“The ancient ways have not ceased to work, we have ceased to work the ancient ways”.
What Is A Shaman?
Shaman is a term often mistakenly used in reference to a wide variety of occult practitioners otherwise known as Medicine Men, Witches, Wise Ones, Healers, and others involved in the occult arts for the purpose of divination or healing. One of the main reasons for the popularity of the term Shaman today is that it does not carry with it the strongly negative connotation which has come to be associated with many of the other titles previously mentioned.
The term “Shaman” actually refers to a man or a woman who is able to enter into an altered state of consciousness for the purpose of embarking upon a spirit journey into alternate dimensions and realities in order to access hidden knowledge or power to help others. During this journey, the Shaman uses “spirit helpers” as an integral part of accomplishing his or her work. The work of finding and allying these spirit helpers is a critical part of the shaman’s daily life.
What Does A Shaman Do?
Since the dawn of time, shamans have been the first, and often only, line of defense against illness and chaos within their culture. Their skills healed the sick. Their journeys and subsequent wisdom gave order to the universe. Their powers of divination gave insight into the future. They served as doctors, psychiatrists, and ministers to their people. Their presence was central to the health and well-being of their culture. Specifically, shamans have three main functions within society – healing the diseased, accessing new or ancient knowledge from the OtherWorlds, and foretelling the future. And although most shamans are familiar with all three aspects, each shaman generally has a particular field of expertise. To a large extent, the shaman’s field of expertise is determined not only by his/her natural abilities, but by the number and type of helping spirits the shaman has allied. To a shaman, disease (or dis-ease), within an individual or culture is the result of one of two factors. The first factor is the loss of a critical aspect of the self, such as the loss of one’s soul or power animal, which results in an imbalance or disharmony within the body, mind or soul of that individual or culture. A second factor in disease is the presence of a foreign intrusion within the self, also resulting in imbalance and disharmony within the self. This foreign intrusion may be either organic or inorganic in nature. To facilitate the recovery of the victim, the shaman must go on an exploratory journey deep inside the victim’s many layers of self, or possibly even into the OtherWorlds to determine the cause of the malady. If the shaman discovers the source of the problem, and has a sufficient number of the “right kind” of helping spirits, he or she may then deal with the problem. If the shaman does not have the right number and kind of helping spirits, he/she must either find and ally them, or the shaman must send the victim to another shaman known for that kind of disease. A shaman must never attempt to take on a disease when lacking the appropriate spirit helpers. To do so is to leave the shaman himself/herself vulnerable to attack as well.
Altered States Of Consciousness and Other Worlds
To accomplish his or her work, the Shaman learns to access the OtherWorlds through an altered state of consciousness. The ability to move between and work in other worlds is not unique to shamanism, although the work of the shaman is more closely tied to the OtherWorlds than other occult practices may be.
The work of learning to access the altered state of consciousness at will and the subsequent task of acquiring helpers becomes the basis upon which an individual is actually able to function as a Shaman. The Shaman must be able to enter into non-ordinary reality and explore and map that non-ordinary reality so that he or she knows where to journey to find the appropriate helpers in order to accomplish the desired task. The journey into non-ordinary reality is most frequently accomplished by what many would term visualization. The shaman will make many countless journeys into non-ordinary reality. It is essential that the shaman continue mapping and exploring every aspect of non-ordinary realities to understand the nature, terrain and occupants of each location, as well as acquire new helpers and gain greater and greater experience with each subsequent journey.
The most frequent reasons for Shamanic Journeys include:
- Finding a power animal for yourself or someone else.
- Recovering a power animal or spirit guide that has left you or the person that the journey is being made for.
- The search for foreign objects or intrusions within the patient’s body, which could be the source of illness or loss of power.
- The search for the soul or a soul fragment of the patient, which has been lost by trauma or carelessness, or stolen by another person.
Shamanic Sight and The Journey
Once the shaman has entered into an alternate state of consciousness, his/her primary vehicle for moving about the OtherWorld (consisting of a myriad of alternate dimensions and realities) is a spontaneous visualization called a journey. To the untrained spectator, the visions and experiences that the shaman has during his journey can easily be written off as an over-active imagination or a drug-induced hallucination. To the shaman, the reality of the experience is never questioned. The experiences of our conscious, waking reality holds no more validity to the shaman than the visions and experiences of his or her journey. By virtue of the shaman’s intense belief in the things that he or she saw and experienced and did while on the journey, the shaman has carried the intent of the journey from the realm of the imagination to the act of co-creating a new reality based on the power that was generated and released during the ritual. The shaman knows that the experiences actually occurred exactly as he or she lived them. On this premise, the shaman has every right to expect the outcome of the ritual to be exactly as he or she experienced and created it. This ability to actually know the validity of the experience comes from the empirical reinforcement that whatever the shaman sees in the OtherWorld, or whatever changes the shaman makes in the OtherWorld, there is a physical manifestation of that reality in our world. A shaman does not merely believe in what he sees and does, the shaman knows.
