The Shamanic Way Of Forgiveness

You may make copies of this writing and distribute it in any media you wish, so long as you do not charge for it or alter it in any way. You must credit the author and include this entire copyright notice. While the text may be shared, no audio files, including lectures, music and/or sound meditations, may be posted on any site for any reason without written permission from the Power Path.

Two thousand years ago, a great shamanic teacher taught the masses about the power of forgiveness, but few at the time understood what he was saying. This was his way of talking about detachment, about getting to neutral, about clearing all the debt and baggage that kept us stuck in tired out patterns. Through example, he reminded people that they were forgiven of their “sins”, the times when they had missed the mark in their aims and endeavors. In so many words, he was saying, “get out of guilt, get out of endlessly punishing yourselves, get out of your self-destructive patterns”. By the same token. “forgive your enemies and forgive the debts that are owed you”. He knew that too much debt restricts growth and that debt must be forgiven to reset the game of life. He was a trained shaman and knew what was important on the shamanic path.

Another great teacher in the far east taught about compassion, loving kindness, an approach that implies forgiveness. Compassion is the Buddhist way of staying out of resistance, staying neutral in the face of adversity and keeping us out of debt one way or the other.

When I was a child, my brother and I used to play an endless game of store. Being two and one half years older he was always making interesting things for me to buy, but I seldom made interesting things for him to buy given I was much younger. After awhile he would end up with all the play money, and I, having spent all my money, would end up owing him an ever-growing debt. At some point, we would have to restart the game and distribute new play money to each of us. In other words, he forgave me the debt and this allowed the game to go on, a game that he loved to play. If he had not forgiven the debt, the game would have ended for good.

So, what is this thing called forgiveness? Certainly it is not a bunch of pious platitudes spoken from a pulpit and promulgated by some religions. In fact, many religious types are often the last to forgive, inciting their followers to take vengeance, attacking others of different beliefs, and believing in a god who punishes the wicked. Forgiveness is actually a real and ancient shamanic power. Here is a simple definition. Forgiveness is an energy that neutralizes the charge attached to a person or an event releasing you and the person or event from the debt that is allegedly owed.

On one occasion, when I was a small child, I committed some infraction at home and got into trouble. I don’t remember what it was exactly that I did but I remember not being sorry because I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong. I think it might have had to do with dropping a glass or something and breaking it but it was a genuine accident. However my mother was very angry and would not speak to me until I said I was sorry. After several days of ignoring me I finally broke down and said I was sorry and then she hugged me and forgave me. Was that forgiveness or was it control?

I remember how much I hated breaking down and giving in to something that felt like manipulation to me. I did not want to be forgiven but I did not want to be ignored so I caved in and felt humiliated by it. What is interesting is that I did not forgive her for that for many years and this and other things like it poisoned our relationship for a long time. These things can get very convoluted. Now I understand that she had a goal of dominance and just had to control situations but I did not know that then.

Exercise: Exploring And Eliminating Debt

Take a moment to recall someone who owes you work, money, or material goods and has not been able to pay you back. How does it feel to be owed something and to be waiting to be paid back, especially when the person has not been successful enough to repay you? Chances are, every time you think of this debt you feel bad. This is what is known shamanically as an energy leak, a steady leakage of energy into a preoccupation, an energy that could be put to better use. Now imagine in your minds eye that you forgive the debt. You will never be paid back now but you will not have to worry about it any longer. You could choose to feel resentful for years but let us say that when you forgive the debt you never look back. Think of the relief involved in this being over. Think of the relief of your debtor. You have now just eliminated a huge energy leak.

Now think of a debt (not an investment like a house) that you owe like a student loan and let us say you have owed this for a long time with little progress being made on the principle. How does it feel to owe? How much of your energy goes into worry or concern over how long it will take you to pay this debt off? Now let us say that some how, some way, you are forgiven of the loan. How does it feel to be given a second chance, to be free of this burden once and for all?

