Shamanic journeying: how to get started in 20 minutes

Zori Tomova
14 min readNov 16, 2017

I’m sitting by myself in a darkened room. My mind is flashing back through memories of caves, waterfalls, rivers and holes. I am looking for a place that feels ‘right’. I settle on a hole in a cave in Romania I visited a couple of months back, where I remember kneeling to watch water going down in an abyss of absolute darkness. I put on my headphones, turn on the youtube track and visualise myself standing in front of the hole, preparing to jump inside. I repeat to myself that “I want to explore the Lower world”, to see the hidden reality that lies beyond that hole.

And that’s how my first shamanic journey begins. But why am I doing this in the first place?

In the Western world, shamanism is a bit of a loaded word, often associated with strange New Age people doing strange spiritual things, including paying to other strange people for healing and support with questionable effect and value. However, as more of us give up traditional religion, there’s also a need to reconnect and reclaim our spirituality, to find our own flavour of it and point of spiritual belonging, as well as practices that help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, our direction and relationship with the divine. Thanks to the proliferation of spiritual and psychedelic practice that follows from this, and the work of people like Carlos Castaneda, Joseph Campbell, Michael Harner, Bill Plotkin, Martin Prechtel, Terrence McKenna and others, recently there has been a revived interest in shamanism.

It is how I encountered the practice of drum journeying myself and decided to give it a try out of curiosity. A 20-minutes drum-assisted drug-free shamanic journey sounded easy and interesting, so why not? By the end of my first trip I knew this was something I wanted to keep in my life. Over the last 7 years, the practice has held me through all kinds of highs and lows, helping me to listen more deeply to myself and life, connect with my intuition and spiritual guidance, open to the healing and wisdom of altered states of consciousness and resolve a multitude of challenges which I found hard to address on a rational level.

Whereas meditation enables you to develop the faculty to observe your conscious thoughts, shamanic journeys allow you to enter yet another amazing mind state where you can directly face your subconscious and work with it. It’s a world full of wonder, power and wisdom and my purpose with this article is to share with you a simple way to get started and experience this for yourself.

What is shamanism about?

Shamanism is a wide term used to relate to the spiritual beliefs, traditions and practices of indigenous people from all over the world. A common pattern among them is the understanding that our physical ordinary reality is not the only one — there are other ‘non-ordinary’ realities that coexist and interweave with what we see. It is where our dreams, visions and intuitions come from, where spirits and ancestors dwell, and where our own individual spirit resides. Any healing or problem resolution that ignores one of the two realities is incomplete and thus prone to failure or recurrence. Just as your body needs healing when you are sick, so does your spirit; just as a problem you’ve encountered needs you to take action in the ordinary world, so there is a need for action to be taken in non-ordinary reality.

For thousands of years, shamans have journeyed into non-ordinary reality to help their kinsmen spirits in times of sickness and trouble. They use special rituals to connect with and journey into non-ordinary realities. There they meet spirits in human and animal forms that they cultivate a relationship with and which can advise them how to address each problem. The specific things shamans encounter in their journeys are unique for each individual and each trip. Over time the shaman builds a mental ‘map’ of the alternate reality he/she is entering that allows him/her to better interpret and use the knowledge acquired in it to help others. According to Michael Harner’s research, a common element in their rituals, from Siberia to Australia to the jungles of the Amazon, is the drum beat. When held at approximately 4 beats/second, it is proven by science to induce a syncronization of brain waves conducive to trance states. This means the beat of the drum creates the supportive conditions for a shaman to venture into non-ordinary reality. The journeying method I’ve followed and describe below is offered in Michael Harner’s book ‘Cave and Cosmos’.

So what happened when I jumped in that cave hole?

“I slide down the hole and find myself in deep dark water. It’s cold. I start swimming and soon I can see a swarm of pretty jelly fish glowing bright in the darkness. I swim with them for a while until a dolphin joins me. I am happy to have him next to me, it’s comforting. We keep swimming together sometimes in water, sometimes through the rocky earth, until we reach the deep ocean where there is light from the open sky above us. Once there, I realize that our bodies are merging — I go in through his mouth, then out through his tail, then in again, in a repetitive cycle. The process happens faster and faster until we are a spinning disc. We spin together through the ocean at an amazing speed, jumping out in the air, like a flat stone thrown over a lake’s surface. We finally fly off, aiming for the moon. We arrive on its surface and go into one of its holes, drilling down towards the moon’s core. We see it as a point, shining and growing as we approach it. It grows bigger and bigger until we realize that it’s actually the sun, which has consumed the moon from the inside and now we are on the sun’s surface. There are tiny fiery creatures there that go about doing their business. We see small mushrooms and start sucking out some kind of green worms from them and eating them. I feel I can enter inside one of the worm holes. I start going in slowly, somehow swaying to and fro. Eventually I am in and I instantly pop out on a huge plane of red sand and rocks — a barren and vast landscape under a dark sky. I ask the dolphin to show me around and he swims through the air forward as I run behind him.

