Book Review: Cave & Cosmos.

Michael Harner
Cave & Cosmos:  Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality
North Atlantic Books
ISBN #: 978-1-58394-546-9
$19.95 USD, paperback, 301 pages
$14.95 in E-Book format

 Author of the anthropological classic, The Way of the Shaman (1980), Dr. Harner (now a retired professor who once taught at UC, Berkeley, Cave & CosmosColumbia & Yale), is a pioneer of the resurgence of shamanism.   He and his wife, Sandra, are co-founders of the non-profit  Foundation for Shamanic Studies.  He is the originator of “core shamanism,” a methodology focusing on the practices shared in common among shamans around the world.  His first book in 30 years, Cave and Cosmos focuses once again on shamanism, but this time the emphasis is on the experiences of westerners following age old shamanic practices.

In order to understand what a shaman experiences during journeying, Dr. Harner taught his students to use drumming, what he calls “sonic driving” (a repetitive percussion tone) in order to induce a trance-like state.  During these trances his graduate students and later westerners through his Foundation for Shamanic Studies, experienced their own journeys.

The bulk of Cave and Cosmos shares their experiences of journeying to other realities.  Shamans view the universe as being comprised of three levels:  a Lower, Middle, and Upper World.  The Middle World is the level of reality in which we all live.  The Lower and Upper Worlds are other realities in which spirits and other beings exist with whom the shaman interacts during the journeying process.  In The Way of the Shaman Dr. Harner focused on journeys that took participants to the Lower World.  Cave and Cosmos focuses on journeys to the Upper World.

There is a brief discussion of visits to the Lower World, again more details can be found in Dr. Harner’s earlier work, but Chapter 6 does provide information on journeyers meeting with their power animal in their travels through the Lower World.  Their experiences are both interesting and enlightening.   Details of exit points to the other levels of reality are discussed and can be worked into your own meditation practices.  Dr. Harner then discusses visits to the Upper World and begins by questioning if such journeys solely exist within the mind of the individual.  He merely touches upon it, but it would be a fantastic topic for another book all on its own.

Visits to the Upper World are discussed.  Participants share their experiences of journeying to places consisting of crystalline structures, of hearing celestial music, and of seeing Beings such as angels, saints, Jesus Christ, and Buddha.  These visits all share general themes in common; such as, being surrounded by a sense of unconditional love, wonder, and awe.  Chapters 9 – 10 focus upon entities Dr. Harner refers to as “Teachers,” but in the terminology my readers are most likely accustomed to this would equate with “spirit guides.”  The main text ends on page 218.  However, if you would also enjoy attempting journeying to the Upper World I strongly advise you to read Appendix A, which includes instructions.  Appendix B includes instructions of how to journey to the Lower World so the reader can compare Upper and Lower World journeys.  Appendix C includes contact information for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies should the reader wish to undertake additional training.  Appendix D is written by Dr. Harner’s wife, Sandra, and focuses upon information for doctors and health care professionals.  It goes over such concepts as soul retrieval, guardian spirit retrieval, and spirit intrusion extraction, to name a few topics covered.  Their therapeutic benefits are discussed.  The book concludes with a 11-page “Notes” section and an extensive 5 ¾ page bibliography.

Written by a highly respected anthropologist and academic, Cave and Cosmos is not some stuffy text written with only professional colleagues and graduate students in mind.  Cave and Cosmos is highly readable and entertaining.  A background in anthropology and shamanism is not required.  The writing style is personable and interesting.  This book will hold your interest.

Cave and Cosmos will appeal to anyone interested in shamanism as well as readers fascinated with experiences of other realities.  It is my opinion that after reading Dr. Harner’s previous work in college and graduate school that Cave and Cosmos is destined to become a contemporary classic of shamanic studies.  If you are interested in shamanism, do yourself a big favor and treat yourself to a copy of Cave and Cosmos.  You will not be disappointed.

 Note:  the text of the book does contain actual details of people’s journeys to the Upper and Lower Worlds.  If you do not wish to be influences by their descriptions you can first read chapters 1 – 5 to gain an understanding of the basic concepts, then skip to Appendix A to attempt the method of journeying outlined there.

All text on this blog copyright Nefer Khepri, PhD. 2013

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