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Archive for the ‘shamanism’ Category

There is a animated series about horses that is very popular at the moment. When one of these ponies finds the thing that he or she is best suited for, a picture of their special talent – a cutie mark – appears on their rump. On days like today, I wish that people were granted that boon.

An admission: no, I haven’t been called to serve.
I have never survived a life-threatening illness, nor had a near-death experience. I have never walked with a god in a  dream, nor felt the presence of the unseen in the waking world.

I find interactions with people tortuous sometimes, and would struggle to counsel the truly desperate. Getting drunk is difficult is difficult because I fear losing control, never mind entering into a trance.
I will never be a doctor, or a doula, a healer or a historian. I am an artist – excuse me – an Artist. A Storyteller.
It is what I do, it is part of who I am.

I am not a Priest, nor a Witch, nor – depending on your definition – a Druid. Not really. It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but I understand now that that’s OK. I can’t fix an engine, remove an appendix or retile a roof. That’s why there are professionals who do.

I am an Artist; it’s what I want to do, it’s what I’m trained to do. Sometimes, I forget that it’s OK not to be totally self-sufficient.

I might not be part of a grove or a coven, but that doesn’t mean that I’m alone.

Sure, I want to help people, and I will if I can, and I’m always looking to expand my skillset to do so, but that isn’t a calling, it’s basic human empathy. My cutie mark is a palette, not a pentacle.

I am an Artist.

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Juni’s latest blog post has me asking a lot of hard questions.

Why am I learning to trance? For what reason? What do I want to do with this skill? Everyone writes about how, but what can you do once you know how? Why would I want to let myself in for this?

I’m shit at keeping a schedule. I’m beyond terrible at keeping up with my own interests, and that’s stuff I WANT to do. Would it be different if I HAD to do it? How much obligation is too much? What would I get out of doing this, and what do I do with it? ‘I want to help’ is a fucking stupid answer. If I wanted to help, I’d quit my job and join a volunteer group. To help HOW? WHOM? I can barely help myself, I’m in no position to help other people. ‘Wounded healer’ is about right.

I have a mortgage, and job, a fiancé (who doesn’t believe in ANY of this stuff); do I have too much invested in the world to risk letting go? Can I strike a balance between spirit and physical, because I’ve always been rubbish at balancing acts. Can I do this without betraying myself or my spirits, such as they may be?

I haven’t even started, and I don’t know where I want to go.

I’m not called to this. If I walked away now, no one would call me back. There’d be no god guiding me back to the path, no spirits giving me nightmares, no spontaneous visions. I haven’t crossed in months, and no one’s come looking. And why would they? A silly little kid, playing at shamanism? We’re a pound a pound.

Fuck it all.

Focus on the house.

The touchstone. The millstone. The big project. The new start. It’s nearly done, only a couple of weeks more. Then I can start working things out on my own terms.

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A couple of odd things happened this last week.

Firstly, I have been dragging my carcase out of bed at 06:30 to do early morning meditations (that’s not the odd thing). Since I’m still finding my feet, I’m reading the Dorling Kindersley 101 Essential Tips: Basic Meditation and trying out different things here and there.

I was doing the door-and-stairs bit – visualise a door and go through it, descend the stairs you find and go from there – and I ended up in a corridor lined with doors. Picking a door at random, I opened it and entered. I found myself deep underwater and above a drowned city, barely visible in the murk below, and felt a terrible sense of unease – as if I were in a Lovecraftian horror. Not wanting to face the inevitable Shoggoth monstrosity, I visualised a door and departed. So far, so normal (for me, anyway)

Back in the corridor, I opened another door and entered into a cave. Tall and deep and sandy-floored, this is the cave I use when I go walkabout. I knew that the end of the cave leads down into the Lower World, but I avoided it; I haven’t been out on the beach much and I felt like exploring. Turning, I found that the cave had been blocked. The walls ware still brightly lit, as though the cave mouth was open to the sky, but huge boulders blocked my path. A voice echoed inside my head – ‘now you’re trapped, and will never be king’. I knew the woman whose voice I could hear and could call her to mind easily – tall and imperious, with alabaster skin and raven hair, and dressed in black from head to toe, like Morgana leFay in an 80s BBC drama.

