Fire In The Head – The Shaman’s Halo

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about whether someone in the West can call themselves a shaman because, it is said, “shaman is a Siberian word and we’re not Siberians.” The truth is, we are shamans. By ‘we’, I mean the people who journey into the Otherworlds, who talk with the spirits, who bring back lost souls, who guide the dead and who experience the fire in the head.

For instance, if you were to sell pizzas down the Old Kent Road in London, you’d still be a pizza salesmen, even if you weren’t an Italian but a real sarf London boy.

What’s more, if we don’t give ourselves a name, a label, then how will people know how to find us when they’re looking for someone who can REALLY talk to the spirits? It’s difficult enough for people to understand what we do without us over-complicating it by coming over all apologetic, self-effacing and fuzzy. Because not every mind-body-spirit healer can talk to the spirits and I would go even further to say not MANY mind-body-spirit healers can talk to the spirits. They may have a vague sense or hope or faith that spirit guides are supporting their actions, but they don’t actually see them and talk to them like we shamans do.

My point is, if we real shamans don’t own this word ‘shaman’, then every Tom, Dick and snake oil salesman will take it from us to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of their own mediocre skills.

Even famous clairvoyants and mediums are usually just highly skilled hypnotists. They hypnotise you into feeling that they’re telling you the truth and the hypnotic state lasts just about long enough for you to cross their palm with some suitable plastic and exit through their beaded curtain. They’re mostly successful with clients who are very suggestible. You’d have to be quite suggestible in the first place, to go to one. Also, few of us like to admit to being ripped off and so we just shove the whole tacky experience to the backs of our minds, while clinging on to the straws of the one or two things the clairvoyant managed to get right.

This is nothing to do with shamanism. But if those of us with the fire in our heads don’t start standing up to be counted by calling ourselves shamans, and describing in very clear terms what we do, we’ll be lumped in with all those other end-of-the-pier shysters and hucksters and New Age misty-eyed do-gooders.

We are the real deal. We are the shamans, the people who feel sometimes like we have fire in our heads. or the ‘mystical heat’ as it’s known in many shamanic cultures from yes, Siberia … but also from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean countries and Asia. The fire in the head, or the ‘mystical heat’, is one of the key characteristics which separates the shaman from all other types of medicine men.

“Of particular importance, in our view, is the role of “fire” and “heat” in shamanism. Such fire and mystical heat are always connected with access to a certain ecstatic state and the same connection is observed in the most archaic strata of magical and universal religion.

“Mastery over fire, insensibility to heat and hence the “mystical heat” that renders both extreme cold and the temperature of burning coals supportable; is a magico-mystical virtue that accompanied by no less marvellous qualities (ascent, magical flight etc.) translates into sensible terms the fact that the shaman has passed beyond the human condition and already has shares in the condition of “spirits”. “

From Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade.

Eliade is about to go on to support his contention that shamans are halfway to becoming spirits …. that they are, in fact, half-living in the realm of the spirits. And yes, this is my experience too.

False teachings of ‘core shamanism’
If I’m sounding a bit like I’m a writing Confessions of a Modern Day Shaman it’s because there has been, in recent years, a move to codify and standardise modern-day shamanism under one umbrella, called “core shamanism”. I was initially trained in “core shamanism” before setting out on my own by following what my spirits were teaching me, and that way, I very quickly found that some of its core teachings were wrong.

False teachings of “core shamanism” include the notion that the spirits aren’t real, but are just neutral bundles of energy dressed up in costumes so that they can interface with us. This is not true. For instance, the Fae who live in the Otherworld were on Earth long before man and will be here long after we’re gone.

Core shamanism, as far as I can see, has, no doubt unwittingly, disempowered shamans by weakening their positions by not allowing them to call themselves shamans (only “shamanic practitioners”) and not supporting some of the seemingly weirder aspects of the practice. They’ve tried to sanitise it and make it respectable ~ to try to make it attractive to an audience that is never going to want it anyway. Ask me, I know. I tried it that way for years in Sevenoaks and didn’t get a single customer.

