Webb has assembled and participated in some illuminating and inspiring interviews with a number of influential shamanic practitioners, teachers and writers who for the most part seem to resonate a great deal of integrity, intelligence and compassion. There isn't "shop talk" or "how-to" material, but rather some indispensible background, theory and context for each shaman's practices, with lots of insight into the humanness and particularity of each individual--each shaman's personality and sense of humor are given space to reveal themselves. This book is an excellent reference to consult if one is considering studying with one or more of these teachers (most of whom I've seen on workshop schedules all around the country, I myself have taken workshops from a number of the shamans included here). The shamans in this book reflect to my mind pretty accurately the assortment of well-known teachers a person now living in the United States--particularly, a person with access to the usual workshop venues--can study with and purchase books by. The shamans here are from all over the world, all of them involved with different indigenous cultures, but I think it is important to note, this selection of shamans is one of shamans who have chosen to teach very publicly, especially here in the United States. I'm just making this distinction because while I can even personally vouch for the integrity and validity of a number of these practitioners, and am glad they are putting themselves out there as public figures by teaching and writing, I would also like to remind readers that there are many fine practitioners and teachers who aren't on the workshop circuit, and/or even eschew a public persona. I personally think there's room for both ways of being in the world (and more), no value judgement intended in this distinction, but I just think especially in our consumerist society it's good to remind ourselves that quality does not necessarily require the imprimatur of "officially" being recognized as something by having written a book or cooperated with institutions.
I picked up this book thinking it was a modern-day counterpart of the excellent "Shamanic Voices: A Survey of Visionary Narratives" by Joan Halifax. But while Halifax interviewed or referenced the words of "traditional" shamans, many maintaining a life in their indigenous tribal settings, Webb chose to interview "contemporary" shamans who have all brought their teachings to Western consumers.
I recommend Webb's book as a wonderful overview of the current "shamanic" market out there today. It presents, in nicely packaged chunks, interviews with two dozen people who have dedicated themselves to sharing modern-day "shamanic" healing practices and philosophies to pretty much anybody who is willing to take the time to listen (although, in some cases, you'll need to bring a wad of cash as well).
Notice I put "shamanic" in quotes, because some of the people interviewed by Webb can only be called a "shaman" by using modern-day pop terminology, and only a few appear to have gone through any of the traditional grueling rituals and (often painful) rites associated with the type of shamanism often portrayed in Halifax's book (and Mircea Eliade's ground-breaking work on the subject as well). Nonetheless, pretty much everybody in Webb's book meets Eliade's definition of a shaman, i.e. "in which a spiritual leader traveled to an upper or lower world through a controlled state of ecstasy (trance) and conversed with spirits in those other worlds for the benefit of the community (or individuals within the community)", so I'm willing to give Webb and her subjects the benefit of the doubt in that respect.
That being said, readers of Webb's book would be well advised to take a healthy dash of salt with them as they peruse the words of the 24 modern-day shamans she interviews.
I said Webb presents a wonderful overview of the current shamanic market, and I mean it in that she gives a very good look into what's out there, both good and bad. Webb seems to see herself as the journalistic explorer, foraging through the jungles of spirituality to find hidden wellsprings of spiritual knowledge. And, as such, she doesn't seem to ever cast the eyes of doubt upon any of her subjects, instead presenting all of them as equally valid sources of divine truth.
In short, Webb leaves the validation of her sources as an exercise to the reader. And, like many exercises, I found this one to be quite stimulating and beneficial, although tiring at times.
Some of the interviews in this book are real gems. For example, I found the ideas of Gabrielle Roth to be quite inspiring, the views and advice of Tom Cowan to be very insightful, and the anecdotes of Malidoma Patrice Some' to be very intriguing. Several other people interviewed by Webb presented truly memorable ways of thinking that I find myself repeatedly turning back to for enjoyable reference.
Yet mixed in between the established, respected modern-day shamanic practicioners are interviews people of very dubious backgrounds. Some, like the infamous Brooke "Medicine Eagle" Edwards, are considered by indigenous people to be among the most exploitive frauds out there today. Others, such as "Bee Shaman" Simon Buxton, are entertaining to read but offer no basis of reference that anything they say is anything more than a glorious work of fiction.
I finished the book quite glad to have read it, even if I wasn't always certain of the validity of the people Webb was quoting. In the cases where I found myself doubting the integrity of one of Webb's sources, I had to ask myself why I felt that way, and to search inside to understand what it was that I felt was spiritually rubbing me the wrong way. Likewise, I also made sure I questioned myself when I found a writer I particular agreed with to make sure I was accepting their views because they made sense, and not just because of their charismatic verbal abilities.
Webb should be applauded for her effort. And even if a particular basis for ritual presented by one of her sources isn't historically sound, that doesn't mean it isn't spiritually valid. As Tom Cowan told Webb, "Every shaman has an idiosyncratic way of practicing. Even if you are in a strong tradition and are trained by elders in that tradition, you end up practicing in your own unique way. ... [T]he power you get comes from the spirits." Only you can judge for yourself whether a particular path, no matter how modern or traditionally based, is the one that's right for your life's journey. Having a good selection to choose from, to me, can only help the process - as long as you make your choice in a well thought-out manner.