Michael Harner (born 1929) is the founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and the formulator of "core shamanism." Harner is known for bringing shamanism and shamanic healing to the contemporary Western world. Walsh and Grob note in their book, Higher Wisdom, "Michael Harner is widely acknowledged as the world's foremost authority on shamanism and has had an enormous influence on both the academic and lay worlds…. What Yogananda did for Hinduism and D. T. Suzuki did for Zen, Michael Harner has done for shamanism, namely bring the tradition and its richness to Western awareness." Harner received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963. He taught there and at Columbia University, Yale University, and the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, where he chaired the anthropology department. He also co-chaired the Anthropology Section of the New York Academy of Sciences. In 1987 Harner left academic anthropology to devote himself full-time to the preservation, study, and teaching of shamanism as president of the non-profit Foundation for Shamanic Studies. In 2003 he received an honorary doctorate for his work from the California Institute of Integral Studies. In 2009 two sessions on shamanism were given in his honor at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. He received the 2009 Pioneer in Integrative Medicine Award, Institute of Health and Healing.
First trained as an archaeologist, Michael Harner, while an undergraduate student in 1948, participated in the excavation of the archaeologically famous Bat Cave in New Mexico and later did work related to the archaeology of the Lower Colorado River area. Then, as a graduate student, in 1956-57 he undertook field research on the culture of the Jívaro (Shuar) people of the Ecuadorian Amazon and began to pursue a career as an ethnologist. Harner's dissertation later became the basis for his book, The Jívaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls.
In 1960-61 he did additional ethnographic fieldwork among the Conibo people of the Ucayali River region in the Peruvian Amazon, during which his experiences with shamanism and the indigenous psychoactive drug, ayahuasca, started him on what was to become his life's primary work. Indications of this new focus can be seen in his 1968 article, "The Sound of Rushing Water," and the volume he edited in 1973, Hallucinogens and Shamanism which included articles by him, including "The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft," and a section in which he raised "The Question of a Trans-cultural Experience," a subject that he continued to pursue in his research and teaching.
Meanwhile, Harner maintained another interest: to discover the causality of the evolution of human societies. In his cross-cultural research he came to the conclusion that ecological factors, especially growing human pressure on natural resources, underlay social evolution. In 1970 he published "Population Pressure and the Social Evolution of Agriculturalists" in which his cross-cultural predictions based on a sample of 1170 societies, were supported without an exception. In 1975 he followed it with a theoretical article involving both low and high population pressure societies, "Scarcity, the Factors of Production, and Social Evolution."
In a 1977 article for the official journal of the American Ethnological Society, Harner noted that it was well recognized that the Aztecs were unique in the world regarding the unparalleled scale of their human sacrifices. He also observed that their ecological situation was similarly unparalleled for a major civilization. He offered evidence that widespread cannibalism resulting from protein and fat scarcity explained the large-scale capture and sacrifice of war prisoners, justified by the Aztecs as placation of their gods. Harner's theory was endorsed and supported by Marvin Harris, but criticized by Ortiz de Montellano who suggested that the Aztec diet did not require cannibalism. Two decades later, Harner's Aztec theory received some support in the anthropological journal "Ethnology" as the result of a cross-cultural study by anthropologist Michael Winkelman, who also concluded that "[...] the causes of human sacrifice are not a direct function of food availability per se" and also "Harner's original hypothesis [...] receives partial but significant support [...] There are, however, additional determinants of human sacrifice that remain to be identified". Shortly thereafter the Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures referred to Harner's 1977 American Ethnologist article as a "classic."
Bringing Shamanism and Shamanic Healing to the West
After Harner's Amazonian shamanic training with the hallucinogen ayahuasca, he started experimenting with monotonous drumming, discovering that there was no need for psychoactive substances in order to have successful shamanic journeys. Using the drum journey, he soon developed a more comprehensive shamanic practice, which led to invitations for him to introduce others to shamanism and shamanic healing. In response to such requests, he started giving training workshops in the early 1970s to small groups. As interest in this training grew, in 1979 he founded the Center for Shamanic Studies in Norwalk, Connecticut.