Confident that I couldn’t be trapped there, I opened my eyes, and shut them again very quickly – I knew that I wasn’t fully in my body, but was looking at the world from just above and behind my head. I couldn’t just get up and walk off; I knew had to finish this properly, so I went to the back of the cave and through the tunnel into the Lower World.

When I started journeying, the books I read suggested forming a ‘safe place’ within the Other Worlds that you could venture forth from, or retreat to, and that’s where I ended up. It had changed some since the last time I visited, but was still familiar and – most importantly – safe. Salmon was waiting for me in the pool in the middle, and I knew that was where my exit would be found, so I waded in and spent a few, wordless, moment with him, before completely submerging myself, visualising my exit and leaving.

~~

At the public Vernal Equinox ritual/Full Moon Grove on Saturday, we did a ‘grow new habits’ spell. Once again, I had no idea what  I was doing and just went along with what I was told.

I thought hard about what I wanted to grow and spread the seeds around the ritual space, still thinking about my intentions, then returned to the circle. Since it was my first spell, I wasn’t sure it would work, so I added a bit of personal visualisation to reinforce the affirmations I’d been repeating to myself.

I visualised the seeds germinating, and the tiny shoots emerging from the soil … and promptly lost control of the visualisation. The shoots erupted from the ground, twined together into a large tree, came into leaf and presented me with a large, dark red apple. I took the apple and took a bite before returning to reality.

~~

It’s the second meditation session in six months that’s turned around and done its own thing, and – if the visualisation during the ritual is anything to go by – it seems to be getting more common. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I have a suspicion that I’m being called back to journey-work.

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Samhain is a good time to journey; the barrier between this world and the Otherworld is thin and easily traversed.

It has been so long since I made a successful trip that I was worried I’d forgotten how, but as I sat at my altar at just past midnight, the single candle casting weird shadows across the room, and breathed the incense-laden air, I slipped down through the roots of the world-tree and into the Otherworld without any resistance at all.

I don’t know if it was the time of day, time of year, how tired I was, the new arrangements I tried or a combination of all or some, it worked and we had a wonderful reunion; I am very happy I was able to make the journey.

Post-mortem:

  • The candle and incense are an established constant. They will stay.
    • Is it worth using a particular scent for a particular type of journey? Is it practical?
  • The blanket across my shoulders served as both a ritual robe and a way to keep warm. This will be staying (although whether I use the same blanket is open to debate).
  • Vocalising my intention and speaking out loud helped, I think, even thought it was difficult both psychologically and physically. I can overcome the psychological element, but I’ll wait until I get my throat back before I try chanting again.
  • I’m not sure about marking out a ritual space with the incense. If I do it again, I’ll do it standing up.
  • I don’t think I took long enough to work myself into a trance state. I need to take longer to build an atmosphere (the blanket, lighting and incense help, but I can still do more). The length of the ritual should balance need and intention with tiredness (and what I’m doing the next day!) if I intend to continue doing this in the middle of the night.
    • Meditation, breathing and serpent swaying
    • Chanting, drumming, bells and music
    • Dancing, yoga or other physical exertion
    • Wine, entheogens and flying ointments?
    • Check deVries for alternative trancing methods
    • Trancing at PsiPog.net (print-friendly)
  • Offerings are only polite and are the bare minimum I can do. Next time, I should offer some sort of foodstuff as well as alcohol.
    • I’ve not yet worked out if the spirits prefer one thing over another for offerings. Vodka or whiskey? Bread and cheese or fruit? I should ask.
  • I’m still not sure how to close the ritual. Last night’s attempt was appalling and possibly insulting (I know I felt insulted by how bad it was).

In the end, the ritual achieved what I needed it to; a reunion with my friends on the other side after nearly a year-long absence and a chance to try some new techniques.

