal like formation is created as a container to depict and hold the source of disease found inside the client and/or communities body, mind and spirit when the shaman ‘sees with closed eyes’ (Wilcox, 2004).  The sandpainting will serve as a visual tool for the shaman to pass on the unseen information regarding the illness to the pertaining client to also be able to witness and directly experience through artistic means. The shaman will further use the sandpainting by looking at it and interpreting the symbology into an appropriate language understandable for the client. Shamanic sand paintings disappear within days or even hours after having performed their purpose in a healing ritual. Most often they are done with great care and precision. Their disappearance has to do with accomplishment and healing, not with disintegration (Flack, 1986).

Music and song are often central in shamanic healing rituals (Walsh, 2007). The recognition that music can heal is an ancient one. In Warao shamanism it is believed that music alone is capable of causing the shaman to reach an altered state of consciousness in which he has contact with the supernatural world (Olsen, 1975). Olsen describes the Warao shaman’s use of music as producing a “pure” trance, similar to the meditative trance state achieved by Buddhist monks while using music to reach enlightenment. Music is the vehicle, or the shamanic tool, among the Warao that induces this so-called ‘pure’ trance state during the shaman’s benevolent curing role and even, perhaps, during his malevolent role as an inflictor of destruction and illness.

A wisiratu shaman explained that while he is singing he is not a person like other Warao; he is a supernatural being. As the wisiratu speaks, through song, to the hebu spirits and the hebus answer through him, he becomes transformed himself (Olsen, 1975). Another bahanarotu shaman refers to his transformation into a powerful supernatural being as he sings, “I am the hebu.” He later explained that his helping spirit, who lives within his chest, is himself speaking in the second half of the song.

Unlike the narcotic-induced trance states of many other Amerindian cultures, which usually require considerable time for the effects of the drug to wear off, the Warao shamans are once again “normal” as soon as they have finished their curing or inflicting task. The Warao shaman enters his trance state as soon as he begins to sing, and upon completion of his song or song cycle he returns completely and immediately to his former, pretrance state (Olsen, 1975). Olsen believes this is an example of ‘pure’ trance as expounded by Eliade.

One of the main techniques of ecstasy in shamanism is the ability to step beyond time into an alternate world where time is not linear and does not have the cause and effect relationship we experience as laypeople today. Different art modalities are a tool for the shaman to step outside of time. “The very essence of great art is its ability to cut through time” (Flack, 1986, p.17). Eliade (1964) stated that,

Primitive man believed that an object or act became real only insofar as it imitated or repeated another’s ritual act. Inherent in the imitation of archetypes and in the repetition of paradigmatic gestures is that, in this way, time was abolished  (p. 456).

A current sacrifice, for example, not only reproduces the initial sacrifice at the beginning of time, but it also takes pace at the same primordial, mythical moment; every sacrifice repeats the original sacrifice, and coincides with it. All sacrifices are performed at the same mythical instant at the beginning.  “Through the paradox of rite, profane time and duration are suspended” (Flack, 1986, p. 94). What we discover in probing archaic rites and rituals is the willingness to devalue time. A Rembrandt self-portrait is as alive today as the day it was created. Each time we look at it, we re-enact the ritual of calling it to life, the very act of which has taken place by others performing this ritual for several hundred years. Profane time and duration are suspended. The image of the painting glides through time and space, in another dimension (Flack).

The shaman uses many different art disciplines often moving, between modalities within techniques of healing and accessing alternative worlds. The art discipline chosen by the shaman will always depend on the cultural context of the ritual being performed and the mastery of the particular shaman. Shamans are performance artists with their public healing ceremonies (Walsh, 2007). The shaman can also be a musician and dance artist, singing, drumming, rattling and whistling. The dramatist is seen in tribal shaman when they us psychodrama in family healing rituals. Dreamtime is a place where shamans are masters of imagination. Shaman across time have used all different art disciplines in every aspect of their healing work. Healing itself is considered an art form in some circles, and is often referred to as the healing arts. Shamans embody the arts in all ways.


“Ritual, through its formal properties, can traditionalize or sacrilize anything… Rituals always provide meaning” (Evans, 1996, p. 23).

A ritual can mean different things for different people, according to Scott (2002); a ritual is any series of actions that are performed repeatedly for a particular purpose. Whereas Ellenberger (1970) defined ritual as “formal, patterned, and stereotyped public performances” (p. 29). Ritual is a part of every society, and just as habit is the flywheel of psychological stability, so ritual is the flywheel of social stability (Walsh, 2007). Rituals embody and express a people’s worldview: their ‘big picture’ understanding of reality. Rituals are more artistically emphasized in shamanism. They are public performances paralleling contemporary performance art rather than stereotyped public performances. The shaman will create a clearly different experience through the ritual than the participants’ everyday reality. This is important for the potential healing capacity of the ritual to be available. Particularly in ceremony and ritual the shaman is the ancient archetype of the modern performance artist.

Rituals in shamanism can be as varied as journeying, smoking a sacred pipe, or dancing like an animal. Like everything else in shamanism, rituals vary tremendously between cultures and are dependent on what is being called for. They can be simple performed by an individual to elaborate ceremonies that go on for days and involve the whole community. For example, many Plains Indian groups, like the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Sioux, Objiwa, and Blackfoot tribes participate in four to eight day Sun Dance ceremonies and have done so since time immemorial (Scott, 2002).  Shamanic rituals are used for a variety of purposes: to heal, to gain information and solve problems, rites of passage, initiations, transmissions, to honour and celebrate the seasons, to recognize and work with the elements of nature, to travel through the upper, middle, and lower worlds; and to meet and improve relationships with spirit helpers, guides, teachers and power animals (Scott).

Most shamanic healing occurs within the context of ritual. Healing rituals focus on expressing beliefs about the cause and cure of illness and invoking the spirit world to participate in the healing necessary to bring back equilibrium (Walsh, 2007). Healing rituals have both technical and symbolic components. The technical element can be a straightforward intervention such as bone setting or massage, but even a simple technique is often embedded in a symbolic context (Walsh). The symbolic component seeks to effect change in the patient, the world, and the spiritual realm via manipulation of symbols: objects that represent important forces or beings (Walsh). Both technical and symbolic components are therapeutic.

In the collective culture, rituals evoke communitas: a sense of shared concern, contribution, and humanity (Wilber, 2006).  Importantly, psychotherapy studies find that cohesion is a crucial factor in determining the healing power of groups (Walsh, 2007). In the objective world of society, rituals can repair relationships, solidify and stabilize social structures, and affirm or challenge authority (Wilber). In fact, in contemporary anthropology, ritual is increasingly seen as “A symbolic device integral to the communication and construction of power… ritual and ritual symbols are increasingly understood as a complex battleground in the struggle for hegemony” (Evans, 1996, p. 276).

Rituals transform the inner world of participants, especially patients. Ritual will change experience and expectations, nourish a sense of relationship and support, and encourage reconciliation with the spirits and the sacred. These subjective experiences mediate and evoke objective effects on the body and its disease. Rituals can exert remarkably wide-ranging effects on the body via symbolic penetration. As their meaning is highly charged, the symbolic elements that are used in rituals penetrate into the mind-body system and elicit powerful psychological responses (Walsh, 2007). These in turn can cause a cascade of corresponding biological responses throughout the body. These responses extend across organ systems such as the brain, endocrines, and autonomic nervous system, and across biological levels from organs to physiology to biochemistry and even down to gene expression (the way in which genes create new cellular building blocks) (Kandel, 1998).

Walsh (2007) offers us a breakdown of what an effective healing ritual simultaneously covers at its best:

Cultural Therapy: Healing and cohering culture and creating communitas

Sociotherapy: Repairing relationships, harmonizing social structures, and stabilizing society

Psychosomatic Therapy: Diminishing disease and its complications

Gene Therapy: Modulation of gene expression

Psychotherapy: Healing the subjective dis-ease of illness

Spiritual Therapy: Relieving a sense of alienation and estrangement form the universe, creating a sense of connection and alignment with the sacred, and fostering a transpersonal/transegoic sense of identity (2007).

This spiritual element is central to shamanism. As Abraham Maslow (1968) put it: “Without the transcendent and the transpersonal, we get sick, violent, and nihilistic, or else hopeless and apathetic” (p. 211). At their best, shamanic rituals probably induce this full spectrum of healing responses, and they do so through a rich array of technical and symbolic methods.


To conclude this very brief overview of a huge and complex topic I come back to my personal impulses to study shamanism. Shamanism fulfils a spiritual longing. To me, the shaman is the maverick, the trailblazer, and the pioneering explorer that can have novel experiences that transcend the conventions of our culture and eventually transform it.  This is the process Walsh (2007) describes as ‘detribalization’ by which an individual dis-identifies from certain cultural assumptions.

Through the shamanic experience I am able to look at these cultural assumptions rather than look through them and can then work on them to transform them and the culture. This is an important goal of a spiritual practice that shamanism offers, to foster this kind of liberation from cultural illusions. We cannot assume that spiritual practices alone could reveal and liberate all cultural conditioning. Shamanic experiences are clearly shaped by cultural cosmology, but in the long run, shamanic experiences may reshape and enrich this cosmology. By this I mean the sources for innovations that become available when a need arises. Innovative, provocative, inspiring thoughts do arise with one or two spiritually advanced individuals. These individuals shift attention and overcome stereotypes, bring problems to the surface so that they can be dealt with, and they translate ineffable messages of the sacred into secular language. Such individuals are considered to be ‘shamans’ all over the world (Hienze, 1991).

As an artist, shamanism offered me inspirational new material through the performance art of ceremony and ritual. It has deepened my connection with nature and given meaning to the things I was already engaged in. I was no longer making art for an unknown mysterious reason. I was following an impulse that would reveal to me some of the secrets of the mystery itself. Studying shamanism allowed my pursuit of mountain climbing new spiritual meaning and deepened my connection to the power of the land. Shamanism became a way to contextualize my life and bring it the deeper meaning that I was looking for.

Within the study of contemporary shamanism I was hit with the New Age phenomena that was difficult for me to sit within comfortably at times. I was struck by the airiness of its workings and yet astounded by my personal experiences. I found myself in a paradox of beliefs. I wanted to continue this path of study and also share my experiences but felt a growing need to ground this shamanic knowledge into a mainstream culture. I looked naturally to the arts. I wanted to know how to apply shamanism and the arts into a practice that would be substantial enough to embrace that which I already knew with new knowledge from the western traditions. It was here that expressive arts therapy became my inevitable choice for new study and integration. I quickly learned that expressive therapies were themselves a field for the maverick and likely to be able to hold the material of shamanism and the arts that I was bringing. It was my hope to acquire a liberal education that would also allow me some solidarity to sufficiently remove myself from the New Age culture that did not offer me the grounding I felt necessary to feel solid in passing this work forward. This ultimately has led to this thesis on expressive arts shamanism.



“Art is medicine” was a mantra that came to me as I worked on a media art project documenting a woman’s affliction with Bell’s palsy. The Urban Shaman Collective facilitated and documented her telling her story, making sound and music, visual art, dance and poetry to explore her illness and promote healing within the art making activities and the final documentary installation piece.  Passing along the top screen was the non-stop subliminal message of this mantra “Art is Medicine.” The research for this project led me to encounter Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination by Shawn McNiff (1992).  I was lucky enough to have been guided to an expressive arts therapist at that time and my career began to unfold. I was a believer in the power of art to transform and transcend a person from trauma into a soul recovery and to facilitate a recapitulation of past events and spiritual experiences. My professors at art school were not too impressed by my impulses but witnessed also the transformation that was happening by both artist and audience while I was holding this intention, not for high art, but for a healing experience guided by aesthetics that required skill and sensitivity.

To better comprehend expressive arts therapy, some of the fundamental philosophies, practices, and theories that form it as a field of psychotherapy and creative arts must be examined. Like shamanism, it is not an easy task to define the work of diverse artists, healers, and philosophers that make up this field to date. Expressive arts therapy is one of several forms that use the arts and psychotherapy; it is my chosen field of study and practice with the healing arts.  I do not assume to be an expert, but endeavour to stand along the pioneering others looking to deepen our knowledge with the interdisciplinary use of the arts and healing, a field that continues to evolve through ongoing, international discourse.  A brief overview will define expressive arts therapy and some of specific philosophies and theories and practices of the field will be examined. I will cover the material that I have adopted in my own work bridging shamanism and expressive arts therapy. This will allow for the later comparison of the expressive arts to shamanism.


Expressive arts therapy uses different art modalities, ritual, and play to assist the client/artist to make contact with his/her authentic self. The expressive arts therapist uses dance, drama, music, visual arts, and poetry. Other disciplines are used if the therapist has expertise in that particular discipline for example video or photography. Each discipline brings special strengths and abilities in bridging the expanse between the literal reality of “here now” and the world of the imagination, where life stories are written in mythic form and life experiences are held in symbols (Essex, 2007). A key distinction of expressive arts therapy within the creative therapies is its “intermodal” approach. The expressive arts will use more than one art modality within a session to deepen the experience and accessing new perspectives.  This use of more than one art discipline allows the therapist the ability to better follow the impulses of the client/artist as creative urges move from kinaesthetic sense to auditory to visual image. Interrelatedness between forms is created thru changing art modalities and is connected to the human imagination that functions thru multiplicity. The expressive arts profession carries a commitment to making connections between forms.

Expressive arts therapists are experts at tracking and following these non-verbal messages (Essex, 2007). They use verbal reflection to help make sense of and more deeply understand the art making process and art produced.  The term “expressive arts” is used to distinguish this way of working from entertainment or purely aesthetic uses of art making (Essex). Essex describes expressive arts therapy as having a purpose to make art, which not only creates a vessel or container for the suffering and conflicts of a life, but gives a voice to life’s joys and grandeur as well. Creating art is an inherent faculty of all human beings. In the act of creating, the client/artist actively participates in his or her own healing, using the language of his or her own psyche, thereby being guided from within, rather than imposed from external sources.

Expressive arts therapists view the therapeutic relationship as central to this process (Rogers, 1993.) It is an aesthetic relationship, with ethics, values and protocols which are particular to those unique circumstances which arise in the expressive arts studio where the client and therapist might find themselves up to their elbows in clay or putting on face paint, or crawling on the floor. The education of the expressive arts therapists differs from other creative arts therapists in that they are art based rather than psychology based and coach their work in the language and processes of the arts. An interdisciplinary education allows the expressive arts therapist to be influenced and informed by philosophy, psychology, studio art and other areas of study (Essex, 2007).


“A philosopher’s system of thought always arises from her autobiography”                                                                                                     (Nietzsche, 1966, p. 33)

Whenever one engages in philosophical thought it is important to note those thinkers that come before, but it is also our responsibility to move forward with new ideas and concepts to evolve beyond those who have preceded us. This is the natural cycle of life and the pressing quality of this time. We must honor our ancestors and listen closely, to spring forward with a quantum leap to places never dreamed of in their minds because we are different, and should be so. This use of the creative arts to create a new paradigm within psychotherapy Kriz (2006) refers to as “stepping forth with courage”(p.27). I am grateful for the opportunity to find a well-constructed form that gives me the tools to communicate within the western model professionally and constructively. This is something I felt missing within my training as a healer and artist to this point. Expressive arts therapy has maverick scholars in its foundational voices.

To be legitimized academically, expressive arts therapy needs to be defined however, this creates a constructive box, which by its very nature presents restriction.  The next term of engagement in philosophical growth will come from what Levine (1992) speaks of as “truth that can only be thought by being lived” (p. 7). This thesis suggests that contemporary shamanic techniques of ecstasy can keep this box from closing in on itself and lead the expressive arts into growth beyond measure.

It is important to discuss some of the philosophical thought that expressive arts therapy has been born from and built on. It is precisely this groundwork behind the actual processes of using the expressive arts in healing that sings to my soul and has ultimately drawn me to this field.  Expressive arts therapy ministers to the soul. I sense that the deepest impulse of the arts in healing is this capacity to respond to the soul’s needs and callings through the art and facilitate the path to transformation and evolution.

