A Deep Look into the Mysterious World of African Shamanism


Shamanism is an ancient tradition of great healing and spiritual significance.

We asked South African Shaman and African-Kemetic Yogi, Ursula Macheke van Graan, about her transition into the shamanic ritual and space.

A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of Helping Spirits, Ancestral Helping Spirits and Guides who typically enter into a trance state during a ritual and practices divination and healing. There are various ways a Shaman can accomplish this – either rough use of a repetitive sound like drumming, shamanic journeying, or with the use of sacred teacher plants. The term "shaman" – or “the one who knows” is presently often used as an umbrella term referring to a variety of spiritual practices (medicine woman or man, sangoma, I’nanga or traditional healer are some common names).  The word "shaman" originates from the Evenk language (Tungusic) of North Asia and was introduced to the west after Russian forces conquered the shamanistic Khanate of Kazan in 1552.

Shamanism encompasses the premise that shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit, restores the physical body of the individual to BALANCE and WHOLENESS. The shaman also enters  supernatural realms or dimensions  to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.  The shaman understands that there is an invisible world of consciousness and energy that envelops and informs us, and that organizes all physical reality, even how we will live and heal and die.

In South Africa or Africa the term sangoma, or inyanga are terms most commonly used. These terminologies have over the past 400 years since coloninism have undergone negative publicity and increased stigmatism within our societies. And in general being replaced by religion.

Can you describe Shamanism to someone who might not be familiar with its history and significance in both modern and ancient traditions?

Shamanism is a healing tool and has one fundamental difference from other alternative or holistic methods, that I have experienced – that is, to heal or to bring to wholeness is undertaken with the help of our Spiritual Guides, Helping Spirits, Ancestral Helping Guides or Divine Beings with a focus on establishing what is the root cause of a problem or issue. As we acknowledge this we are able to release and heal – to become whole. And another is our Helping Spirits or Guides sole concern is our growth and change as their mission. And this is done with unconditional love.

In ancient times, humanity lived in right relation to our environment. We lived in communities, with elders, and a medicine men/woman as intermediary. The Chief/King would consult first with the Shaman for spiritual guidance. Which would later prove to be disaterious with the advent of coloumism.

Shamanism’s significance in ancient tradtions was two fold, they where the Spiritual intermediary for the Chief/King and community, and secondly assisting the community to live in right relationship with nature and their selves. They too, in most cultures where the child minders of the community children. Where humans in ancient traditions would avoid creating debt, and expending more then was necessary. Keeping the balance for future generations. What is debit? Debit is when one creates more harm, both physical and mental to themseles and others and not taking responsbillity for one’s actions. We have to take responsibility for our actions. For when we do transition from “form” to “formlessness” we will be asked what did we do with our ‘energies’ or to put it into context of of the “Book of Judgement” or the Arashic Records. Our life lived as humans will be weighed as in the Kemetic sciences – of Anubuis/Anpu and Ma’at weighing the heart on a scale. Checking if the heart is as light as a feather. This symbolism can be equated to how much debit has one accumlated in a life? And has one let go, learnt anything and taken responsiblilty for one’s life and actions. With the advert of coloisim in the African contexts and for other traditional cultures affected. It was fairly eveident that to control these communites and Chiefs/Kings, the spritual leaders need to be irradicated. “The saying they came with Guns and and left us with the bible” is still evedient today. Where as African’s our spiritualility has been regulated to the Bible and massive stigmatism of our traditional ways is still evendent in the media headlines one sees.

In our modern day living, over stressed lives, living in constant debt (including fear, hatred, jealousy, envy etc.) and our insatiable appetite for consumer goods and the depletion of our natural resources. The increase of dis-eases which, from a Shamanic perspective is a reflection of the dis-harmony we are experiencing from a spiritual, emotional and mental perspective. Our modern way of life has turned us away from taking time to go within and seek the answers that ail us. We all have this ability, I am not any different to you or any one else. With the correct empowering tools one is able and can turn their stressed out, unhappy, dis-satisfied lives around.

How does one decide to become a Shaman? Does it begin with an inner calling or an anointment?

From an African perspective and evident in other cultures, one certainly does not decide to become a Shaman. We do not fill out an applicatation form for the position. In most cases one undergoes a massive change or transformation. One can become very ill, or have a near death experince. This is known as a “shamanic death or illness”. Where an illnees cannot be explained by Western medicine.

For, me I had a stroke and was paralazed at the time I had no idea the significe of this. In ancient times, or had I grown up in a traditional sense of the word – with a Shaman availalbe, they would have been aware of what my ‘illness would have meant. And the approriate steps for my initiation would have been arranged. So this is work is a “calling” and can come in any maner of forms when the the phone rings – and in most cases most people do not know what this means.

What can you share with us about the initiation process? Can you explain some of the revelations of self during your initiations? How did you feel?

In my late twenties I suffered a minor stroke. In shamanic terms - " a shamanic death". This minor stroke or (CVA) left me partially paralysed on my left side and I was unable to formulate speech or move my limbs. I underwent stoke rehabilitation, speech therapy, physical therapy, yoga and meditation to regain my health and life back. I would occasionally suffer minor seizures until my initiation as a Shaman, where these seizures strangely disappeared.