I have regained my shattered confidence and I can’t wait to go again.

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I’ve listened to the first two episodes of The Unnamed Path and, despite being outside its target demographic, I’m getting a bit more out of it than I thought I would. Also, each episode is half an hour long, so it’s less of an epic than Why Shamanism Now? or Standing Stone and Garden Gate.

Summary of Episode 1 and Episode 2:

The Unnamed Path is a new spiritual path aimed at Men Who Love Men (MWLM). It comprises four paths:

  • Shamanism
  • Magic/prophecy
  • Energy Healing
  • Deathwalking

As expected, The Unnamed Path defines shamanism as a shifting of consciousness to communicate and create relationships with spirits and the divine and retrieve knowledge from the SSC to use in the OSC. As a non-linear process, it is opposed to Magic and Prophecy/Divination (excluding scrying, which is more shamanic), which are logical, cerebral and linear. They use relationships between the seeker, their spirits and the divine in order to make the seeker’s will manifest.

Deathwalking seems like standard psychopomp work – counselling the dying, assisting the dead with moving on, mediumship and the like.

Energy healing on the Unnamed Path is practised through the use of sigils implanted into the body by the Ancestors of MWLM after an initiation. These are unique to MWLM, and enable the bearer to channel energy from the spirit world to the patient, who intuitively uses it to find balance within themself. Hyperion (the show’s presenter) has found that they will not work for any outside the MWLM tribe, due to the unique fashion that MWLM are able to love.

There is a similarity here between the implantation of the sigils and the Greater Initiation described at the end of Conway’s By Oak Ash and Thorn, but in the latter case, the sigils were replaced by stones.

The seeker will eventually become drawn to one particular path over time, and the Ancestral tribe of MWLM has told Hyperion that the traditional roles of MWLM in ancient times (approx. Stone/Bronze Age) were as healers, counsellors, mediators and sacred sex workers (bringing people closer to the divine through sacred sex). I have heard previously that shamanic practice requires the practitioner to ‘walk between two worlds’, even in the material realm, and homosexuality is certainly an accepted definition of this.

The main spiritual practices of the Unnamed Path are journeywork, inspiration, meditation and spirit communication.

Suggested reading: Two Flutes Playing: Spiritual Journey for Gay Men

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The ancestors are defined as anyone who has ever been a human in the past, present or future, and may be considered a vast tome of information on human experience. This definition depends on an understanding that our perception of time is an illusion, founded on our linear perspective of reality. The only thing that can be said to exist is the present, and all other times are actually the same time.

Ancestors have a vested interest in our wellbeing, as reincarnation is the journey of all souls, and the humans that exist now comprise their present experience of humanity. TBH, I didn’t really follow this line of thought, but I gather that the Ancestors are concerned about the state of the world they will live in when they are reincarnated. I should probably ask my Ancestors about this issue.

There are the three standard realms:

  • Upper world: Residence of the Shining Ones and spirit guides
  • Middle World: Physical realm
  • Lower World: Place of rest and repose for spirits who are recently deceased.

After prolonged residence in the Lower World, spirits are amalgamated into a great blend of Humanity. On occasion, spirits retain their individuality; these spirits are known as the Mighty Dead, and distinguish themselves as great heroes or leaders, with artistic or spiritual distinction or if they experienced true love in their lifetimes.

The Mighty Dead guide and assist the living on their journey through life via spirit contact and divination. They have a greater perspective of events and can advise without bias. Asking the Ancestors is much like asking a trusted parent or elder for advice; they can answer with the benefit of their own life’s wisdom and at a distance from the issue.

Making alliances on the spirit plane can open doorways to facilitate events on the physical one. The Ancestors are happy to do this, as this elevates them to the realm of Spirit Guides. This contact and alliance is forged through shamanic journeys , divination or scrying and “tapping the bone” – using a bone or skull (animal is acceptable) to reach out to the Ancestors.