Then, all of a sudden I see Him. I know who he is. I’ve seen this man many years ago while watching my face in the mirror. He knows I know. I have a strong sense of his presence in the ordinary reality room I am in, like a shadow silhouette that passes in front of me as I keep my eyes closed. I am afraid. I ask him what he is doing there. He says he is always around. I ask if he is my teacher or something. He says no. I keep looking around to make sure the dolphin is nearby. I am scared. I ask Him who he is and he says he can’t tell me yet. I look into his eyes and they are deep and dark like a universe in themselves, the same bottomless black eyes that scared and enticed me from the mirror years ago. I tell him I am afraid of his eyes. I ask him if he loves me. He says “Yes, that’s why I am here and always have been”.

As he opens his mouth to speak again, I jump inside it. I find myself in a bright string of light that travels through the darkness of the universe. I am the whole string and I am also inside its tip, wrapping myself around things I encounter in space. In ordinary reality, I physically feel like I am falling, my heart is pounding hard and I can feel my hands moving in a strange way. I breathe deeply. I am still scared. All of a sudden, I pop up on a field full of daisies, I literally erupt from one of them, right on top of its yellow center. I stay there, catching my breath. I am a tiny creature on a daisy. At some point, I sense something is changing. It’s no longer a warm summer day, it’s winter now, with snow all around me. The other daisies are gone, but mine is still there, pretty and perfect like nothing happened. I see the seasons changing fast around me— faster and faster until it’s an unrecognizable swirl of colors. The sky above becomes a rainbow whirlpool. I know I can jump up inside it, but I hesitate — I am not sure I will remember the way back.

Finally I decide to jump and travel through the swirl until I find myself in our washing machine. The machine is washing clothes and I am one of them! I am a pink T-shirt, rolling around with the rest. There is foam all around and we are happy, having fun, getting clean together. I feel I will be new and fresh once this is finished, it’s really nice. I hear the drum signaling me to return. So I go back very quickly through the rainbow whirlpool, down the yellow center of the daisy, through the long string of light, out of His mouth, out of the worm hole, move away from the center of the moon back into the water, through the swarm of jellyfish back up to cave. Whew!”

As a beginner, I had chosen to have my first trip’s purpose to be to explore non-ordinary reality. I couldn’t have asked for a better intro! For a person that almost never remembered her dreams, didn’t consider herself very visual and never took any psychedelics, experiencing all this in such a vivid way while completely awake, without taking any stimulants was nothing short of a shock to me. I found an entire world inside me full of unexpected turns which spoke in images, feelings and insights, and had within 20 minutes managed to scare me out of my wits and then leave me feeling light, clean and happy like a pink T-shirt!

Most importantly, I felt the power this world holds. The experiences I went through were deeply moving and engaging — I felt they went all the way down to the core of my driving force. Remembering about the dolphin in daily situations filled me with a sense of joy, inner power, presence and motivation like nothing else I ever experienced before. In a similar way, my memories of ‘Him’ would usually come with a bolt of fear and anxiety. Sometimes I could almost feel his presence at home and would get spooked out of my wits. However, I knew this was definitely a thing I wanted to explore more, that I wanted to face that fear and deal with it. Finally, I gathered the courage and took another trip. I have entered that reality hundreds of times since, approximately once every week or two weeks, seeking help with specific intentions and finding surprising and invaluable advice, healing, power and support there.

The connection with my intuition that it has opened has completely transformed my life and the way I make decisions. It has helped me take the leap out of my comfort over and over again, find and live my purpose of creating spaces to deepen connection with self, other and nature in places like Bali, Peru and Guatemala. It has guided me to experiences beyond my wildest dreams. It has helped we reclaim my relationship with spirituality and prepared a solid foundation for a deeper dive into the world of psychedelics and other shamanic and indigenous practices.

How can you try this yourself?

I’ve found that I’ve been really lucky to have my first experience so vivid and not everyone gets such an easy start. I believe it’s just like any other craft — anyone can learn it and there’s an element of initial predisposition, as well as an element of motivation, practice and potentially support, as there is a whole art to the preparation and integration of shamanic journeys. For some it’s easy and they can immediately start benefitting from it, and the skill for preparing and integrating evolves by itself around the practice, for others it takes some time and support from someone with experience. The best way to start if you want to do it on your own, is to release any expectations you may have of what it will be like for you and give it a shot. Here are the steps you can follow:

1. Prepare

Before a shamanic trip, skip alcohol for a day and have a couple of hours pass between your last meal and the trip. Choose a place where you can stay undisturbed and comfortable for half an hour. You will need a device and headphones with which you can listen to this track. Sit in a comfortable position or lie on the floor (if you lie in your bed, there’s a good chance you will fall asleep).

2. Choose your challenge

For each trip you take you need a clear intention. In the long run, you can do it for healing or getting advise for yourself and others. However, for your first trip start with the goal of simply exploring the non-ordinary reality to get a grip of how the whole thing works (the less expectations you have, the better).

