WALKING BETWEEN THE WORLDS
Techniques of Modern Shamanism Volume One
Introduction .............................................................................. 4
The Shamanic Survival ..................................................................... 5
Basic Exercises ........................................................................... 9
Sight Exercises .......................................................................... 12
Sound Exercises .......................................................................... 15
Smell Exercises .......................................................................... 17
Space Exercises .......................................................................... 19
Speech Exercises ......................................................................... 21
Touch Exercises .......................................................................... 23
Status Shifts ............................................................................ 25
Jack Your Body... ........................................................................ 29
Chemical Aids ............................................................................ 40
Going Down ............................................................................... 42
This book is a collection of practical exercises, the aim of which is
to enhance awareness of the world around us. The first part of this
book deals with basic sensory exercises, while the second half deals
with trance states, and some of the basic group dynamics involved
in helping other people into them. Using these techniques will not
make you a ‘shaman/shamanka’, but they are drawing on the
shamanic outlook - which depends from an enhanced awareness of
our environment, and the ability to mediate between the everyday,
and the sacred aspects of our experience. “Walking between the
Worlds” requires that we learn to extend our perceptions from the
ordinary, to see the extra-ordinary which lies within it. Many of the
techniques require group exploration, since it is impossible to grow
in total isolation from others.
Many of the exercises were originally part of the Shamanic
Development Course run by Sheila Broun and myself in 1987. I am
particularly indebted to Sheila, whose continuing work is a spur
towards my own efforts. Also, to the course participants, who gave
much in the way of enthusiasm, criticism, and their own experience,
so that the course far surpassed our own hopes for its success. Also,
I would like to thank Rich Westwood for supporting this project,
and just about everyone to whom I’ve ever written to or talked with
on this subject.
THE SHAMANIC SURVIVAL
The Shaman is one of the most ancient and one of the most enduring
figures in human evolution. Shamanism is the source of both Magic
and Religion, and as Mircea Eliade put it, is “an archaic technique
of ecstasy”. Its structural elements can be traced well back into the
Upper Palaeolithic era, and these elements are essentially similar
throughout many different cultures, in different frames of time. Even
though the surface details of the shamanic world-view tends to differ
even within particular cultures, the underlying principles remain
similar, supplying some elemental requirement of the human psyche
which has remained constant over a period of hundreds of thousands
Shamanism shows a remarkable survival, and there are many
examples of shamans co-existing with other religious or magical
systems in a given culture. Most of the world’s healers are shamans,
for example. As societies evolve into more complex forms than that
of the hunter-gatherer, the roles that the shaman fulfils is taken up
by others. From shamanism arises theatre, religion, magic, art, dance,
music and perhaps even writing and language. traces of shamanism
remain, in folklore, customs and myth - deference to those who can
manipulate the hidden forces of the world as tricksters and healers.
Westerners are increasingly turning to shamanism in a search to
revitalise and reintegrate themselves into a world-view which is
beyond that offered by our culture.
Until fairly recently, interest in shamanism was limited to those
researching into ethnology and anthropology; and psychoanalysts
such as Carl Gustav Jung. Now it seems that shamanism is suddenly
very popular. Business managers are sent on weekend courses that
include firewalking, whilst the accumulated wisdom of many tribal
peoples is being hungrily devoured by people who are eager to
contact ancient wisdom and a sense of belonging. writers such as
Carlos Casteneda and L ynn Andrews have made shamanism
accessible and popular.
The Shamanic World-View
The term “shaman” is derived from the Siberian T ungusic root
“saman”. The word Shaman usually refers to a male practitioner,
whilst the word shamanka refers to a female. As a loose
generalisation, it is possible to draw a composite picture of the world-
view of the shaman. The universe is multi-layered, with both a
celestial overworld and a chthonic underworld, with appropriate
spirit rulers and other denizens. there are also rulers of the principle
directions or quarters. The levels of the universe are connected by a
central axis, the axis mundi which appears as a sky ladder or world-
tree. It is via this central axis that the shaman gains entry to all the
levels of the universe.
Another central feature of the shaman’s world is that humanity,
animals, and all other life is equal - the shaman is at one with nature.
