The resurrection of the shaman
It wasn't just Jesus of Nazareth, Apollonius of Tyana and St Francis of Assisi who were shamans. Shamanism is undergoing a revival today. The emergence of the New Spirituality in the west has focussed educated attention on the healing and nature-working abilities which are inherent in all of us.
Dr Leslie Gray, executive director and founder of the Woodfish Institute, is a Native American shaman and a university lecturer in anthropology and research methodology. Based in San Francisco, USA, she has studied with medicine people and elders from various tribal backgrounds. She advocates a new vision of health care: the integration of ancient healing and modern medicine. And she consults with individuals and organizations on the practice of ecopsychology.
Leslie Gray is a bridge person. She links two cultures, ancient and modern. And like all shamans, she links two dimensions. She travels in full waking consciousness from the physical world to the spiritual world and back. Her work in shamanic healing requires this. Controlled transdimensional travelling enables the shaman to access powerful spirit-healing technologies and powerful spirit-healing people. Some of these may be highly evolved animal-people of a kind known as power animals in traditional cultures.
All human beings have the innate ability to develop safe, conscious, transdimensional travelling abilities. And all human beings have the innate ability to become spiritual healers. Children, in particular, find these shamanic processes natural and easy.
The shamanic journey involves entering an altered or non-ordinary state of consciousness, usually with the help of sonic driving: a repetitive, monotonous drumming, rattling or changing of body postures. These create what Gray calls "trance-portation."
The work of shamans is the business of travelling either to the upper world to bring back down power, information or healing, or to the lower world to bring back up personal empowerment for living here in the middle, physical world.
Most shamans view the universe as composed of these three realms. The upper world tends to be the land of the ancestors, the middle world that of ordinary consciousness, and the lower world the place of power animals.
The shamanic journey begins with the traveller finding an opening to another realm of consciousness. While in some cultures people literally dig a hole in the floor to provide this entrance, in others they regard the opening as a phenomenon within the shaman's consciousness.
The nature of this opening is highly individual. Leslie Gray invites people to think of an opening into the earth from ordinary reality, to enter that opening, go down a tunnel and come out the other side; and from there, to explore the lower world. As people become more proficient at doing this, they begin to encounter allies in that lower world. And they use information gained from communing with these allies to help themselves or others back up here in the physical, middle world.
Traveling to the upper world is similar. The only difference is that you choose an opening that will take you up rather than down, such as a whirlwind, a hollow tree trunk, or a fireplace and chimney. Whatever comes to you as your personal opening is what you use.
One thing which Leslie Gray refuses to do is to tell people what they can expect to find in their travels. "Part of what is empowering to them," she says, "is developing their own maps. For me to develop a map for them would be the very opposite of personal empowerment and would make them dependent on my worldview - not just of this world, but of all the worlds. At the core of the process of acquiring power in shamanism is the ability to find things out for yourself, to know what the upper and lower worlds are like."
Shamans always journey with a mission. The art of shamanism is mastering the ability to bring back important information to heal yourself or others. It is not just journeying to see pretty pictures. A person might do this in the beginning as a way of mastering the technique, but after that, he or she should visit the other worlds with a mission or purpose.
There is nothing to fear on a shamanic journey if it is done properly. A shamanic journey has two advantageous features. First, the beings in the other worlds won't tell the traveller more than she or he can handle at a given time. And second, a guardian spirit generally accompanies the journeyer as a protector. "I think you have more to fear crossing the street in a major city," comments Gray, "than you do going on a shamanic journey with a power animal."
Leslie Gray fosters and promotes what she calls "reciprocal transformation." The idea is to make the inevitable encounter between indigenous systems and technological systems mutually enhancing.
She argues that "conventional analyses have primarily acknowledged the manifest poverty of contemporary indigenous cultures in comparison with the obvious material wealth of industrial-technological societies. In the 21st century, however, the spectre of planetary destruction forces us to also see 'wealth' in wisdom about how to live sanely on the earth, in practices of sustainable land use and in evolved knowledge of community-building - all of which exist in the traditions of autochthonous peoples. Correspondingly, mounting evidence of imminent environmental catastrophe forces us to see 'poverty' in the underdeveloped ecopsychology of the technoculture."
Leslie Gray's Woodfish Institute can be found online here and she has an introductory article on "Shamanism and Eco-Psychology" here. Other articles on the Woodfish website worth noticing include: Bridge between two realities, Reading the mind of nature, Path to power, Altered states and Susan meets her power animal.
Look until you see
(words from Faith Wolfheart Nolton's previous website)
A picture by Susan Eleanor Boulet
A picture by Dan Cummings and Rod Millar
Yarn art from the Huichol Indians
A Mexican shaman is depicted blessing a crop field
Intergalactic shaman rebalancing the universe
A picture from the Abstract Digital Art Gallery
The Woodfish Institute
Leslie Gray's shamanism site
The Foundation for Shamanic Studies
Michael Harner's site
An introduction on the Crystalinks site
The Rise of the modern urban shaman
An article by Paula Ishtar
Shamanic drumming - a form of prayer
An essay by Jim Ewing
The Shamanic Breathwork Process
An introduction from the Venus Rising site
The Path of Magic and Shamanism
Some thoughts from Alan Joel and Stephanie Yeh
Meditating with Animals
An introduction by Alan Joel and Stephanie Yeh
Shamanism - working with animal spirits
Notes on animal wisdom
Shamanism and peacemaking
An essay by Myron Eshowsky
Emily Dickinson and shamanism
Clifton Snider discusses the shaman-poet
The mystical experience of shamanism
An article by Susan Mokelke in the New Statesman (London) 10.03.08
Sacred Hoop Magazine
Sacred Earth Network
My life as a shaman and artist
A podcast by Pablo Amaringo
An emerging spirituality for The New Age of Aquarius
An Invocation for the New Age
Meditation - the direct encounter
The emergence of the transpersonal soul
Astral projection, the soul and the spirit
Index of blog contents
Spirituality websites worth watching