Shamanism: The -Somewhat- Archaic Revival, Sacred Nature Portals, & Heart Consciousness Wisdom
THE -SOMEWHAT- ARCHAIC REVIVAL OF SHAMANISM
A transformation of shamanism has been taking place since our hunter-gatherer times many tens of thousands of years ago. Scattered all over the globe, shamanism was, and still is, found almost everywhere. Our modern era has seen a -somewhat- archaic revival of shamanism, with practices branching off and taking shape in a variety of forms.
Despite the cultural differences, cross-cultural pollination and the new-age shamanic lens of perception, at its core, the spirit of shamanism remains the same: direct revelation through nature and spirit, bridging the gap between worlds, a deep relationship with the sacred, ceremonial practices and rituals, and service to the community and the greater web of life.
An invisible thread is stitched into our collective consciousness, where we have the capacity to recognize the potency within many of the rituals, symbols, songs, words, and other elements found in ancient ceremonies, cultures and methods of honouring the sacred. I resonate with the idea that all of human experience encodes itself into the very fabric of the cosmic umbrella, with memory and information coalescing to form an energetic field that we can continue to add to, and draw from. Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” and “morphic fields” come to mind, perhaps somehow entwined with Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” and the shamanic “spirit world”.
The medicine ways from ancient cultural traditions have already been woven into our collective field, with the rituals, songs, words, movements, and symbols acting as portals to the sacred path. There are many portals each with their own shape and form. The more energy we invest into these portals of memory and tradition, the more we strengthen those patterns and practices in the overarching energetic umbrella, and in turn, we assign them greater power, and, access to this information becomes more efficient, for better or worse.
Cultural traditions and ancestral wisdom play an important part in the teachings and transmissions of shamanism. While the guidance from a human teacher, with their own cultural landscape and wisdom traditions to draw from, can illuminate some of the path for us, it’s certainly not the only way to cultivate a relationship with the sacred healing ways, for at the core of any worthwhile teachings, is a fundamental relationship with spirit and nature.
THE MISSING PIECE WITHIN THE CONTEMPORARY SHAMANISM PUZZLE
As we transitioned out of our hunter-gatherer ways, into agriculture, husbandry, science and technology, the gap widened between self and nature, losing much of our shamanistic and animistic roots. With the wide spectrum of conditioning and the atmospheric fog that continues to act as a collective narrative, people have been indoctrinated into the importance of trivial beliefs and behaviours - get a job, go to uni, make money, get married, watch tv, relinquish power to science, religion, politics and technology, etc etc.
It’s no wonder many of us in the modern landscape lack the nature-based cultural wisdom traditions that have given depth, meaning, richness, right relationship and a sense of the sacred to much of humanity in the past.
As a result, an influx of shamanic and spiritual seekers are drawn to cultures and traditions outside of their own, trying to fill the gaps. Despite culture being fluid, and cross-cultural influence being an inseparable part of life since time immemorial, borrowing certain signs, symbols and practices may not be relevant for our time or our place.
Our conscious discernment is needed to filter in-and-out what does-and-doesn’t feel appropriate to our own personal path. Contemporary workshops on shamanism generally involve a basic introduction to shamanic worldviews, a brief explanation of the three worlds, followed by a drum journey to the lower world to retrieve a power animal. It’s here, as I mentioned, that we’re seeing and participating in a -somewhat- archaic revival of shamanism, with practices being taught to enter non-ordinary states of consciousness for spiritual connection and healing, and ceremonial procedures and rituals (albeit often superficial).
What seems to be severed, alongside the cultural and environmental context of many of the teachings, mythologies and practices, is the guidance to cultivate a deeply personal relationship with nature. When students are encouraged to journey to the lower world to collect a power animal, the relationship between self and nature becomes questionable when people are encountering animals found on a completely different continent that they’ve never once encountered in nature.
As one of my teachers, Loren Cruden, puts it, “When a psychologist invites a client to journey to find a power animal, and the client returns with the image of a bear, is it a power animal, or a projection of desire for power? You can read what Bear represents in a New Age book or meditate upon its image depicted on a divination card. In these modes, Bear becomes a two-dimensional symbol, or, projection of power, but for most urbanites, Bear has no correlation in direct experience.”