Bigger Debts That Need Forgiving

Now debts are not always about material things or money. Think of the resentment you might carry toward government policies that you do not agree with that eat up your tax dollars, or certain groups of people who have made off with millions of your tax dollars in corrupt schemes and political handouts. Think of wars fought in the name of your security but are really just waged to benefit corporations. Think of the energy expended in your resentment, and if we combine all the anger of all the people in the world that feel resentful, we have a huge mass indeed. All this is like a huge debt being carried by humanity year after year and it will never ever be resolved through blame and anger. Unfair as it sounds and feels, the only thing that will resolve it will be forgiveness, mass forgiveness for all the wrongs perpetrated by endless people over centuries of bad behavior. In other words we can push the reset button, forgive the debt and start fresh. In this way, we will have a fresh new world, in a fresh new time, informed by the collective inner shaman in every human being. What a concept!

Now bear in mind that forgiveness does not mean that you condone the bad behavior, the karma, and the insult that has been given, nor does it mean that it is fine with you if it is repeated. Forgiveness merely takes the charge off and neutralizes it so it does not matter in your life anymore. You can become neutral about it and therefore can let your attachment around it go.

Now from a shamanic perspective, forgiveness is actually a frequency that can be accompanied by some emotion. If you are forgiven you may cry tears of relief or if you forgive another you may feel moved by tears of mercy but the emotion is not the forgiveness itself. The forgiveness is a decision, an intention, a deep knowing about what you are about to do.

Blame and anger and the desire to punish is also a frequency, a lower one that almost never feels good. People think that making debtors pay will somehow make them feel good but the pleasure is actually very limited. Yes, there can be a self-righteous satisfaction watching people pay their debts but this is nothing like joyfulness or true happiness. It is hard to call watching an execution joyful. There is a kind of mean spiritedness in it. When people exact a toll of others then they will always exact a toll on themselves as well. That can get ugly.

The choice to forgive is surrender, a complete letting go like breathing a big sigh of relief or releasing the body at the moment of death. All resistance goes away and there is no more tension. Nothing is lost and everything is gained.

Who Can Forgive? Who Can Be Forgiven?

You can always forgive yourself, or can you? Do you need a confessor? This is actually the topic of next months article so I won’t go into that here. You can always forgive someone else of their debt to you. If someone owes you money or time or energy, you can let them out of the contract if you wish. If a young person damaged your car and the agreement is that they need to work off the debt by mowing your lawn for a month that is a good agreement to keep because learning responsibility is good for kids. Forgiving all debts is not always the answer.

What about people and circumstances that don’t have any apparent connection to you? Can you forgive a serial killer for all they have done even though you have had no part of their activity and you only know them from the news? Obviously you cannot forgive them their prison sentence, if they have been caught, because you have no legal right to do so. But can you forgive them their acts. Of course you can and you should. Why? Because they are you. We are all cells in a larger body. If you don’t forgive them then you don’t forgive yourself. This is very tough for most people to get because you have to hold the big picture for it to work and many people are not old enough in soul age to even believe in the big picture.

Ultimately everything needs forgiving, is forgiven already, and will be forgiven. If that sentence makes no sense, don’t worry. It is a bit of a mystical paradox but it is a true statement. All is forgiven. So when we don’t forgive we are just delaying the inevitable because sooner or later we will forgive. Why put it off and stretch out the suffering and longer than we have to?

Forgiving is a strategy to become neutral, to reset the game, to start fresh. As such forgiving is one of the most powerful tools you will ever come across. To choose to not forgive is an unfortunate choice because the loser is yourself. Some people say, “I just can’t forgive. It is too hard. I have too much anger”. But the secret to forgiving is in being willing to forgive. You may not feel like it at first. Who does? Perhaps you need to grieve first. Forgiveness starts when you say, “I don’t feel like it but I am willing to forgive”.


José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman’s Way.

Upcoming Retreats & Events

Join us in person & virtually


Purchase, audio, courses, and more

Related Articles

You may make copies of this writing and distribute it in any media you wish, so long as you do not charge for it or alter it in any way. You must credit the author and include this entire copyright notice. While the text may be shared, no audio files, including lectures, music and/or sound meditations, may be posted on any site for any reason without written permission from the Power Path.

Your Cart
Your cart is emptyView Cart
Apply Coupon