Such equality may be expressed for example, in terms of rituals to
appease the souls of dead animals. The precise arrangement of the
skulls of animals so that they face east (the place of rebirth) is found
in many cultures. Both Finnish and American Plains Indians for
example, perform such rites. A related concept is that of
metamorphosis, being the belief that humans and animals are capable
of assuming each others shape. In many genesis-stories, this ability
was had by all, but it was lost, usually through taboo violation, and
became the sole province of the shamanka. In South America, the
most common doppleganger to the shaman is the Jaguar, so much
so that the words for Jaguar and shaman are interchangeable.
The idea of a gateway between the worlds is also central to the
shamanic vision. This is the entrance to otherworlds, where dwell
ancestral spirits and demons. The gateway is often represented as
clashing rocks, the jaws of a monster, or icebergs.
The Origins of Shamanism
The roots of shamanism are lost in antiquity. However we do know,
that given the similarities between shamanistic practices in the new
world and Europe, that the fundamental elements of shamanism
had been established as the first Paleo-Americans began to move
across the Bering land bridge which connected Siberia to Alaska.
This bridge disappeared about 12,000 years ago, as the Artic glaciers
Another source of the origins of shamanic practice lies in the
study of psychotropic plants. The ethnobiologist R.G. W asson
proposed that all major world religions grew from psychotropic
experiences, and most shamanic cultures have some form of
psychotropic plant associated with them. Siberian shamans make
use of Amanita Muscaria, which has been tentatively identified as
the divine Soma of the Rig-Vedas. There are at least 80 different
types of psychotropic plants the were, and continue to be used in
North and South America, and American Indian shamans have made
extensive use of both the red Mescal bean and peyote. An American
researcher, R.K. Seigal, has also demonstrated a link between the
psychotropic-induced visions of shamans and tribal pottery and
Of course drugs are not the only means of inducing ecstasy, and
many shamanic techniques revolve around drumming, dancing,
singing, fasting, sleeplessness, and physical feats of endurance.
The shaman, as the sole mediator between humanity and the universe
of spirits and omens, originated in the very early stages of human
cultural development. The hunter-gatherer stage of society endured
for hundreds of thousands of years. As societies began to move
towards settled agriculture (this being only about 10,000 years ago)
then the shamans began to differentiate into a developing priesthood.
The hunter-gatherer society is a closely-knit culture, geared towards
the least possible change both within and across generations. This
is a stark contrast to modern society, where the pace of social change
is seemingly outstripping our capacity to assimilate it. As Alvin
Toffler put it, many of us are suffering from future shock. This
naturally poses a problem for anyone seeking to emulate the shaman
in our society. All lines of tradition have been broken, and in the
West, we now have the ability to enter any world-view at will and
imprint its symbolism on our minds. If you work at it long enough,
then the deeper regions of the mind will ‘speak’ to you in terms of
a particular set of symbols. There is a wide range of belief systems
which we can adopt with varying degrees of success, and the criteria
seems to be that you adopt something that fires your imagination to
greater heights. Our idea of spiritual progress has become
synonymous with the idea that as we change ourselves, we change
our society as a whole. This idea is a direct antithesis to that of the
hunter-gatherer, where any changes which threaten the continuity
of tradition are viewed with great suspicion.
The Value of Shamanism
Having said that, we cannot dismiss shamanism as having no
relevance to modern society. Obviously it does, but this very much
depends how you approach it. In an age where most information is
transmitted via print or electronics, the value of adopting shamanic
techniques lies in recovering knowledge from within, and also in
relating with other people. Ecstasy can be freed from the purely
private domain and returned to the communal. Also, in trying to
regain the spirit of our collective past, we can regain a sense of
community with our ancestors, using techniques which carry us back
to our forebears on the savannah plains of Africa. this can endow us
with a sense of community that surpasses all cultural differences. In
learning to see the world as shamans, we reconnect with ourselves,
and can adapt much easier to the world around us.
At the outset, we should acknowledge that shamanic techniques
have a certain glamour about them. Many people aspire to use
shamanic-style practices and approaches to their own evolution. Two
things should be stressed; it’s very hard work and, unless you have
no other commitments at all, it will take you far longer than you
think. The exercises contained in this book are ones that I (and others)
have found useful in taking our first steps into a magical universe.