Sure, there’s something to be said about the morphic field, collective unconscious, archetypal energies, metaphorical meanings, spiritual encounters, and the technology and documentaries we have access to where we can observe animal behaviour and nature beings. At the same time, it’s a point of consideration to question the individual and collective lack of personal connection and direct revelation through nature.
Physical experience, prolonged observation and personal encounters with nature beings all play their part to inform the greater mind-body-heart-spirit understanding, including our relationship to these nature beings when revealed in spirit form as helping spirit guides.
Modern society has removed many of the survival threats from the outside world. We feel safer, no longer being threatened by predators in the wild, at the expense of losing right relationship with the natural world around us. We are lucky in the sense that we do have access to the teachings found in books, podcasts, documentaries, lectures and so on, yet these only illuminate the path from afar.
It’s arguable that these methods of learning don’t make up for the lack of direct energy transmission from human to human interaction, or the power and meaning contained within being a direct descendant of cultural traditions and shamanic lineages. Regardless of the source of information, a mind-based cognitive understanding of the shamanic landscape, techniques, and practices, is another part of the learning experience, so that the necessary skills can be cultivated to further develop experiential understanding.
Looking beyond human interactions and technological teachings, there’s still only one way to test if what is being taught, carries truth. Few have the discipline, determination, time and energy to go out and learn directly from the source that has informed the core of shamanistic traditions around the globe since the dawn of time; direct experience and personal connection with spirit and nature itself. When I speak of nature, I don’t just mean the greenery that you see outside the window. I mean both the seen and unseen aspects of nature. The entire spiritual cosmic vista, if you will.
In between the regular happenings of my own daily life, studying shamanism and earth-based honouring traditions through the form of written word and audio device, holding my own circles and ceremonies, and having sporadic opportunities to train with elders and wisdom keepers from other cultures, I’ve come to know how vital it is to invest as much time as possible communing directly with spirit and nature; learning the whispers of the wild; singing the sacred songs of the seasons; participating in the natural rhythms with ritual; and carving out my own experiential connection with the sacred ways.
Direct communion with spirit and the teachings from nature have informed my ceremonies, rituals, songs, movements, healing techniques, and more. These teachings carry much more meaning and depth than what can be passed on solely through oral tradition and written word.
If we hear it, the choice is ours to heed the call…
ACTIVATING SACRED PORTALS THROUGH LISTENING TO NATURE
I veered off the trail along a row of pine trees previously unexplored to me, and was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a little oasis in the middle of this particular patch of forest. Pine trees and native companions surrounded the body of water, with the gentle breeze giving life to the song of green foliage. Pine tips shimmered and flittered their little pine fingers, almost like they were waving at me. I could hear the wind penetrating in between the needles with a constant flux of natural white noise.
The surrounding natives bore a more distinct rustling, while finch, wren and myna bird darted in and out of the shrub. The blue tapestry above was mirrored in the waters below, punctuated by ripples from the periodic gusts of wind. The intention I had was to venture into wilderness and offer a ceremonial space to honour the sacred. It wasn’t until I reached the unknown destination that the words, songs and greater intentions came to be.
Entering a state of chalicity - also known as being a hollow bone, or an empty vessel - is one of the foundations for shamanic practice, allowing the interference of conditioned beliefs, behaviours, ideas and identities to drop away.Rattles are the multi-dimensional tool that accompanies the opening and closing of my ceremonies; sounding intention, calling in spirits, acknowledging energies, and with the steady rhythm of roughly 210 beats per minute, gently coaxing consciousness to slip into non-ordinary reality.
After sitting in silence and allowing the energy of place to guide my actions, I felt a song bubbling up. Clapsticks rebounded against distant tree line in eerie echo; melody rising from vocal chords and joining the chorus of nature’s song.
There’s an awareness I’ve come to develop of a unique relationship between self and nature when using rattle, drum, clapstick, or any instrument for that matter. The external sound created is infused with the internal energy of the one creating it. That sound is an extension of self, rippling out in vibration, touching all life forms in the area (and arguably, into the entire cosmos itself) resulting in a non-verbal vibrational interspecies mode of communication.
Our intentions flow through that particular sound, coupled with a heart-based mode of giving and receiving (ayni; sacred reciprocity) which carries the energy and message being communicated to all.
The song that came through had two components; it was a song of connection and gratitude, and a song of activation. Void of thought in the moment, there was a recognition that the intonations that were being sounded, alongside the greater framework of ceremony in this particular place, were (re)activating the waters and place before me.