My journey into working with the Unseen world or the “other realities” began when I was a child. And I recalled as a child I would spend hours playing “doctor” in my make believe hosptial in the back yard of my childhood home. As well as seeing and playing with the invisiable world. Around my pre-teen years I became very ill and I recall seeing these beings at the foot of my mothers bed, and they where surrounded by a golden yellow light. In my dilerim I asked them to please leave me alone for they had frightened me. Which they did. I was next to see them again many many years later. And as Spirit Guides do, they did not appear to me until I made the decision to take an holistic alternate path for my life after my stroke.

I was initiated in the Ngoni – Zulu tradition. I spent 9 months with my Gobela (Spiritual Mentor – or Grandmother). While in twasa – that’s the terminology used in the South Africa – it means training. We were expected to wake up at 3am and beat the drums for our Ancestors, and dance, once awake we were not permited to go back to sleep until the evening. And even then my Gobela would tell us when we could go to sleep – at times if she had clients till 11pm, we would be expected to stay awake and assist when asked to. My time in twasa, when looking back – for me was to let go of the ego. For instance, as a trainee, we wore no shoes, and when being addressed by anyone, regardles of who it was, it could be a my mother while visiting, or a client, or a friend, we would interact with them on our knees and never looking at person in the eye – we were expected to be humble at all times. I went into twasa firstly out of fear – fear that my life would implode (as it was anyway – l lost my home that I was in process of buying, I was fired from the job I was in for four years for trumped up charges) I bassically was at a turning point in my life. Either complete and answer the calling or continue to paddling upstream. So I decided to commit to the process and see what transpired. I was completly clueless as to what I was getting into. In this first initiation I learnt to surrender, and to be open to trusting the Divine. For the 9 months I as in twasa I had no income coming in, a friend would come at the end of each month take me grocery shoping. Three months before my graduation, I was offered a job that allowed me to fund my graduation. After 9 months I felt stripped of who I was prior, my self confidence had been stripped away. I learnt to be humble and the powerful gift I had come into the world. And in having this gift, it can not be taken lightly or used in a maner that can cause harm to self and others. It took me doing a further three year shaman training with another Shaman – Lionel Berman and learning about energy healing, doing a reiki training and the highest form of reiki called Lightarian Reiki for me to build my self confidence and knowledge to be able be comfortable to offer services to others. I also learnt that Spirit has only one agenda, for our growth, and no matter what direction we take, they will be there to help us. From then, I read and researched other shamanic practices from around the world and would practise what I learned or was guided to learn.

What kinds of specific techniques or natural medicines are used in the healing practices of Shamanism?

There are numerous techniques in the practices of Shamanism. From energy healing, using sacred teacher plant medicine, to shamanic journeying, smudging, repatterning, use of Sweat lodges, Vision Quests, ritual baths – used frequently in African medicine, sacrifice – blood letting, to pipe cermony. In general, in Sub-Saraha Africa, the most common is the use of natural medicines, ritual baths, and sacrifice. There are different types of “medicines” from Song, Dance, Story telling, Silence or Laughter. A shaman would be guided to what type of technique to use. My main mordality, is story telling, energy healing, use of sacred medicine, Ritual, sweat lodges, vision quests, dance, laugther and silence.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions you hear about shamanism?

The biggest misconceptions would be that a person can “choose” to be a shaman. One is either has had the calling or not. The other is that Shamans work with evil or are evil. However, an initiated shaman will know how to work in the dark for it is the dark that our shadows lie and someone has to go into the darkness to bring it to the light. That is when true healing or wholeness happens.

Ursula Macheke van Graan is an initiated Shaman, a certified Kemetic Yoga Teacher, certified Master’s Transformational Life Coach, NLP Practitioner, Negative Emotional Therapist™, Negative Belief Therapist™, a Womb Shaman, an independent Usui Reiki Masters, an internationally certified Karuna © Reiki and Lightarian™ Reiki Master. She also holds two degrees, in Business Administration and Social Entrepreneurship.

“In my late twenties I suffered a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), minor stroke ~ being paralyzed and unable to speak. Or when I did attempt to do so, it was all in my mind. Then later I spoke with a slur, after a year of speech and physiotherapy I was able to walk and talk. 

I was determined not to live a life on conventional western medicine. I would occasionally suffer minor seizures until my initiation as a Shaman, where these seizures strangely disappeared. I have not looked back since I began this transformational spiritiual journey over twenty years ago.  Unbelievable as this may seem. I am healthy and strong. I take my yoga, personal empowerment & spiritual practice seriously. These are non-negotiables for me. I pursue my dreams and goals with vigor. My passion is assisting others, like you, overcome the obsticles and challenges holding you back, bring you down whether this be at work, personal relationships, illness or a loss.  I believe I have expereinces these aspectes in order to have the experiences to help others overcome. My soul goal is to help YOU thrive not survive! "I vow to anchor the true Divine Feminine on Earth. And return sacred Union of the Masculine and Feminine."

Ankh Udja Seneb

Mitakuye Oyasin  - We are One

Ursula Macheke van Graan

Contact: ursulamvg.wordpress.com | ursulavg@gmail.com | @justursh