Shamans and shamanic techniques are found in all cultures around the world. Ethnologists have managed to define five characteristics of shamanism:
This list enables us to distinguish between shamans and others who practice spiritual techniques such as astral travel. For example: Priests do not travel in altered states of consciousness. Mediums contact spirits, but usually in the form of possession, and they generally do not journey. Mentally ill patients can interact with spirits, but usually as victims. Meditators enter altered states of consciousness but they do not journey. Those who do similar things to shamans are witches, sorcerers, magicians, etc. Historically, shamanism is essentially a rural activity, while magicians are usually urban based.
One activity of the shaman is to act as Psychopomp or guide persons recently dead in their journey to the spirit world. If there are problems or obstacles to this the shaman has techniques to fulfil his or her task. The shaman is often a healer for the community by removing spirit intrusions in the individual, or return things stolen. The shaman has spirit guides who are often in the form of animals, and these work for him - possibly this is the origin of the idea of witches familiars.
Shamans work through visions in a dynamic manner - they can change and manipulate consciousness. Shamans are not only able to forsee the future, but also to change the outcome. As an example, shamans can find out where food or game is located for the community, or averting threats to the community. This is a vital difference between shamanism and clairvoyancy.
There are many techniques for entering altered states of consciousness - drugs, hallucinogens, dancing or monotonous music. Traditionally, potential shamans exhibit behavioural patterns that mark them out for training by the local shaman. Experienced Shamans are able to enter and leave these states without any external aid.
Vital to the shamanic world is a structure within which the shaman can work and move. There are many variations, but central to all systems are the four directions and associated elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth), with a vertical axis that is divided into three levels or worlds. At the centre there is either a Cosmic Tree or Mountain that is used to gain access to the worlds. There are many names and descriptions for these worlds, but a basic guide is:
Psychologists have analysed drug induced experiences which parallel shamanic knowledge, and are worth mentioning in this context.
Hell fire visions. The four main experiences in chronological order are as follows:
These experiences are analogous to the passage through the birth canal, and are thus initiatory. We are discussing visionary or internal experiences, and should not be confused with activities found in some cults.
Power animals are archetypes of the species, therefore they are indestructible and eternal. Power animals are wild; tame animals or pets have no real power. Insects are generally symptoms of diseases. There are exceptions such as scorpions, spiders and bees. Power animals who come to the shaman are generally friendly. There is a reciprocal relationship between the shaman and the power animal that is equal but in different dimensions. The shaman brings energy and the experience of human life, while the animal brings power, protection and the ability to perform actions more efficiently. Power animals fall into four main types or elements, and this depends upon the direction they are called from:
Access to inner worlds is usually through a gate, cave, spring, or the roots of a tree. The entrance is found by an inner descent until a terrain is seen, which can be countryside, jungle, desert or water. Nearby an animal should be found. The animal may be in a distressed condition, so it may be necessary to give the animal appropriate food and drink. If the animal is agreeable it will accompany or guide the shaman through the landscape, possibly to lead to other animals who can help. (Courses on Shamanism give the impression that finding just one power animal is an incredible achievement, but my experience is that successful shamans have a whole range of animals who assist them.) In the early stages it is vital that the shaman returns exactly the same route. After a few practice runs, the animal can appear to the shaman during normal states of consciousness if necessary, or if the shaman wills it.
Benefits of power animals include increase in luck, positivity, lack of depression and loneliness, and protection from accidents and illness. Some power animals can stay with a shaman for months or years, while others either change on a regular basis or take the shaman to another power animal. Change is a sign of progress. It is important that personal experiences with power animals are kept private in order to preserve power and strength, or the animal may leave.
The Qabalistic Tree of Life, with its many version and structures is a very useful model for shamanic work. The purpose of using the Tree of Life is not only to explore cosmic realms, but to create balance and order between polarities such as Male and Female, into wholeness. The technical term is Tikkun or Rectifications, where the highest points of the cosmos are united to the lowest (our physical world). The sephiroth on the Tree of Life can be considered to be archetypes of the elements, and thus can be explored using shapes or symbols:
There are fourteen combinations of these elements that can be placed on the Tree of Life. Tattwa (element) journeys are possibly by visualising the combination of two element symbols so that the shaman is able to walk through them as if by a gate. This journey can be done with a power animal (ensuring the elements are harmonious with the animal). First signs are of smoke of fog, which will disappear to reveal a scene. Symbols seen during the journey can be related to circumstances within the life of the shaman. Once complete, the journey should be ended by returning back the same way and closing the 'door'.
