An Unparalleled Journey to the Self Nov 26, 2006 13:27:02 GMT -5
Post by wren on Nov 26, 2006 13:27:02 GMT -5
*It is my intention to share my studies, my experiences and my journey for the benefit of all those here at PM. I will be compiling the information for this board from ‘The Celtic Shaman’ by John Matthews, ‘Soulcraft’ by Bill Plotkin, ‘The Mist-Filled Path’ and ‘The Spiral of Memory and Belonging’ by Frank MacEowen and other sources I find along the way. For the purposes of this board and the exercises herein, I shall use the term ‘shaman’ to refer to either a male or female who is following this path. I will also use terms such as ‘underworld’, ‘middle world’ and ‘upperworld’, to describe the three realms in which a shaman travels. While my approach is a Celtic one, there is no reason the shamanistic path cannot be followed by any and all who desire to do so, regardless of your own personal cosmology and beliefs.*
One of the most important legacies of both the Celtic and the Amerindian peoples is their holistic world-view, which implies no division between flesh and spirit, no inferiority between the sexes, no feeling that because they ‘own’ the world they can use it as they like. To most of us living in the West, the entirety of life, including our spirituality, is based upon an ethic which as separated people from the rest of creation, divided spirit from flesh, mind from matter. To the shaman this was never so. He or she inhabited a world in which there were no such divisions. Everything was sacred, every action religious (which had a reaction in the inner realms). The shaman operated as a medium between the inner and outer worlds, as well as those of spirit or flesh, which were seen as having no separate existence. For them, the reality of the Otherworld was always accessible.
The shaman then is the servant of the sacred, rather than its priest. The shaman operates as he or she has always done, as an agent of the numinous, plying his or her way between one world and the other. To understand this, which is crucial to the practice of shamanism, we must learn to see with eyes other than those we normally use, to view creation as a totality, not as something divided into realms of matter and spirit, or indeed of inner and outer. This board is about ways of learning to live in harmony with everything in creation: the elements, the animals which walk the land, the birds which fly in the air, the fish which swim in the seas and rivers, the myriad mineral and plant life forms. We are all part of a single creation, and by separating ourselves off we have caused irreparable damage to ourselves and our environment.
If we begin by acknowledging this, we have taken the first step toward become a shaman. We cannot do so exactly in the way our ancestors did. Time has moved on, things have changed as much in the last few hundred years as in several thousand before and we are no longer the same people. Even the most rurally situated practitioner of shamanism, though possessing a distinct advantage over his or her urban counterpart, is still more urbanized than the least skilled practitioner in the jungles of South America.
Nevertheless, shamanism has a place in our modern lives and it is a mistake to believe it cannot be practiced in an urban setting. Those who live in cities or large communities know what it means to be born into a world to which we have done so much harm. In fact, it is almost a positive advantage to live in such a place. The effort involved in encouraging an awareness of the natural world in the concrete forests of our large cities can help focus our energies and our intent most effectively. The harboring of earth energies, of the few parched stretches of green we call parks, is as much a part of shamanic activity as building a circle or worshipping the old gods at an ancient site.
Shamanism cannot truly be taught just through the written word. Some sense can be imparted of the kind of world the shaman inhabits, which is just as relevant to contemporary human beings as to the people of the past. We will, however, explore exercises and meditations to make this world more accessible. From that point when the real work begins, inner training commences and the journey to the furthest extent of the universe can be undertaken. This is merely a jumping off point, a springboard to the infinite, where you will learn to fly in earnest.
These practices will not automatically make one a shaman. They will, at the very least, improve the quality of your life, though the process includes a radical breaking down of the structures with which we surround ourselves, which is often painful and far from easy. You must be prepared to work very hard and to embrace a general ‘philosophy’ of shamanism, that everything has life and is part of the sacred whole. After this, you should seek and work with an ‘inner teacher’. Even then, you may not attain an experience of inner worlds, which is a necessary adjunct to these teachings. However, if you persevere and practice hard you will, in time, find yourself transformed.
The heros and heroines of mythology represent you and me, the everyday self (the I, or ego). If and when you embark upon the underworld adventure, it begins the same way it does in myth – by leaving home. You leave your commonplace world and roles and your familiar way of understanding yourself. Soon (at the threshold of the underworld, the kingdom of the dark) you encounter a demon – a shadowy element of your own unconscious – that guards the passage. This is the first test. There are two ways you can continue at this point. If you defeat the demon or conciliate it (perhaps by making an offering/sacrifics or using a charm), you enter the underworld ‘alive’ with some ordinary awareness remaining. If you are slain or dismembered (a common theme in shamanistic workings), you will descend into ‘death’ and be stripped of all normal awareness. Either way, however, you descend.
Your underworld encounters help you in two ways. Some of them further undermine or defeat your former understanding of self and world, while other encounters provide you with helpers or magical aid, supporting your more soul-rooted way of being. At the climax of the journey or the nadir, if you will, you undergo a supreme ordeal that puts a decisive end to your old self-image (ego death) and leads to your reward, the recovery of your core soul knowledge.
It should also be noted that two aspects of the shaman’s life overlap: exploration of inner, non-physical realms and the practice of the healer’s art. First, one must learn to travel to and navigate the inner worlds; only then can the advanced techniques involved in healing begin. The exercises on this board will be numbered, beginning with the most basic of meditations and visualizations from which to begin the journey to the inner worlds, and moving on to more complex, difficult and in-depth workings.
When you return from your journeys and are once again in the Middleworld, you become more consciously aligned to your soul’s purpose. Your world is thereby restored both inwardly and outwardly – inwardly in that your image of the world and your place in it has become whole again but in an utterly new and expanded way, and outwardly in that you return with a sacred task to perform in your community, a gift that contributes to the healing and wholing of the world.
The gift that you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift – your true self – is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And, it is all the world needs.