Exploring the Nature of Shamanism with Ram Dass and Michael Harner

In “Exploring the Nature of Shamanism with Ram Dass and Michael Harner,” presented by The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, Ram Dass and Michael Harner engage in an enlightening dialogue about consciousness, spirituality, psychedelics, and shamanism. The selected video clips from their January 2003 discussion in Marin County, California provide a unique blend of wisdom and humor. The duo touches upon topics such as the ego and soul, the different levels of reality in shamanism, and the role of psychedelics in spiritual experiences. They also shed light on the essence of shamanism, emphasizing its day-to-day nature and its focus on healing and understanding the subtle complexities of the universe.

Ram Dass and Michael Harner’s insightful conversation offers a glimpse into their profound knowledge and experience in the field of shamanism, making it a captivating resource for those interested in exploring the nature of consciousness and spirituality.


In this article, we will delve into the fascinating realm of consciousness and shamanism. We will explore the works of two influential figures who have made significant contributions to our understanding of these subjects: Ram Dass and Michael Harner. By discussing their insights and exploring the nature of consciousness, shamanism, and the role of psychedelics within this practice, we will gain a deeper appreciation for the profound mystical experiences that can be achieved through these spiritual traditions. So, let’s embark on this enlightening journey together.

Overview of Ram Dass and Michael Harner

Ram Dass, originally known as Richard Alpert, is a renowned spiritual teacher and author who has been instrumental in introducing Eastern philosophy and spirituality to the Western world. He gained fame through his association with Timothy Leary in the 1960s, exploring the potential of psychedelics to expand consciousness. However, it was his later work, notably his book “Be Here Now,” that solidified his place as a spiritual guide. Ram Dass focused on mindfulness, meditation, and one’s connection to the present moment as the keys to spiritual awakening.

Michael Harner, on the other hand, is best known for his research on shamanism and the development of Core Shamanism. Harner’s interest in indigenous cultures led him to study with various shamans around the world. Through his experiences, he recognized the universal elements present in shamanic practices and distilled them into a singular approach accessible to people from all walks of life. His teachings emphasized the importance of direct spiritual experiences, which he believed could be attained through shamanic journeying and rituals.

Discussion on the Nature of Consciousness

Consciousness is a subject that has intrigued humans for millennia. It is the thread that connects us to our inner selves and to the world around us. Ram Dass and Michael Harner have both delved into the depths of consciousness, offering unique perspectives on its nature. According to Ram Dass, consciousness is not confined to the physical body; instead, it extends beyond the boundaries of our individual selves to encompass the entire universe. He suggests that by expanding our awareness, we can tap into this interconnectedness and experience a profound sense of unity.

Similarly, Michael Harner views consciousness as a vast, interconnected web that encompasses the spiritual and physical realms. He argues that shamanic practices allow individuals to access altered states of consciousness, enabling them to navigate this complex web and gain firsthand knowledge of the spiritual dimensions that underpin ordinary reality. By expanding our consciousness through shamanic journeying, we tap into a profound well of spiritual wisdom.

Exploring the Nature of Shamanism with Ram Dass and Michael Harner

Understanding Shamanism

Shamanism is an ancient spiritual practice that can be traced back thousands of years and is still practiced today in various forms around the world. At its core, shamanism revolves around the belief that everything in the universe is interconnected and alive with spiritual energy. Shamans are considered the intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds, tasked with maintaining balance and harmony within their communities.

Shamanic practices often involve ceremonial rituals, drumming, chanting, and the use of sacred plants. Through these practices, shamans enter altered states of consciousness and connect with spirit allies and guides who provide guidance, healing, and insights into the nature of reality. The shaman’s role is not only to address individual issues but also to serve their community by providing healing and divination.

Exploring Ordinary Reality

Ordinary reality, as understood in shamanic traditions, is the everyday world that we perceive through our five senses. However, shamanism goes beyond accepting this reality at face value. It recognizes that there are hidden dimensions and spiritual energies that can be accessed through altered states of consciousness. By journeying within, shamans venture into these hidden realms, retrieving information and healing for themselves and others.

Shamanic journeying allows individuals to explore the depths of their own subconscious, uncovering long-forgotten memories, and gaining insights into their lives and purpose. It also offers a means of connecting to the spiritual wisdom of ancestors and other beings in the spirit realms. Through this exploration of ordinary reality, shamanism provides a multidimensional perspective, encouraging us to question the limitations of our everyday understanding.

The Upper and Lower Worlds

Within shamanic cosmology, there are often references to the upper and lower worlds. These realms are believed to exist parallel to our physical reality, accessible through altered states of consciousness. The upper world is associated with celestial energies, spirit guides, and angelic beings, while the lower world is connected to the earth and its energies, animal spirits, and ancestral knowledge.

Journeying to the upper world allows individuals to connect with higher consciousness, gaining insights and guidance from spiritual beings. Meanwhile, descending into the lower world provides an opportunity to connect with the wisdom and power of nature, receiving teachings from animal spirits and accessing ancestral knowledge. By exploring both realms, shamans gain a more holistic understanding of the universe and its interconnectedness.

The Mystical Aspect of Shamanism

Shamanism holds a profound mystical aspect that transcends cultural boundaries. The shamanic journey, characterized by a shift in consciousness, enables individuals to transcend ordinary states of awareness and tap into the spiritual dimensions that underpin reality. This mystical experience often involves encounters with ancient spirits, visions, and a profound sense of interconnectedness with all beings.

The mystical aspect of shamanism is not limited to the shaman alone; it is accessible to anyone willing to embark on this spiritual journey. Through rituals, meditation, and shamanic techniques, individuals can cultivate a deeper connection with the divine and experience moments of profound transformation and transcendence.

Comparing Shamanism in Different Cultures

Shamanism is a diverse and culturally rich practice, with variations across different indigenous cultures around the world. While the specific rituals and beliefs may differ, the fundamental principles and aims remain consistent. Shamans serve as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds, utilizing altered states of consciousness to facilitate healing, divination, and spiritual guidance.

For example, in Siberian shamanism, the drum is an essential tool that helps shamans enter trance states, connecting with spirit allies and ancestors. In the Amazon rainforest, ayahuasca ceremonies are central to the practice of shamanism, with the plant medicine facilitating spiritual journeys and healing. Despite these cultural differences, the underlying belief in the interconnectedness of all things remains consistent.

The Role of Psychedelics in Shamanism

Psychedelics have played a significant role in shamanic practices throughout history. These psychoactive substances can induce altered states of consciousness, similar to those achieved through meditation and other shamanic techniques. The use of psychedelics in shamanism is not about mere recreation but rather a tool for accessing spiritual dimensions and deepening the shamanic experience.

Substances like peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and ayahuasca have been used by shamans to induce visionary states that enable access to the realms of spirits and energies beyond ordinary perception. It is important to note that the use of psychedelics should always be approached with respect, intention, and the guidance of experienced practitioners, as they can produce powerful and transformative experiences.


In conclusion, Ram Dass and Michael Harner have made significant contributions to our understanding of consciousness and shamanism. Through their teachings, we have gained insights into the nature of consciousness, the profound mystical experiences that can be achieved through shamanic practices, and the diverse cultural expressions of shamanism. Whether through meditation, shamanic journeying, or the use of psychedelics, these practices offer us a pathway to expanded awareness, spiritual growth, and a deeper connection with the universe. So, embrace the wisdom of these spiritual traditions and embark on your own journey of self-discovery and transformation.

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