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Witchvox – Magick and Science
I like a scientific explanation for things – I cannot get behind things that require me to ‘take someone’s word for it’. If I can’t do it or see it done, or if you can’t at least explain how it’s done, I’m sceptical, to say the least.

“What if the very act of imagining, visualizing, or having an expectation of an outcome, caused an actual change in the matter and energy around you?”
I’m not sure E=mc^2 is the best example of the theory, but the idea behind the essay is a valid one.

When observation of an experiment affects the outcome, is it unreasonable to suggest that the subject must have an awareness of being observed? Even when the subject is a subatomic particle? I don’t think it is.
(Sentience is not implied, but awareness or consciousness is at least plausible.)

I don’t think the particle knows ‘whether to appear as a particle or a wave’, as that implies a degree of intelligence that I’m currently disinclined to attach to a sub-atomic particle, but expectation can certainly influence outcome.

If that’s the case, the mind seems to be able to affect the physical world and, if so, perhaps magic isn’t so implausible.

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Bibliography
The Matter Myth – Dramatic discoveries that challenge our understanding of physical reality – Paul Davies and John Gribbin

The Mind of God – Paul Davies

The Cosmic Blueprint – Paul Davies

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawkings

*The Eagles Quest – A physicist finds scientific truth at the heart of the shamanic world – Fred Allen Wolf

Parallel Universes – Fred Allen Wolf

*The Spiritual Universe – How Quantum Physics proves the existence of the soul – Fred Allen Wolf

Taking the Quantum Leap – Fred Allen Wolf

The Big Bang Never Happened – Eric J. Lerner

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I have been giving some serious consideration to the inclusion of shamanic practices within my interpretation of Druidry. At one point, I was certain there was a link, but as I find myself digging deeper and deeper into shamanism, I wonder how this links back to my original intention. Exploration of a fascinating subject is hardly something to be censored, but I think I’m getting off-topic at this point.

Looking over my library, I find it full of books on shamanism and Celtic shamanism and very little on Druidry. On the other hand, I appear to have a large quantity of books on Celtic myth and legends and a few books on the history of the Celts. I think this is where my research should take me next. Leave Cowan, Matthews and Harner. I have dug out Solitary Druid – it’s ADF, but it might be useful – and Druid Magic – which is Llewellyn but has a bibliography and some interesting exercises at the end of each chapter.

That said, I mustn’t dabble. As I have seen, the Otherworld can be dangerous and there is no room for tourism. Commit to something, achieve it, move on and maintain practice.

There is an interesting essay on Celtic shamanism on the OBOD website – [link] – indicating the adventures of Fionn MacCumhail are plausibly shamanic Otherworld experiences: questing to retrieve mystical artefacts, knowledge or power, being dismembered and returned to wholeness stronger than before and receiving traits that mark him as being definitely outside society. The author also suggests the CS-bashing I’ve been seeing is an academic trend, and – as a classically trained, initiated shaman who has actually attended ISS workshops – doesn’t have an issue with Harner’s definition of a shaman as ‘a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness – at will- to contact or utilize an ordinarily hidden reality in order to acquire knowledge, power, and to help other persons. The shaman has at least one, and usually more, “spirits” in his personal service’ (quotes are Harner’s), although there is no evidence to suggest drumming as the aural trigger, the Celts had no shortage of instruments or songs that might be used in this fashion.
The spirits of shamanism are, perhaps, the faeries of British folklore. I’ve always avoided faerie-faith books like the plague, but now it seems they might have something to them beyond pink fluff and sparkles.

So: Celtic shamanism? Yes, but it has it’s own distinct flavour. I mustn’t get distracted by the Celtic-everything trend, attempts to homogenise shamanism or a watering down the faerie-faith (I never thought I’d say that).

Other areas for research:
– Celtic myths and legends (look for shamanic practices)
– Faerie healing (being careful of New Age fluff)
– Biddy Early and canny folk who practice/practised around the British Isles (any from East Anglia? That’d be a nice find)

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