Expressive arts therapy holds a humanistic approach trusting in an inherent impulse towards growth in every individual, an innate capacity of each person to reach toward his or her full potential (Rogers, 1993). This expression of trust in the awakening to a vision of our healed state, and even possibly of our experience of infinity, can be held through the creative act of making art and trusting the art that comes forward as a true expression of the soul both collective and individual asking to be received and served. It then becomes critical to discuss expressive arts therapy and its philosophy in relation to itself and the concept of the soul. Although a more complex definition of soul will be later expounded, for now, the word ‘soul’ will be used as defined as Hillman (as cited in Knill, Levine and Levine, 2005) “the quality of existence that gives vitality to our experience”(p. 54).

Hillman’s definition of soul can be compared with the way African-American traditions speak of something as having or not having ‘soul.’ It is the archetype of the anima, which animates the psyche, which brings soul into the world in Hillman’s framework. The anima as the central archetype for Hillman represents everything meaningful and vital that is foreign to the ego.

What the ego lacks is soul. One must look away from this clarity of consciousness to find, that which gives our lives value. Soul dwells in the depths, in the dark, obscure places of the psyche, especially in its pathology (Knill et al., 2005).



What is the philosophy of human nature, the conception of human existence that permeates expressive arts therapy and gives it meaning? This conception of human existence, in German, is referred to as a menschenbild, literally an image or picture of the human. (Levine, 1992)  Poeisis in Greek refers specifically to the activity of making in general and signifies a particular medium of art, in this case poetry. Poiesis carries the general sense of any activity that brings something new into the world. “The conception of poiesis in the philosophy of expressive arts therapy is particularly appropriate to a decentred world in which this culture can no longer be taken as a norm” (Levine, p. 6).  Expressive arts therapy itself is a postmodern phenomenon. Poiesis is central to the menschenbild of the postmodern perspective of expressive arts therapy.

Levine (1992), one of the forefathers of the expressive arts therapy field, considers the activity of working through disintegration to be at the core of the creative and therapeutic process. He calls this act ‘poeisis’ and considers it to be at the centre of human existence. The essential moment when things fall apart, disintegrate, and fragment and human beings experience despair is when the possibility of creative living arises. This experience of the disintegration of the self and becoming the void allows a space for new forms of existence to emerge. The creative act, poiesis, happens at the death and rebirth of soul. It is a soul making process when we are called upon to re-form ourselves. “This new identity only lies in the actuality of the creative process. Poiesis as soul making” (Levine, p. 2) Poiesis is used as integrative affirmation and always emerges into a form. The soul finds it form in the arts. Poetry is the speech of the soul. While creativity itself can be interpreted in many different ways, for the purpose of this work, I will define it in terms of the expressive arts.




                   TO WHAT IS GIVEN



                                   A SURPRISE




                                      WITH THE FULL RANGE OF HUMAN RESOURCES





In conjunction with poiesis, expressive arts therapy philosophically is based in phenomenology. Phenomenology is a philosophical method developed in the early years of the twentieth century by Edmund Husserl and a circle of followers at the universities of Gottingen and Munich in Germany (Moran 2000).  Phenomenology comes from the Greek words ‘phainomenon’, meaning, “that which appears”, and ‘logos’, meaning, “study” (Moran, 2000). In Husserl’s conception,

Phenomenology is primarily concerned with making the structures of consciousness, and the phenomena, which appear, in acts of consciousness, objects of systematic reflection and analysis. Such reflection was to take place from a highly modified “first person” viewpoint, studying phenomena not as they appear to “my” consciousness, but to any consciousness whatsoever (Moran, 2000, p. 212).

Sometimes depicted as the “science of experience,” the phenomenological method is rooted in intentionality, Husserl’s theory of consciousness (developed from Brentano).  Hence the phenomenological method relies on the description of phenomena as they are given to consciousness, in their immediacy (Moran, 2000).  According to Maurice Natanson (1973) “The radicality of the phenomenological method is both continuous and discontinuous with philosophy’s general effort to subject experience to fundamental, critical scrutiny: to take nothing for granted and to show the warranty for what we claim to know” (p. 212).

Husserl’s conception of phenomenology has been criticized and further developed by his student Martin Heidegger, and by existentialists such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and other philosophers.  Heidegger modified Husserl’s conception of phenomenology because of what he perceived as his subjectivist tendencies. Whereas Husserl conceived humans as having been constituted by states of consciousness, Heidegger countered that consciousness is peripheral to the primacy of one’s existence which cannot be reduced to one’s consciousness of it (Knill et al., 2005).  From this angle, one’s state of mind is an effect rather than a determinant of existence, including those aspects of existence that one is not conscious of. By shifting the centre of gravity from consciousness (psychology) to existence (ontology), Heidegger altered the subsequent direction of phenomenology, making it at once both personal and mysterious. One of the consequences of Heidegger’s modification of Husserl’s conception of phenomenology was its increased relevance to psychoanalysis. Whereas Husserl gave priority to a depiction of consciousness that was fundamentally alien to the psychoanalytic conception of the unconscious, Heidegger offered a way to conceptualize experience that could accommodate those aspects of one’s existence that lie on the periphery of sentient awareness (Moran, 2000).

Heidegger’s movement of thought with phenomenology has lent itself well to the construction of a philosophy of expressive arts therapy. Although Heidegger’s thinking began with the concept of the life world or the world of everyday life, his phenomenological investigation into the fortitude of human existence led him to see this world as unable to provide its own ground (Knill et al., 2005). Heidegger’s focus was on the experience of the work of art as an essential way in which the world is manifested, he began to look to the arts for an encounter with the ground of being (Knill et al., 2005).


The essay written by Heidegger (as cited in Knill et al., 2005), “The Origin of the Work of Art” shows, through a phenomenological interpretation of specific works,

… The authentic work of art always manifests the world of an historical community. In so doing, the work shows the truth of this world to its members of the community. Art, therefore, can be seen as the “setting-itself-to-work” of truth…(p. 30).

Heidegger presents us with the philosophical thought of the work of art opening us to another experience of the world. He supposes that through this new way of perceiving the world through the face of the work of art, one is able to see the world in its truth. He suggests the work does not call to me alone but that the work takes place only within the “historical world in which the work is set forth, a world in which I dwell with others” (as cited in Knill et al., 2005, p. 29).

Heidegger leaves us with a reverence for that which is in art that resists complete understanding and a premise for the work of expressive arts therapy basing itself around the emerging work of art. He points at the significance of that which cannot be fully understood within art, and which gives us meaning for our existence. For Heidegger (as cited in Knill, Levine & Levine, 2005), the ‘thingly’ (i.e. tactile) nature of the work of art creates the essential feature of the work of art being resistant to understanding. We encounter the work as it has emerged out of the materials from which it has been made. The encounter with the matter of a work of art that is resistant to understanding shows us that the world is not self-sufficient. We see that the world can never be understood completely and that it rests on a non-objective ground. That form of the work of art brings this thought and gives us the source or origin of all meaning.

Through a recollection of the being of the work of art, Heidegger aims to establish grounds for the hope that humans can learn to dwell on the earth within a world filled with significance (Knill et al., 2005).  Within this framework of a phenomenological analysis of human existence, the arts occupy a central role to let meaning emerge through a shaping of what is given, if we can learn to respect the mystery of that which cannot be understood and controlled (Knill et al., 2005).

Heidegger created a beautiful theory that has allowed philosophers of expressive arts to build a system of healing through the arts around. However, it is important to note that Heidegger was a fervent supporter of Hitler and the Nazi’s. This spectacular flaw of thinking necessitates one to further his thoughts. I will provide another perspective; that of philosopher Iris Murdoch (1970, 1992). She argues that “great art points in the direction of the good and is at least more valuable to the moralist as an auxiliary than dangerous as an enemy” (Murdoch, 1992, p. 45). Art, in her opinion, can also show how we learn from pain. “The spiritual ambiguity of art,” she writes, “its connection with the ‘limitless’ unconscious, its use of irony, its interest in evil, worried Plato. But the very ambiguity and voracious iniquitousness of art is its characteristic freedom” (p. 49). Further, she writes that “Virtue is also found the same in the artist as it is in the good man in that it is a selfless attention, which is very easy to name but very hard to achieve” (Murdoch, 1970, p. 213). Murdoch’s philosophy on art is that art adds good and that art and ethics are related. This woman’s philosophical voice begins building a bridge between the shamanic continuities and the expressive arts this thesis finds necessary.

Concluding this section of philosophical thought grounding this field of expressive arts therapy I find it fitting and inspiring to quote one of the leading philosophers and poets of this field, Stephen Levine (1992):

The use of the arts as a means of healing the soul testifies to the inherent power of men and women to confront the depths of their own pain and to emerge with a sense that life is indeed worth living. In this way the expressive arts therapies can help to discharge the debt to future generations which all of us owe (p. 7).


The basis of the work of the expressive arts therapist and the field itself is around theories of the imagination. It is best for us to take a brief look at some of these theories and their relationship to the arts. Imagination itself resists definition. The Oxford dictionary (2001) defines imagination as “the part of the mind that imagines things, the ability to be creative or solve problems”; to imagine is “to form a mental picture of; to think that something is probable; to believe that something unreal exists” (p. 492). Theories of imagination explain that imagination is not totally controllable; it is predictable only in its unpredictability (Knill, Barba & Fuchs, 2004). We can distinguish three realms of imagination.

  1. Dream Space- this is the least controllable
  2. Daydream and Trance Space- these allow some guidance
  3. Artistic Activity- this has characteristics of both dream and daydream (Knill et al., 2004).

Out of these three phenomena of the imagination, we highlight artistic activity because of its sole capacity to hold the embodiment of imagination in an artwork that can be seen, heard, or touched simultaneously by both artist and witness (Knill et al., 2004). Jung declared that “the artistic act is of special value because it is a ‘thingly dream’ that can be witnessed, that rather than painting a dream, in the act of painting, the dream continues on canvas (as cited in Knill et al., p. 13). The importance of the imagination is recognized by psychoanalysis as a symbol of the unconscious, by the humanistic schools as an inner resource, and in the phenomenological school as the existential that shapes meaning (Knill et al.).


In the 1990s, Herbert Eberhart, Paolo Knill and the staff of the training institutes in the Foundation EGIS, and the European Graduate School developed the method of ‘Intermodel Decencentreing’ (Knill et al., 2004). This laid the foundation for some major methodological achievements in the field of expressive arts therapy. In this professional practice, the expressive arts therapist was named the ‘change agent’ working with ‘rites of restoration’ (Knill et al.).  The change agent is literally the facilitator of change, in other professional terms the therapist or healer. A rite of restoration refers to a session with the change agent, otherwise named a therapy or healing session.

There are two major concepts within the methods of expressive arts therapy that are pertinent to the activity of change agents.

  1. Decentring into an Alternative Experience of Worlding
  2. Increasing the Range of Play (Spielrum) (Knill et al., 2004, p. v).

All rites of restoration have a temporal frame that distinguishes them from everyday reality (Knillet al., 2004). The one asking for help has reached his or her limits, found problems of situational restrictions, personal ability, and literal reality closed in so much that no solution is in sight anymore. The one asking for help is in a place of restriction, an experience of worlding (the world they created for themselves) is a dire straits situation, a closed world, having no exit and lacking an adequate play range (Knill et al.). Most rites of restoration initiate a phase or phases where an alternative experience of worlding is introduced through practices that engage the imagination (Knill et al.).  An alternative experience of worlding is when the person seeking help has stepped out of the habitual experience of worlding found in everyday life. In this imaginary space emerging from the alternative worlding things are unexpected and surprising. The ‘thingly’ presence of the image created in the arts allows all those present to simultaneously witness it.

One significant component of the rites of restoration is to guide the client back from this alternative experience of worlding to everyday life. In this imaginary space, things are surprising in nature but still logical and describable. These things are different and happen differently than in everyday life and its narrative. This difference expands the ‘range of play’ in the restrictions of everyday life. “Change agents apply methods of bridging the two experiences, in order to find inroads for a change; clarification or understanding that eases the distress” (Knill et al., 2004, p.x) In later writing Knill (2005) refers to this bridging in the architecture of a session as ‘harvesting’. The alternative experience of worlding has two sources that may be anchored in everyday life the symbolic content of the imagination and the affective sensory experience (Knill et al., 2004).

Both an entrance and exit frame the phases of the alternative experience of worlding. In the entrance, the client leaves the troubled logic of daily life and enters the logic of imagination (Knill et al., 2004). At the exit comes the harvesting stage. Characteristic of all the ‘ins and outs’ of the alternative experience are aspects of ‘decentreing’ and ‘expanding the range of play.’ Moving away from the problem and way of being around the dead-end situation that marks the helplessness is decentering. Decentreing marks the opening to the logic of the imagination, which allows for unexpectedness, unpredictability and surprises. Providing a range of play contracts with the situational restrictions experienced by the seeker of help  (Knill et al.).


Expressive arts therapy is a form of psychotherapy that keeps art and or play at the centre of its discourse and practice between client and therapist. The art that emerges is referred to as ‘the third’ and is given the value of being alive, similar to viewing the world animistically, as the shaman does. In the field of psychotherapy, we know the emergents of the transmediated/imaginal realm as the ‘third’ (Knill et al., 2004). This emergent ‘third’ is used in an expressive arts therapy session as the main tool of transformation. Artists will always subscribe to the power of their work depending on their ability to have a serving attitude towards the emerging image, song, rhythm, scene or message. This ‘third’ is important in expressive arts therapy because of its central role in the human experience of the arts. “Such a readiness for surprise requires discipline and surrender in a process that asks for technique in its original meaning- skill, method and knowledge” (Knill et al., p. 23).



One theory of expressive arts therapy is of creating success through restriction via the art making. This theory contends that the client arrives with a sense of helplessness in a situation or an overall feeling of restriction (Knill et al., 2005). The therapist takes the client into an alternate world experience where the art and or play are at the centre and the client is taken away from the problem. This is referred to as ‘decentreing.’ Knill et al. further this theory of decentering by defining this approach as ‘resource oriented’ with the effects of decentering providing “a coping experience in a situation of restriction which has the affect of discovering resources” (p. 83) The therapist will restrict the art or play materials to create a structure that is most appropriate for a successful outcome within restriction for the client; this is referred to as framing in the architecture of a session  (Knill et al.).

Within this framing and restriction is another theory of ‘low skill and high sensitivity’ regarding the engagement in the arts by the client/artist. The engagement in the arts is based on accessibility, the client does not need to have a high skill level (the therapist does require skill in order to guide and make appropriate interventions within the art modality) coupled with deeply engaged awareness, awakened senses, and high sensitivity. The client and therapist then enter this ‘liminal space,’ or ‘alternate world,’ where imagination reigns and the emerging third is nurtured into existence by either the engagement between the client and therapist or the conscious lack of engagement and space holding by the therapist. This decentring stage then completes and is left behind by the client and the therapist. Harvesting begins and a bridge between the everyday life and presenting problem of the client and the alternate world experience is built, utilizing the resources found in the art making and play to bring healing potential to the clients everyday life.

This process frees the therapist from the power dynamic present in most helping situations by keeping the third, the emergent art work, at the centre of the discourse. The interpretations within the artistic mode of imagination happen in the presence of an emerged thingly work in process.  The client is the expert while this confrontational field, handled more or less playfully and in an exploratory manner, can contribute to either explanatory interpretations or answering interpretations (Knill et al., 2004).


Modern systems theory is fundamental in expressive arts therapy when working with the emerging piece of art that will find its form if given the right conditions. Often a lack of interference and holding space is all that is necessary for the natural process to take place.

Order for us is always the result of a reduction of complexity. We achieve this reduction by more or less chopping up the unique process of universal evolution- this chaos- into pieces, assigning these pieces to categories and thus inventing recurring patterns. By means of this creative dismembering the incomprehensible becomes, at least partially, comprehensible (Kriz, 2006, p. 51).

