“The drums incessant beat became lost amidst a seemingly resonant symphony of voices… an enchantingly mysterious tone lead me through into another reality, a dreamtime landscape of the shamanic underworld. Perched on a cliff, my `being’ perceived the luminous valley expanding out before me. Suddenly aware of a presence to my right, I turned and confronted the eyes and beak of an eagle… so close its warmth was tangible in comparison to the windy updraft. As we both alighted with graceful swiftness from the cliff I realized a magical transformation had occurred… my eagle wings were strong… my sight so keen… my thoughts so strange. We soared towards an unknown destination, surveying all below us with a god-like perspective… feeling my journey had begun eons before this present reality.”
Thus read my journal entry, written after a shamanic initiation led by Leslie Conton – co-worker/associate of Michael Harner (world renowned authority on shamanism). Leslie presented this event at the Transpersonal Psychology Conference in Brisbane 1986. She enticed our ‘allies’ to dance, our visions to gather strength and power and also gave essential background knowledge to this fascinating tradition, forming a sound basis for further study.
Later I discovered that “birds always denote rising, activation, change and vitality. In some traditions birds are symbolic of the soul; in others the bird is recognized as an intelligent collaborator with man, being the bearer of celestial messages. For the Buryats of Siberia, the eagle is the prototype of the shaman. Some Siberian peoples directly associate the eagle with the Supreme Being and the Creator of Light. Odin was also called Eagle….. Whether for sport or spirit, the shaman’s ability to fly or the enactment of flight bespeaks a sublime metaphysical reality that appears to be a common feature of mystical experiences everywhere. All the cosmos is accessible when the art of transformation is mastered.” – Shaman, The Wounded Healer by Joan Halifax.
So, that journey, cited above, was my first `conscious’ exploration of a realm and philosophy which had, in hindsight, affected my unconscious reality from an early age. I remember crying as a small boy whilst watching a “Deer Dance” performed by a visiting Mexican Folklore dance troupe. This perplexed my parents but somehow I felt it not at all unusual… a linking to past life memory perhaps. Thereafter I was always fascinated by movies with Indians, and TV shows like Daniel Boone etc. Also, after recently visitingAmerica and participating in sacred ceremonies, I realized a large part of my consciousness was deeply rooted in that ancient tradition… with a feeling akin to coming “home”.
Shamanism is currently undergoing an immense revival, involving people from many countries and various walks of life. The popularization of American Indian teachings and cultural heritage is only a small chapter in this overall saga. In fact, the so-called “New Age” may largely be a returning to the old and wise, respectful reverence for our sacred Mother Earth… sadly now being raped of resources in the onslaught of “modern” civilization.
This “new” awakening stems directly from an earlier tribal reality, where the shaman was priest, social worker, political advisor and healer to a closely interconnected community. In many different cultures worldwide the land and all its beings were viewed as part of themselves, each with important roles in the unfolding drama of the universe. The shaman was honored for his/her powers to intercede and understand the essential nature of this all-connected mystery and importantly bring wholeness and healing to the dis-spirited or sick.