3. Choose your starting point

Think of an actual nature location that you’ve visited and can remember well, maybe one that feels particularly special to you. You can choose the top of a tree, a hill, a mountain top, a roof or a place that has smoke going up, which are great starting points if you want to move up towards what Michael Harner calls the Upper World. Another way is to choose a cave, a hole in the ground, a river, a waterfall, lake, ocean or sea, which are great entry points for journeying down into the Lower World. There is no right direction to go — you can just feel into whether you feel called to go up or down and choose the starting place accordingly. It’s advised to keep just one entrance for the Upper and one for the Lower world, so that you can build a map of what’s where in your non-ordinary reality.

4. Start the trip

Start with a calm and quiet mind. Turn on the drums track, close your eyes and repeat your goal several times (eg. I want to explore the Lower World). Visualize and feel yourself being at the entrance you picked (eg. the hole in the ground). Once you do, imagine your next step (eg. you go into the hole and find a little underground stream that you surrender to…). Allow yourself to explore the spaces that your mind generates. It’s normal to get stuck or feel fear at some point in the trip. It’s actually great news, because these energies are using the journey to be released from your system. As you stay with them, often something finds a way to shift not just in the trip itself, but in your energy body. If it’s too much for you, you can always open your eyes and return when you calm down.

5. Return

At the end of the track, you will hear the drums change their pattern. When you do, start going back quickly — go through the last hole or gateway you passed, then through the one before, etc. up to the place where it all started. Shamans believe this is very important — if you skip it, there is a chance ‘your soul will remain there’, which is considered to be a danger for your health and wellbeing. In practice, you can hold this lightly, tracing your steps back through the major turning points and it’s really OK if you don’t remember all of them.

6. Take notes

Write down your experience in as much detail as you can remember. Write it as if it is happening now (eg. I take a dive into the lake and am taken by a spiralling current…), instead of recalling it (eg. I took a dive into the lake and was taken by a spiralling current). This supports integrating as in some way, you get to relive it as you write. Every journey is a piece of a puzzle. It helps you build your shamanic knowledge so that you can interpret your next trips better. You can choose to share those notes and experiences with others or not, it’s up to you.

What’s next?

A shaman’s ultimate purpose is to bridge ordinary and non-ordinary reality to help others and support their healing. Whether you want to do this or just to use it as part of your own personal development, your first step should be to learn to help yourself and accumulate knowledge of the way you experience and bridge to and from non-ordinary reality. You can do this by taking more trips — to explore the Upper/Lower world more, to meet your power animal or mentor, to figure out how to deal with a health issue or problematic situation, etc. It’s awesome to have someone experienced to guide you through preparing, journeying and integrating, but it is not a ‘must’. Books like Carlos Castaneda’s ‘Journey to Ixtlan’, Michael Harner’s ‘Cave and Cosmos’ and Martin Prechtel’s ‘Secrets of the Talking Jaguar’ would be a great start if you want to open to some more inspiration in exploring shamanic practice and experiences of non-ordinary reality.

“Humans can see only a minuscule part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum in its entirety is about 10 trillion times larger than that of visible light. Might the mental spectrum be equally vast?” Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari.

In a similar way, might it be that due to our narrow focus on rationality, we are ignoring parts of the spectrum of consciousness that we are able to experience and use to our advantage? I believe the mind states induced by meditation, shamanic journeying, lucid dreaming, breathwork, plant medicine etc. are clear evidence of such blindspots that are just beginning to be addressed in Western culture, as we begin to realise there is so much more to life and consciousness than we are used to.

Shamanism is just one of the many ways of expanding our minds and getting closer to using their full potential in all its beauty and mystery. And honestly, I don’t feel it’s any better or worse than any of the others — it’s just one of the many paths to explore and learn from. What I do know is that once we pick up a practice we feel works for us and stick with it, it goes way beyond a mind game that helps us resolve problems — it puts us on an exploration journey that generates massive changes in our understanding of reality, our connection to the world and others and our way of living. Which ultimately leads to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life as a human being.

I wish you a pleasant journey and look forward to hearing about it, if you feel to share in comments!


PS: Since the beginning of my journey with this practice, over the last 7 years, I have become more and more aware of the value of creating a ritual safe space around it and the fascinating wider context of the shamanic path. I have found the practice to work even more powerfully when we:

  • align it with nature’s cycles (eg. Full Moons and New Moons, Equinoxes and Solstices etc.)
  • take care of the energetics of our environment when preparing for this work (eg. cleansing the space with incense, creating an alter with spirit objects, calling in the meaning and energy each of them carries)
  • call in protection and support from higher forces we feel connected with and our guiding spirits
  • have a space where we can share and get supported in interpreting and integrating the symbolic mysterious pieces of meaning we receive, which is an art in itself that takes time to master
  • for those who don’t feel safe in venturing in this space on their own or have troubles connecting with their vision, journey together with someone who has experience in this practice.

I have loved creating spaces for hundreds of individuals and groups to experience and learn how to do this in a supportive shared environment. You can find out more about drum journeying with me over here, and also contact me to explore shamanic practice in the wider context of Body, Intuition, Earth and Nature-based approaches to spiritual growth, incl. plant medicine work & integration.



Zori Tomova

Conscious Relating, Shamanic Practice & Mushroom Medicine Guide. Founder of Connection Playground & Widening Circles online communities.