As I see it, the basic essentials of the shamanic approach are:
(i) Enhancement of our senses
(ii) Awareness and understanding of our own BodyMind
(iii) Understanding of self
(v) A desire to engage with others (be they people or spirits)
As I said in the introduction, you can’t go off and ‘learn to be a
shaman’ on your own. Unlike the Western-Mediterranean tradition
of ‘secret schools’, the shaman does not learn in isolation from
others. You need a community, no matter how small or spread out,
to live and learn in. It is essential to get feedback, advice and criticism
from others. Anyone can declare themselves to be anything, if they
themselves are the only important opinions in their mental walnuts.
Likewise, you can enter a particular system and earn for yourself
all sorts of fancy degrees and titles, but out in the big wide world,
the only thing that matters is competence - being able to deliver the
goods. Which, given the complexity and diversity of our society,
could range from blessing houses, of ficiating at funerals and
marriages, to helping someone else get their Income Support claim
through. A great deal depends on what skills you have, what you
are prepared to do, and in what directions you wish to go. As far as
I can see, it doesn’t matter what system you adopt, so long as the
fruits of your activity are relevant to you, and better yet, meaningful
to your clients.
A Note on Practice
One of the aims of the exercises in this book is to help you break the
sensory or BodyMind habits which we unconsciously develop. In
effect, to extend our perception from the ordinary into the extra-
ordinary . This requires practice which, in turn, requires
determination, tenaciousness, and at times, sheer bloodymindedness.
In attempting these basic exercises, you will encounter the ‘enemy
within’ - your own inertia and resistance to learning new skills.
This is a far more tricky opponent than any spirit you can meet in
dream or vision. As you probably already know, it is easier to come
up with an excuse for delaying an exercise just for today than to
actually get down and do it.
I would strongly recommend that all exercises, experiments,
insights and experiences be recorded in some form of workbook.
This will provide you with a continuous account of your progress,
and is an invaluable resource for you to go back and refer to in the
The Three Stages of Learning
In performing an exercise, we tend to experience three distinct phases
1. Initially, the novelty of the exercise gives rise to the feeling that
you are progressing very quickly, and reaping the benefits of the
2. As time passes, however, this initial enthusiasm is replaced by a
‘dry’phase during which it seems that you are not getting
anywhere. It is at this point that it many people give up on what
they are doing. The only thing to do is to grit your teeth and hang
on in there.
3. If this ‘hump’ can be struggled through, then you will be rewarded
by seeing just how far you have progressed, and will be able to
feel the full benefits of what you have been doing.
It is definitely a struggle to get over the ‘hump’ of the second
phase, but if you are at least aware of what is happening, then it
helps you not to give up at the first signs of inertia.
Our sense of vision tends to be the major route by which we perceive
what is going on around us. We are continually bombarded to a vast
array of visual images from our environment, and even when we
close our eyes, can visualise a world just as rich in detail and events.
We rely on sight so much that as soon as we lose this sense, our
others are automatically magnified.
The first point to stress about sight is that there is much around us
that we don’t notice. Try out the following exercises:
Walking a Route
This involves taking a route that you are used to walking, so much
so that you don’t tend to notice the details of things along the route.
This time, try to be intensely aware of all the details of things around
you, and later, write down everything that you noticed.
A group variant on this exercise is to move a group of people
from one area to another, and ask them to note down everything
they noticed about the intervening space.
This consists of placing several objects on a tray, looking at them
for a minute or so, and then covering them with a cloth. see how
many objects you can recall in 30 seconds. Try this with both familiar
and unfamiliar objects.
Take a day (or even a week) and pick a colour. Try to be aware of
how that colour appears in your surroundings, and how, if at all, it
affects your moods, thoughts and perhaps, those of people around
Exercises such as these bring home the realisation that, very often,
we are lazy when it comes to really seeing what goes on around us.
We tend to tune out more information than we actually allow
ourselves to notice, and we often don’t notice subtle changes in our
environment. yet it is these subtle clues which are often most
important in our magical development.
The aim of this exercise is to stimulate the ability to visualise.