Michael Harner (author of The Way of the Shaman) has coined the term “urban shamanism” for the practice and initiation of western peoples into an experiential exploration of shamanic realms. Years of academic study and fieldwork among shamanic cultures, including his own initiation, eventually led him to the realization that several cross-culturally shared motifs and techniques could perhaps be reduced to a core of elements. These could be understood by almost anyone, regardless of culture and which could be employed for their own and others’ benefit.(1)
Shamans throughout the world, from Tibet and Mongolia to the Americas, have been involved in healing for thousands of years, dating back to Paleolithic times. Perhaps as old as consciousness itself, shamanism is an ancient healing tradition that has reflected the changing cultures of the surrounding world throughout the ages. This tradition involves healing through personal transformation as well as healing our family, community and environment. Central to this is the belief that we must heal and honor our mother the Earth, who is viewed as a living, conscious organism. Shamans say this sacred female Goddess, the earth who nourishes our very existence, must also be nourished with our prayers and ceremonies.(2)
Recently some medical practitioners in America have been researching and using shamanistic practices to assist holistic healing. This is an area that will undoubtedly reach out further into society as its effectiveness becomes apparent. In particular instances shamanic healing has even proven to be”miraculous” ie, Rolling Thunder, (Cherokee Indian medicine man) in one reported case, irrefutably reversed Multiple Sclerosis. And surely that is not the only case where medical science is at a loss to explain the healing phenomena. Rolling Thunder says of his work “This is the Great Spirit’s way. I only act as an agent for the Great Spirit here; the healing comes from the spirit world.”(3)
An integral part of any shaman’s power is a fortifying relationship with an ally. Power exists everywhere, all around us, in undifferentiated form. Since we need to use the power around us just to charge our life force, each of us has some sort of ally in order to be alive. The ally or helper acts as an intermediary between that formless power and the physical world. Guardian angels, elementals, stars, people, plants, birds, animals are mediators between the spiritual and the material. In healing the ally acts as a step-down transformer, converting raw power to more manageable energetic levels. An ally can provide protection from illness or accidents as well. A shaman gives back to an ally by inviting it to dance, sing and work through his/her physical body. The shaman moves consciously through all the layers of manifestation that exist – all times, all places, all possibilities. The path is lifelong, what is written here is only the beginning, the initiation. The gates beyond are layers of consciousness, expanding gradually to include objective eternity. The work moves from self, to community, and finally to the planet.(4)
There are probably as many different native names for shamanic practitioners as there are languages and cultures around the world. The Yakut called their shamans `ojuna’, the mongolian – `buga baga’, the Buryats – `udayan’, the Tartars – `Kam’, the Lakota – `wicasa wakan’ etc. Sometimes the names refer to particular abilities of the shaman such as the Pomo term `Maru’ (dreamer) or the copper Eskimo word `elik’ (one who has eyes). Huichol shamans are called mara’akame, masters of the deer (mara), after their principal spirit ally.(5)
The Wiradjeri aboriginal medicine men have a high god – Baiame. Two great quartz crystals extend from his shoulders to the sky above him. Baiame sometimes appears to the aborigines in their dreams. He causes a sacred waterfall of liquid quartz to pour over their bodies, absorbing them totally. They later grow wings replacing their arms. Later the dreamer learns to fly and Baiame sings a piece of magical quartz into his forehead to enable him to see right into things. Subsequently an `inner flame’ and a heavenly cord are also incorporated into the body of the new shaman. Thus we see the shaman acquires new magical powers by encountering the gods as a result of a special dream journey. The transformations which follow such an encounter are regarded as initiatory.(6)
“Simply by using the technique of drumming (sonic driving, a monotonous percussion sound), people from time immemorial have been able to pass into these realms which are normally reserved for those approaching death, or for saints. There is a remarkable similarity between the experiences of the shaman and those of people coming back from near-death experiences. It’s the same terrain, the same kinds of experiences. The shaman is known throughout the primitive world as `conductor of souls’, a person who helps the dying and the dead to reunite with their dead family etc.” says Michael Harner in an interview with Nevill Drury.
For the shaman, all that exists in the revealed world has a living force within it. This life energy force, like the Polynesian `mana’ or the Sioux `wakanda’, is conceived of as a divine force which permeates all. The knowledge that life is power is the realization of the shaman. Communion with the purveyors of power is the work of the shaman. Mastery of that power: this is the attaimnment of the shaman.(7)
In Sydney recently, Nevill and myself held two public workshops entitled “A Shamanic Initiation” where folk from all walks of life were led through to their own personal mythic reality via drum journeys and rituals. Nevill has been doing this work privately for a number of years now, continually finding the depth of peoples journeys to be both exciting and enriching. At our day-long sessions participants contacted classic shamanic realms with ease, and gained much personal power and satisfying insight from their allies and the various events encountered in these realms. We also explored the healing essence of shamanism in the “Spirit Canoe” where many of the participants were able to both receive and give gifts of power. It is truly remarkable how accessible this form of personal transformation is, with the added bonus of being painless, non-traumatic and yet ever so empowering.
