So, What Exactly Makes it Shamanic? – Part Two

The archetype of shamanism and its expression in Western humans

By Beau Taylor

I recently came across some brilliant material by a woman who, like many of us in the Shamanic Astrology (SA) paradigm, is often asked in her work to explain what she means by the term shamanic. I’ll introduce you to her in a moment. But first, let’s set the stage by way of a quick recap.

As you may recall, in the March newsletter we took a peek into the divination aspect of SA and how the astrologer’s relationship with, and openness to, the living energies present at the precise time and place of a chart consultation is essentially (and intentionally) shamanic in nature.  As expressed by Daniel Giamario, astrology is a living, breathing mandala made up of the union of astrologer, client, and the planetary essences present, as well as anything else that shows up at that moment. As Shamanic Astrologers, if we are truly willing to meet another in these energies as a conduit to help shine light on the person’s situational and developmental experiences as a whole human being, then we cannot know with any certainty what will transpire in a session.

In studying SA, we endeavor to learn the astronomical features of our solar system and how to interpret the information archetypally in terms of human character, behavior, development, and evolution. This knowledge, however, is never static and so the process of how we apply it is where discernment and wisdom enter in: we relax the grip on needing to demonstrate knowledgeand shift instead into being presentwith the energies surrounding us– seen and unseen. In this way, we embark on a soul-to-soul journey of discovery unique to a particular moment in time and space.

Back, now, to the term shamanic and the woman I’d like to introduce you to. If you Google the term shamanic, you’ll find some version of a description along these lines: a practice wherein the practitioner shifts into altered states of consciousness in order to tune into and interact with some form of spirit world, channeling these transcendental energies into this world. It is often described as a spiritual practice, or various versions of ritual or ceremony. You won’t have to search far before the term is linked to indigenous peoples and particular roles within a tribe or community. This is where the territory can get murky.

How can we, as Westerners, reclaim a relationship with the unseen worlds and wisdom traditions?

For those of us raised as Westerners, inside the imprint of colonialism and as part of the ‘dominant’ culture, our experience is usually one of feeling separate and removed from the landscapes of our own ancestors and the nature-based ways they once practiced. How can I, as a white Western woman whose ancestors came from elsewhere and settled in North America, reclaim with integrity my living and breathing relationship with the unseen worlds and wisdom traditions?

If I am going to use the term shamanic in my practice, I want to feel congruent and respectful in my embodiment of it.  Meet Sarah…

Sarah Kerr is a Canadian Death Doula and Ritual Healing Practicioner in Calgary, Alberta who helps people navigate death, loss, and transformation. Sarah is also the backbone of a community healers’ council in her home city, which she describes as a learning laboratory for ritual healers, artists, and spiritual explorers. An academician at heart, Sarah loves to articulate the language and context of her work. She opens the territory wide; inviting all who are drawn to connect with what is essentially human in our shared experience of living and dying. Many Westerners are reluctant to enter into an exploration of the word shamanism and its use and application today. Not Sarah: she wades right in, with high-beam headlights. While she has chosen not to use the term in her own professional title, her personal path has been one of reckoning with and learning from these energies directly as they surfaced in her own life.

In an 80-minute YouTube video of a lecture given to a live audience (link below), Sarah carefully unlocks the distinction between the anthropological aspects of shamanism – the social, political, and cultural underpinnings that can be a source of division and misunderstanding – and the archetypal phenomenon of shamanism that is universal to us all. In hearing Sarah frame shamanism as “an archetypal force that is present, and can be activated in all people, regardless of the cultural framework or community support for those experiences”, I began to feel clarity seep into my lingering fuzziness over how to authentically describe the shamanic aspect of the astrology we practice in the SA paradigm.

Sarah points out that the word, and what it stands for, speaks to profound and deep aspects of what it means to be a human being. Archetypal energies operate within and around all sentient beings. We live in an ecosystem that we don’t fully perceive nor understand, one that is in constant motion and in fluctuating states of balance. “Animism” is the world view that everything is alivein an interactive, relational cosmology wherein what we do has impact on many levels. In an animistic culture, everyone in some way talks to the spirits! (However, the true shamans are the ones who are experts in doing so, carrying out their bridging-between-the-worlds activities on behalf of others for the good of the entire community.)