Imagine sounds, smells, tastes and even touch as though they were
colours, and try and let these colours flood the field of your inner
It can be interesting (and fun) to discover new ways of looking at
other people. A group exercise that we tried out during the Shamanic
Development Course was for everyone in the group to study each
other for a few minutes, and to assign each person an animal, plant
and colour which they felt was appropriate to that person. Each
person then read out their list in turn. Occasionally , people’ s
attributions were remarkably similar for the same person. It’ s
possible to use this exercise as the basis of a discussion on how
people’s attributions relate to the four cardinal elements and other
From looking at other people we pick up a vast range of signals
and clues, many of which are ‘coloured’ by our own habits, beliefs
and attitudes. A way to highlight this is to sit in a public place and
watch people passing by. Look at someone for a few seconds, and
then see if you can make up a story about what you imagine their
lives to be like, based on your first glimpse of them. You may be
surprised to find how much detail you can infer about someone
from only a quick glance. Paying attention to others, and being able
to cast aside your own attitudes is an important skill to develop if
you are interested in any way of working with others.
There is an old story about a young man who read a book about the
auras of trees and their different colours. He spent a great deal of
time trying to concentrate on seeing the auras of trees; alas, with
little success. One day, he considered a Rowan tree, and wondered
what the aura would look like, if only he could see it. He thought
that it would be a kind of golden, russet-brown, with yellowish edges
and....and suddenly realised that he was seeing the tree’s aura. he
also realised that seeing auras was not so much about seeing
something physical, more a case of opening your mind to
impressions. As sight is our dominant sense, we tend to interpret
these impressions in terms of visual images such as colours, but
there is no reason why we cannot use other senses as well. It’s also
worth remembering that very often, we see what we expect to see,
not what is actually there.
We are continually bombarded by sounds from all directions, from
the ceaseless flow of industrial and electronic noise, to the slow
thump of our heartbeats and the rush of blood through our veins.
We tend to spend more time deliberately not listening, screening
information out, than we do actually paying attention to what is
going on. Our brains learn to distinguish between noises that are
‘significant’ and those which do not threaten us. There are plenty of
reports for example, of soldiers who could sleep through an artillery
barrage, but be wakened up by the sound of someone sliding back a
rifle bolt a few feet away.
Try sitting in a room which has a steady, repetitive noise in the
background, such as a clock ticking. If you are occupied with
something else, you will eventually find that the noise slips below
the level of your awareness. It can be interesting to try this exercise
on a daily basis, until you can maintain awareness of background
noise, without losing awareness of it, or for that matter, fiercely
concentrating upon it.
Listening is very important when we come to dealing with other
people. Very often we give the appearance of listening to others,
but in actuality we are only waiting for them to finish so we can get
on with what we want to say next. catching yourself doing this can
be a valuable lesson.
This is a group exercise which begins with everyone sitting in a
circle, eyes closed. Each member of the group begins to hum, and
there is no rhythm to be kept to; each person can hum at their own
pitch, and rest when they like. It should be done for at least 15
minutes, and then the results discussed.
The simple repetition of a word or phrase is one of the simplest and
most effective ways of entering a state of one-pointedness. All that
you have to do is sit in a comfortable position and repeat, verbally
then silently, a word or phrase that you have chosen. After a while
you will lose awareness of doing so, and it can seem that it is no
longer you that repeats the sound, but that it repeats itself through
One way of enhancing our ability to listen is to use music, either in
a group or solo setting. A very simple exercise is to any relaxation
technique and then listen to a piece of taped music. The idea is to
try and feel the music across your body, and see if any images, or
even smells, well up in your mind.
Our sense of smell is probably the least understood, and most
undervalued of our senses. It is often difficult to describe a particular
smell, unless we resort to comparing it with others. Smells are all
around us, yet unless a fragrance is particularly sweet or pungent,
most of them remain below the level of our conscious awareness.
Many smells ass unnoticed, unless we make a conscious effort to
pay attention to them.
Yet smells have a remarkably powerful evocative effect upon us.
The merest whiff of an odour can stir in us desire, hunger, thirst or
bring to mind a past event. Smells are a hotline to memory. Most
hospitals nowadays have “Coma Kits” a range of powerful synthetic
smells, ranging from freshly-cut grass to cigar smoke, which are
used to try and awaken accident victims from deep comas.
