Seeing in the Dark
The practice of shamanism is 30,000 to 40,000 years old. As a cross-cultural, worldwide phenomenon, it is part of the human spiritual heritage. Indeed, in the book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade concludes that shamanism has much to offer contemporary Westerners.
The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus tribe of Siberia and means “healer” or “see-er in the dark.” Using the strong eye, or the heart, one “sees in the dark” by means of a technique called journeying. Easy to learn, journeying allows one to move into the world of spirit (also called non-ordinary reality), outside of time and space. Usually journeying is done to the accompaniment of monotonous percussion or rhythms such as drums, sticks or rattles; singing, breath, Tibetan singing bowls, didgeridus or dance.
Practitioners of shamanism use the journey to enter visionary states of consciousness and to explore the usually hidden realities known more often through myths, dreams and mystical experiences. Rather than receiving information second hand, journeying provides the opportunity to interact and communicate directly with the world of spirit. When journeying, one has access to information, loving wisdom and guidance that can be used for personal growth and healing, and/or for the healing of others and the community.
The journey itself is similar to a lucid dream. When daydreaming, one has control over everything in the dream. When night dreaming, usually one has no control over anything in the dream. In a lucid dream, however, one has control over oneself, but not over anything else in the dream. This is what a journey is like, except that when journeying, one makes a choice to enter an altered state of consciousness at will to contact and utilize non-ordinary—and mostly hidden—reality.
When one journeys, one usually does so in the company of guides and guardians. Guides may appear as mythical figures, angelic beings, wise women and men, and animals. The term “power animal” refers to an animal that takes pity on us, volunteers to protect us, keeps us healthy and safe, and helps us to connect with the loving energy of the universe. Most shamanic cultures believe that each of us is born with at least one power animal and guide. Most of us have two to three power animals around us at any one time. Indeed, some of us seem to have a whole zoo. Other guides may come and go as needed.
Many of us forget about our power animals by around age seven (those so-called “imaginary playmates”). If we lose the connection completely we will likely start showing signs of power animal loss. These signs include chronic illnesses such as colds, viruses or flu, where we seem to have difficulty protecting the body’s integrity. Other signs include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, or persistent “bad luck.”
Shamanism is a methodology, not a religion. It is remarkably safe. The techniques require a kind of relaxed discipline; and, if one does not remain focused and maintain the requisite discipline, s/he will simply return to ordinary consciousness. Most people can accomplish in a few hours what usually takes years to achieve in meditation. It is estimated that 95% of persons, if properly taught and willing to practice, have the ability to journey.
If you are interested in learning to journey, come join us in one of the basic workshops we offer on shamanic journeying.
Barbara Bloecher is offering a series of (mostly) one-day workshops on shamanism. The basic workshop on how to journey (including meeting your power animal and upper world guide), or equivalent experience, is required for the intermediate workshops.