I wasn’t sure how long this secluded watering hole had being alive in this space, or if anyone had ever come here to honour the sacred. It felt like what was offered in the form of intention, song, tobacco and eucalyptus resin were like little raindrops of magic, infusing water and place with a ripple of sacramental energy.
TAPPING INTO HEART CONSCIOUSNESS WISDOM
Another vital aspect of ceremony is giving thanks, and with an allegiance to gratitude, giving thanks can sometimes take a while! In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants” she shares a story involving the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Thanksgiving Address...
Many are invited to gather, both Native and non-Native, to commune and give thanks for all of creation. As proceedings roll on, more and more people start fidgeting, looking at timepieces, and losing attention; noticeably impatient with the time taken to express gratitude for the land and all relations. How unfortunate it is - said with sarcasm - that we have so much to be thankful for.
Upon reflection, there’s a distinction to make between giving thanks and expressing gratitude, both linked, however not inseparable. Giving thanks is an action, expressed through verbal language and action. One can give thanks, without feeling gratitude. Gratitude is felt in the body, an expression of heart. While seemingly simple, it can be deceivingly challenging to feel. The imprisonment of the mind with all it’s anxiety, stress and depression, alongside the disconnect to body, certainly plays it’s part.
Ancient wisdom traditions and contemporary teachings share that the longest journey we’ll ever make is from the head down into the heart. I’d suggest that the integration and harmonizing of mind, body, heart, and spirit takes even longer, but we can certainly appreciate the original sentiment. Part of the challenge with our journey of the heart, and the shamanic path in general, is that modern society and culture lack the context for integration, and, since the language and communication we use is framed within the larger context of modern society and culture, it unfortunately simplifies and reduces our understanding of these matters, to the level of the mind.
The shamanic path of the heart necessitates understanding on a holistic level; mind, body, heart and spirit.
Stephen Harrod Buhner helps illuminate this distinction between head and heart in “The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature” with the assertion that there are two modes of cognition available to all human beings; the brain-based linear, and the heart-based holistic.
I don’t know about you, but the schooling systems I was a part of never taught me that the heart was more than just a physical pump. As a multi-dimensional organ, the heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body - 60 times greater in amplitude than the energetic field produced by our brain - it’s a centre for neurons, making it a processor of consciousness and information, and our hearts are deeply entwined with our emotional and spiritual experience.
When the heart’s ability as an organ of perception is developed, it opens up the capacity for us to receive exceptionally accurate and detailed information outside of cognitive-based modes of perception. Since all energy is information, and all beings carry their own unique electromagnetic field, when we ourselves have cultivated the ability to tune into the subtleties of our own energetic field, our awareness opens up to become more sensitive and receptive to tune into the exchange of energetic information between our field, and the field of another.
Many indigenous people insist that their knowledge of plant medicines didn’t come through trial and error experimentation, but directly from the plants themselves. This likely sounds delusional from a Western point of understanding, but when we seriously consider the wisdom traditions that share the importance of heart-centered modes of perception, we open ourselves up to new possibilities of receiving information and communicating with our environment.
Just as the journey from head to heart is a long, albeit important one, we musn’t forget the return journey, from the heart back up to the head. After tapping into the wisdom of the heart as a multi-dimensional organ, how are we integrating this experiential knowing into our thoughts, our beliefs, our intentions, our speech? When vocal chords vibrate and lips part, what words are spoken; what songs are sung; what sounds are made; what spells are cast?
For the majority of humans, it’s an uphill battle to strip away the conditioning and realize our inherent spiritual nature, uninhibited by the soul-sucking societal constructs and the atmospheric cultural fog that threatens to suffocate anything out of the norm.
Sacred ceremonies and the shamanic path are some of the ways in which we can reclaim our power. It’s one of the ways I’ve chosen to reclaim my power. Ceremonial containers give rise to a time and space in which one can come into acknowledgment of the sacred, within and without. Spend enough time in ceremony and the energetic vortex we create in that space carries on our wings; it embeds itself into our bones; in the words we speak; in the water we drink; in the way we walk upon the bareskin of our Earth.
In this way, life is a ceremony and ceremony becomes life, opening sacred portals to the one great path that beckons us all; the path of the heart.
Para el bien de todos, amigos.
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