It is worth just going out of your way to notice smells, and to pay
close attention to how they might influence your behaviour. It is
also interesting to pay attention to your own body odour, which is
still something of a taboo in our sterile-conscious society. Sweat
changes its odour from time to time, and this is often related to diet
and general health. We communicate a great deal of subliminal
information to each other in the form of pheromones (external
chemical messengers). It is possible for people, as well as animals,
to pick up messages of fear, pain, pleasure, and a variety of illnesses.
The aura that some people seem to have about them - causing fear
or peace in others, may be due to the pheromones they are giving
off. People who are grieving the loss of a partner often report that
they smell the unique odour of their lost lover, and feel through
this, a comforting presence. Similarly , many spirits make their
appearance known to us by a sudden influx of smell, and strange
odours are often associated with UFO encounters.
This exercise demonstrates the evocative power of smell. Have
someone prepare a variety of aromatic substances (such as essential
oils) in unlabelled containers. Then take each container, and sniff
the contents, while relaxed. As you snif f the substance, allow
memories and images to well up, and pursue each image that the
Building up a Smellphabet
Rather than relying on someone else’s attributions of perfumes &
incenses, it is useful for you to try and build up your own. this is
very useful if you wish to make your own incense, or if you want to
use aromatics in healing or trance work.
Shamanic magic involves the exploration of ‘inner ’ space, via
visualisation, trance and dreaming. Equally important, however, is
our sense of the space which is around us; the immediate
environment, and that bubble which we feel to be our personal
territory. The degree of closeness which we allow another person
near us is generally indicative of the degree of intimacy which we
share with them. People tend to have very different feelings as to
what constitutes their ‘personal space’, and it is important, when
working with others, to acknowledge and be sensitive to this. This
was brought home to me very clearly a few years ago, whilst standing
in the lobby of a youth hostel in Cairo. I was standing watching
some Arabs trying to make conversation with a group of American
tourists. The Arabs walked up to the tourists and stood very close to
them. The Americans clearly found this uncomfortable, even
threatening, and backed away. This continued for a few minutes
until both groups broke away, muttering angrily to each other. The
problem was, of course, that the two groups had very dif ferent
standards of how much space to give each other.
Awareness of peoples’ space needs is important when it comes to
healing, and it’s important to know when to keep your distance, and
when to move closer to someone. This very much depends on honing
your ability to observe, empathise with, and intuitively assess others.
People who are very nervous or anxious tend to curl up so that their
body extends into as little space as possible. The more confident we
are, the more we use our body to extend our own space.
Our everyday perception of space is that it separates and insulates
us from objects and other people. This is a perceptual ‘trap’ which
we can grow out from, by experiencing space in different ways.
A simple way of exploring our surroundings in a different way is to
do so blindfolded, being led around by a partner. Try it for a few
minutes and then swap over. Try it again, but this time attempt to
sense what is in front of you, as though the space around you was
an organ of perception.
It can be very interesting to explore attitudes to personal space in
a group, particularly how people feel when their space is ignored,
infringed or disrupted. By examining and understanding our
perception of space, we can learn how to manipulate it. As a solo
exercise, try and observe yourself in dif ferent situations, from
stillness to movement, and how you relate to the space around you.
We can learn to feel that the space around us is a medium, or an
organ of communication through which we can send ripples or
waves. T’ai Chi is a very good BodyMind exercise in this respect,
as its slow, graceful movements are useful in enhancing the feeling
of being immersed in a fluid-like space.
Speech is the main form of communication that we use. we are all
capable of making a wide range of noises with which to express
ourselves, but it is easy to undervalue the power of our voices. The
voice is an important carrier of power, from sacred chants to working
songs, prayer to battle chants - all have a powerful affect on us.
As the word ‘en-chant-ment’ suggests, the voice has long been
associated with magical effects. Songs, chants, invocations, prayers
and even nursery rhymes can be found in all cultures as ways of
raising power, especially when combined with dance and music.
Use of the Voice
The way in which we use our voices is a powerful way of projecting
our personalities. the way in which we deliver speech in a given
situation can reveal many things (both to ourselves and others) about
our feelings. To use speech effectively we must be:
(ii) Aware of others
(iv) Clear in our thoughts
(v) Aware of how speech affects a situation.
