The Bird Shamans

The word shaman is Indigenous to Siberia and means, “one who knows.” The shaman knows because they fly, like birds, on "spirit flights" to various worlds to commune with nature spirits and ancestors for answers. It's the spirits that inform and guide the shaman.

The spiritual helping role of the shaman is ancient. Anthropologists have found evidence in the form of eagle talon necklaces that the Neanderthals were practising bird shamanism over 130,000 years ago. And swan bones found deep in the earth at archaeological sites reveal that bird shamanism could be close to 400,000 years old! The prehistoric, circumpolar Ancient North Eurasian people who practiced bird shamanism were considered to be "bird shamans". (See centre photo above.)

Here in North America, the very large birds - as wide as the sky - that were believed to create thunderstorms, lightning and thunder were naturally called "thunderbirds". And eventually those early bird shamans, here, who specialized medicinally with lightning and thunder, came to be known as thunderbirds too. These early human thunderbirds developed powerful practices and thunderbird medicine ways to help others in a shamanic manner all rooted in animism and the ancient bird shamanism ways that originated in prehistoric Siberia.

In many Indigenous cultural beliefs across Turtle Island (North America), "The Thunderbird" (singular) is seen as a great, powerful, benevolent bird. In the avian form of a giant, eagle-like bird the great Thunderbird is believed to be a physical manifestation of the Great Spirit of the Creator here on Earth. "Thunderbirds" (plural) are often seen as helpers of the Great Spirit. They bring the weather of thunderstorms and their medicine of thunder, lightning and rain. Thunderbirds bring the good medicine of change. Thunderbirds are also seen as, and are called, the "Grandfathers". Our ancestors. However the thunderbirds are connected cross-culturally to the ancient, circumpolar practices of animism and bird shamanism that originated in northern Siberia and Eurasia many thousands of years ago. And proof of this still exists today. For example, in the ancient Finno-Ugric language of Finnish the word "kokkolintu" means "giant eagle" and the name  "Ukkoslintu" literally means "Thunderbird".

With common animistic and shamanic thunderbird beliefs originating in paleolithic Siberia, it was also believed that the helping spirits of thunderbirds could come to exist physically in human form too; as thunderbird people. These human thunderbirds are simply human assistants of the Great Spirit. In this context a thunderbird is a spiritual person much like a "bird shaman"So, for now, we'll use the word shaman since most people know what it implies.

Please keep in mind the term "shaman" is native to Siberia. A thunderbird is not a shaman, however is akin to a shaman. Human thunderbirds practice thunderbird medicine which is akin to bird shamanism. Bird shamanism is rooted in the ancient, spiritual practices we learned thousands and thousands of years ago from our paleolithic human ancestors who lived in the circumpolar, glacial regions of northern Europe, Asia, Siberia and Canada. And prehistoric people moved around.

The theory goes that as humans migrated from Siberia over the Bering Land Bridge into North America (Turtle Island), the medicinal practices and spiritual beliefs of ancient bird shamanism came along with them. It is possible that bird shamanism beliefs are inherent within the living blood memory of many people. It appears our natural, human bird shaman genes have never gone away! But to this day, the only true "shamans" are from Siberia because that is where the word shaman originated. Other cultures have, and use, different names (e.g. thunderbird) and terms for a person who is like a shaman. Yet sadly the New Age Movement and their "shamanic practitioners" have corrupted the word, use and title of "shaman" and to a larger degree the very nature of "shamanism" itself. Modern New Age beliefs - including spiritually justified cultural appropriation - has tainted true shamanism and has corrupted much about the original roles, intentions and traditional practices of not just the Siberian shamans but also of many other Indigenous cultures and spiritual practices around the world. 

Back to birds. Because of the avian abilities of a bird to be free the air and fly in the sky, birds became a natural way to visualize the inner essence of our human spirit. In a spiritual way, akin to bird shamans, human thunderbirds embody the flight ability of a bird to reach the levels and worlds our ancestors believed could be accessed though “spiritual flight.” For example, around 15,000 years ago thunderbirds did spirit flights aided by a wooden “sky pole” aimed directly at the north star which, at that time, was in the Skeleton Bird or Spirit Bird constellation (also called Cygnus) high in the Milky Way. Here the Milky Way is still called “The Bird’s Path” or sometimes even the "Thunderbird's Path." This ancient ceremony is still practised in thunderbird medicine ways or bird shamanism today. Thunderbird medicine is more about the thunderbirds yet bird shamanism still embraces all kinds of “fliers” such as songbirds, woodpeckers, ducks, loons, ravens, vultures, eagles, hawks, falcons, herons, cranes, geese and swans. It also embraces the spirits of the variety of wild animals that live outside in nature. That’s why we work outside.

Thunderbird medicine involves using a stone thunderbird nest. Here human thunderbirds or bird shamans work with the spirits of stones, plants, trees, animals, birds, elements, weather and ancestors in a spiritual manner to gain guidance to aid us in everyday life. Such guidance helps people to grow, heal and get better by removing unnecessary and unwanted negativity. A thunderbird or bird shaman's primary purpose is to help improve a situation including a person's overall state of wellness and well-being. We simply help people to do this by removing their "serpents". Serpents represent personal negativity and toxicity such as bad feelings, emotional traumas and ill and broken beliefs. Bird shamans often help a person to explore, repair, fix, change, transform and therefore heal their emotional, physical, spiritual, mental and central worlds upon the Path of Life. 

So not a shaman, but indeed akin to a bird shaman, a thunderbird is essentially “a person who works with the spirits” of the natural world. In addition to the spirits of places, plants, birds and animals these spirits also include working with ancestor spirits to get answers, help and guidance. By intentionally embarking on a spirit flight a thunderbird willingly accesses the various levels of the spirit world intending to obtain knowledge, guidance and wisdom. The knowledge attained is then applied to normal life for the benefit of a person, family or community. Bird shamans have always had direct access to the land – and therefore to the spirits of the land – like rocks, stones, plants, trees, wild birds and animals, the natural elements and the weather. At spiritual places outdoors, such as the top of Thunderbird Mountain, bird shamans can also access the benevolent spirits of our recent or most distant human ancestors: The Old Ones.

Bird shamans work with old human archetypes to empower people emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. For example, the best medicine for a “low like a snake” emotional state is a “high like a bird” spiritual state. When a person is lost and struggling often they don’t even believe they have a spiritual state strong enough to assist them. In this case it’s critical to aid people to find their own inner spirit so they can use it to help guide themselves upon their own path. Simply stated, a person’s empowered spiritual state – the Great Bird within – is used as good medicine to shapeshift their emotional state. A bird shaman helps with this and people come to see they are personally responsible to maintain their own inner spirit.

The bird shamanism practices I do can help you change for the better. My work helps you to see, understand, accept, embrace and regularly utilize the truly wonderful, positive power of the Great Bird you already have within you – your very own spirit! We now live in a very egocentric, greedy, materialistic age. Our dominant, consumer-driven culture is terribly ill with increasing problems such as mental stress, emotional apathy, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, cell phone addiction, increased radio waves, technological pressure and climate change. Many people are suffering from a drastic disconnection from nature and the good medicine our Mother Earth can provide us. I hope you will come to see your time to fly high with your own spirit is critical to embrace to be well here on Earth. As a bird shaman I'm just your helper.