So I reckon it’s time to come out of the closet.

I talk to the spirits, who are real, and spend so much time with them that I probably am half a spirit myself. I also get the fire in the head, and increasingly so since I started working more closely with Brigit of the Fae, whose lore was brought to these isles by the fire priests of the Brigantes.

The ancient “Celts” also knew about the fire in the head. This is the Song of Amergin as he stepped on these shores from Spain with the conquering Milesians after the last Ice Age.

I am the wind that blows across the sea;
I am a wave of the deep;
I am the roar of the ocean;
I am the stag of seven battles;
I am a hawk on the cliff;
I am a ray of sunlight;
I am the greenest of plants;
I am the wild boar;
I am a salmon in the river;
I am a lake on the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the point of a spear;
I am the lure beyond the ends of the Earth;
I am the god who fashions fire in the head.

This is not a metaphor, like the icon for ‘idea’ ~ the lightbulb, although it is probably where the image came from. This fire actually burns in the head and it is linked to creativity.

The great Celtic warrior Cuchulainn was said to show the “hero’s light” or flaming aura around his head when he was excited and frenzied for battle. According to the stories, when the light appeared, he could perform his most famous “salmon’s leap” and cover great distances or heights. This aura eventually was co-opted by the Christians and became the halo.

It is said that some Tibetan monks trained in yogic traditions can raise their body temperatures to melt snow. The !King in Africa call this natural body heat “boiling energy”.

The explorer Knud Rasmussen met with Eskimo shamans who told him: “Every real shaman has to feel an illumination in his body, in the inside of his head or in his brain, something that gleams like fire, that gives him the power to see with closed eyes into the darkness, into the hidden things or into the future or into the secrets of another man.”

The Jivaro of the Amazon describe the shaman as one who gives off light, “particularly in a ‘crown’, an aura from the head” when the shaman is in an altered state of consciousness.

My experience is that the heat starts to build when I’m drumming. I’ve been known to stop drumming and start rapidly casting off items of clothing. Then, during the journey, I feel the fire just to the right of my crown. It feels like a flame burning and the deeper and more intense the journey, the hotter is burns.

So I’m sorry but we shamans are not at all fit for polite society. We do talk to real spirits, which we find in other dimensions to this one, and we guide the souls of the dead and retrieve lost souls. Some of us have even spent the night buried six feet underground in graves which we dug ourselves and others of us have been gifted with the Tongue That Never Lies (which can be a boon or curse, depending upon your point of view!). Added to that, we can sometimes be seen lying twitching on the ground with light streaming from our heads.

And so you definitely wouldn’t want to take us home to meet your mother.

But if you need a proper job done, we’re your man!

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  2. eradenmark

    Hello Ishtar,
    I had never heard of “Core” Shamanism until reading this but it seems like another way to control or weaken the natural impulses that are arising again in western souls. I would very much like to contact you. Is there a way to do that beyond commending here? My email is Thank you.


  3. Jaguarwoman

    True Ishtar. I dont think it makes a difference where you are – just maybe your level of understanding about what you see and feel will be greater with knowledge of the area.
    I had amazing experiences linked to the land and events when I first went to Nepal about 16 years ago. I felt an incredible excitement when I was flying in and once my feet touched the earth there I knew it was significant for me. I made up my mind to stay just 4 days later when I was supposed to be travelling on around the world. It would be wonderful if you visited. My door will always be open to you XX


  4. Jaguarwoman

    The ancient “Celts” also knew about the fire in the head. This is the Song of Amergin as he stepped on these shores from Spain with the conquering Milesians after the last Ice Age.

    I am the wind that blows across the sea;
    I am a wave of the deep;
    I am the roar of the ocean;
    I am the stag of seven battles;
    I am a hawk on the cliff;
    I am a ray of sunlight;
    I am the greenest of plants;
    I am the wild boar;
    I am a salmon in the river;
    I am a lake on the plain;
    I am the word of knowledge;
    I am the point of a spear;
    I am the lure beyond the ends of the Earth;
    I am the god who fashions fire in the head.