Here is a brief journey account from a participant.
“Unlike meditation, which is a stillness, a silence, the shamans vision flight is a movie in my minds eye. I focus on commencing the journey through a doorway, then a tunnel, then into the Light to reveal a landscape with animal and human characters. Then I relax and watch the vision unfold as a cinema of the `right brain’. I received extraordinary gifts of personal power. For example I was given, by an American Indian, a writing stick and ink made from soot and animal grease to write my words with “Clarity, Vision, Accuracy and Dynamic”. Since then, when I have been committing ideas to paper, I have remembered this precious gift which positively affirmed those qualities and continues to give me confidence when approaching each new task and challenge. I also have flown with a Crow to sacred sites around the world ie, Delphi, Maccu Picchi and experienced the exhilaration of flight. Wishing to, but not yet able to, visit Ayres Rock in person I have now journeyed there, in vision, to sit with my hands feeling the rock, absorbing Uluru Earth Energy.”
“I was amazed at how easy it is to start the mind-ball rolling and to involve myself in an unfolding visionary tale, aided by the drums’ enchantment. It was significant to explore the symbols, allies and gifts. When visiting my special `Pool of Wisdom’ I encountered a Tiger. Staring into each others eyes, I truly connected with the raw non-urban power of the animal. Approaching my ally he extended his paw and dropped in my hand a small, clear Crystal – another precious gift. Reaching through to the clarity of the mythical realm, accessed by my unconscious mind, I achieve wisdom, healing and self-knowledge. Since that initial experience in the workshop I can choose to access that state at anytime. A profound Initiation.” – from Nina Sunday’s vision journal – October 88.
The clarity and depth of symbolism encountered in journeys such as this is not unusual… but, unfortunately, not yet accessed by very many in modern society. It is through such journeys and the gathering of groups to share their experiences that much of the `tribal old ways’ will be revealed, linking us to that ancient wisdom of natural inter-connection. Thus, I feel shamanism in its many forms can significantly contribute to peace and wellbeing, both personal and global.
All Graphics from various issues of Shamans Drum magazine.
(1) Alicia Allen & Dennis Dutton – co-editors of Shaman’s Drum magazine. Issue No 11.
(2) Brant Secunda – Article entitled “Journey To The Heart” from Shaman’s Drum No 2.
(3) Jim Swan – On Rolling Thunder – Shaman’s Drum No 3.
(4) Natasha Frazier – “Shamanic Survival Skills” from Shaman’s Drum No 2.
(5) Timothy White – Managing Editor of Shaman’s Drum.
(6) Nevill Drury – Nature & health magazine. Vol 9 No 2.
(7) Joan Halifax – Shaman, The Wounded Healer.
Shaman Journey – Nevill Drury, Japetus. ($A17.95 incl post) One side drumming only, the other side is enhanced by music. Available from www.japetus.net = http://www.japetus.net/Japetus/1-catalogue/coverclose-up/SHAcov.html
The Way of the Shaman – Michael Harner. Harper & Row 1980
Shamanism – Mircea Eliade. Princeton University Press 1972
Vision Quest – Nevill Drury. Prism Press 1984.
The Shaman and the Magician – Nevill Drury. Arkana 1987.
Primitive Magic – Ernesto De Martino. Unity Press 1988.
Shamanism (Compilation) – Shirley Nicholson. Quest 1987.
Shaman, Wounded Healer – Joan Halifax. Thames & Hudson 1982
MICHAEL NEY – Author/Photographer and Editor of `The Crystal Visionary’ co-presented (with Nevill Drury) `A Shamanic Initiation’. His other workshop series entitled `The Crystal Initiation’ has been experienced by numerous groups throughout Australia.
SHAMANIC VISIONS – written by Michael Ney – Copyright © 1988
First published in Southern Crossings Feb 88. – entitled – DRUMMING UP VISIONS – Modern Shamanic Initiation.