I am sure that many of you have been to groups or classes that practice some form of guided visualization. As a result, I am often asked if a guided visualization is a journey. I can only answer that question in terms of whether the guided visualization actually met the criteria of a shamanic journey. Here are a few points that you can compare.
1.) Did the visualization have a clearly defined intent, based on one of the three reasons that a shaman journeys?
Was it for healing yourself or another?
Was it to retrieve actual hidden knowledge or power from another world or dimension to help yourself or another?
Was it to divine some future event that might potentially have a dramatic effect on your people or culture?
2.) Did the journey follow some traditional shamanic pattern?
How did you enter and navigate the Underworld or the Web of Power?
What shamanic abilities did you demonstrate while on your journey?
What spirit helpers did you employ to help you accomplish your intent?
3.) Did your journey transcend imagination and achieve the level of shamanic sight?
What did you see or do while on your journey that you can verify once you have returned?
Did you achieve sufficient intensity to actually expect a change in reality?
Over a reasonable period of time, did the intent of your journey manifest itself in the way that you created it “over there”?
If your guided visualization to the “crystal castle” or the “enchanted lake” was a nice reprieve from normal reality, that’s fine. But that is not a journey. A journey incorporates a clear, well defined intent to achieve a specific task, combined with sufficient intensity and power to achieve that end.
As we have already discussed, there are several critical aspects of becoming a shaman. One is the ability of the individual to successfully enter into an alternate state of consciousness. The second is the ability to use shamanic sight to traverse the Web of Power, accessing the myriad of other dimensions and realities. And the third is the ability of the shaman to find and keep spirit helpers, which actually enable the shaman to accomplish his or her work in the OtherWorld. In simplest terms, spirit helpers are non-ordinary dimensional beings who may resemble earthly forms or actually have a form in mundane reality, such as plants, animals, birds, or insects, but whose essence and power actually reside in other
dimensions. A shaman knows that the characteristics and powers of these beings in other dimensions is quite different than what he or she might experience here. For this reason, the shaman is constantly using his or her intuitive powers to discern the presence of a helping spirit. Should the shaman discern the presence of such a being, the general practice is to immediately ingest the the physical form, thus also ensuring the assimilation of the higher aspects as well. The subsequent responsibility is keeping and using that helping spirit, while continuing to gather more.
The importance of the helping spirits in the life and work of the shaman cannot be underestimated. A shaman, in many ways, is much like the modern doctor. The doctor must be able to accurately differentiate between a bacterial infection and a viral infection. The shaman clearly understands that the various dis-eases within his patients have a wide variety of causes, which must be accurately diagnosed. Like the doctor, the shaman must know the proper “cure” for that disorder. And like the doctor, when the occasion requires, the shaman must go deep within the patient to correct the problem or remove the malignant intrusion. Both practices require the utmost skill and knowledge. Where the dotor relies on a wide variety of antibiotics and chemicals, the shaman relies on a wide variety of helping spirits. The type and intensity of each disease requires a specific type and number of helping spirits to overcome it. Should the shaman attempt to extract a specific intrusion without the proper type and number of helping spirits, the shaman may in fact become the victim, instead of the healer. This is the reason that shamans dedicate such a large portion of their efforts to finding and keeping their helping spirits – their very work as a shaman depends on it.
To understand the true meaning of a “power animal”, we must look beyond man’s normal perception of the domesticated animal kingdom – creatures that can be harnessed for work, food for the table, or a nuisance or danger to human habitation and progress. Specifically, we must focus our attention upon the undomesticated animal kingdom. It is believed that domestic animals, by their subjection to man’s will, have lost their “Spirit” (their true and wild nature) and no longer behave instinctually, as their wild counterparts do. Thus, the domestic animal has given away or been robbed of its innate power and abilities, and with only a very few exceptions, is unworthy to be a power animal. When wild birds and animals are truly studied and analyzed in the context of their own habitat, away from and untainted by man, we see that every animal has within its very nature certain qualities and abilities that make it adept, if not supreme, at survival within its realm. These abilities, in many cases however, are not confined to just the physical realm. Creatures like the bat, the raven and the owl and many others are also associated with mysticism and the occult.