The general message of modern systems theory is “trust in being and becoming;” actualization of self organized order (Kriz, 2006, p. 55). Modern systems theory draws from the alternative knowledge that the natural science provides. Self-actualization refers to what a farmer or gardener is confronted with daily as they witness the complex order developing around them that is by no means considered solely the result of personal power and control over things. These people have always seen that through trust in the laws of nature and through the greatest possible harmony with them can one support those processes which call forth an autonomous order or enable an inherent order to develop (Kriz). One must trust in becoming rather than doing or controlling.

Self-actualization is a core concept in both shamanism and humanistic person-centred psychology philosophy; the innate capacity of each person to reach towards his or her full potential. This can be seen in seed growing through rocks and even concrete aiming towards the light to come to its full fruition, a flower in bloom. The dynamic that is ever present in the work of the expressive arts therapist and the emergent art work that Kriz (2006) refers to as  “unfolding:  one has to trust that the final order will emerge, because for many iterations it is not so evident that the process will really arrive at the form (especially when the forms are more complex). Order can not simply be prefabricated, but also has to combine the aspects of both security and creativity.” Kriz contributes to the expressive arts therapy model with insight through modern systems theory on the greatest tool a change agent can cultivate, master, and utilize in rites of restoration. This tool is referred to as intuition and is often thrown aside in modern sciences because of the inability to measure it scientifically. Murdoch calls this ‘claptrap,’ and carries on to say that whether we speak about intuition, the good or ethics we are always trying to say something that can’t be said, something that does not and never will touch the essence of the matter (Murdoch, 1992, p. 78). However, intuition is a necessary skill to cultivate for the expressive arts therapist and shaman alike, thus Kriz offers a definition that can help one understand the job at hand:

Intuition can be characterized as the ability to grasp developing or unfolding (or in some way changing) order in its essential aspects and as a complete whole, even in the early stages of development, when this order can only later be full described in an analytic way (p. 55).

The natural world also offers clarity on understanding intuition and how it functions. Many natural phenomena, especially biological ones, engage in a process of self- organization or ‘autopoiesis.’ They find their form without external intervention. Intuition can be likened to this autopoiesis process.  Similarly, there is an ‘autopoietic’ element in artistic creativity. Something happens without an individual’s conscious and deliberate intervention, however, non-intervention is not a mere absence, and it is an acting that is also a surrendering to what is taking place, a response guided by intuition. “This letting-be requires the presence of the artist, and, in the critical revision of what arrives, even a conscious and deliberate presence” (Levine, 1992 p. 40).  Modern systems theory offers the expressive arts therapy profession an understanding of chaos and order and allows the change agent a theory to back trusting the process of our clients to avoid intervening too much form the side of order, limiting ourselves to merely providing improved and helpful conditions. We give in all to easily to the powerful law and order ideology of politicians. Modern systems theory gives an alternative perspective that guides the expressive arts work. This clearly aligns the expressive artist and the shaman together with natural science.



In expressive arts therapy, ritual is given title as a modality for artistic expression motivated for change. Just as play can be interchanged within the more traditional art disciplines so can ritual within the expressive arts therapy framework. If broken down and looked at closely, ritual in this sense contains traditional art disciplines such as drama, poetry, dance and music. In shamanism, ritual is also used, with similar defining qualities and terms of engagements, as a healing modality. Perhaps of most interest to us as expressive art therapists is the inherent capacity for ritual to create an alternative world experience of decentreing and ‘liminality.’ This ‘liminality’ as researched by Van Gennep (as cited in Knill et al., 2005) and Turner (1967) is another foundational theory expressive arts therapy bases its work around.

Van Gennep likened rituals to a journey, in which one first must leave home, then travel through an unknown no-man’s-land, and finally arrive at a new destination (as cited in Knill et al., 2005). Turner (1967) focuses on the middle or ‘marginal’ phase of the ritual process, referring to it as the ‘liminal’ element, the ‘limin’ (Latin for “threshold”) later calling the condition of this chaotic phase of the ritual process ‘liminality.’ Turner understands the liminal condition as “one in which all-familiar structures have been given up and new ones have not yet appeared” (p. 43). Knill et al. describe this theory as:

Liminality is thus a time of destructuring, a chaotic experience before the new stable structure arrives…It is a time of confusion and powerlessness, as old identities and roles are abandoned and nothing has yet taken their place; but it also a time of great creativity, in which one is free to invent new forms of meaning for oneself and for the group to which one belongs (p. 43).

Ritual is often thought of as a conservative mechanism designed to affirm and preserve the traditions of a social group. Turner (as cited in Knill et al., 2005), on the other hand, calls attention to the potential creativity of the ritual process, insofar as this process depends on the crucial condition of liminality, in which the old has been given up and the new is coming into being. This crucial stage of a ritual that produces this liminality is why ritual is foundational to the theory and practice of expressive arts therapy. This place of liminality is how the client decentres away from his or her place of restriction and identity, creating an important time of creation of a new landscape to engage life in after this experience. Seen from this perspective, ritual because of its inherent liminal stage holds a powerful key for transformation.


Art is ‘creating what has never been seen’ by using powers of perception. By creating new things in the expressive arts therapy space, we can view the mysteries of the universe in an alternative reality. This reality is not bound by the normality’s and boundaries of logic and reason but is driven by the power and life forces of the art itself. It is the art that can provide the structure and codification of our cosmos.



What is it, then, that an Expressive Therapist is doing?

If he doesn’t prescribe medication,

Doesn’t anesthetize, doesn’t give injections,

Doesn’t disinfect,

Doesn’t cut, doesn’t sew, doesn’t bandage?

His “medication” is the art material,

His anesthetic is the breathing out and into the belly,

His injections are the laying on of hands,

His disinfecting are the sense-ualities

Of getting in touch with what is touched,

His cutting is allowing the pain to be expressed,

His sewing is to serve the emerging, 

His bandages are the ritual, the song, the music,

The dance, the storytelling, the enactment,

The image-ing.

Yes, the tools might be different,

Yet it is always the wound itself which is healing. (Knill et al., 2004, p. 69).

Expressive arts therapy has phenomenological approach in its philosophy and fundamental practices of aesthetic analysis. The fields’ philosophy of existence is poiesis. The work of art is always central to the processes and discourse after the art making. Expressive arts therapy has a person-centred approach core to its concepts. Stepping forth with courage into an alternative world to accomplish a place of decentring and liminality is a central theory and practice to the expressive arts change agent. The intermodal aspect is of essence to this work and it distinguishes expressive arts from the other creative arts healing modalities. The expressive artist is not limited to mastering one artistic discipline but utilizes all disciplines according to what the situation of restriction calls for in order to create resources. From this brief analysis of this evolving field of study, we are able to now track where expressive arts therapy and shamanism are distinct, and where they meet, in theory and in practice.


The impetus of the comparative study is to understand where the new field of the expressive arts sources from the archaic model of healing in shamanism. How can each benefit from the others resources that differ or overlap? To meld distinct structures is to form something new. To evolve metaphorically from a human perspective, is for two genetically different parents to create a new child that holds the genetic structure of the parents but who is a different and new being. This is the direction this study is aiming towards, to clearly know the parental figures of expressive arts therapy and shamanism to enable a cross pollination through a comparative study and practical research to give the potential fertile ground of conception to a new methodology of healing. Within the context of this research when referring to the artist I am speaking of the artist as demonstrated in an expressive arts framework, thus, an artist interested in ministering to the soul for the purposes of healing.


The drawing of parallels between the archaic tradition of shamanism and the contemporary field of expressive arts therapy is not new. Some of the founders of the field of expressive arts therapy have turned to look and compare their work to shamanism. Levine (1992) claims that in turning to the arts for healing, we are re-discovering an ancient tradition. “The shaman is the prototype of the artist as therapist. They are masters of ceremonies who employ diverse media for healing purposes” (p. 3). He furthers that in indigenous cultures and early societies, healing always took place through ceremony, which itself is an intermodal artistic expression. The shaman used music, dance, song, story telling, mask making, the creation of visual imagery, and the ritual re-enactment of myth as components of a communal process of ceremony in which suffering was given form. The job of the healer in the community was to find the form and to contain and release the suffering of both the community and the one who is ill.  Art has an inherent capacity to heal the psyche; this was recognized in traditional cultures and made it possible for art to enter psychotherapeutic work. Levine states “originally, healers were also artists; the healing process was a ritual event, and the shaman or medicine man functioned as ritual master, master of ceremonies” (p. 3)

In the mid 1970s, Shawn McNiff (1992), a pioneer in the field of expressive arts therapy, started to consider and articulate creative art therapies as contemporary manifestations of ancient shamanic continuities. He observed that, “the things done in art therapy, and the images that were made, resembled the rituals and artefacts of shamanism” (p. 18). McNiff felt that there was an unconscious participation in the shamanic tradition and found the parallels to shamanism appealing. He went so far as to claim this as a primary relationship giving evidence for a collective unconscious. “Nothing seemed more primary than the tradition of the shaman. I realized that it was possible to be ‘metaphysically attuned’ to the patterns and movements of expression without literally calling oneself a shaman” (p. 19).

In Minstrels of the Soul, Knill et al. (2004) advocate for a specialization in the interdisciplinary tradition of the arts. They compare this interdisciplinary training of the arts to that of the skill of the shaman.

We will endeavor to explain the nature of various artistic disciplines, how they interact and how they build a foundation for the development of skills that make movies, for example, so powerful as enhancers of imagery through the way they combine and move between the modalities of action, posture and movement, visual images, sound, silence and words- skill which are similar to those the Shaman uses to make the dreams of imaginations speak (p. 17).


How are shamanism and expressive arts therapy related? There are a few clear themes that have presented themselves in the current discussion. The first theme is that both shamanism and expressive arts therapy claim a relationship to working with the soul. Shamans are noted as the masters of healing the soul’s domain. The guiding philosophies of expressive arts therapy rest on the arts ministering to the soul.  Both fields of healing are searching to hear the voice of the soul that has been lost or fragmented and respond to its need for healing.

The practice of healing has traditionally been carried out within a ceremonial context, in which artistic media carries symbolic significance. The arts are particularly suitable for the traditional practice of healing as they always involve both a physical and psychological dimension. Therapeutic practices throughout history have employed artistic media in a central role; the basis for this practice is the understanding of the person in his or her psychosomatic unity. When persons are understood as embodied souls, then the arts, with their necessary involvement in both the realm of material objects and of psychic significance, are particularly relevant to the practice of healing (Levine, 1992). The opposition between a materialistic medicine and a disembodied spirituality is merely an extreme form of the dualism between the mind and the body that inaugurated the emergence of the modern worldview.  Mind /body split characterizes modern thought (Levine). Both shamanism and expressive arts therapy work to bring the body, mind and soul back together, healing the sickness of fragmentation with a structure to rebuild a sense of wholeness.


The word soul has many meanings. For years, psychology searched for the soul, first in the heart, and then in the brain. Finding no evidence for its existence, psychology gave up, leaving exploration of the soul to artists and poets. Soul as defined by Villodo (2005) “is the best word we have for that essential part of ourselves that seems to have preceded our entry into this world, yet endures beyond our lifetime”(p. 12). For the shaman of the mountains of Peru, the eighth chakra is the soul, which retains the memories of all the many incarnations we have had prior to this one and also contains the potential for who we can become (Villodo). Soul is defined by Ingerman (1991) as simply our vital essence. The Oxford English Dictionary (2001) says soul is “the principle of life, commonly regarded as an entity distinct from the body; the spiritual parts in contrast to the purely physical” (p. 874). According to this authority, our language also regards the soul as the seat of emotions, feelings, and sentiments. The shaman regards the soul’s journey as one of developing the great promise that each one of us carries within (Villodo). From an artistic perspective on one of McNiff’s guides and teachers McConeghey (2003) defines soul:

The soul is larger than any individual and larger than humankind. It is the nonphysical aspect of all nature, including mankind. Soul is in both the artist and the object produced. There is a faculty in mankind, which is capable of perceiving in an aesthetic sense the nonphysical relations, who underlie creation, and it is this faculty that produces art (p. 28).

Keeping this image of soul in mind, we can ask what causes the loss of this vital essence. In ancient times, loss of soul was attributed to the soul being frightened away, or straying, or being stolen (Ingerman, 1991). Today, soul loss is often the result of such traumas as  “incest, abuse, loss of loved one, surgery, accident, illness, miscarriage, abortion, the stress of combat, or addiction” (Ingerman, p. 12). According to Herrara (personal communication, April 20, 2007), the basic premise is that whenever we experience trauma, a part of our vital essence separates from us in order to survive the experience by escaping the full impact of the pain, what constitutes trauma varies from one individual to another. Soul loss can be caused by whatever a person experiences as traumatic, even if another person would not experience it as such (Ingerman). Shamanic cultures throughout the world describe illness as a loss of the soul. The shaman’s task is to go on a journey in the search of the abducted or lost soul and return it to the sick person (Tedlock, 2005). McNiff  (1992) describes psychic illness as “an alienation of soul and a possession of the psyche by preoccupations, obsessions, fears, anxieties, and other distractive conditions that are contemporary equivalents of the shamanic evil spirits” (p. 21). The archaic medicine of the shaman draws out the deleterious elements from the body and revives the soul (McNiff).

Eliade (1964) said, “The shaman is indispensable in any ceremony that concerns the experience of the human soul” (p. 501). Soul is a term used in both expressive arts and shamanism extensively. McNiff (1992) provides the most current and in depth study of soul and soul loss from his expressive arts therapy perspective. He has produced the most literature in this field that compares shamanism and expressive arts. Other scholars refer to soul loss as the fragmentation of self and soul and often the unconscious is brought into the languaging. McNiff presents his definitions of soul loss using the same language as shamanism. He refers to the shamanic notion of soul loss as “the metaphor of the soul’s tendency to elude the grasp of consciousness as well as its more primal detachment from feelings” (p. 23). McNiff holds the perspective that the experience of soul is a fleeting sensation of consciousness. In his view, the soul cannot be lost in a literal sense, yet we may lose contact with its movements within our daily lives, and this loss of relationship results in bodily and mental illness, rigidification, the absence of passion, and the estrangement from nature. These are all symptoms that a shaman would diagnose as soul loss also. McNiff claims that the loss of soul is necessary to the work of the expressive therapist because its absence stimulates a longing for its return. This is aligned to Hillman’s (1989) philosophies on soul. Hillman (1989) claims that the cure of symptoms may also cure away our ability to identify with the soul and through the symptom the psyche demands attention. Attention means attending to, tending, a certain tender care of, as well as patience. Just this same attitude is what the soul needs in order to be felt and heard. It is the nature of soul to be lost to that aspect of mind that strives to control it. Mind has to dissolve, to let go of its control, in order to experience what is not itself.


McNiff’s vision of creative art therapy is that of “a return to the shamanic origins of art as medicine. Images and the artistic process are the shamans and familiar spirits who come to help people regain the lost soul” (1992, p. 17).  He furthers his supposition of art as medicine claiming that art will emerge spontaneously when illness is associated with soul loss. Art is soul medicine.

Pairing art and medicine stimulates the creation of a discipline through which imagination treats itself and recycles its vitality back to daily living. Paintings are ensouled objects or beings that guide, watch, and accompany their makers who live with them (McNiff, 1992, p. 19).

He calls art as medicine the process when the soul ministers to itself and the shaman as the imaginal person appears and converges in this process. McNiff (1992) refers to the shaman more specifically as the inner shaman who is a figure within the soul, one of the souls many aspects, which contributes to its well-being. The inner shaman is likened to the healing shaman but is not a tangible person traversing spirit worlds, rather a character who has arrived out of an image that is sourcing from the soul. This can be likened to Knill’s ‘third’ or ‘other’ theory in expressive arts.

Although imagination is important in shamanism and expressive arts imagination is only an entry point in shamanism where as in expressive arts it is the whole terrain. McNiff (1992) has witnessed shamanic images and patterns emerging through the engagement of therapeutic rituals of the arts in painting, dance, drama, song, and other media engaging the imagination. McNiff describes the terrain of the shaman as imagination. When the soul opens to itself during rhythmic drumming, movement, chant and painting images arrive of encounters with animals, openings into different worlds, dreamlike flights, and various other shamanic themes, artefacts, and experiences appear.  Hillman has referred to the image as  “a psychopompos, a guide with a soul” (1983, p. 43). McNiff concludes with the thought  “…perhaps the psychic image is the shaman the human beings imitate. This would account for the consistent presence of the shaman across cultures and the historical spectrum” (p. 21).

