As a shamanic practitioner I was interested to read this book, and have come away glad that I took the time with it. This book delivers exactly what the title says: instructions for making, empowering and using a wide variety of tools for shamanic workings. This do-it-yourself aspect is particularly powerful within shamanic practice, which draws on indigenous traditions in which practitioners make their own sacred tools under the guidance of helping spirits.

Ms. Rysdyk offers a broad selection of tools that are useful for shamanic practice. Some of the projects are very simple– rattles, spirit maps, prayer beads– so anyone with beginner-level arts-and-crafts skills can manage to make a reasonable finished product. Other projects are more complicated– a bone flute, for instance, or a Sami-style leather bag– and may push some people to a level of frustration in their attempts to complete them. Bear in mind your level of patience and dedication when deciding whether or not to undertake any of the projects. Consider also that shamanic practice is meant to push your limits, so working to complete a project that is outside your comfort zone might not be a bad thing. I don’t think any of the projects Ms. Rysdyk includes are inappropriate for the shamanic do-it-yourselfer or unattainable for anyone who puts enough time and effort into the work.

In addition to the actual project instructions, Ms. Rysdyk includes fascinating information about the use of each kind of tool in a wide variety of worldwide shamanic traditions. Though I enjoyed the tool-making instructions (I’m an inveterate arts-and-crafts type) I think my favorite part of the book was the peek into the practices of shamans from the north coast of Peru, Nepal, Siberia and other interesting places. Though these cultures have widely-differing traditions, Ms. Rysdyk points up the undercurrents that support shamanism worldwide, so I feel a connection with the Peruvian shaman and his mesa full of tools, the Nepalese shaman with his jingling bells, and the Tuvan shaman with her thumping drum.

Throughout the book, Ms. Rysdyk is careful to remind the reader of the need for gratitude to the spirits who guide shamanic work and who enliven and empower a shaman’s tools. She empowers the reader to be thoughtful and responsible throughout the process of creating each tool, noting that it is illegal for most people to own certain kinds of animal parts, and offering appropriate substitutions where necessary. She also reminds the reader to honor not only the spirits who aid the creation process, but the animals and plants from whom the supplies were taken.

The author also takes a thoroughly shamanic stance regarding the nature of these tools: once they are empowered, they are living things, and should be treated with the respect due to all life. This animistic perspective is found in native shamanic cultures around the world, and I’m very glad Ms. Rysdyk chose to underscore this part of the practice rather than ignoring it or writing it off, as I’ve seen other authors do.

I have a few criticisms, but they’re not serious enough for me to suggest you avoid the book, just pay attention as you read. First, Ms. Rysdyk writes from the perspective of someone trained in Michael Harner’s famed (and excellent) shamanic course, and her writing assumes everyone follows this same tradition. She assumes every shaman experiences a triple-world cosmos (Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds) and that certain kinds of spirits are located in particular sections of this triple-world setup. For those readers who are just starting out, or who are not strongly fused with a particular tradition, this is not a big issue, but not all shamanic practice follows this worldview and Ms. Rysdyk either doesn’t realize that or chooses not to take it into account in this book. If your tradition and practice conflict with Ms. Rysdyk’s description, follow your own training and simply read on.

The author also repeatedly instructs the reader to record his or her journeying experiences in a notebook or journal. For some people, this can be an empowering experience, but some traditions forbid the recording of Otherworld journeys (for reasons of safety, among other things). I see no problem with using a journal for personal reflection as you learn and grow along the shamanic path, but I think it’s inappropriate to suggest writing down the actual journey experiences. It’s not all candy apples and unicorns in the Otherworld, and giving Otherworld entities a material existence in this world (by writing them down on paper) is frequently a bad idea.

Finally, a practical issue: The instructions for making the tools often direct the reader to the author’s website (www.myspiritwalk.com) for free downloadable patterns and further instructions. When I visited the website, I had a hard time finding the information, since it’s not labeled as being associated with this book. In fact, this book isn’t even mentioned on the website, which I found surprising; hopefully Ms. Rysdyk will remedy that issue soon, since it’s a good book and deserves the publicity. I did finally discover the patterns mentioned in the project instructions. They are at the bottom of the ‘My Spirit Walk’ page, simply listed one after another without any informational heading. And yes, they’re worth downloading.

Overall, I’d say this book is worth the purchase price and the investment of time and energy not just to read it but to undertake some of the projects. Ms. Rysdyk writes clearly and with an engaging voice, and is obviously not just a well-practiced shaman but also a responsible one. Now I need to decide which project to try first.

~review by Laura Perry

Author: Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Weiser Books, 2014
pp. 236, $21.95

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