The Shaman Mediates Between the Visible and Invisible

Alberto Villoldo with the Shamans of Peru

The shaman is a one who mediates between the visible world of form and matter and the invisible world of energy and spirits. For the shaman there is no supernatural world. Only the natural world exists, with its visible and invisible dimensions.

In the last century, science has dismissed the mysterious world of the ancients. Electron microscopes allow us to peer deeply into the heart of matter; invisible “spirits” have been catalogued as microbes; and space telescopes show us that behind the blue sky there is no Heaven, only the vast darkness of space. The quest for the single explanation that could unite all the observed forces at play in our universe left the arena of religion and spirituality and became the search for the Unified Field Theory.

Today many of us feel compelled to describe our art and practice using the language of quantum physics, in an attempt to give the shamanic arts more credibility. I believe that doing so actually devalues the 50,000 + year tradition of shamanism.

The earliest evidence we have suggestive of shamanic practices is an elaborate Neanderthal burial found at a cave at Shanidar, in the Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan, in Iraq. Here a male in his late 30’s was interred in a fetal position, and his body deliberately covered with flowers. Many of these plants, including Yarrow, Cornflower, Bachelor’s Button, St. Barnaby’s Thistle, Grape Hyacinth, and Woody Horsetail, are known to have medicinal properties. So even prior to the appearance of modern humans (Homo sapiens) shamanic practices seem to have existed.

Shamanism is a spiritual practice, not a religious one. Spiritual practices are based on personal, direct experience, and are replicable by others who choose to undergo the practices and initiations. Religion, on the other hand, is based on belief. My teacher, an old Indian man from the high Andes, once said to me as we were walking the edge of Lake Titicaca, the Sea on Top of the World:  “…religions are simple concepts of spirituality – values, standards, truths, principles communicated in the form of a story that uses poetry and metaphor to illustrate its wisdom. Stories that have been told and retold until even their embellishments acquire profound meaning and the figurative is taken literally and the lessons are lost. And my friends, the priests, were devoted caretakers of a story that was not their own.

“But the shaman is the author of the story, the mythmaker. El Viejo’s (his teacher) faith was based on his own experience of the Divine in Nature. A shaman stands with one foot in this world, and one foot in the world of spirit. With the priests and in the schools, I learned the lessons of others. With El Viejo I learned my own lessons.

El Viejo showed me that the consciousness that creates our waking reality is a universal consciousness, a vast sea that is navigable. Most people are content to live on the land, and they know this sea only as it appears to them from their own shores. But it is possible to know it fully, to navigate the sea, to cross it, to immerse yourself, to let it wash over you, to discover its depths. The shaman is one who has learned how to swim and how to sail, how to navigate through this sea and return to its shore. And to communicate its wonders to his people.” (In Island of the Sun)

The shamanic training often follows the path known to the Greeks of old as the journey of the wounded healer, during which the shaman developed her powers and abilities as she healed herself. This is the model that I rely on when we train Western shamans in our School (The Four Winds Society.) I believe that it is essential to heal yourself before you start ministering to others. But the shaman is different from the mystic, who can also go through a process of healing and discovery of the invisible world of energy and spirits. The shaman is dedicated to service to her community, whereas the mystic is dedicated to dwelling on her own experience of the divine, and let’s the world unfold as it may.

My teacher believed that the new shamans, the new caretakers of the Earth, would come from the West. “The Indios do not have the power and stamina to hold the world in their prayers anymore,” he once said to me. “Many of our peoples have lost their souls. The hope lies with you and your children.” My mentor, don Antonio, believed that many of called to this work had sat together  many times before around a fire in the Great Plains, with the Buffalo behind us, or meditating above the snow line in a stone temple like the Inka built.

It is also important to differentiate the shaman from the sorcerer, even thought their paths and teachings are similar. The shaman accumulates personal power to serve his community. The sorcerer accumulates personal power for personal gain.


Learn more about how you can become a modern shaman by participating in courses offered by The Four Winds Society and start your healing journey today!


  1. Alberto- I love the way you write and make it so simple to understand! I feel blessed to have gone to Peru with you and gone to The Four Winds! What an amazing journey! I love being a steward of this amazing work.

  2. Patricia McGuire says:

    So elegantly described….

    And yet, as a healer I seek tools of communication and connection. I have found in my practice as shaman/therapist that the words to describe this practice elude me. If I say to a patient, “Hynpnosis” (which I consider a shamanic practice), they automatically seem to find connection to and meaning in it, even if they have never had the experience of it themselves. If I say, “Shamanism”, I experience a blank face staring back at me. If I describe how my journey to “other” worlds, or that there are no other worlds, there is limited understanding and less desire on their part to explore this powerful healing option. If I use the idea of quantum physics and its’ theory of other dimensions and add the shamanic concept that all souls can travel to them, the more familiar topic creates a bridge to shamanism, and I then have a more excited and motivated patient.

    I fully honor shamanism as experiential, but it was my choice to enter into this practice. With my patients, I am the guide to their entering this portal and experiencing it themselves, and I seek the words and concepts that can assist them to willingly get there.

  3. Thank you Alberto, for bringing the wisdom and healing of the shamans to us in the west. There has been a great deal of healing. I love this path and this journey!

  4. Dr Alberto is an EXCEPTIONAL SHAMAN who hold the light to humanity in 21 century!
    He is also a great visionary & Teacher!
    I bowed to you and your work!!!

  5. I am also sooo grateful for all the teachings at the Fourwinds, it deeply changed my perception of life and helped me tremendously not only on personal level, giving a place to the old stories, but it also brought poetry and impact in my professional life working with organisation in the corporate world and working in coaching individuals.
    Tks to the staff, to Linda, to Alberto…and oin the first place to the Elders who are sharing their wisdom.
    All the best

  6. You were speaking to me directly when referring to the “wounded healer”. Intuitively, I knew all my life I was different somehow, but was unable to initiate change on my own. Deep and powerful change has occurred within “Self”, and I am now directing this healing into others. The Lightbody School was just what my inner Mystic ordered.

  7. Thank you for this timely reminder of the basic difference between shamanism and religion. Will be speaking with a friend later today on this very subject.
    I am so grateful for the HLB school. It has helped me on so many levels.

  8. Thank you for reflecting back to me once again, so eloquently, what I have found so hard to accept in myself that it is not my path to stand only in the world of the visible. To hear these words is to step beyond the illusion of being alone and different from all those around me.

    With profound gratitude


  9. Deborah Hartnett says:

    Thank you for your wisdom and insight to experiences I have and I can’t explain. I am blessed to have several of your books for help and guidence. God willing, may we meet one day soon so I can start my journey into Shamanism and Healing. Thank you.

  10. Debra A. Hanover says:

    Thanks for sharing…Blessings…

  11. Ben Young says:

    Thank you Alberto. I’m wounded but healing, and already by your side. With love, in peace, Ben

  12. Exquisite description of the role of the shaman! I so wish I could afford to go to the Lightbody School.

    Blessings and sami to all!

    • Kris Wilkerson says:

      Yes an exquisite description. Yet words cannot fully convey the beauty and power of this medicine. I am in gratitude everyday for the expieriences and understanding I have gained through the Four Winds Light Body School.

      If this calls to you — and you will know – you absolutely can afford to go to the Light Body School. The world is abundant and the universe aligns with your true desires. I urge you to be aware of how you can constrict the flow with limiting beliefs about money. The cost is minimal when held in balance with the amazing training, knowlege and life changing experience available. There is always a way.

      In love and light,

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