Some of the leading voices of the field of expressive arts therapy draw comparisons with shamanic continuities. Although quite similar, there are some significant differences. An error in their linking of work is the emphasis on imagination and the shaman. This difference is no small error in understanding the fundamental worldviews of shamanism.  The shaman is skilled to bring from alternative worlds of spirits the information found and given then to his or her community to understand via the arts. Often the ceremony will be a grand artistic undertaking of many different modalities. The imagination is an entry point for shaman, a warming up process to gain access to real places in their fundamental worldview that exist outside the imagination for them. An apprenticing shaman for example may use guided visualizations to begin accessing these worlds. They will use embodied imagination with prayer to petition for openings to these spirit worlds that they may not yet have gained access to. The shaman practicing for the community has gone through culturally specific rites of passages and has gained access to the lower, middle, and upper worlds and by using trance states can move between these very real worlds that make up his or her cosmology.

They must have moved past embodied imagination to be truly working as shaman. Let this distinction between imagination and the expressive arts therapy field of exploration for soul be very clearly different than the shamans’ alternate world experience existing in a place that is real, and not considered imaginary to them and their communities. It is an error on the part of these expressive arts therapists to draw similarities to shaman working in the domain of the imagination as expressive arts therapists claim to. It is perhaps semantics of language, but nonetheless inappropriate for the shaman to be placed into an area of academia where the shaman’s worldview does not fit.

However, the shaman is often considered master of the imagination because of his or her artistic abilities to pass on mythic stories and speak in prose and metaphors and dance and sing to his or her people in ceremony. The master of the imagination is another way of calling the shaman an artist. If we look at theories of imagination we see that the shaman is the master of all three phenomena, dream state, trance state, and the making of art. When taken in this view, the distinction between imagination and shamanism and expressive arts therapy fades. What remains is the distinction of belief in real alternative worlds of spirit and guides by the shaman and one labelled imaginary but held with immense value as very important access point to the soul by the field of expressive arts. It seems a matter of cultural cosmology and spirituality.

We are left with the indisputable clarity that these two fields of healing are both ministering to the soul and utilizing artistic modalities to do so. That the expressive arts field is sourcing from shamanism is obvious—whether conscious or not. These two are connected through their techniques of speaking and healing the fragmentation of the soul.



“A shamanic ritual is the opening of a window, the casting of a net, the hurling of a cry into the night”  (Halifax, 1982, p. 35).

The second theme for comparison is ritual and liminal space. The theme can be furthered to death and dying, destructuring to restructure and rebirth. The process of accessing or creating an alternative world experience where one can die to the old in order to create and be claimed by a new life with new resources is seen as a theme in both modalities of healing the soul.  The active disintegration created through a healing ritual of ceremony or art making so a reformatting can be made. The place of restriction is always left behind in shamanism and expressive arts to enter a liminal space through ritual or art making that allows for new resources to be found and the incorporation of these resources into a new landscape of life for the individual or collective in question. Both fields are aiming for this same goal of disintegration, dying, to allow for a new shape to form. The liminal space is essential for this to take place. How both fields create this can be different, although many of the tools are the same. The shamans do this through ritual or trance states, the expressive arts therapist name this decentring and enter the ‘liminal’ state through ritual, play or art making.

Morris defines ritual as the ceremonial enactment of rites regularly followed (Morris, as cited in Walsh, 2007). The art making process in expressive art therapy and the shaman thrive in a ritualistic atmosphere. The art is given the respect of a safe place, confidentiality, peace, and an allotted time at a prearranged place, so that the expressive arts therapy process can evolve in the most natural way for the client. The evolution of the art is like the shamanic ritual in that it is like opening a window, casting a net or hurling a cry. The art is like the shaman who acts in an adventuresome fashion, never to be sure what will come of his or her activity. “Art in its purest form is primarily a ritual activity that is practiced in an elaborate manner only by human” (Barba et al., 2004).

In the liminal phase of ritual, which Turner (1967) describes, the participants are not left to themselves; there is always a ‘master of ceremonies’ whose task is to conduct them through the unknown land in which those engaged in the ritual find themselves. In this way, the master of ceremonies resembles the tragic poet, who must provide the audience with structures to follow. “Both ritual master and poet have the paradoxical responsibility of structuring a chaotic process; they must lead the participants into an unknown land in which new discoveries can be made, and they must then be able to conduct them safely back to a secure and habitable location” (Knill et al., 2005, p. 38).

In Turner’s “liminality” there is the understanding that transformation or change requires a phase in which one gives up existing structures and enters a chaotic state of being.  Turner (as cited in Knill et al.) sees this chaos as potentially creative: “…in transitional or liminal experience, new meanings emerge in symbolic or metaphorical form” (p. 44). Play and art take place through an immersion on formlessness.

Transitional and liminal states are phases in a process of destructuring and restructuring. “Their ultimate purpose lies in the new meanings, which emerge out of the ruins of the old” (Knill et al., 2004).  Both individual and community collective life requires rejuvenation in order to be experienced with a sense of meaning and feeling of vitality. The old order must be destructured and die metaphorically to make way for the new. “If we are not willing to undergo this experience of coming apart, we will not be able to experience ourselves as fully alive” (Knill et al., 2005).

In shamanism it is always about death and dying to the old, to be claimed by life (Herrara, personal communication, October 20, 2009). Most rites of initiation are about the death of the young shaman to everything he/she has known before to be reborn into a new framework, a new landscape for life, a new cosmology to live in. This disintegrates any limiting restrictions on the young apprentices so their availability to the spirit world will be open. The healing rituals of the shaman always seek to create an experience where the participants enter a space that is different than their ordinary reality so the possibilities for change can be available through the spirit world and through the death of themselves in this sacred space. This death to the old is considered paramount to producing healing. This liminal spaces, or alternative world, this decentring away from the problem, are all tools the shaman has used since the beginning of the shamanic tradition of healing. Through practice of ritual and engagement in this liminal zone inherent to ritual, we can perceive the expressive arts therapy and shamanic fields intimacy in their relationship.


“Expressive arts therapy… comes upon us daimonically through the agency of imagination, whose medicines draw from the full spectrum of the soul” (Knill et al., 2004, p. 11).

A third theme or parallel that one can draw from this study is the capacity for the emerging work, the third, the art piece itself to act as the shaman does. This is perhaps one of the more interesting thoughts around the art produced in expressive arts therapy in relation to shamanic continuities. McNiff (1994) writes about this when he talks about the possibilities of the ‘daimons’ within the picture being the shaman. This supposition is claiming the arts’ ability to move into alternative worlds like the shaman, thus, its voice clearly bringing back the messages from the spirit world and the soul like the shaman does.

The word ‘daimon’ in a classical sense is a “force that moves through people and things as a fundamental creative energy”(McNiff, 1994, p. 34). It is said to revitalize the tired and chronic psyche. In Greek ‘daimon’ means the “divine power that reveals itself through action” (McNiff, p. 23) and in Latin it is translated as a concept of genius that serves as a guiding spirit. “The daimons are the actual images and the pragmatic actions of the world around us” (McNiff, p. 40).  In expressive arts therapy these daimones can help the artist respect the soul’s needs as the images are revealed. In the vocation of a shaman, the daimones are interpreted as the messages from the ancestors. They are the ancient spirits with whom the shaman communicates and whose words are then related to the people.

The shaman also uses the enactment of the arts to express the healing necessary for the individual to bring order through the artistic form of painting, dance, drumming, song and drama (Larsen, 1976). The treatment of the soul that the art and the shaman use centres upon the struggles of the individual through the creative action (McNiff, 1979). Neither the art nor the shaman treat the psychological tensions with external means of tranquilization, like psychiatric drugs, for example. The processes of expressive arts therapy and shamanism respond to the human spirit and its inherent desire for balance through the use of creative expression (McNiff).

The art in expressive arts therapy and the shaman both reveal the information necessary to engage the healing process. The shaman with the spirit guide and the art with its daimon travel to “ the heart of the inner storm and exact its furies” (McNiff, 1979, p. 60). The art and the shaman join in the embrace of the ego’s fear to explore beyond the place where it usually inhabits. The arts in therapy and shamanism both demonstrate that the true spontaneity of artistic expression heals as nature of this creative spontaneity carries with it transformational and healing powers (McNiff). The art, like the shaman, has the potential powers for healing. Halifax (1982) claims that the art and the shaman work similarly by introducing sacred time and space into the physical world.  Campbell (1988) goes as far to suggests that “…the arts are replacing the lost shamans in our modern society” (p. 26)

Shamans have the unique ability to use ‘ecstasy’ (trance) in healing processes (Eliade, 1964). Thus, shamans proclaim that, in addition to the world of the human ego consciousness, there exists another dimension to reality (Sandner, 1979). Through trance, voluntarily, ritually, through sickness, by singing, dancing, drumming or the ingestion of hallucinogenic plants, the shamans leave secular life so a new state of consciousness can emerges (Halifax, 1982). Through the mediation between the ordinary world and the alternative reality, a shaman has access to wisdom and guidance from the spirit beings. Within this sacred consciousness and with the aid from spirit beings, a search for the lost soul can begin (McNiff, 1992). The place they seek is like mythological and spiritual realms from which they find symbolic answers to aid in the healing procedures.

It is suggested that the art in expressive arts therapy works in a similar fashion. In a sense, the spontaneous unconscious artwork of clients has travelled the depths of the human consciousness to places where the soul interprets what is needed. The soul then releases images in the imagination that are then expressed in a physical form in an individual’s art work thus, providing insight for the individual. It could be said that the art in expressive arts therapy and the shaman share the privilege of travelling to a place that is removed from the reality we exist where there is a restoration of psychological meaning through symbology (Fontana, 1993).

The shaman always acts in a state of trance thereby setting them apart from the medicine man and psychotherapist of our times who do not utilize such states. The powers of the unconscious imagery that are evoked through the trance are what constitute the healing process (Eliade, 1964). In fact, these images can be so profound that they can project the human being into a spiritual world that is infinitely richer than the closed world of this historic moment (Halifax, 1982). Through trance, the shaman is turned inward to the unknown or the mysterium; a place stipulated by Halifax as chaos or ‘limen.’  This state of chaos or limen is defined as a place of heightened sensibility and spiritual awareness (Larsen, 1976). The direct relationship between this ‘limen’ of the shaman as described by Halifax and the ‘liminality’ or ‘liminal space’ of ritual as described by Turner can be thought of as one and the same, definitely connected.

The liminal place, or decentred state that the art takes the artist in expressive arts therapy can be likened to this ‘mysterium’ of the shaman, the place where there is a ‘heightened sensibility’ for the artist. The arts take both the therapist and the client into an unknown world or mysterium and the art or the third is often created in this limen stage, the place of decentering and liminal space, likened to an altered state of consciousness without the trance state. The client’s rational mind is superseded by the creative unconscious, like a participants or shaman’s mind in a shamanic healing journey (Halifax, 1982).  The creative right side of the brain can be in conflict with the analytical left side. The artistic process is heightened if the art maker can somehow let go of the left hemisphere qualities by going into a liminal space or trance space (Fontana, 1993).  Meditation also can access healing symbols for people and the art maker in expressive arts therapy could be said to be in a meditative state of consciousness. The state that the client may enter when they are creating art in expressive arts therapy is perhaps of a different level of consciousness than that of the shaman. However, the states are the same in that the conscious mind of the art maker and the shaman are both put in the background while the soul comes to the foreground.

“The importance of the soul, ritual, sacred space, symbol, myth, balance and an openness to a spiritual presence can be reclaimed by the healing powers of art” (Nott, 1991).


An excerpt from Audrey Flack (1986) gives us another perspective on the artist and the shaman and the art and the shaman relationship.

A shaman is someone who has been through the fire, who has been ill and healed himself. The shaman can then return and heal others. Jackson Pollock was a lost shaman. He committed a public suicide. But it wasn’t the art that killed him. Had Pollock retained a joy for painting, it could have saved him. Because of his inner personal turmoil, combined with the tearing and wrenching of the “art world,” it became more and more difficult for him to paint. He would wait for the very last moment to complete a show, staying up all night drinking, abusing himself. Art could have save him. He lost his way (p. 75).

Flack (1986) is one of America’s foremost female artists. She is both an anachronism and a revolutionary: a photorealist painter and sculptor who eschews glamour and who clings to a vision of art as a form of shamanism that she describes as a means of self transcendence whose ultimate aim is the healing of the planet (Flack). Flack speaks to artists as shaman in this excerpt from her commencement address delivered at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, May 1984.

Artists are the shamans of society. Art is a calling. It’s something you do because you have to. Artists are the shamans, priests and priestesses, the magicians of society. Only a few make a living from their art. If you have the calling, you will continue (p. 38).


In this building of a beginning bridge through the comparative study of shamanism with expressive arts therapy, we have heard from some of the voices of the scholars of the field who claim that the shaman is the artist and the expressive arts therapist is acting off of ancient shamanic model of healing. We have examined three comparative themes in this thesis. The first theme of soul and soul loss, clearly linking the work of the two fields based on there shared purpose of ministering to the soul. We heard from the expressive arts and shamanism definitions of soul and soul loss and were able to build a bridge that linked the techniques of each field to one another through the activity of the arts and dedication to soul retrieval. Through examining soul through these different perspectives we were able to also see where shamanism and expressive arts hold differing worldviews. We discerned where these fields differed in their consideration of the real and the imagination, the unreal but relevant to healing. Here too, the spiritual aspect that is inherent to shamanism begins to emerge and appears to be missing in much of the expressive arts therapy field.

Our second theme that strengthened this emerging bridge came through ritual and liminal space. Liminality, when taken as a phase of ritual, was defined both by Halifax (1982) and Turner (1967) creating a strong platform for both shamanism and expressive arts to sit together in a foundational context of how the actual healing process can be explained in both circumstances. Chaos and disintegration are deemed necessary in both fields in order to create a new form of a possible healed state. The liminal space in ritual and art making becomes a backbone to this philosophy and holds true in both shamanism and expressive arts techniques of ministering to the soul. This becomes the clearest and strongest pillar in the bridge of the fields.

Our last comparative theme of study is the supposition of the art as the shaman and the shaman as the artist. The later was easily backed by scholars in both fields defining the shaman and the artist and some of the methodologies used by both. The art as the shaman is based on looking at art itself, containing the capacities of spirit flight (the ability to travel in spirit to the world of the soul) of the shaman who can master trance states and travel to other worlds.  The emerging third, the thingly piece of art carries the capacity to access souls domain by journeying into places the average person is not able to access without this indispensable tool of the art or shaman. The link goes further with the clear existential nature of art lending meaning to our lives, in the phenomenological viewpoint. This point speaks well to the use of arts by the shaman, the impetus of shamanism being knowledge and meaning making for the bringing back of equilibrium. For individuals to create meaning for their existence brings a spark of divinity that they can grow and heal with. Both expressive arts and shamanism offer this with alternate worlding and bridging back to this world with the arts whether through a painting from a session or a mythic tale from the shamans fight for the soul. Shamans work with transitional objects for the integration of healing. Expressive arts will naturally create a transitional object that can be used as an alter piece or source of reminder for creating a new landscape for healing.


chapter 4 methods

If art making is to give form to what we know, is it not to hold us accountable for what we know?

I, the researcher, used heuristic and phenomenological methods in this arts based research. Phenomenological research describes the ‘subjective reality’ of an event, as perceived by the study population; it is the study of a phenomena. Coalaizzi (as cited in Campbell, 1998) claims the phenomenological approach of research to be appropriate with regards to the process of art making in therapy. He stated that phenomenology considers all of what a study brings with it to the experience of collecting data.  Heuristic is the art and science of discovery. The word comes from the Greek root as ‘Eureka.’ It means “to find” or “pertaining to finding” (Oxford, 2001, p. 433). You might also define it as the study of the search. Heuristic research always places the researcher into the methodology of the research itself.