With practice and experience, we can learn to use our voices so
that we can carry emotions and feelings to others, ranging from
stirring people to enthusiasm and action, to lulling gently into
relaxation using soft words and tones.
Group Chants are one of the most effective ways of raising power,
and can range from the simple “We are at one with the infinite Sun,
forever, forever, forever” to the more complex “Darksome Night
and Shining Moon” chant used by Wiccans. whatever the ideas the
chant expresses, a rhythm is soon built up, which carries everyone
along with it.
The Spinning Mantra
In a normal group chant, each member of the group repeats the
whole verse. In the ‘Spinning Mantra’ however, one person intones
the first line, a second, the second line, and so on. One note is used
throughout, with the same syllables stressed on each line (for
example, the second and fourth syllables on each line). A variant on
this chant is to begin with the group sitting in a circle, then have
each person stand up one by one, and begin to wander around,
stopping in front of each other and keeping the chant going.
For this exercise, find a partner and choose a theme for a
conversation. No recognisable words can be used, and the aim is to
try and develop expression using tone and inflection to convey
You will find it useful to explore the different ways in which you
can use your voice. Using a tape recorder to give yourself an instant
replay is useful. Most people seem to start out using songs, chants,
and invocations that have been written by someone else, but
eventually, once you have built your confidence up, you can move
to using words which come spontaneously to mind. Only sheer
practice will do this for you, but the voice is one of our most powerful
projective tools for propelling ourselves, and others, into trance.
Our sense of touch - being able to feel pressure, heat, and texture, is
something that we tend to take for granted. we only realise how
much we rely on it, when it is lost to some part of the body. Touch is
important in both survival and communication, particularly intimate
communication. Speech is more of a social means of communication,
whereas touch is much more intimate & personal. A single touch
can carry more meaning than a thousand words. When gentle words
and touch are combined, they can transport us to others worlds - in
relaxation, sleep, visions, or the illumined darkness of lovers.
Enhancing the sensitivity of our awareness of touch is very useful,
since it often becomes the dominant sense in healing, propelling
others into trance, and psychically examining objects and places. It
is well known that when we lose our vision, our sensitivity to tactile
impressions is greatly increased, so a good starting point is to work
in darkness, or blindfolded.
A beginning group exercise is to have people pair off and sit facing
each other. Both then close their eyes, and one person gently explores
the others hands using their fingers - allowing impressions & images
to arise in their minds. If people feel comfortable in doing this, then
faces can be explored as well.
Another useful exercise is to examine objects (both familiar and
unfamiliar) in darkness, or to try and assemble interlocking puzzles.
Seeing through the Skin
It is possible to see using your hands. many healers develop this
ability, and it involves placing your hand at a point on the clients’
body and letting impressions well up in your mind. It is not unusual
to see trauma or pain as a knotted bolus or jagged spike, which can
then be removed. Possibly the hardest part is learning to relax so
that your mind opens up to the fleeting sensory impressions. At
first it feels like guessing, but practice will develop your confidence.
Cut out squares of coloured paper, and have someone else arrange
them on a table so that you do not know the sequence, and then
have them devise some sort of covering over the table, under which
you can slip your hands. Try and feel with your hands for the colour
of the paper - call out the colour you feel, and see if the square you
pull out is that colour. This exercise may take a good deal of practice,
as you have to learn to sense the different feelings in your hands,
and learn to associate them with particular colours.
Sensitising the Hands
This exercise is used as a warm-up before working with your hands,
for example in healing, massage, or working with crystals. Begin
by rubbing your hands together briskly, and then feeling an energy
field between them, like a ball. try stretching and compressing the
ball, and bringing your hands further apart until you can no longer
feel it. This helps you to focus your awareness into your hands.
Using touch is not only a matter of sensitivity, but also knowing
how, when, and where to touch someone. Some people like to be
touched, while others do not, and only by allowing yourself to
become sensitive to others, will you be able to judge how to act in a
particular situation. One of the best ways to learn to develop this
sense is with a lover. in the post-coital afterglow, all the senses are
magnified, as is one’s sensitivity and empathy. By exploring touch
in this most intimate of settings, we can learn how to develop the
sense, and use it in other situations.