In addition to the Tattwas or elements, we ascribe the planets to the sephiroth. Use can also be made of the 22 Tarot Trumps as astrological gateways to other worlds. One can also work through the Court Cards and Minor Cards, but it is probably better to visual the Tarot in sum to maintain coherence and wholeness within the awareness. Otherwise, one would have to make 78 different journeys which few have the time and resources to achieve. Care should be taken not to commence such actions during adverse lunar tides. In addition to these exercises, it is advisable to practice the use of mantras or words of power from a spiritual tradition, but these are beyond the scope of this essay.
Beyond the Tree of Life is the 'Void' or Nothingness that is above all descriptions, beyond opposites, and certainly beyond ethics and values. God apparently is indifferent to the circumstances and human condition. It would appear that the role of the shaman is to fill this gap and create an ethical framework. We are discussing the 'Fall'.
The shamans have played an essential role in the defense of the psychic integrity of the community. They are pre-eminently the antidemonic champions; they combat not only demons and disease, but also black magicians... In a general way, it can be said that shamanism defends life, health, fertility [and] the world of 'light', against death, diseases, sterility, disaster and the world of 'darkness'... What is fundamental and universal is the shamans struggle against what we could call the 'powers of evil.
Mircea Eliade, 1964
With the development of instant communications, and the WWW, clearly the definition of 'community' extends to the whole world and beyond, and not simply a village or surrounding area. We can also consider that developments of scientific research have extended our boundaries from the furthest limits of the universe down to subatomic particles. Our spiritual knowledge is now unrestricted.
We now look at the structure or heirarchy of the Worlds, although notions of one being 'better' than another have to be abandoned. Balanced access to all worlds using the appropriate cosmic model over-rides favouring one method over another, or one particular level over another. In other words, the vision of 'reality' mirrors one's own level of psychic or spiritual development. In these circumstances it should be obvious that changes or developments in spiritual awareness will undoubtedly indicate changes in the model.
As a general guide, the Upper, Middle and Lower worlds can be characterised thus:
At each level there is also a directional aspect.
Invoking is a vertical procedure, bringing power down from higher levels. Evoking is horizontal, creating an artificial element to obtain knowledge, or produce changes in the world, or meet spirits from other worlds or universes. The danger of mediumship or channelling is like having an open house policy: anyone or anything is invited without discrimination. Spirits in this context are usually of a low quality, who rarely bring new or interesting knowledge.
...unlike the shaman, ...the medium cannot control his spirit, and is at its mercy or at that of any other dead person who wishes to possess him... Mediums and 'possessed' persons ... represent the aberrant shamanic tradition.
Mircea Eliade, 1964
The point or principle of shamanic work is to enhance the evolution not only of the shaman but the community he represents, rather than gain control of, or power over others. Wealth is unlikely to accrue. Unlike meditation techniques, where the emphasis is on quieting the mind and senses, shamans need high arousal, either through drums or monotonous sounds, or walking with the eyes unfocussed.
There is a Golden Dawn technique named the Middle Pillar technique, which is basically a visualisation of the Tree of Life imposed around the body of the shaman, with the Middle Pillar centred through the body, the Crown sephira at or above the head, with Malkuth at or below the feet, surrounded by a brilliant white light. Advanced techniques involve visualising a column of Tree of Lifes above and below the shaman, with which he can ascend or descend.
Use of the will or unity of desire in a visualisation can create changes that will manifest in the material world. Spiritual practises should be performed in secrecy and in solitude, although there can be benefits in spiritual association with another shaman of like mind. Sacrifice is an important aspect of any magical act. This means that we have to create space within the environment for the action or change to take place. Unconscious desires will always subvert intention, so it is necessary to dissolve both the desire and it's opposite in order to create space. What is necessary is to destroy the polarity that exists, in order to create asymmetry. In other words, once the magical has been performed, it is vital to forget everything and return to the normal waking state. Speculation about the possible results will weaken the process. The concentration is on the goal, not the process, or how it may occur. This is because it is up to the powers of nature who know far better how to fulfil the magic. Once achievement results it is also important that the gains are consolidated. We might get a million pounds, but we may also have the unwelcome interest of the tax man! We have to use the results of a magical action immediately, or the same processes that brought the manifestation will take it away.