I took a group of eight participants, including myself as the researcher and change agent, to a four-day retreat based in shamanism and expressive arts. The retreat was titled Soul Retrieval, and it was designed to research the use of expressive arts therapy techniques with ancient and contemporary shamanic techniques.  My previous experience in working with the inclusion of shamanism and expressive arts therapy led the inquiry to look for the themes of alternative worlding, decentring and integration.  The main intention of this course was to enhance and support change and growth for the participants.


The participants met in a private practice setting in a private home based workspace, and ranged in age from 26 to 60 years old. The participants consisted of two males and six females. Some of these participants knew each other from previous group work; others were new to each other.

The participants had various familial and employment backgrounds: practicing healers, mountain guides, artists, social workers, phone agents, stay-at-home mothers, and unemployed on disabilities. Some clients lived alone, some in families, in same sex partnerships, and some were in the midst of separation. Each client came with varying degrees and symptoms of dis-ease from extreme physical and emotional trauma, to addiction, depression, and longing for deeper understanding of self and community service.

I, the researcher, brought the background of a shamanic practitioner and an expressive arts therapist in training to the group.  All the participants were known to the researcher previously from individual and group private practice setting. A prerequisite to this course was for each participant to have a ‘mesa’ to work with.  To obtain a mesa each participant would have been through a self -healing journey based in Incan shamanism by which they earned a series of 13 ‘kuyas:’ stones that transferred power from the participants personal healing and rites of passage experiences creating the shamans alter, otherwise know as a ‘mesa.’ Each participant had completed a medicine wheel course that met as a group four times over the solstices and equinoxes for three-day periods over the course of a year to build their mesas. All participants had completed this course with the researcher previously. Thus, the soul retrieval course was built upon a common foundation of shamanic terminology and practices that participants had previously learned and participated in. The soul retrieval course was the first of their mastery training where the intention was to move from personal work to collective work.


The group ran from Saturday through until Tuesday, meeting from 15 to 18 hours a day for the first three days and seven hours on the last day. Some of the group camped overnight, others went home or to a hotel or hostel.


The materials offered were drums, rattles, bells, crystals, white stones, Florida water, red ribbon, pastels, crayons, construction paper, yarn, feathers, cardboard, buttons, sinew, scissors, glue, tape, various fabrics, pens and journals, cards. Despacho ingredients placed in small glass baby jars included: large white paper, red wine, vodka, bay leaves, red and white carnations, sugar, incense, sage, anise, Paulo Santo, shell, candy figurines, llamas fat, little metal figures and tools, gold and silver beads, gold and silver paper, huayruro seeds, stars, flutes, lima beans, candies, candy hearts, cinnamon hearts, candy sprinkles, chocolate, rice, corn, red beans, garbanzo beans, peanuts, lentils, raisins, cranberries, figs, candles, starfish, animal crackers, alphabet noodles, llama fetus, beef jerky, choo choos, black beans, money, candy frogs, cotton, rainbow yarn, red yarn, confetti paper, flower petals, lodes stone, and red ribbon.(see appendix for description of despacho ceremony and symbolism for each ingredient)


A group alter was set up in the centre of the room for participants to contribute to. A fire was burning in the room and available to be used by participants at all times, and every evening a ceremonial fire was built outside. Extensive use of the outdoors was utilized, the group medicine room was surrounded by mountains, trees, and across from a river with forested trails and a dyke trail up to a bridge and down to a lookout at the base of a mountain. The use of the outdoors includes: installation of mandalas (sandpaintings), river excursions, breath work, doll making, drumming and singing, partner work of journeying (shamanic term for entering trance state to travel to spirit worlds), sitting outdoors, and fire ceremonies.



                                     SOUL RETRIEVAL

Susto, Sweet Soul

To the hills I went looking for you

Because it was there I saw you first

You were playing with the wind

Perhaps waiting for me


To the hill I return, huambrita

Intending to see you once more

And if this time I find you, Ionquita 

I will never let you go.

  (English translation of Quetchua poem on soul, auth0r unknown)


The group met for four days starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending between 11:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m. at night.

DAY 1:

  • Opening- smudge with owl feather- symbolic of night eagle, seeing in the dark, seeing in the soul, coming home, and arriving into space.
  • Create sacred space—RITUAL—with invocational words, rattle and florida water   (water made of essential oil and flowers said to be cleansing in nature)
  • Sit in circle, pass around wooden alligator—an artefact each individual has used before as a talking stick, to support their authenticity of words and indicate to the group it is his or her time to speak.
  • Each individual draws a card from a communal deck to look at the picture and introduce themselves by describing what they see on the card and their intentions for the course.
  • TEACHINGS and group goals and intentions set: purification for day one to become available for the mapping and navigation of the collective unconscious, to open pathways to listening to their soul speak.
  • BREATH WORK and finding still point exercise, using VISUALIZATION, RHYTHM with rattle and drum, and SONG to move into alternative reality, to practice accessing trance state.
  • OUTSIDE, each individual creates a SANDPAINTING or a SPIRIT CATCHER. Participants are to find a spot in nature to create a ritual art piece that they will have for the duration of the retreat and watch it change and make their own interventions- watching in their circle, spirit catcher, nature as the visible face of spirit conspiring on their behalf to wake them up to the wisdom of their soul and the soul of the collective speaking. The art piece is to be done by creating sacred space with their rattle, drum, song, and florida water and then using pieces of nature creating with their non-dominant hand. Guiding structure for the beginning of the sandpainting is to map their mesas, the physical symbology of their own healing journey to date. Create a piece of art with favourite kuya buried in the middle.  After created sandpainting mapping the stories of each kuya within your circle, letting them tell you their story, writing it down.
  • Sharing and making changes within mesa for that which no longer was serving in ones personal map of transformation.
  • JOURNEY; participants lye down with mesa under neck, guided through ’little death‘ breathing with drumming and guided visualization to journey to the underworld to meet their guide for the realm of the soul. Write down experience and share details of guide that was met.
  • OUTSIDE; walking upstream in silence, alone with mesa waking up senses and tuning into the river, tracking for entrance points in the water, caves, wellsprings, portals; PAKORINAS
  • Meeting on BRIDGE above the river, exercise, sitting with left leg hanging off the bridge, right leg on the bridge, sitting on railing in between. A foot in both worlds. Practicing while on the bridge with drums and breathing finding three rhythms to move into a successful trance state, for access to future journeys for soul retrieval.
  • CIRCLE OUTSIDE; teachings on pakorinas and programming in access to portal of pakorina for journeying. Programming in of collective organizing principles into mesas using the water to cleanse and the land and breath.  Individuals do this in ritual place outside on their own.
  • Sit back to back with partner JOURNEY to underworld for partner, using the rattle and breath, bringing back a gift, insight for partner purifying for soul retrieval.
  • FIRE CEREMONY; each participant prepares a spirit arrow and bundle or gift for the fire. Spirit arrow consists of a stick decorated and blown into for that which the person is bringing to the fire to heal, transform and transmute to light for purification. Fire Ceremony consists of opening sacred space, singing, rattling and drumming as well as accessing the fire and communing with spirits.



  • OUTSIDE; walk to base of the mountain and do breathing and movement exercises, lead to begin to authentic movement and meditation. Feeding mesas, walk back to silence or songs.
  • Talking circle, card pulled for the group for the day, group alter tended to, adding things from nature like a collective sandpainting held inside to communicate symbolically and mythically with one another and spirit.
  • Teachings around SOUL and map of chambers of the underworld.
  • Exercise- pick 3 cards: 1=beginning 2=middle 3=end, go outside to sandpainting, and write a story by looking with all your senses at your sandpainting and the pictures on the three cards as a lead point: “There once was a person who felt like something was missing…”  Read story out loud to a partner.
  • JOURNEY – walk to your pakorina ringing a bell and calling out to your SUSTO- soul and rattle or drum journeying to meet your guide and travelling through the four chambers of the soul doing a self-retrieval. Write down your experiences.
  • DRAW A PICTURE; write your new soul contract underneath the picture, back side of picture draw a line down the centre with me on one side and soul piece on the other, ask questions from the me side to be answered from the soul side embodying whatever you found on your journey and in your picture and writing from that voice the answers.
  • Wrap self in medicine blanket and lye out in the sun. Guide comes around and cleanses blowing rose water on participants and aligns the body.
  • Teachings on symptoms of Soul Loss
  • Demo PERFORMANCE of soul retrieval on a client, medicine blanket, mesa, crystals, rattle, drum, and journey for client to chambers.
  • Exercise: find partner and do soul retrieval for each other in nature.
  • Go to sandpainting to integrate your experience by adding and changing your art piece until it feels right and incorporates your lost soul pieces symbolically and energetically.
  • Spend an hour in nature alone with your sandpainting, the river, and the mountains. Practicing your rhythms with rattle, drum, and song.
  • Bring another participant to see your sandpainting and allow them to make a physical intervention.
  • SOLO FIRE CEREMONY: each individual at dark will gather tools for a ceremonial fire and go into the dark with their bell calling back their anima, susto, lost soul pieces for themselves and the client they worked with. They will find their spot in nature and have their fire ceremony alone, burning two spirit arrows for the lost souls and singing to susto.



  • Breathing exercise OUTSIDE.
  • JOURNEY for Land Retrieval sitting in a circle underneath the mountain at the river – share new collective contracts for the land soul retrievals.
  • Sharing Circle.
  • Demo PERFORMANCE of different Soul Retrieval technique –tools- medicine blanket, crystal, white stone, bell, red ribbon- journey with drum or rattle, song to begin.
  • Do with partner, journal experience.
  • SOUL DOLLS; material laid out on blanket outside, as a group come together to make a soul doll, three hours to do this. When complete, pick three cards and write a story using pictures as beginning, middle and end, with the voice of your doll. “There was a person who was searching and found some missing pieces…”
  • Installing the dolls in nature, group goes around to each doll, person reads story and group gives AESTHETIC RESPONSE back.
  • DESPACHO CEREMONY; at dark, group comes back together to create a gift for the fire representing themselves coming into balance with the land, cosmos and their new individual and collective soul parts. Despacho is an art making process by which the individual takes a big piece of white paper folded into nine squares: ‘the envelope of dreams,’ in the centre square an offering is made using sugars, seeds, flowers, candies, minerals, and other materials, all placed with breath and a specific intention of what they symbolize into the centre. When the despacho is complete with prayers it is folded and wrapped in ribbon like a present and brought to the fire or buried in the earth.
  • COMMUNITY FIRE: members of the community were invited to a very large fire to celebrate the work of the participants calling back their individual soul pieces and collective soul parts. The community receives them at the fire with song and ceremony holding the space to burn their despachos.



  • Meditation at the river and run and swim.
  • JOURNEY to upper world.
  • Closing circle and ceremony—soul dolls named and returned.
  • Homework given.
  • Sandpaintings dismantled.
  • Mesas blown into all that was learned with white stones placed in mesa as reminders of soul parts, red ribbon stays around waist until falls off.
  • Closing of sacred space.



The limitations of the study consist of the small group size and the pre selection of the participants who had previously been involved in shamanic courses. The role of the researcher often as a participant also brings in limitations of the researchers possible bias towards the topic and outcome as well as the results being affected by the researcher’s subjectivity and circumstantially limiting objectivity. With these limitations considered I find the research methodology to align with the subject matter itself, premising the results on direct experience including the researcher with those individuals exercising their own initiative to participate in the work of shamanism and expressive arts therapy.

chapter 5 Results

Bobby Lynn’s Soul Doll story

Once upon a time this person who was searching found some missing pieces and carried them home. The journey had been long and spanned across many diverse lands full of sometimes-scary creatures. Many loving friends, guides, and family helped this person. This person discovered a support network was always present. With innocent eyes the world was illuminated. Coming home, this person delivered a gift of endless possibility for healing to all the wounded souls. “Have no fear my friends, for the darkness is sweet. Source from here and you will be carried home too!”

Figure 25 Cindy Lou’s soul doll

Cindy Lou’s Soul Doll Story

Once upon a time there was a person who was searching and found some missing pieces. In the beginning there was man and woman, the fertile land, flowing rivers and blooming flowers. There was ayni and reciprocity; there was a connection to the eternal. Along the way, there was deep wounding but the person who was searching said enough- the person who was seeking said yes to reclaim these lost pieces. She journeyed this medicine woman- her teachers the white buffalo, jaguar, serpent, eagle, the stone circle- the Apus spirit. This courageous journey, arduous, long and fulfilling- she found pieces- small fragments- shards from the base. She was rich. She was abundant. She reclaimed the rainbows and light. She reclaimed the archetypes- the stories of the collective- they were bright.


Cindy Lou’s Soul Retrieval Story 1

There once was a person who felt like something was missing. She began as part of a radiant light, like a beam, like a prism. Never questioning her source, trusting, loving, and rejoicing. Like a mandala she spun weaving the story of creation. As she fell to earth there was a great thump. She had arrived. As she fell with such a thud pieces of here fractioned off, crystalline shards sparkling all over the earth- over time some darkened with moss, decay and rot, others danced in sunlight and brought others joy. One day in her growth she realized she needed to embark on a great journey to reclaim these lost pieces of herself. Her container was stronger; she could fit some of these shards back in complete and clean, so she could shine brighter for others, refracting rainbows to bring joy. She prayed. She prayed so she could have vision; to see what was lost, discern what was pertinent to return. She called for vision; she called for healing- medicine so that these pieces could be woven back into her rainbow blanket. It was divined- she was given permission- the fates had decided yes. She journeyed to the stars, to the desert, to the sun, to the end of the earth and reclaimed some of her pieces. Wholeness. Her rainbow blanket woven tighter, her blanket she uses to keep others warm, to bring others to safety. To engender wholeness. The eagles sit with her on her shoulder and she continues to dance the dance of earth, wind, moon and stars. She Prays. 

Jamie’s Soul Doll Story

Once upon a time this person who was searching found a missing piece of her soul. She had to focus. She was a shaman on her path. She found her soul in the stars while on her vision quest. This shook her up and she needed help. Luckily her best friend was there to help. 

Charlene’s Soul Doll Story

Once upon a time this person who was searching found what was missing. It sent her into a flurry of activity. She felt herself floating and filling with diamonds. Her heart was on fire and a pulsing golden flame inside. She knew the world was opening to her and that the sun would always be her ally. She had new friends. With this she found wholeness. She felt the strength she needed to go into the mountains with the bear and do her work with the fire medicine. She knew now that she was not alone. 


Nicole’s Soul Doll Story

Once upon a time, when coyotes voice was free and strong and could be heard, I walked to the waters to drum in the tide. As the oceans rushed in, the call of all sea life could be heard. The moon, full, a hole of light in the sky. And from the whole the voices of crabs rose lightly to meet the starfish bass. The tide melody ebbing and flowing with the beat of the drum. My eyes rose to the heavens, to the stars and in their dance the cross of eternity turned on it’s axis, bound by all things earthly and cosmic. My arms once bound heard the music in silence and lightened, sucking in star strands, releasing armbands, becoming fluffy wings. And as birds flew and the colours of the day set, a quiet settled in my soul. The starfish echoed the silence of the stars. The crabs crawled into their holes, their rustling, and the brushing of bones. I pulled out my heart and used it to light my way thru the death of day. I pulled out my knife and cut the woven web of time

Nicole’s Soul Retrieval Story 1

Her wings spread, she could feel where the edge of her world met the tip of feathers. Flapping strongly and with left foot forward, she took off leaving the ground for air. The journey begins. Wholehearted warrior with wheels underneath. She carries herself forward. To places where dreams flow from the cup of the mother. To places where dreams flow, from the sky vessel. She gathers her waters, her medicine, to share with all under the great star nation.

