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Shaman school is trending among young women—here’s why


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Photo: Colleen McCann for Style Rituals
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Colleen McCann’s address book reads like the ultimate women’s circle guest list. Based mostly in New York City and Los Angeles, the former fashion stylist’s friends are the kind of ambitious, clued-in girl bosses who are just as likely to engage you in a deep conversation about chakras as they are to give advice on your new startup idea.

Oh, and they have one other thing in common: Although you’d never know it from glancing at their business cards, McCann and her crew are all shamans.

McCann’s the most public healer of the bunch—her company, Style Rituals, offers business coaching and closet clean-outs aided by crystals, clairvoyance, and tarot cards. But her clique is largely comprised of “secret shamans” who put their skills to use in not-so-spiritual fields. There’s Eva Gajzer, a “conscious branding” CEO whose client list includes Coca-Cola and American Express; Sarah Rigano, an interior-design pro whose work is informed by nature; and hairstylists Andi Scarbrough, Lauren Hack, and Vanessa Ungaro, who incorporate energy healing and crystals into their tress treatments.

Shamanism is capturing the attention of more and more young women, who are studying ancient wisdom as a means of overcoming personal challenges.

These city-dwelling cool girls don’t exactly fit the shamanic stereotype—you know, an old dude in the desert mixing up hallucinogenic potions. But they’re proof that shamanism is capturing the attention of more and more young women, who are studying ancient, nature-based rites and wisdom as a means of deepening their spiritual connection and overcoming personal challenges (even if they have no intention of becoming a full-time healer at the end). You might even say shaman school is the new yoga teacher training.

“Shaman school is a great place to learn self-care, self-awareness, and how to communicate in the best way possible with others when living in a high-stress, fast-paced world,” explains McCann. “It helps to sort out your shit.” And in today’s anxiety-ridden culture, who wouldn’t want a master class in enlightenment?

Meet the new wave of women who are attending shaman school to transform their bodies, relationships, and careers. 

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Photo: Courtesy of Colleen McCann/Style Rituals
Photo: Colleen McCann for Style Rituals

The rise of the “secret shaman”

Though some of these next-gen healers—like McCann, RockStar Shaman Alyson Charles, and Mama Medicine Deborah Hanekamp—are practicing shamanism full-time, it’s way more common for the latest wave of shaman school grads to return to so-called “normal” jobs and lives after their coursework is over.

In other words, you may know a shaman or two and not even realize it. “There’s this old-school misperception that shamans [wear] feathers, skins, and bones through their noses, and they’re out in the jungle taking ayahuasca,” says Nancy Lee, a Wall Street exec-turned-shaman who’s currently making a short-form documentary about the practice. “But so many of them have full-time jobs—they’re doctors, accountants, lawyers. They’re men, women, and even kids; they’re your friends and neighbors and family members. Shamans aren’t at the edge of society.”

“So many shamans have full-time jobs—they’re doctors, accountants, lawyers. They aren’t at the edge of society.”

Stephen Feely, a senior teacher at The Four Winds Society for Energy Medicine—one of the nation’s foremost shaman schools (and Lee and McCann’s alma mater)—confirms this has definitely been the case among his students. “When I first started out, most of my students were already in the healing field,” he says. “But what we’ve been seeing, over the last 4–6 years, is a whole inclusion of people from literally all walks of life—including younger and younger women. By and large, most people are [using shamanism to] breathe new life into what they’re already doing.”

Perhaps that’s because, despite the fact that it sounds glamorous, being a full-time shaman can be rough—after all, most people in North America don’t get it. Charles knows about the struggle firsthand. “Doing this work so publicly wasn’t a move I took lightly,” says the ex-athlete and hip-hop radio host. “There have definitely been people who’ve rushed to judgment or had hurtful things to say, because in so many ways, my work can trigger people. It’s not been an easy path. [Shamans] have to prepare to be questioned and criticized.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Colleen McCann/Style Rituals
Photo: Colleen McCann for Style Rituals

How do you become a shaman?

Every shaman has her own origin story, and it usually involves a lightning-strike moment of insight that sent her careening down the path—sometimes unwillingly. Lee discovered shamanism during a serious health crisis. Charles, whose aunt is a shaman, had a spiritual awakening while healing from a broken engagement. And McCann left styling for shaman school following an intuitive message from her trusted energy healer. All of them claim that if you’d told them just a few years ago they’d eventually become shamans, they’d have thought you were totally bonkers.

But in all cases, the magnetic pull toward shamanism proved too powerful to ignore. “This isn’t something you decide to do because it sounds cool,” insists Charles. “For my friends and me, it was a calling. It’s not something we sought. It sought us.”

“This isn’t something you decide to do because it sounds cool. For my friends and me, it was a calling.”

Once these women decided to embark upon the shamanic journey, it was a surprisingly straightforward process—pretty much anyone who hears the call is welcome to join the squad. There are shamanic traditions all over the world, from Hawaii to the UK to Chile and Indonesia. However, one of the easiest ways to get started is to enroll in a course on US soil, like The Four Winds in California, The Power Path School of Shamanism in New Mexico, or McCann and Feely’s new endeavor, the Pampamesayok Shaman School.

McCann describes Pampamesayok as 101-level shamanism for urban professionals. The courses take place during four long weekends over the span of a year—a Nashville class is already in full swing, a New York City session starts this month, while a San Francisco course kicks off in June—and students explore aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness through a lens of nature, psychology, and mysticism.

“We really wanted to make this modern,” says McCann. “If you go away to shaman school, you’re taking off work and leaving your family to go to the desert or jungle, and that’s not something everybody can do. Here, you’re taking the F train to shaman class.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Alyson Charles/Rockstar Shaman
Photo: Alyson Charles for RockStar Shaman

So you’re a shaman…now what? 

Those who do end up becoming shamans after school’s out are finding more demand for their services than ever, from one-on-one consultations to group workshops. Many of their clients are drawn to energy healing, while others are simply looking for a spiritual running buddy. “Those of us on a certain place on the path can help those who are just stepping into it,” says Charles. “I think that’s what a lot of us are here to do.”

But even shamans who don’t go full speed down the woo-woo highway say they still find their lives and careers transformed by what they’ve learned. Lee is one of them. “In my previous profession, I was really much more geared toward the latest fashion trends and the cool new restaurants,” she says. “All that stuff has completely been shed, and now I feel more connected to nature and am more present in the moment.” It also reinvigorated her childhood love for photography, which got buried underneath her finance world aspirations. “This process brought me a huge realization that there was something in me yearning to be creative,” the filmmaker recalls.

Could shamans one day become as ubiquitous as those with a 200-hour yoga teacher training certification? McCann certainly hopes so—and, in her opinion, the more corners of society the practice seeps into, the better. “I want shamanism to be the honey in everything,” she says. “Just sprinkle it on what you’ve got and it’s sweeter.” Sounds like the sweet life, indeed.

To incorporate a few shamanic tools into your own life, here are three unexpected ways to work with crystals, plus a guide to saging your home