Once the four directions have been created and maintained within the awareness of the shaman, a natural and dynamic balance of these elements is formed. A framework or structure is also created with the awareness of the shaman in which to work. With the horizontal components set up, the vertical aspect can be explored. For ascensions, we begin from a high point, atop a mountain for example, having set the directions. Alone, or with a power animal, fly up to the Upper World to find a teacher in human form. After seeing clouds and space, a membrane has to be passed. Above this there will be many levels. Look for a human - if there is none, keep going up. Once met, question the person to see if s/he is your teacher, ask for a name, verify it, and then seek advice.
The process is always to go to a teacher, never inviting them to come to the shaman. On many occasions it is advisable to check with a God/dess before embarking on a magical act. To do this:
One can consider the God and Goddess as aspects of one's own higher self, which is why only respect is necessary.
The shaman must be powerful (full of power) during healing practises, otherwise there is a danger of being invaded by the spirit that is being removed. A space needs to be created in order to place the spirit away from the patient. Healing is developed by repeated practice and working with power animals. Also a strong and clear mental map of the spiritual realms has been created.
In spirit vision, a tunnel associated with the patient can be located in the Middle World. Parasitic intrusions are usually seen as large, repulsive insects, slimy snakes, or sludge. The shaman washes, sucks, or pulls out the spirit, and puts it in a neutralising medium, such as water. The power animal may help with the process.
Extracting intrusions means that energy has been removed from the patient. The original, lost energy has to be located and replaced within the patient, otherwise the intrusion can return. Dealing with the reason or cause of trauma may also be necessary, which could originate from a previous life. Since energy cannot be lost, merely misplaced, it follows that there could be place where all these lost pieces of energy are stored. The technique is as follows:
There is a golden hall full of millions of locked boxes, guarded by a gatekeeper, who may be asked for permission to enter to look for the lost energy. Once the box has been located (this should be an automatic process) and opened, the pieces may actually jump out, and it is possible that the shaman will see the cause of the loss of energy in the first place. The energy piece(s) may be perceived as a light, crystal, box or previous form of the patient. These pieces have to be taken back through the colours of the rainbow, starting with indigo through to red. This process should purify the pieces, and they are then blown back into the patient. If they pieces refuse to return, they have to be forced, unless advised otherwise by your spirits.
To summarise, remove the intrusions from the patient's tunnel. Locate the missing energy in the Hall, bring it back through the colours of the rainbow, and place back in the patient.
Sometimes it is necessary to find the cause of suffering or problems within a previous life. Using power animals is the best way as animals often have access to missing information anyway. Curiosity is not a good reason for doing this process, as some very traumatic experiences can result. One reason for doing regressions is in order to create a greater sense of wholeness within one's life, where reconciliation will create freedom for the operator. Past lives are located within the Middle World, so a journey through a horizontal tunnel or cave is necessary, with your power animal/s in attendance. The tunnel will glow with primary colours starting with red going through to purple, and finally white. Questions can be asked when one arrives at a previous life: what is my age? Where am I? My parent's names? My sex? Etc. Previous lives are not necessarily presented in chronological or sequential order, and only particular aspects may be emphasized. The best method is for the shaman to order the power animal to go to the life relevant to the problem at hand. It is usually fairly easy to move backwards and forwards within a life, to move to the moment of death and beyond. Once the work is done, return via the way you came. It is possible that some people who appear in a previous life may also be in this life, but within different relationships, or even different sexes.
One philosophical result of these processes is the realisation the we are everything else, or that we have been everyone else at some point. Apart from death, the other major cause of trauma is birth, so this may be explored as well.
A vital function of shamanism is to be a guide or helper of the dead. Many people who die are not necessarily aware of where they have to go, and so they can become trapped in the Middle World for a variety of reasons. A human spirit sometimes needs the extra energy a shaman and power animal can provide in order to complete the journey.
To help the dead, enter into a tunnel with a power animal, or ask a guide to take you to where the deceased currently resides. Another method is to think oneself at the place of the deceased. At the place, tell the deceased that you are there to help them. A period of time may be necessary to prepare for the journey. When the time is right, there may be a white light, or the deceased may meet already departed relatives and friends. The shaman may also have to escort the deceased to a bridge, or to a ferry boat, or whatever symbolism is appropriate to the belief system of the deceased. Crossing over with the deceased is obviously not a good thing, even if permitted.
Those who suffered from a violent death may be found trapped in a region which has no colour, only black and white. The introduction of colour will assist the deceased, and it is possible that this action will aid others trapped there. There can also be a problem with faulty ideas and conceptions of what Heaven is actually like, so some people think they have arrived when of course it is an illusion.