Philimine’s Soul Doll Story

Once upon a time this person who was searching found a missing piece. At first she was unsure how to use it. It had been gone so long it felt strange to find it. Nonetheless this person took back the missing piece, brought it into her belly and waited. Everything started spinning inside and she turned green. She found herself tired and awake at the same time. She knew deep inside this piece had come to serve her path. The great crocodile rose out of the waters and came to sit by her side helping her with integration. The sun came out a warmed her face while the wind blew in the healing life force and butterflies of transformation. This women felt the fire in her left hand growing and the crystal I her right hand clearing. She knew she would be taken care of. She was clean for abundance to flow freely. The waters started filling her wells to the top. Her garden filled with fruits ready to give forth life. This piece that had come back had made her water her garden and produce ripe healthy fruit. The crocodile dove into the well and started laughing and said “Sweet star woman you have become whole again. Your family of stars has never left you. Feel them now. They are forever in you; your waters can flow freely now. You are whole; the birds will always be with you. Go live in the forest with your family of stars and be contented.


Philimine’s Soul Retrieval Story 1

Once upon a time there was a daughter of the water who noticed something is missing. As she felt the moon shimmering behind her back and water pouring out of her womb she felt a hole. She wasn’t sure where this hole was but now that she had noticed the water started slowing and a mountain and star appeared in the distance. They started talking to their daughter “You have forgotten how to play. Sweet daughter of the water come up the mountain and touch the star. Bring all you animals as you come. Every step of the way will fill this hole. Trust the mountain to bring you back to the stars to fill this hole.”

Daughter of water was reluctant to leave her duties for this mission. She was in service to MamaKilla and Pachamama daily. Who would do her job? Her grandfather came and started laughing and said, “ You are not so important that others cannot do your task” then he turned into a moose and jumped into the water. 

The sun came out and warmed her heart saying, “You are important daughter of water, and you are available to climb this mountain of calling to your destiny. Leave your sister of water being. Bring only a cape, stick and light. You will be protected- alone yet not alone- like the hermit. Only in this way can you mend the hole. It is needed of you, to mend this hole for your entire nation. Have great faith and journey sweet daughter. You will survive and bring wholeness to your self and to all so the waters can flow rightly again. Have no fear, have faith. The tools you carry are many. Your juggling skills are adept and powerful. Trust in your skill. You must leave the pack to fully know how much you have at your fingertips. You will be a great spiritual teacher when you mend this hole and bring that star into your heart from the top of the mountain.”




Charlene: In the chamber of wounding of my soul I found a little girl against the wall screaming. She was very afraid. There was another being there, it was made of light. I travelled then to a chamber of contracts where there was a light inside a dusty, musty yet presentable room. There was written in a book on the table my souls contract “I do not have to do what you tell me to do. This was crossed out and underneath was written, Do as I tell you and keep your mouth shut. Be still and you will be safe.” I moved into the next chamber of grace and a refreshing wind greeted me. There was a clear wind blowing around and through us, there was sun and warmth and rain. I was in a forest and a little one with a mushroom hat came out to greet me. She wore a deep blue beautiful dress and had a sweet gentle voice. She was about four years old and told me “I have a beautiful voice. Would you like to hear me sing?” She sang in a deep tender tone to me. I continued to the chamber of treasures and found a tool there. It was a metal sun shape of a circle, there were golden rays coming out from the sides of the circle. The little girl with the mushroom hat stepped through the centre of this sun and back again. It appears that she can go back and forth. I go through it with her and a path beyond that appears, stepping through and going down the path is the purpose of this tool. My guide of this journey arrives, he is an owl, and he comes to take me home with my little girl with the mushroom head and the sun too. He asks me to make a new contract, the little girl and myself say together that I shall sing deeply and tenderly and be safe. 


Cindy: As I journey to the chamber of wounds of my soul I find a small boy with big, grey eyes, starving, and sad. He is ghostly, he has been abused, the stealing away of sacredness, the loss of sacredness in the body. This is what I find as the lost soul piece. In the chamber of contracts I find husaker my guide in the form of a minotaur, speaking but I cannot understand. Ekeko a new guide steps forward and presents my contract: if you hide, you will be safe, they won’t find you. Silence. 

I travel on to the chamber of grace and find my soul piece as a medicine woman, old and young at the same time, she is a shape shifter. I see my power animal that will help me take this medicine woman home; it is a great white spirit bear. I am presented with a treasure, my new crystal; it is in a treasure box with satin inside. Huaskar gives it to me. 


Nicole: This is what I find on my journey to the underworld for my soul retrieval. I find a soul piece of a small girl hiding in corner and box, being unseen- fear being seen. This is the contract she made:

Hidden or contained I am liked or accepted more

I find the piece of grace I am looking for to bring back and she is a Star lady, her tool and jewel is a raw garnet. I bring both with me. My guide is a crow and I find my power animal it is a snow leopard. Little girl changed to swan. New contract:

I can bring myself into the light and be loved

Figure 31 Nicole’s new soul contract: “I CAN BRING MYSELF INTO THE LIGHT AND BE LOVED”

chapter 6 Discussion

The expressive arts and shamanism have played a central role in my life for many years. These singular and seemingly disparate interests eventually began to merge in my own life and in my work. In the process of engaged learning in shamanic practice, I began to develop an interest in opening this work to others. Similarly, my interest in the arts and in particular, visual arts and performance art began to touch into the arena of what eventually became therapeutic. What began as a personal exploration of the shamanic path, merged with the use of the expressive arts, as a conduit for my own learning, became a passion. Through this thesis I have explored the lineage of the creation of this passion, how I came to know each of these fields, what informed my knowledge of these fields and how I began to create a bridge that allows me to embrace both. In 2003 I began merging these two fields in my work and public art practice. I started a private healing practice, incorporating some aspects of each of these fields into individual and group sessions initiating the birth of my business: Indigo Bridge Centre for Shamanic Studies, Yoga and Expressive Arts. At the same time I became a founding member of The Urban Shaman Collective, a group of four artists creating public art pieces exploring the relationship of healing and art. I became curious to see how it would work to incorporate in a dedicated environment the techniques learned through my study of shamanism with those practices and principles gained from my education as an expressive arts therapist. In order to do this, I ran a group where the specific and declared purpose of the group allowed for an exploration of the merging of these two fields. A loose structure was created to research this relationship and start to discern compatibility and dissonance. The unfolding of this work created numerous opportunities for learning. The discussion of the material generated in this group represents one version of the ongoing journey of integration that each of us must take in the order to make the work that we do our own.


One of the questions that arose in this study was the role of the artist/shaman and the role of the arts in shamanism and its counterpart in expressive arts therapy. How are they similar and how are they different? This work is sustained the premise as stated by Levy (1993) that one of the roles of the art to the shaman was to record his or her visions and experiences for the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of the lost soul of the individual and community. The art takes on the therapeutic work, gives guidance, and offers integration to the spiritual and other worlding experiences. Tedlock (2005) determines that the shaman’s role requires artistic faculties to translate the divine messages into a language understood by all. The creation of the sandpainting, journeys, fire ceremonies, story writing, singing, rattling, drumming, drawings, and the making of dolls were all aspects of expressive arts used within the shamanic context. The use of the arts to communicate to and from the soul is an essential factor noted within this course. Clients stated, “The art was an indispensable tool for providing a form for otherwise out-of-body experiences.” They found this to be grounding but also to lead their experience further, to keep it going into new surprising directions. The work of the group is an illustration of the inherent reciprocity and compatibility of the expressive arts and shamanism. This was seen when the participant activated trance states to journey guided by the artistic techniques of drumming, singing or rattling rhythmically and using visualization as much as the poet and storyteller became the shaman walking between unseen worlds. Eliade (1964) likens the secret language that poetry is born from to the ecstatic trance states acquired by shaman.  “Poetic creation still remains an act of perfect spiritual freedom” (p. 515). The purest poetic act seems to recreate language from an inner experience that, like the ecstasy or religious inspiration of shamans reveals the essence of things (Eliade).

The different modalities of art used became tools to attain different outcomes. Sometimes the arts were used to enter ritual, or reach trance states, and other times as tools to bridge out of the trance or altered states to provide harvesting, or what the researcher terms integration. The sense became that the expressive arts techniques were shamanic expressions. McNiff (1992) observed that the things done in the art therapy studio resembled the artefacts and rituals found in shamanism. He inferred early on in his career that creative therapies are ancient shamanic continuities.  From this research, it was experienced that within shamanism work there is compatibility and space for the expressive arts principles and practices to take form. The arts and shamanic practices were witnessed as working seamlessly together in the soul retrieval course. The participants found expressive arts therapy to be a contemporary expression of ancient shamanic practices. And in fact, when turning to the arts for healing we are engaging in the rediscovering of an ancient tradition. Originally healers were also artists and the healing process was a ritual event with the shaman as the master of ceremonies (Levine, 1992). The act of creating a distinct group to practice expressive arts therapy techniques with shamanism served to illuminate and reclaim the indigenous shamanic roots of expressive arts therapy.

The research course was based around ‘soul,’ ‘soul loss,’ and ‘soul retrieval’ and the ensuing exploration of each field’s practices that respond to ‘soul loss.’ The common ground between expressive arts and shamanism is their philosophies of ministering to the soul, thus the course being structured around these themes gave them a natural link through the focus of the work.  The soul as described by Hillman (as cited in Knill et al. 2005) is the quality of existence that gives vitality to our experience. In shamanism the soul when lost is considered to literally go into one of the three real worlds of spirit the shaman subscribes to (Ingerman, 1991). ‘Soul retrieval’ would entail the shaman inducing a trance state to then take ‘spirit flight’ (the soul leaves their body) and journey into one of these worlds to fight for and find this lost piece of soul to bring back to the client. In expressive arts therapy ‘soul loss’ is a metaphor, or soul’s tendency to elude the grasp of consciousness as well as its more primal detachment from feelings (McNiif, 1992). The worldviews and cosmologies of beliefs is where the expressive arts and shamanism miss each other, which causes some differentiation of roles and practices. The soul for the expressive arts field is never considered to be lost in a literal sense like the shaman believes, however, the loss of contact with the soul’s movements and the resulting loss of relationship to the soul is considered ‘soul loss.’  The loss of relationship to the soul or ‘soul loss’ for both shamanic practices and expressive arts results in bodily and mental illness, rigidification, the absence of passion, and the estrangement from nature (McNiff). The response to ‘soul loss’ will then require the ministering to the soul. Both the expressive artist and shaman take on this role. The techniques of soul retrieval traditionally differ in practices, however this research resulted in the identification of the expressive artist, art and shaman to be interchangeable at times. The art became capable of shamanic ‘spirit flight,’ enabling messages to be brought forth from the realm of the soul to the artist/client/shaman. An example of this will be further explained with the soul dolls.

It is important to note that the course was structured around learning through direct experience, a philosophy grounded in both expressive arts and shamanism. The direct experience traditionally in shamanism comes from the client’s participation in the ritual healing as the passive receiver of the work, experiencing what they receive through the shaman doing the work of the  ‘soul retrieval.’ The shaman is the active creator and interpreter of the work. The shaman is considered capable of moving beyond the personal to do the work for the collective and the client is not. The term collective refers to the greater whole of the community and cosmos; this includes for the shaman the ensouled land and spirit worlds.  This course was set up in an expressive arts experience based framework where the participants were taught the techniques of ‘soul retrieval’ by a demonstration or performance by the researcher and set up with the artistic materials to be the creators of their own experiences. The participants engaged in all the practices of soul retrieval themselves as the creator of art work: dance, song, poetry, soul dolls, sandpaintings, and performing energetic soul retrievals with trance states and spirit flight to spirit worlds as healer and as client, then interpreting their experience through the group with facilitation from the researcher, often using arts based analysis (aesthetic analysis) and responses (aesthetic responses). In light of this structure the shaman, client, artist became interchangeable through their practices. The participants embodied the many definitions of a shaman: singer, seeing person, one who knows, to jump leap or play, poet, dramatist, artist, and ceremonialist (Narby, 1988).  Indeed, “The shaman is a gifted artist” (Levy, 1993 p. 12).

It is important to contextualize this statement of the shaman is an artist There are discerning qualities to the shaman and the artist. A shaman is traditionally one who can enter trance states voluntarily and a travel through unseen spirit worlds with his or her soul (Heinze, 1991). A requisite for a traditional shaman is also that they do this work in service of the community that includes the animated, ensouled cosmos of nature and the unseen worlds as well as humanity. A shaman must go through rigorous rites of passage to attain this status of power whether self-initiated, hereditary, or spirit appointed. The shaman will need the artistic faculties to be highly trained and skilled to enable the work of healing the equilibrium of the cosmos, which is considered a calling. An artist is defined as a person who practices or performs any of the creative arts (Hawker & Waite, 2001.) The shaman is an artist by this definition but is an artist a shaman? Without the intention and other requirements stated to be an active shaman the role of artist and shaman are not interchangeable. There can be the argument that the professional artist is also acting from a calling and can access spirit flight to unseen worlds of the soul in service to the greater community. In this case, the artist and shaman have similarities.

In this research we are referring to the artist in an expressive arts therapy context.  Here the intention of the field is around healing of the soul and accessing alternative worlds for healing purposes to serve the individual or community who is seeking aid and guidance. In this way it was observed that the emerging art and expressive artist to hold many similar roles to the shaman.  The results of the research implies that when administering to the soul, the shaman is indispensable and the expressive arts techniques are powerful tools that can act alone to administer to the soul as well as further the abilities of the practicing shaman. The relationship in this context clearly was similar in roles and abilities, again bringing us back to look at the roots of expressive arts as clearly shamanic.


In expressive arts therapy, we are trained to track for surprises in the emerging work and processes and to then follow and harvest from these surprises. The ‘soul dolls’ in particular were a great surprise for the researcher. The discussion around the soul dolls begins with an explanation of how they were formed and structured in the course context. This is followed by the observed outcomes created by the soul dolls. The themes of the research results from the dolls are ‘intermodal shifting,’ ‘the third,’ and ‘transitional objects.’

The soul doll exercise was a new experience that the researcher had never applied or witnessed before. The exercise was positioned after the final trance state induced ‘soul retrieval’ experience for the group on the third day out of four. The seed of intention for the soul dolls was to ground the participant’s final experience of ‘spirit flight’ and ‘soul retrieval’ through the making of something tangible. The soul doll exercise was constructed in such a way that the expressive arts framework was used throughout. The materials were set out and the group worked in a circle outside, with the researcher participating making a soul doll. There was a three-hour time frame with open discussion while participants engaged in the creation of their dolls. The atmosphere was light and fun. Upon completion, the dolls were presented and a natural intermodal shift occurred where the dolls were taken into story. The subsequent intermodal shift came with the dolls being installed in nature and the participants giving a poetic presentation with the soul dolls to the group. The group stayed in the expressive arts format of responding through the arts surrounding the participant with silent clapping, noises, and gestures. Each participant received an aesthetic response from two others in the group using the language of prose, visionary insights, and drama. The presenter was left room to interpret the responses on his or her own terms. This framework contributed to the success of the course, differing to a traditional shamanic practice where the client or group would be more passive with the shaman being the creator and interpreter of the artwork. The essential quality of the participants’ partaking in all aspects of the soul dolls process created a successful bridge between expressive arts and shamanic methodologies of soul retrieval.

Intermodal Shifting

The dolls worked as a seamless evocation of intermodal work. The dolls themselves called for an ‘intermodal transfer’ defined as a shifting from one art form to another (Knill et al., 2004). An intermodal transfer supports the focusing process and allows for an insight or shift in awareness (Knill et al). The presence of the dolls called for a voice. The soul dolls came alive with the intermodal shift of sculpture to stories and subsequent shift to poetic performances as the final outcome. The dolls went from unanimated objects to ensouled dolls with a voice. The intermodal shift was experienced as the bringer of the soul to the dolls. The vitality of imagination was furthered through the engagement of more than one expressive faculty (McNiff, 2004). With the dolls’ stories and poetic performance pieces, the art work was seen as acting as the shaman, travelling to the realm of the soul and bringing back pieces that were then told through an epic tale. The eventual transfer to the poetic discipline deserves special mention. To finalize with a poetic activity allows images, acts, movements, rhythms, or sounds to find a cognitive sense and crystallize in poetic words. As we are taken by images the poetic gate opens and surprise guides us through. Poetry embodies the soul of new thought (Knill et al., 2004). An example of this is seen in Nicole’s poetic presentation of her soul doll:

My eyes rose to the heavens, to the stars and in their dance the cross of eternity turned on it’s axis, bound by all things earthly and cosmic. My arms once bound heard the music in silence and lightened, sucking in star strands, releasing arm bands, becoming fluffy wings. And as birds flew and the colours of the day set, a quiet settled in my soul. The starfish echoed the silence of the stars. The crabs crawled into their holes, their rustling, and the brushing of bones. I pulled out my heart and used it to light my way thru the death of day. I pulled out my knife and cut the woven web of time.