When we talk about finding our power animals, we are not just talking about intellectualizing the beast, or an outward emotional attachment to the Beast. We are talking about the ability to become the Beast. It is the ability to “shape shift”, if you will, into the Beast. The Beast is raw, unbridled instinct and power, called forth from the deepest shadows of our essence in the instant that it is needed, when the human aspect of our reality can not achieve what it must. When a warrior faces his enemy, or a hunter chases his prey, or a lover faces his love, or survival is at stake, the Beast rises from within, sensing instinctively the moment, and responding intuitively, according to its needs. It responds as the beast would respond. When the Warrior/Hunter aspect is released, there is no place the prey can run or hide that it cannot be found; no amount of pleading will sway it; Death blows will not stop it. The Beast Warrior becomes the dreaded Beserker, who says, “You cannot kill me, for I am already dead. I have entered into your Spirit, and I own you. You are now mine.” In a survival situation, it is the primal, raw energy called forth to surmount impossible odds and overcome life-threatening situations, such as the story of a father lifting a car to save the life of his child. In love, it is the primal driving force to pure ecstasy and orgasm, that holds back nothing. Within the intensity and power of the unbridled beast, the Snake (Kundalini energy) rises from its cradle of power deep within the base chakra, unleashing the raw energy and power that washes over the body, renewing and energizing the lovers.
It takes tremendous self-discipline to find and understand the Beast within, to know the difference between the wild animal and the human, so that the Beast does not overpower the human and become dominant. The Beast is an aspect of the Shadow Kingdom, a resident of our own dark side. It is an aspect of our subscious. For many, it is that part that we dare not admit exists. For others, we know its power, and we dare not unleash it. To the Master, it is the edge. It is pure, raw power on command. It is ecstacy, and our doorway to the beyond. When it is no longer needed, it returns to the Shadows that are its home. One must learn how to work with the Beast, calling it forth at will and then letting go of all logical thought. When all is said and done, the Beast disappears back into the shadows from whence it came. Remember, when the Beast returns to the Shadows, the mind and the body must now adjust to the radical shift in consciousness. The Beast has expended incredible amounts of energy – energy that must be replaced. It may take several days of rest, food, and plenty of liquids to replace what has been used (traditionally four days). Take care of your body during this after-time so there are no ill effects.
By your very nature, you are endowed with certain strengths and abilities that are also possessed by certain power animals. By discovering and studying the Beast(s) within, you may discover deeper levels of strength and resilience, new and more effective ways to apply that strength and ability, other related or supporting strengths and abilities, added confidence in the use of the ability, and frequently a new connection and reverence for our planetary neighbors, the Beasts.
To find your power animal, you must be willing to drop all of your illusions about who and what you believe you are, and about the reality of your Dark Side. You do have one! We all do. You must be willing to look deeply into the shadows of your Dark Side and see the Beast looking back. Remember that your Dark Side only contains those aspects of you that you have placed there, generally because social consensus reality says these qualities are undesireable or unacceptable. And we know very clearly that wild animals are not socially acceptable. Now that you have found your Beast’s lair, now you must access the Beast. In a safe place, away from those who would criticize and scorn, release the beast. Call it up and feel it. Become the Beast. Hold nothing back. Let your human consciousness go. Wild animals live by intuition and instinct. Become the Beast.
To attract a power animal, the process is very similar. Instead of finding the animal, you must entice it in. Remember, you are not trying to capture it, you are trying to become it. Power animals cannot be captured and caged. You cannot domesticate it. You cannot train it and ride it at will like a horse. It’s not like seeing it in a zoo. You must meet it on its terms, not yours. You must call the essence of the Beast in by imitating its behavior, calling it, enticing it, playing with it, allowing it to flow into you. Experiencing a power animal is not about a human trying to think like an animal, or a human trying to feel like an animal. This concept is not about you experiencing the animal. This concept is about you becoming an animal. An animal with stregth and power far superior to your own. An animal with insticts honed to perfection by centuries of practice. An animal perfect in its enviroment. You must allow yourself to become the desired animal.
The Shaman’s Tools
Another important aspect of Shamanism is the tools the shaman uses, both to create the altered states of consciousness, and the work which is being done within the altered reality. Tools of shamanic practice include drums, rattles, bells, songs, and dances. Drums are used in shamanic work to create the low frequency, monotonous rhythm which alters the brain wave pattern of the shaman, allowing the shaman to induce and maintain the altered states more easily. The rhythm of the drum, under the control of the shaman’s assistant (frequently the shaman’s apprentice or mate) helps set or adjust the tempo of the journey to aid the shaman through various transitions or challenges during the journey. In addition, the shaman frequently has a chant or song, called a power song, which he may employ during the ritual to call in spirit helpers that may be required. It has been my experience that these “power songs” come from one of two sources. The power song is either passed from shaman to apprentice within a particular tribe or clan, or the power song is given by the power animal or helper to the shaman as a way for the shaman to connect to that animal or helper when desired. A final object that I might mention here, employed by myself and many other shaman, is the quartz crystal. The stone can be employed in many different ways because of the vibrational quality that each stone carries. I use a single quartz crystal in the soul retrieval ritual as a comfortable and protected way to carry the soul of my patient back to the body from the OtherWorld so that it can be “blown” back into the patient.