In Memoriam

Dr. Michael Harner

The Way of a Shaman - About Michael Harner (1929-2018)

"One evening in 1982, I finally approached the entrance of the cave alone. In silence, I asked the spirits for their compassion and to grant me greater power for my healing work."

Michael Harner, Cave and Cosmos, 2013

There are extraordinary people who are both able and willing to venture far ahead into unknown territory, paving the way for others. Michael Harner, born in Washington, D.C., in 1929, was such a person. An academically trained anthropologist with a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, he conducted research among the Conibo people of eastern Peru and experienced his initiation into shamanism there. The move from scientific observer to shamanic practitioner was like crossing the Rubicon that separates the sciences from what is considered superstition among scientists. Michael Harner found a way to walk on both banks of this river at the same time.

He realized that indigenous shamanic knowledge was in the process of disappearing very rapidly and that the different shamanic cultures around the world had many common elements. He studied with various shamanic communities in the Upper Amazon and immersed himself in the worldwide study of shamanism. This enabled him to identify its basic principles and practices that are valid across cultures, and to coin the term "core shamanism" for it. Core Shamanism is not a belief system, but is based on direct experience that spirits are real. Through Core Shamanism, Michael Harner has given a language to experiences with spirits and non-ordinary reality that has made it possible to repeat and study such experiences and thus teach shamanic methodology.

By establishing Core Shamanism, he enabled a resurgence of shamanic knowledge and healing practices in the West. With his book "The Way of the Shaman", first published in English in 1980, he created one of the essential sources for this. Although he was a brilliant writer with a style of great clarity, he then refrained from publishing  further books for more than three  decades, thus giving the new tradition of oral transmission of shamanic knowledge that he had begun the opportunity to grow and develop. Especially in cultures that rely heavily on the written word - religious doctrine or scientific worldview - this was a bold and visionary approach, but one that worked well and led to the renaissance of shamanism in the West that we see today. He used the seminar as a format for learning appropriate in Western cultures, thus allowing participants in these seminars to experience the power of a group dedicated to shamanic healing work. In essence, this is the experience of a shamanic "tribe" composed of people without cultural roots in shamanic traditions. This aspect took on special significance for the spread of core shamanism in Europe, which had long ago cut its ties with shamanism. Michael Harner's meeting with Paul Uccusic in Austria at the Forum Alpbach in 1982 led not only to a lifelong friendship between these two men, but also to the establishment of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in Europe through the work of Paul and Roswitha Uccusic.

Together with his wife, psychologist Sandra Harner, he founded the Center for Shamanic Studies in 1979 and created the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in 1985 as the organizational framework for this new, essentially oral tradition. After serving for decades as an academic teacher at universities such as Columbia University, Yale University, and the Graduate Faculty of the New School in New York, Michael Harner resigned from his professorship in 1987 to concentrate entirely on his work for the Foundation. He placed great emphasis on ensuring that his work with indigenous shamans and shamanesses did not become a one-way street of exploitation, but rather a mutual exchange of knowledge based on respect and trust. Many shamanic cultures had suffered persecution from religions and totalitarian regimes over the centuries. The Foundation is dedicated to the preservation of native shamanic cultures through the support of local shamans and shamanesses, in addition to holding workshops on various core shamanic methods.

Michael Harner was highly respected, consulted by Western scholars as well as indigenous shamans and shamanesses with whom he maintained collegial relationships. He became the leading authority in the West on the subject of shamanism. Michael Harner was a teacher who spoke with authority, but always allowed his students the freedom to follow their own path. He combined scientific precision and high ethical standards with spiritual profundity and a legendary sense of humor.

In recent years Michael Harner has been able to round off some circles in his work: In 2013, for example, he published his book "Cave and Cosmos - Shamanic Encounters with Hidden Reality," which includes a comprehensive account of the reality of spirits, drawing as much from his lifelong personal experience as from reports from FSS seminars. In the same year he handed over the leadership of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies to Susan Mokelke.

The message of Core Shamanism has arrived: This young shamanic tradition has spread significantly across continents, language areas and civilizations in the past decades. At the same time, native shamanic cultures have been preserved and are again receiving appropriate appreciation today. Michael Harner has humbly accepted his initiation, powerfully and persistently dedicated himself to his life's work, and fulfilled his mission. On February 3, 2018, just weeks before his 89th birthday, Michael Harner passed away near his home in Mill Valley, in California.

"If I should die tomorrow, I do so in the knowledge that I have achieved more than I could ever have hoped. I have been very fortunate in this respect. I never foresaw this path and I never expected that so many people would be willing to follow it. Now there are so many people who are well practiced and prepared to work with and learn from the spirits. My legacy, more than anything, is my students, because they will continue to work, and some will go further than I ever went."

Michael Harner on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2009

Articles by Michael Harner on Shamanism

Published books by Michael Harner can also be found in our recommended reading section.


  • „The Jivaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls” (1972)
  • „Hallucinogens and Shamanism” (1973);
  • „The Way of the Shaman” (1980), deutsch „Der Weg des Schamanen” (1981)
  • „Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality“ (2013), deutsch „Die Wirklichkeit des Schamanen: Ein Wegweiser in verborgene Welten und Bewusstseinsräume“ (2013)