Modern Shamanic Living by Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path
Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Weiser, 1999
110 pages

There are numerous introductory texts on neoshamanism out there; most have the usual material–what is shamanism, how to journey, what are the three worlds, how to find a power animal, etc. Evelyn Rysdyk offers up her own interpretation of these ideas in her book, Modern Shamanic Living. What sets her book apart from others of its vein is the archetype of the hunter/gatherer that she works with as part of her own shamanic work.

I’ll admit some discomfort with the hunter/gatherer archetype. While I understand that Rysdyk wants to encourage readers to get in better touch with Nature within and without, and to question the harmful effects of postindustrial society, I’m not sure that hyperromanticed conjectures about prehistoric living are the way to go. Rysdyk paints pre-agricultural life as idyllic, and her conception of Nature is similarly romanticized. Additionally, as she is coming from a core shamanic background, some of her conceptions of shamanism, and particularly journeying, are correspondingly New Age-ish. While she admits, for example, that there are harmful spirits (but only in the Middle World), she makes no mention of the possibility that even helper spirits may not always have our best interests in mind. She additionally treats the power animal as a spirit-of-all-worlds, telling people, for example, that they can invite the power animal into the upper world (when, in actuality, the power animal may not even have access to it).

That being said, she also brings up some really important material. I was particularly impressed with her chapter on connecting with the body, and how we’ve managed as a society to become so distanced from what our bodies are telling us. Additionally, she discusses some much-needed perspectives on ecology and sustainability. I wish the book were longer; she could have gone into much greater detail on these and other topics, and while I don’t agree with her on every point, I would have loved to see her ideas fleshed out more fully. She dedicated a significant portion of the small page count to personal anecdotes, and while these are important, I would have liked to have seen more personally applicable material.

If you’re looking for a basic book on neoshamanism, this is a decent choice. The basic techniques are there, and to her great credit, Rysdyk includes not only a bibliography, but footnotes, which I heartily approve of. Use this as a good starting point for neoshamanic practice, and utilize the resources she cites to take it further.

Four pawprints out of five.

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3 Comments

  1. December 13, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Excellent point, we cannot romanticize the hunter-gatherer role or the pre-industrial world. They had to deal with their own set of problems then, just like now. However, we do need to reconnect our relationship with nature and the natural cycles.

  2. Korak said,

    December 16, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I agree precisely with Lupa’s last paragraph- and I own the same book (it came with a drumming CD of Ms. Rysdyk that I purchased through amazon.com). The CD is not bad either- I like the whistles shes uses to initiate the drumming. I’d give the book only 3 jaguar leaps out of 5, though!

  3. lupabitch said,

    December 17, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Shamanism Researcher–I’m all for reconnecting to Nature and its cycles; however, I support doing so in a manner that takes Nature for what it is, rather than hyperromanticizing it. Part of our problem is that we’ve always attempted to negotiate Nature on our terms, rather than simply letting it be.

    Korak–I may have to check out the CD at some point; thanks for telling me about it!


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