    I love this poem and now see many connections with vsions I have had. Celts are my ancestors. I need to know so much more about them. When I first saw the movie “Highlanders” with Christopher Lambert many years ago I felt the fire.


    • Jaguarwoman

      I have not been there in a while Ishtar but since I have the intention to ‘work’ again things are happening. I haven’t had a drumming session yet. Maybe tomorrow. I had an interesting ‘visitor’ this evening and felt the fire. He said his name meant ‘Eye of The Bull”. I cannot spell or pronounce it but he spoke in Scottish Gaelic. He told me it was time to look to my ancestors – and I guess by following the many posts you have recently in the Gate I am already doing that. Always seem to jump the gun! Wish you were nearer so we could get together 🙂 He also mentioned the fire.


  5. Jaguarwoman

    WOW! Ishtar I love seeing this sword swinging side of your personality. Great! Cut to the point and no wishy washy namby pamby niceness that disempowers what you have to say 🙂 Good lesson for me! XXX


  6. Raphael's Legacy

    Hi Ishtar,

    I agree 100% with your closing lines:-

    “And so you definitely wouldn’t want to take us home to meet your mother”.

    “But if you need a proper job done, we’re your man!”

    I’ve been going through my own shamanic healing process with a fantastic shaman up in Cumbria and that process has been simply life changing, so keep up the great work that you do too, best wishes RL


  7. atinkar

    love your turn of phrase -in you section on “snake oil sellers et al”

    Seven Oaks is in pretty country & has nice staff too

    your articles are refreshingly candid, and well said- cuts through a lot of the “mombo jumbo”
    and gets to the point.


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  9. Ayla1221

    Hi there, Synchronicity put me on this page right after I scheduled my first session with a shaman, Myron Eshowsky. Made one trip myself in the Underworld where I met the gatekeeper but wasn’t allowed to enter. Fascinating healing practice and blog, thanks Ishtar and commentors. I have a general knowledge of the subject but am almost 63 years old after spending the last two decades traipsing around Europe/States as a “Lightworker’ guided by a powerful spirit. Have read other blogs by Eileen Nauman/Sandra Ingerman. Good to know you are practicing, too. Namaste! Ayla


  10. Tony Holmes

    I am interested to know whether shamanism came to you as a realization one day, whether you were born with the sense of it, whether you learnt it, whether you inherited it, in fact just how you came to know you are a shaman?


    • Ishtar Babilu Dingir

      Tony, thanks for your interest. That’s a huge question … but luckily, I have already written a blog piece which covers pretty well what you’re asking about: The Never-Ending Journey. Luckily, it’s not a never-ending article but I should warn you, it’s a bit long, as there was a lot to cover! Click here:

      If you still have any questions after that, please do ask me again.


  11. wódr̥

    Of harbors, migrations, and the fractal…………

    This Labyrinth was given to me by Grandfather. How so, you say: there is no entrance, no exit !

    Note that this Labyrinth is composed of four quarters composing a square, and in the very middle of this square is another smaller square. This square is composed of four smaller labyrinthine quarters, although I couldn’t draw that small, and in the middle of this is………. you guessed it, another, smaller square of four quarters.

    So goes the fractal. And the answer to this puzzle is that we are entrance and exit to the whole.

    This Labyrinth is, in fact, all the map you’ll need to explore the World Above, the Middle World and the World Below.

    Hoka hey



  12. wódr̥

    This is the Dream

    This is the dream we carry through the world
    that something fantastic will happen
    that it has to happen
    that time will open by itself
    that doors shall open by themselves
    that the heart will find itself open
    that mountain springs will jump up
    that the dream will open by itself
    that we one early morning
    will slip into a harbor
    that we have never known.
    – From The Dream We Carry by Olav H. Hauge
    Translated from Norwegian by Robert Hedin and Robert Bly


    • Ishtar Babilu Dingir

      Or a harbour we have known? I know that harbour. I call it home. I have to lead a huge flotilla of ships into it.