In 1980, Harner published The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing.
Soon increasing numbers of Westerners both in the United States and Europe were studying core shamanism with him. Anthropologist Joan Townsend clearly distinguished Harner's core shamanism from neo-shamanism.
Harner then integrated his Center for Shamanic Studies into the non-profit Foundation for Shamanic Studies. The Foundation rapidly grew, with financial support primarily coming from the shamanic training courses and workshops he taught, supplemented by private donations. From the early 1980s onward, as demand for his workshops continued to grow, he invited a few of his more advanced students to join an international faculty to reach an ever-wider audience. Finally in 1987, Harner resigned his professorship to devote himself full-time to the work of the Foundation, preferring to transmit his knowledge to the Foundation faculty and students in the oral tradition of shamanism, rather than through publication. Exceptions have included a shamanic primer for physicians and a shamanic theory of dreams.
As of 2012, Harner continues his shamanic research and his work as the President of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
- Harner, Michael, The Jivaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls (University of California Press 1972)
- Harner, Michael, Hallucinogens and Shamanism (Oxford University Press 1973)
- Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing, Harper & Row Publishers, NY 1980
- Harner, Michael, Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality (North Atlantic Books 2013)
Information from 1980 onward is primarily drawn from the article "The History and Work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies," Shamanism 18: 1&2 by permission of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
- Walsh, Roger, and Charles S. Grob, eds. (2005) Higher Wisdom: Eminent Elders Explore the Continuing Impact of Psychedelics, pp. 159, 160. State University of New York Press. Albany.
- E.g., Kroeber, A.L., and Michael J. Harner. (1955) "Mohave Pottery", Anthropological Records, University of California. Berkeley.
- Harner, Michael J. (1972) The Jívaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls. Natural History Press. New York. Second edition 1984, University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles.
- Harner, Michael J. (1968) "The Sound of Rushing Water." Natural History 77(6).
- Harner, Michael J., ed. and contributor (1973) Hallucinogens and Shamanism. Oxford University Press. New York and London.
- Harner, Michael J. (1970) "Population Pressure and the Social Evolution of Agriculturalists." Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 26(1), pp. 67-86.
- Harner, Michael J. (1975) "Scarcity, the Factors of Production, and Social Evolution." In Population, Ecology, and Social Evolution, Steven Polgar, ed., pp. 123-138. Mouton. The Hague and Paris.
- Harner, Michael J. (1977). "The Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice." American Ethnologist, 4(1) pp. 117-135.
- Harris, Marvin (1977). Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. New York.
- Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. (1978). "Aztec Cannibalism: An Ecological Necessity?" Science vol. 200, pp. 611-617.
- Winkelman, Michael (1998) "Aztec Human Sacrifice: Cross-Cultural Assessments of the Ecological Hypothesis." Ethnology vol. 37(3) pp. 285-298.
- Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America (2001). p. 139.
- Harner, Michael (1980) The Way of the Shaman. Harper & Row. San Francisco. Third edition, 1990. HarperSanFrancisco.
- Harner, Michael (2005) "The History and Work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies," Shamanism 18: 1&2, p. 7.
- Townsend, Joan B. (2004) "Individualist Religious Movements: Core and Neo-shamanism." Anthropology of Consciousness vol.15(1), pp. 1-9.
- Harner, Michael (2005) "The History and Work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies," Shamanism 18: 1&2, p. 5.
- Harner, Michael, and Sandra Harner (2000) "Core Practices in the Shamanic Treatment of Illness." Shamanism 13 (1&2), pp. 19-30.
- Harner, Michael (2010) "A Core Shamanic Theory of Dreams." Shamanism 23, pp. 2-4.
- Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies
- Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies (in French)
- Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies (in German)
- Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies (in Italian)
- Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies (in Portuguese)
- "My Path in Shamanism," Michael Harner's personal account
- Michael Harner current biography
- Interview with Michael Harner