The nature of various artistic disciplines interacting powerfully enhances imagery through the way they combine and move between modalities of action, movement, sound, silence and words. Knill et al. (2004) relates this intermodal shifting that empowers images as the same skill that the shaman uses to make imagination speak. Through this course the experiences of intermodal shifts between drumming, singing, journeying, storytelling, sculpture, poetry and doll making demonstrated the evocation of one art form informing and enhancing the power of the image to the next. This was observed as a parallel work of the expressive artist and shaman.

The Third

‘The Third’ is an important consideration in expressive arts therapy because of its central role in the human experience of the arts (Knill et al., 2004). ‘The third’ or ‘the other’ is known as the emergent of the transmediated/imaginary realm (Knill et al). ‘The third’ is artwork that has been brought forth through the act of service from the artist to the emerging image, sound, scene or in this case soul doll. The most significant aspect of this ‘other’ observed on this research course was the inherent characteristic of having a  ‘thingly’ artwork that could be witnessed and responded to by the artist and the group alike. The soul dolls evoked stories, giving a voice and tangibility to the soul parts of the participants. The power of having something tangible to respond to together proved extremely valuable to the group process of cohesion and support. The group spontaneously revered each other’s dolls eventually creating an alter to hold their dolls together until the end of the course. Each participant expressed affinities towards each other’s dolls creating connections, affirmations, and bonds through the dolls. In the poetic presentation the soul dolls were kept at the centre of the discourse keeping the interpretations happening in the presence of the emerged thingly work within the artistic mode of imagination (Knill et al., 2004). The structure of ‘the third’ in this process freed the researchers from the power dynamic found in most interpretive helping modalities.

The soul dolls’ voices lead the participants and witnesses into a different place of accessing the soul, they were observed to be capable of stepping into alternative worlds that participants could not access on their own but with ‘the other’ were able to go there. This is consistent with the supposition posed of the art as shaman. The soul dolls, paired with intermodal shifting to poetic stories and presentations, were given access to the souls domain; this was likened to the shamanic trance states also experienced on the soul retrieval course. A participant claimed “ the voice of the soul doll traveled to the domains of the spirit world speaking to me as a shaman would returning from a soul retrieval.” An example of this is seen in Philimines’s soul doll’s voice speaking: “Sweet star woman you have become whole again. Your family of stars has never left you. Feel them now. They are forever in you; your waters can flow freely now. You are whole; the birds will always be with you. Go live in the forest with your family of stars and be contented.”

The voices of the soul dolls not only presented shamanic notions of spiritual guidance and support from the natural world as seen in Philimines story, but also informed the listener of potential resources available. In both Bobby Lynn’s soul doll’s voice and Jamie’s story we can see an illustration of creating resources out of restriction, a fundamental theory of expressive arts therapy.

Bobby Lynn: Once upon a time this person who was searching found some missing pieces and carried them home. The journey had been long and spanned across many diverse lands full of sometimes-scary creatures. Many loving friends, guides, and family helped this person. This person discovered a support network was always present. With innocent eyes the world was illuminated. Coming home, this person delivered a gift of endless possibility for healing to all the wounded souls. “Have no fear my friends, for the darkness is sweet. Source from here and you will be carried home too!”

Jamie: Once upon a time this person who was searching found a missing piece of her soul. She had to focus. She was a shaman on her path. She found her soul in the stars while on her vision quest. This shook her up and she needed help. Luckily her best friend was there to help. 

In both examples, the voices of the dolls claimed resources of support and findings of things that were lost. The naming of the arduous journey to recovering these lost pieces of soul concluded with a discovery of the support needed to accomplish what was necessary. In the world of the soul dolls, success was found. This difference expands the ‘range of play’ of everyday life (Knill et al., 2004). ‘The third’ or the ‘soul doll’ acted also as a resource to take these successes found in non-ordinary reality into the everyday life of the participants.

Transitional Objects

The soul dolls as ‘thingly’ beings that could be touched and held gave the individuals a ‘transitional object’ to continue their integration at home. Winnicott (1971) terms ‘transitional objects’ as something that  “represent the intermediate stage of development between autism and separation, a stage in which the “me” and “not me” cannot be clearly distinguished”(p. 20) Transitional experience is at the origin of play, in which the difference between self and other is suspended. Beginning with transitional objects, the adults’ play space can extend to works of art.  The soul doll exercise was an integral, important piece to solidifying the bridge back to the participants’ everyday world and a clear tool for deepening the discovery of the souls retrievals. The power of this exercise indicated the strength of the arts to create a container to make meaning from and its invaluable resource of integration. The clients expressed the art making as the things that they could remember and hold on to, which helps them integrate their experiences. “My soul doll gives me something to take home and create an alter with that I can speak to and remember my experiences on this course.” The soul doll became a phenomena of the inter structural relationship between the everyday and imaginative realities. They became well suited to be part of the metabolism of the psychic system providing medicine for the participants with the possibilities of having an effect beyond the course. The participants were instructed to create an alter where they could see it easily in their home so that they could feed it and ask it questions to remember how to keep their found pieces of soul with them in everyday life. The soul dolls became the transitional objects used to inform the acceptance of the new pieces of self into the whole. This was observed as an invaluable tool that bridged expressive arts and shamanism within this course. Transitional objects are often used within shamanic ritual. For an example, a small stone may be given to the client after a healing, or a ribbon placed around his or her waist to be kept there until it falls of. However, transitional objects are rarely made by the participant in traditional shamanic activities.


Ritual is an important element in both the expressive arts and shamanism. As a practitioner of both, I was familiar with the ways in which ritual supported the therapeutic process. In the creation of a group structure, particular attention was placed upon the shamanic elements that are part of a sophisticated system of evocation. I learned aspects of these elements from my own teachers over a period of years. The group structure enabled me to develop a structure that would prove to be unique to the particular group that attended the workshop. Although attention was paid to honoring my shamanic teachers, I allowed myself to develop a structure that included aspects of my expressive arts training. In that sense, I created a structure that was unique to my own version of both shamanic work and expressive arts. These structures were outlined in my methods and results section, were presented to the group members, and were enacted as a rhythmical structure that created safety, supported cohesiveness, and grounding.

The ritual component of the work was observed as part of the bridge that holds these two fields of healing together. Through their active pursuit of ‘liminality,’ these fields meet at a crossroad that allows for an exploration of the depths of the soul. Liminality in relationship to ritual can be described as the chaotic middle phase of any ritual in which all familiar structures have been given up and new ones have yet to emerge (Knill et al., 2005). Shamanism and expressive arts therapy both minister to the soul by stepping out of ordinary reality to an alternate world where new forms can be made, new experiences had and new pathways of communication to the souls needs opened. In this alternative world, a liminal state could be experienced. In the soul retrieval course, this was created through ritual in several different forms of ceremony, trance states, singing and drumming, journeying and through ritual act of making art, poetic, visual and sculptural. Throughout, the research ritual was observed as the container to hold the disintegration of self it served to give access to the liminal state in a reality yet unknown to the participants and was the container for movement within the structure of the course. Ritual provided a way to leave ordinary reality and move into an alternative world while also providing a place to return to. The different forms of ritual within the soul retrieval course were witnessed as giving access to a liminal phase where the participants gave up their existing structures and entered a chaotic state of being. New meanings emerged in symbolic or metaphorical terms, and the ritual allowed for the return from the chaotic liminal state. This return allowed a harvesting of these new meanings to emerge from the ruins of the old so they could be used for personal healing. The liminality within the various forms of ritual gave the participants the opportunity to metaphorically die to the old to be claimed by a new life.

Power and Ethics

The next point of discussion was initiated by the soul doll experience. Witnessing this process within the shamanic context of the research enabled a vision and understanding of the need for the bridging of the old shamanic ways and the new ways of expressive arts therapy. Expressive arts therapy techniques are contemporary and necessitate the balancing of power of the change agent and client. Expressive arts therapy offers a client centred relationship within the ritual and creative art modalities that are used for healing. The power dynamic inherent in any relationship around healing can shift when given an emergent ‘third’ to focus the dialogue around and stay in the arts (Barba et al., 2004). The framework created by the expressive arts therapy practices can offer contemporary shamanic practitioners the ethics and protocols that keep the shaman in checks and balances. The bridging of the ancient shamanic role models with the modern expressive arts therapist models can lessen the advice giving and interpretation by the healer. Seeing the client as the expert creates a template for clean experiential learning. This is important in our time when the apprenticeship and rites of passage for the shaman are not as rigorous and purifying for taking the position of power of the healer, shaman, and sage (Ott, 1995). Often these new shamans, because of their positions, are allowed tremendous power over others, yet are not accountable to a governing body or community. One reason is because the community does not exist or the ethics and morals of the community being served are not high enough themselves to keep the practicing new shaman in check. The soul doll experience in this research course illustrated that ancient shamanic practices do have a need to bridge with the newer expressive arts therapy practices to stay current and act appropriately to serve the people of our time.

To empower others is the goal of true transformational healing, to be able to discern when helping relationships are holding power over and taking power from is of paramount importance. The prophetic shaman who is given full power over as a dynamic in healing work is not as appropriate in this time as perhaps it once was. It is also possible that we are able to build on what came before and methodologically create an evolved healer by taking the best from these two fields. If the contemporary shaman is trained as an expressive arts therapist with governing ethics and morals, and trained capabilities to facilitate art making and social change with communities, he or she can empower those they work with. By adapting shamanic methodology with expressive arts, the ‘expressive arts shaman’ can be a very real evolution of healers.

Spirituality and Nature

Both shamanism and expressive arts as fields of study are encouraging a return to our senses to create new lenses of perception. They both lead us into knowledge from direct experience. This study shows that the expressive arts are missing its relationship and its connection to nature and spirituality. The shaman carries the animation of the world directly into nature fostering a relationship with the ensouled land.  Although expressive arts does acknowledge the presence of the stimulating source of nature in waking up our senses, they work with the land through installation and performance which they term land art. The relationship to land, however, does not carry the ensouled presence of the shaman’s cosmology, which is a weakness that lessens the power of current expressive arts principles and practices. The field itself has lent soul to art but limited the ensouling to there; leaving spirituality is shied away from in the expressive arts literature and study.

Expressive arts and shamanism depart in this spiritual realm and connection with nature. To take the arts and the techniques of healing with the arts from shamanism, and to claim one’s roots there, but to leave the spirituality behind, is estrangement and a writing of a collective story of separation. To draw only what one wants from a relationship is to serve oneself and not to serve the relationship. The estrangement from spiritual roots is mirrored in the current act of separation within the very field of expressive arts therapy and expressive arts and social change. In the precipice of such a positive move forward with expressive arts and social change I see the potential of expressive arts caving in on itself by its momentum towards divisions and definitions. It is time to remember that the artistic philosophy of constant trans substantiation is what distinguishes our tradition of expressive therapy from others, which institutionalize their experience through a literal reading and following of a text (McNiff, 2004).

To adapt to our changing world is of paramount importance. The more the individual disciplines cross pollinate, the more vital they become (McNiff, 2004).  I offer nature based spirituality back to expressive arts in the form of shamanism in its entirety. I suggest ‘expressive arts shamanism’ as an act of healing the estrangement from spirituality currently found in expressive arts.  This combined healing modalities includes spirituality, healing arts, energy medicine, and social change. It is also possible that this is not necessary if we allow what is already there to grow naturally forward with out needing to define it. The desiccation of living experience through analysis is an old problem that is itself part of psyche’s archetypal pathology (McNiff, 1992).



Sweet is lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis- shapes the beauteous forms of things:

We murder to dissect.


Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives


Shamanism offers a nature based spirituality that is not a religion with dogmas but offers a methodology to have spiritual experiences (Harner, 1990). This can be seen as a spiritual freedom. Shamanism brings nature to the front as a healing tool and offers social action and social change through its fundamental principle of service to the greater collective. Shamanism brings also a greater embrace of ritual through its indigenous roots. In my training in shamanism the arts have never been emphasized. They are used but not taught and integration is often left aside. Expressive arts therapy can offer tools and training of the arts and integration as well as current ethical standards to shamanic practices. The fields can learn and grow from each other, born from the same seed yet manifesting in different times. The study of both can lead to the birth of a contemporary methodology of healing that is a result of a true evolution from powerful parents.

I wish to suggest to others to walk the path of shamanism and expressive arts to further a vision of serving the community and collective to create a necessary quantum shift of consciousness.  I advocate this to cultivate the artistic skills and sensitivities of the modern expressive art therapist and the ancient techniques of ecstasy of shamanism in the energetic and spiritual worlds is to offer the opportunity to create powerful healers, leaders, and guides for this time to come. In this way, I offer this work and hope to continue with some further research and insights for the lineage of  ‘expressive arts shamanism‘ to come. At the beginning of this work I would have shied away from using this terminology, yet as I complete I feel strengthened to blaze forward and find integrity through action, research and practice to keep shamanism alive and use it as we are currently called. Do I think the ’expressive arts shaman‘ can pull a thunderbolt from the sky and make it rain? Not yet, but I do hope and believe that one who acquires these powerful skills that shamanism and expressive arts therapy offer will and can create huge shifts within larger and larger communities and bodies of land depending on their capacity to hold power. In this way, I want to use the word shaman to ‘give hope legs,’ for our future and our collective souls journey. I am suggesting for current expressive arts therapy to dis-member and die to the old to take back spirituality from their shamanic roots as an act of remembering.


What has first to have itself proved is of little value.
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols)

The proposed next study this thesis leads to is in the realm of methodology. After thoroughly researching the philosophies, principles, and practices of expressive arts therapy and shamanism there can be seen a need to discover new ways of evolving from these methods of ministering to the soul.  A proposal for further research that would develop a new field of expressive arts shamanism with its own methodology and practices developed from the research of bridging the established fields of expressive arts therapy and shamanism. It must be considered that it is important to develop our own methods and not merely apply methods adapted to other disciplines. Importing external methods to any field can be nourishing, although it can also prevent from deploying its own potential (Stitelman Perrenoud, & Uehlig, 2007).

The vision of this new research work circles around public art, community action, and shamanic ceremony on a large public scale. As I near completion of this thesis, I have received calls from the old members of the Urban Shaman Collective. We have not been actively creating and performing works for four years. They have called a meeting for next week, wanting to rebirth the Urban Shaman Collective with a new series of public art works with the suggestion to enlarge our collective. We were a group of four, we are looking to grow to seven now. In this way, my further research in this field of healing with the arts and shamanism is destined to continue. We are hearing the call as a collective of contemporary professional artists and healers to produce public art pieces around healing and the arts.  We will answer this call, and that work will be my further research.  Expressive Arts Shamanism- Techniques of Ministering to the Soul



No, no there is no going back.

Less and less you are

That possibility you were.

More and more you have become

Those lives and deaths


That have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

Containing much that was

And is no more in time, beloved

Then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

Standing over the grave.

Now more than ever you can be

Generous towards each day

That comes, young, to disappear

Forever, and yet remain

Unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

Not to give yourself away.


Wendell Berry (The Sabbath Poems, 1993,I)



Appendix A




Christine Selda



Phone: 604-815-0948 office

650-815-9123 mobile


Mail: Indigo Bridge Centre for Shamanic Studies, Yoga & Expressive Arts

P.O. Box 5698 Squamish, B.C.