Not only can the archetype of shamanism be activated within us – no matter who we are or where we live or how prepared we are for this activation – it is a natural part of being human. “The connections between the seen and unseen worlds have been largely ignored and neglected by dominant Western culture,” says Sarah. In the West particularly, we have for centuries neglected, repressed, or actively oppressed whatever is beyond the bounds of what we have declared to be normal, ‘real’, or acceptable. According to Sarah, “Creating opportunities for the resurgence of the shamanic archetype can help us heal those divisions and restore a healthy relationship with the ancestors, the spirits of the land, and the rest of our sacred living world.”

Nature-based spirituality, embodied mysticism, ceremonial practice and ritual: these are all along the continuum of the archetype of shamanism as expressed through human beings.  The healthy expression of this archetype allows us to live in a state of balance with all that surrounds us. Sarah emphasizes that we need the shamanic archetype’s energies and capacities in order to walk in balance in our personal lives as well as our shared existence on this planet. Our current culture, she believes, would be well-served to learn the skills and social patterns necessary to recognize these archetypal energies and support them when they arise in individuals.

Being mindful of our cultural biases and language
In contrast to a Western mindset, in an animistic world view imbalance does not exist within an individual. Rather, a person is out of balance because the whole community is out of balance. If a person is afflicted, they are carrying it on behalf of the community. This kind of shared reality is a big stretch for most Westerners to grasp. Thus our honest pain and confusion about how to recognize, describe, accept, and integrate these universal energies into the wider culture.

We each arise out of a cultural context. Sarah cautions us to avoid using language that universalizes, especially when we speak as a member of a dominant culture. Cultural appropriation – which is common and largely unavoidable when different cultures comingle – occurs when we use another culture’s traditions, fashion, symbols, language, music, etc. without permission or outside of the proper cultural context.

How then, do we as Westerners, respectfully find our own valid relationship with universal energies that our culture has historically attempted to turn a blind eye to?

How do we connect with the geographical energies in the landscapes we currently live in, even if we are not ‘from here’?

How can we begin to awaken to the limitations of our individualistic and linear predispositions to a more collective, animistic, relational orientation?

To add a further question that Sarah likes to ask, “How do we become the ones the spirits trust, to carry the healing into the future?” These are all questions that need to be lived-into, so that the answers may emerge both individually and collectively.

Shamanic Astrology can offer recognition of and support for these deeply human, archetypal energies…

Shamanic Astrology offers the recognition of and support for these deeply human, archetypal energies that connect us with our wider ecosystem, including the planetary movements and our broadest conceptions of who we are and why we are here. “As within, so without. As above, so below.” Indeed, the paradigm of Shamanic Astrology itself was borne out of the shamanic archetype, as expressed through Daniel Giamario under the guidance of his teachers, many of whom are not in human form (more on that in a future article).

In The Practice of Astrology, Dane Rudhyar distinguishes between two types of knowledge: the type that “clutters up the individual’s path toward wisdom”; and another type, geared to a vital desire for wisdom and the eventual realization an individual’s wholeness and inherent integrity.

“This last type of knowledge is based on principles of order which are universally valid; their application illumines all matters being studied. It is knowledge which appeals to the individual thinker within every man, woman and child, which summons this thinker out of his sleep and laziness; which, once used regularly, makes a man a powerin the universe: a power for good, if the individual sees himself as a conscious participant in the activities of a greater whole – be it called society, humanity, or God; a power for destruction, if the individual seeks only self-aggrandizement and finds no value in anything except his rugged individualism and isolationism.”

According to Rudhyar, the human search for measurable order and basic meaning in our existence is primordial. “The future of astrology does not rest, I believe, with its becoming some sort of statistically validated science; it depends rather on its capacity to balance and complement scientific, technological thinking by upholding a holistic search for ever more universalistic patterns of order revealing an ever deeper and inclusive realization of the meaning and rhythm of existence in an ever-widening world of human experience.”

Like Sarah Kerr, Rudhyar is pointing to the use and evolution of astrology in ways that serve community.

So, the next time I am asked about the term Shamanic Astrology, rather than hesitating to get into the ‘whole shamanic explanation thing’, I hope to rise to the occasion and draw upon the vibrant energy of the shamanic archetype itself. I can open myself to find the appropriate words to bridge and ‘normalize’ the archetypal currents that infuse, inform, and sustain all life forms. These universal energies are our birthright. They are natural to us and, when inquired into, are expressed as common experiences for almost everyone we come into contact with.


Sarah Kerr, PhD

Dane Rudhyar, The Practice of Astrology, Shambala, 1978.

Daniel Giamario’s website:

Not quoted in this article, but a favorite of mine about similar terrain:

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage, 1996.

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