  13. wódr̥


    Please note that the first of the Denisovan Gyrlz was found in a



    Materfamilias shamanicus, indeed !



  14. wódr̥

    Dear Sir or Madam –

    Your unauthorised use of the word Shaman has come to our attention. Please note that Shaman, Shamanism, or other words containing “Shaman” are under our copyright (2009-2015). Shaman and the Shaman logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of Shaman Metasystems, incorporated in the U.S. and or other countries.

    So please bugger off or we will sue the proverbial pants off you.

    Respectfully Yours,

    Jared Screwtape

    Counsel to the Really Big Guys


  15. Jessica

    Well, stated, Ishtar! Thank you! I have always had a problem with “core shamanism,” which I won’t get into here. Whose “core” are we speaking of anyway?..(tongue firmly held in cheek). I was anointed by the Spirits who played a joke on me because I wouldn’t use the word “shaman,” so they gave me “dakini” (“sky being” or “sky walker,” although some modern folk say it means “witch”). I don’t advertise at all (shamanism) but those with a need just seem to know anyway, as though I were wearing some kind of sign…(and I came home one night years ago to find my husband-to-be in bed with a column of light streaming from the place where his head ought to have been…exquisite! He doesn’t practice, though.) My own mother didn’t want to know me, but she has since passed on and I was the one she told four months before the fact, in spirit form. (This has been occurring since I was a child, though, visitations from those about to leave this plane). However, I haven’t done too badly with “the art of veneer” so I think I pass well enough to run mundane businesses in the “outer world.” Ashe (aw-shay), from one Hothead to another…


  16. Ishtar Babilu Dingir

    Hi Zoe… yes, no doubt the problem was partly Sevenoaks! 🙂

    My whole point is, though, that if those that have the fire in the head don’t claim to be the shamans they are, those who don’t have fire in the head will claim it… and already are.

    I know that’s Harner’s rule ~ that you have to recognised by your community ~ but I don’t agree with him ~ although I am recognised by my community (now, in Glastonbury) and also by the wider online community, some of whom come to me for healings after finding me here or on Twitter. One came from as far afield as Austria. But there were many on my core shamanism course who, at the end, didn’t feel ready to practice and haven’t gone on to do so. A few others have got themselves on to the “right lists” just by virtue of having done the course and paying out some money to be on it (I’m being very careful not to mention names here.)

    The ‘fire in the head’ syndrome cannot be claimed by those who don’t experience it because it cannot be faked, and they will be easily outshone by those that do have it. People tell me that I have light streaming out of me, at times. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    So being ‘anointed by Harner’ in my opinion, is nowhere near as important as being ‘anointed by the spirits’.


  17. Zoe Bran

    A robust perspective! Generally I agree, despite being a Core Shamanic Practitioner! (I do however get many clients so I suspect the problem was Sevenoaks, not CS!)
    My problem with what you write is that too many people already confuse a whole array of practices with shamanism until the word ‘shaman’ has come to mean almost anything one wants it to. The idea that anyone at all could jump up one morning and decide that they’re a shaman, then broadcast this to the whole world, fills me with gloom. Gloom, mostly because untrained, unscrupulous people claiming the fire in the head discredits what you and I do and puts the kind of ‘real’ shamanism that you describe so well above into the kind of New Age category that is what actually brings about the distinction between ‘real’ ie ‘traditional’ shamanism and ‘modern’ shamans in the first place! Phew, a long sentence but I hope you get my meaning. Eg I’m not a doctor because I put a plaster on someone’s knee!
    I should say that I am at the very far end of the ‘Core’ spectrum, my interests lie in consciousness, energy and the fact that we can indeed all have fire in the head, but not just by claiming it. I do think there’s something to be said for Harners rule that you are only a shaman if the spirits and the community you serve acknowlege you as such. I don’t call myself a shaman, but if other people want to call me that I no longer correct them.


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