Indigenous Cultures | 11 Ways to Know a Good Shaman When You Meet One

Go with your instincts and don’t trust the high guy trying to push you an Ayahuasca brew

by Jessica Brinton
Sep 30 2015, 12:02pm

It might have come to your attention that these days a lot of people are interested in shamanism. A powerful healing system, with roots in the world’s most ancient indigenous cultures, that can balance out the craziness of our lives and teach us about our true selves? Yes to that.

But how to know a bona fide shaman–one who acts as an intermediary between this world and the spirit world, using energy and the elements to heal at the deepest level–when one appears in front of you? Sad to say, with popularity comes market forces. And a whole spectrum of people calling themselves shamans who aren’t necessarily real shamans. But how can you spot the difference? Hopefully this guide can help.

Photo: Daniel Gutierrez & Gustavo Frota

1. First off, keep an open mind about how a shaman should look

A shaman generally prefers the outside world to not know that they are a shaman and therefore, will not have long hair, or be wearing the robes and headdress you were expecting. They’re more likely to be a regular person, like the guy in the corner shop, or the middle-aged woman you walked past when you were looking for a shaman.

2. Find the shaman, not the other way around

This may seem obvious but when someone approaches you in Peru or Stoke Newington, and says, “give me 50 dollars and I’ll do you a brew” it isn’t hard to be persuaded (FYI an ayahuasquero—someone who brews and works with the hallucinogenic plant sacrament, Ayahuasca—is not a shaman anyway). Tip: let your intuition guide you towards them. The best kind of shaman will let you find them.

3. You can tell a lot from a shaman’s attitude to money

Shamanism is a profession as well as a calling. Traditionally, the village shaman is the doctor of the community, rather like a GP – and a shaman has to make a living like everyone else. You will find that some charge a fee on a sliding scale, depending what you can afford. A decent shaman will often give you the feeling that if they could, they’d do it for free.

Photo: Daniel Gutierrez & Gustavo Frota

4. A good shaman is a humble guy, not a rock star

A shaman’s role is to be what they call in shaman circles, “a hollow reed.” This is someone free of ego, who allows space for the spirit to do its work. For this reason, you will never find a famous shaman – or one giving special treatment to Kim, Kylie or Kendall if they get in touch one day. This also works in a therapeutic setting: they are there to help you tap into your own intuition, and they should only support you with that, instead of overriding you.

5. Ask the shaman for his life story

Not the whole thing, obviously. But you’re looking for signs that they have endured some kind of serious physical challenges or personal sacrifices, possibly including a near death experience, or a physical disability, or a painful loss.

Of course you don’t wish anything bad on the shaman, but the shamanic path is supposed to be hard (many don’t make it) and suffering is a kind of rite of passage. Plus, within the shamanic view of medicine, it makes sense that a doctor would know how to heal himself before he can heal others.

6. A clean, sober shaman is the only kind of shaman to work with

Shamans work with energy; ergo if a shaman is a fuck-up, that would be reflected in the energy they are holding. A clean appearance and clear boundaries are therefore essential. The same for drugs and alcohol: straight edge is common amongst the best shamans. Who doesn’t deserve a shaman with a sharp mind and memory, giving you their full attention?

Photo: Daniel Gutierrez & Gustavo Frota

7. The shaman’s teacher really matters

An authentic shaman will have an on-going relationship with their teacher, who is like a line manager, always checking up on him or her. This teacher will be from a good lineage, and the shaman will have studied with them, one on one, for an extended period of time. Some shamans claim to have spent longer with well-known teachers than they actually have. Naughty.

8. Don’t mistake innocence for naivety

If a shaman is sweet and likes being playful, it isn’t because they’re clueless, it’s because in their tradition, they believe that there is no such thing as good and evil – only harmony and disharmony. They also know that compassion, empathy and gratitude are extremely healthy for the human body, so they tend to have these in limitless quantities. For the same reasons, a real shaman is often quite funny and you will feel like you can be a goofball in front of them.

Photo: Daniel Gutierrez & Gustavo Frota

9. On the other hand, get ready to not always hear what you want to hear

A good shaman is not there to “cure” you or dish out remedies like Western doctors. They are there to hold up a mirror and lead you towards the real story of you, a place from which you will be better able to heal yourself. Be wary of anyone who promises miracles. A great shaman is always realistic about the help they will be able to give you.

10. A good shaman will be there for you afterwards

Shamanism is powerful work and an authentic shaman will always make themselves available for after care, as and when.

11. Always go with your gut

If someone is saying, “this guy is great,” but you’re thinking, “hmm, I’m not sure,” then obviously go with what your heart is telling you. Bottom line, shamanism is an intuitive healing art, so when you meet a shaman, you need to feel an instant sense of trust. This could manifest as great calm, or simply wanting to be near them. That’s when you know that you’re with a great shaman.

Photo: Daniel Gutierrez & Gustavo Frota

With grateful thanks to,, and Ram Chatlani.