V8B 0C2 Canada



West Vancouver:  #8-2471 Marine Drive, V7V 1L3

Squamish: 37995 Magnolia Crescent, (Valleycliffe Area)





Building Despachos

Adapted from Jose Luis Herrara and Nancy Garbett

Despacho is the central ceremony of exchange and ayni (the operating principle of reciprocity through which we live and transcend) for the purpose of bring into balance yachi (right thinking; intellect), munai (the source, most important energetic focal point in exchange with universal which is informed by the assemblage point; seeing the totalities rather than the details; the sifter of reality; right loving), yanqui (power of manifestation, interaction with the environment; right doing).

The ceremony is a gift of love and of communion through prayer with all the organizing principles, with all the sacred places of our source, with heaven and earth and the apus that connect them, with the elemental spirits of the three worlds.

The Apus hold the knowledge of our ancestors and of the medicine people.  They contain the Akashic records into which we can tap when we are in ayni.  Thus when we are in ayni we have instant access to universal power.  When we are in ayni, we can merge with our luminous twin, our Waikai who is waiting eagerly for us to come back.  This is the siwya state or synchronistic alignment.

Despachos are metaphors for our lives, depictions of our own landscapes, our power, home, family, work.  They are the canvas onto which we create the art of our lives.

Traditionally in the Andes, this ceremony is preformed individually or communally after each earth cycle to renew and re-imprint the powers of nature on our luminous body, to connect with the Universe and accomplish perfect Ayni, not only for us personally but for the wellbeing of our Ayllu.  A Despacho bring the shaman into harmonious relationship with heaven and earth, aligning the three worlds (Uhupacha, Kaypacha, and Hanaqpacha) and the organizing principles of the Universe.  Each item of offering represents a prayer and a girt of power that sparks the momentum for energy shifts and healing.

The elementals are present in all three worlds, some of whom you will invite to receive and feed on the gift.  When we learn to see in between spaces, they appear about a foot above the ground as contoured bubbles.  They are described as follows:


Mukis: keepers of the riches of Pachamama, an extension of her, roots of plants, spirits honored by miners.

Naupas: pre-human beings who live between spaces (ie cave springs), who source from Causay.  Don’t call them, they are not invited, but make peace with them.  Detach from Jaguar engagement with them, go into Condor and Inka instead.

Anchanchu: other beings which live close to surface of PM; extensions of Illas, the reproductive principles which come into dream time.


Willkis: guardian angels


Lanlas: angelic beings out to have fun with you, their job is to confuse you, confusion is a form of energy from which they feed.  Do not invite them either.

Ispallas: winged angels, which manifest in Dream Time, who have different frequency, which does not correspond, to our waking state.


Hake Mallkis: the luminous ones, the wise ones (can appear like fireflies and then quickly disappear)


AYNI DESPACHO: Jose Luis Herrera
Rainbow Jaguar Traditions.

The Despacho is a gift or giveaway for the organizing principles of the Universe and constitutes the central axis of energetic exchange for healing, re establishing perfect Ayni  or protection.  The Despacho Ceremony is the living embodiment of the shaman’s landscape of life, that which meets at the level of the soul and ultimately connects to the source of all creation.  The Despacho Ceremony, in its physical beauty, is a journey to the essence of nature, and with the assistance of the spirit world we weave the energetic inner workings and symbolism of each element of our offerings into our own daily life’s tapestry.
Traditionally, in the Andes this ceremony is performed individually or communally after each earth cycle to renew and re-imprint the powers of nature on our luminous body, to connect with the Universe and accomplish perfect Ayni, not only for us personally but for the wellbeing of our Ayllu.  A Despacho brings the shaman into harmonious relationship with heaven and earth, aligning the three worlds (Uhupacha, Kaypacha, Hanqpacha) and the organizing principles of the Universe. Each item of offering represents a prayer and a gift of power that sparks the momentum for energy shifts and healing.

Ayni Despacho Ingredients:

Bay leafs: Prayer bundles (3 leafs face up stem down). Your Despacho should have at least twelve bundles (the more prayers the better). Include in yor prayers your love ones and village.
Sugar: in the 4 corners that are assembling and creating our reality.
Incense: makes a wonderful smell when burned and mixed with the sugar to entice and invite the spirits of the Pachamama and the Apus to come feast.
Flowers: (red and white) gift of our love to bring the masculine and feminine, complimentary aspects into balance.  It calls to remember our fulfilled state or healed states.
Shell this represents the mother of waters, all the water on the planet.  It represents the matrix of creation, the cosmic womb of the mother. The backbone on which life is supported.
Candy doll: represents us collectively and individually as seeds being born into our becoming. We emerge from the cosmic belly of the mother as time begins.
Llama fat: (replace with Buffalo fat or jerky) It’s the energy that animates all aspects of life.
Sage invites spirit to come down and feast.  It is put into the 4 corners to assemble our reality.
Anise: used to create attracting smokes to invite spirits and spice the meals of love for Pachamama.
Coca Leaf seeds: (replace with tabacco) seeds of coca leaves. Symbolizes the sacred,giving back what was sacredly provided for us.
Sugar: this represents the snows, the glaciers, rains.  We need to be in right ayni (relationship) with fertility/growth.
Garbanzo seeds: sacred and powerful places connected to the lineage of medicine people. Seeds of love, seeds of fruitions, and outcomes.


fetus: (replace with buffalo jerky). It is the incubation of us and our visions within Pachamama.  The unborn, the unmanifested finding alignment with outcomes and fruitions.
Candies: represents our love, sweetness, all our relations in right fruitful ayni.
Figs, dried: ancestors, the lineage of the land. They’re agents who can come and work in our behalf.
White & black raisins: bring sweetness to life and provide a balancing of opposing dualities: Yanantin & Masintin. Big round Cracker: t(round and whole).  Collectivity, oneness, communion, the village, the clan, etc.
Cotton: represents the clouds, the cycle of waters, the upperworld.  The upper domains of the spirit flight, luminous awareness.
Peanuts: the same as garbanzos.
Amaranth: This is a high protein, nutritious food.  Highest or lightest form of  energy (Sami)
Alphabet noodles: As we grow into our medicine body we need to learn to speak the language of the jaguar, the rivers…
Chocolate frogs: keepers of the cycles of rain
Animal crackers: the world of animal kingdoms
Rice: represents abundance, fertility, the reproductive principle (illa).
Starfish: This tells us of our return to the stars (metaphor for vision or remembering our place in creation), embracing our luminous nature.
Silver paper: This represents the silver book, the body of knowledge of eons held in Mountain Spirits.
Gold paper:  Wisdom of the Pachamama, the beauty way.
Silver and gold rods: represent the sound of the land. It teaches us about hearing and dialoguing with the animated universe.
Confetti candy and paper: celebration, homecoming, honoring our journey our relations.
Tiny metal figurines of everything: (replace with animated representations of all your relations). Represents our relations, our home, our stories.  We are harmonizing our Ayni with everything we have a relationship with (directly or indirectly)
Mica: We retrieve parts of our soul that have been dispersed in times of transition, chaos. Strengthens and protects the Anima or soul from possible souls loss.
Lodestone (natural magnet): We use this to attract that which is wanted and repel that that’s not wanted.
Lima beans: anchoring our reality, bringing healing to our roles, returning what rightfully belongs to the land.
Gold and silver beads: represent the sun and moon.
Stars: our constellations, the upper world, luminous awareness.
Gold and silver sequins: Bring together and channel light and energy from the sun and moon.
Little Angels: represents our guardian spirits, benefactors, protectors.
Wayruros seeds from the Amazon jungle: The totally red seed represents the masculine principle, the red seed with the black dot represents the feminine  These are used to bring balance, equilibrium.
Candle: This is used to light the fire in our solar plexus, vitality.
Rainbow Thread: Multicolored string representing the rainbow bridge between the worlds.  We enclose the despacho with the rainbow and cross it with another yarn rainbow.
Gold and silver beads: same as sequins for stars and moon.
Gold and silver threads: Ceke conections.  It is important to keep the despacho face up or you reverse the ayni you have just created in ceremony.  Also keep it facing you.
Paper to hold the Despacho
Red and White wine for Heaven and Earth






Add any pieces of nature that you would like to honour your landscape.   Try to limit the amount of non-biodegradable or unhealthy things to burn in your despacho.  Really consider it will be embodied by Pachamama and you want her to be able to digest it all.  Let this ceremony be celebratory, one that is an act of joy and beauty.  Play and play harder.

Ending: pass red and white wines to all participants.  Wrap despacho bottom up, top down, right to left, left to right (magical); tie with string; mark top side with flower; make sure when you wrap into cloth (mestana) for safekeeping until despacho is burned (faster manifestation) or buried (slower manifestation) that it is always oriented this way (left flap over right; left facing to right).

Cleanse self and participants with wrapped mesa: take to yachi, munai, yanqui, go counterclockwise to release any energy you do not want.

Appendix c Soul Retrieval Handout 1





MARAS- Vitality, Fire, Passion


TAMPU- Domain of Fulfillment


SUTIK- Historical original trauma, promises, contracts.



TAMPU TAMBO- Treasure, location of riches of Soul


Tambo- inner wisdom- Vision is tambo


PAKAREQTAMBO- the dawning place of tomorrow where light comes back


PAKARINA- place of emergence, doorway to wholeness, essential Pachamama, collective














Appendix d SOUL RETRIEVAL handout 2


Structure of Session:


  1. Initial discussion with the client: the procedure and the presenting problem.


  1. Ceremonial preparation: cleanse with sage, light candle and call in the directions.


  1. Chakra testing: give the client a power object to hold, then perform muscle testing or use a pendulum. Or do both; especially if there is any doubt as to which chakra needs attention. When more than one chakra test positive, work on the lowest of them.


  1. Spread your Wiracocha first over self and then enveloping the client, to create a safe and sacred space in which to work.


  1. Suggest that the client use breathing to increase/ decrease the strength of the experience. Ask the client to try to tap into the intensity of the incident at issue, but not to relive the incident. Remind the client that, if the experience becomes too strong, he/she can “disengage” by crossing arms over chest.


  1. Cradling the client’s head in your hands, gently manipulate the deepening points at base of the skull. Continue until you sense that the client is very relaxed and ready to proceed.


  1. Release ( unwind, counterclockwise) the appropriate chakra.


  1. Gently manipulate the release points behind the client’s ears. Use your mesa or power objects, if necessary, to perform miqui on the affected chakra. This process may take several minutes.


  1. Do 7-7-7 Breath sequence 3-6 times. To enhance altered state for journey.


  1. Using drumming and /or rattling begin your journey.


    1. Drum for a few minutes to become “centred” and to allow the client to get accustomed to the sound. At the first change in rhythm, go down ( for about a minute). At the second, go into the “garden” of the underworld (for 5-15 minutes). At the third, come out (about a minute). At the fourth, come up (about a minute).


    1. When arriving at the underworld, greet Huaskar, state your intent and ask for permission to enter on behalf of the client.


    1. If any beings should appear in the journey, ask who it is, what it represents, and whether it has a message for the client. If it is an element of the client’s soul, ask if it will come with you when you return, remembering that the healed part you seek is usually in the chamber of Grace.


    1. Ask to be shown the four chambers of the client’s Soul


WOUNDS:  the wound of origin that caused the soul loss


II  CONTRACTS:  contracts of promises that have kept the soul part



III  GRACE:  joy, peace, life force where you will find the healed soul



IV TREASURES:  gift, possibilities, and capabilities



    1. As you prepare to return, check to see if any power animals have a message for the client and ask if they want to return with you for your client.


    1. Give thanks to Huaskar. Begin the return journey.


  1. After you return from the journey, blow the soul element, medicine gift, and the power animal into the appropriate chakra(s). This will usually, but not always, be the chakra you opened earlier. Use the heart chakra if you have received no information as to which chakra to use.


  1. Rebalance the chakra. (Wind clockwise)


  1. Retract your Wiraccocha.


  1. Give thanks to the directions and release the spirits.




Discuss with client the results of journeying, including what your found in each of the four chambers. Discuss what follow up homework will be necessary to integrate the soul part into their life. Prepare spirit arrow or medicine gift to be left in nature or burned in the fire, to release hungry ghosts and offer gift to the mother earth.

Appendix e Sacred Fire Ceremony Handout

Preparation for the fire:

  • Begin with the Southern Cross, building a teepee of wood acknowledging the 4 directions
  • Open Sacred Space by calling in the directions
  • Begin the chant.
  • Start the fire (two people will be appointed to tend the fire for the evening)
  • Feed the fire with olive oil, which has been offered 3 times: to the four directions, to heaven and earth and to the Apus, also connect the circle to the fire by meeting everyone’s eyes.
  • Test the fire for friendliness
  • When the fire is friendly, the space holder leads the ceremony of offerings coming in from the South
  • All other come make their offerings by coming in from on e of the four directions.
  • A Pachamama offering (stick) is passed around to all members of the group with each person placing their wishes and blessing for the earth.
  • After all of the offerings are made to the earth, the eldest or youngest member places the Pachamama stick into the fire.
  • Close Sacred Space when all the offerings are burned
  • At least two people stay with the fire until it embers- no flame.  No water is to be put on the fire.

Fire Ceremony

The fire ceremony is one of the oldest healing ceremonies known to man.  In the Inca cosmology the belief is held that we (and all of life) are light bound up in matter.  So when you put a piece of wood in to the fire, you are releasing the matter back into its essence, which is light.  The fire transmutes heavy energy into light energy.  When you bring a Spirit Arrow to the fire which carries the energy of intent for healing, you offer it to the fire to transmute it from heavy energy to light energy.  You bring it always as an act of love and power, for healing not for retribution; you set the past free to be healed.

The transformational fire ceremony is done on the full moon of each month.  Traditionally, one participated in a fire ceremony for approximately three years prior to doing it for one self.  Then, another three year period was spent doing it alone or with your teacher before you began to do it with others.  Until recently, this was the training process for this ceremony.  Now, shamans say that there is “no time” for this lengthy process that the earth and our civilization are in such great peril that students should begin to do the fire ceremony as soon as they are guided to do so.  The fire then becomes the teacher.  It will let you know immediately if your intention or attitude are not pure or in tune with the tradition.

One should begin the ceremony by establishing a sacred space.  After lighting the fire the chat is begun to call upon the spirit of the waters beneath the earth:


Niche Tai Tai, N-U-Y

Oro Nika, Oro Nika

Hey Hey, Hey Hey

Ooo, Aai


The following is not a literal translation but expresses it’s essence:

O Great Mother, Mother of the Waters

We call on you, waters of our birth

Waters of our sustenance

Waters that cleanse us on our death

Waters of life.


Olive oil is used as an offering during the taming of the fire.


The moment the fire becomes friendly, it changes colour and burns in a different manner.  This change should be learned from direct observation and experience with the fire and the student should discover it.


Create an offering out of burnable materials, called a “light arrow.”  The “light arrow” represents an issue or something you want to let go of.  The “light arrow” is to focus attention in an active meditation.

Students are asked to view this information as the “heart of the ceremony.”  The style of one’s teacher is not to be literally imitated but rather it is a beginning point to find one’s own unique ritual to add to this essential ceremony.

During the ceremony, we wait for the fire to become friendly (or put another way, we wait until we come up to the temperature of the fire).  Then we each approaches the fire and silently put our offering into it.  We then put our hands briefly through the fire into our belly, then into the heart and then the forehead.  The only protection when touching the fire is to come before it with a pure hearth.  You can touch it lightly or do deeply into the flame.  Whatever it is it is not sensational or dramatic, but rather a way to focus our attention and energy upon our transformation.

There is a two week period following a fire ceremony in which instances of opportunity appear.  These instances provide the opportunity to translate your intent for healing into reality.  You are advised to think of the fire ceremony, not as an instantaneous magical change, but rather an opening for hailing distinctive habits and patterns.  Recognize this opening and seize the opportunity to change your behavior in the real world.  Then let the universe take care of the details.































































































































































(repeat with rounds)
















































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A n g a k u t

In the end

Seeing with closed eyes



Uncommon surrender