It is well known that the shaman encompasses many different roles
- such as that of trickster, sacred clown, healer, mediator and sorceror.
it is one thing to know of these different facets, but quite another to
actually assume them in a practical situation. this requires not only
confidence, insight and empathy, but also some kind of acquired
skill in knowing how to present and project yourself in different
roles. One of the basic ways of approaching this is to look at Status
We move through status shifts all the time, and tend not to be too
aware of this, unless we move into a situation where the apparent
difference in status is quite marked, such as in teacherpupil, healer-
client, speaker-audience interactions. Status is concerned with how
we present ourselves in a given situation; our stance, tone of voice,
words we use, eye contact and gestures. someone who is attempting
to raise their status in a situation tends to raise their voice, attempt
to catch people’s eye, make witty remarks and generally boost their
position. A great deal depends on what you say, and the way in
which you say it. Here’s an example:
A: What are you reading?
B: Weaving the Web.
A: Oh yes. I’ve read it. It’s not bad for a beginners book.
Here, A is using the subject matter to raise his status in relation to
B. If A wanted to lower his status, the conversation could go like
A: What are you reading?
B: Weaving the Web
A: Really? I’ve always wanted to read that.
These sorts of transactions go on all the time. Stephen Potter called
them examples of “OneUpManship” in a series of humorous books
- well worth reading if you want to look at this subject in more
A further complication is that not only do we go through
continuous status shifts, but we tend to ascribe status onto other
people in accordance with our expectations. As a therapy student
studying medicine, I often walked around hospital corridors in a
white coat. I was often mistaken for a doctor, both by visitors and
other staff, and accorded high status as a consequence. I just found
this embarrasing, but a friend who had more confidence, took to
wandering round with a couple of thick books in his pockets, and a
name tag that he had acquired somewhere. People automatically
thought he was a doctor , given his dress and air of complete
assurance, and never thought to ask him why he was in a particular
place - which was often somewhere which was out of bounds to
Conversely, some people go out of their way to disguise or reject
the high status that others project upon them. This is a favourite
trick amongst Zen Masters, who answer a students’ erudite questions
with humour or seeming nonsense.
“Master, does a duck have Bhudda-nature?” “Quack.”
Gurus and Disciples
This is a two-player game to demonstrate status shifts and how we
tend to collude with each other when we play them. One player is a
Guru, licensed to pontificate on all manner of subjects, while the
other is the disciple, who asks awed questions and hangs on the
master’s every word. After trying this for a few minutes, swap the
roles around. the game can also be played using gibberish instead
The lowering and raising of status for a sacred purpose is very
common throughout all cultures. Popular myths often feature the
king who changes places with a beggar, or the god who comes to
the earth in mortal guise. The fool-king, who is accorded great status
for a day and then ritually sacrificed, appears in many dif ferent
cultures, from Europe to the Aztec civilisation. This theme is
particularly well-treated in the pagan classic, The Wicker Man. In
this film, the policeman ‘victim’ is given very high status - as only
a very high status sacrifice will appease the gods.
It is useful for the shamanic practitioner to become adroit at
shifting status to suit a particular situation. One problem is that we
tend to develop a particular status projection, and manoeuvrer
ourselves into a position where we can adopt it and thereby feel
safe. A Shamanka in her own culture is automatically ascribed a
great deal of high status by her people and so her different roles are
still based on that status. Also, it is part of the shaman’s role to
momentarily disrupt the status conventions of the tribal culture.
Perhaps the nearest figure we have to this is the comedian or street
performer. In our culture, anyone can declare themselves to be a
shaman, but this won’t automatically mean that you are accorded
high status. This will depend very much on the situation, how much
you are able to project yourself, and also being good at what you
do. If you are truly competent, then your clients will accord you
high status. I’m not saying that your clients should worship the dust
beneath your feet, but on the other hand, if they don’t have much
faith in your ability to help them, then working with them can be
more difficult. A good deal of practical shamanism depends on your
personal charisma, and how you use it.
One example where status shifts play a key role is in leading
groups. Now it is currently fashionable for group leaders to take a
very non-directive approach to organisation. This is fine if you want
people to relax and feel at ease with what they are doing, but it’s not
always appropriate. Whilst co-running the Shamanic Development
Course for example, I tended to play down the role of leader .
However, when we came to do a workshop on Masks, I deliberately
changed my approach - adopting a more serious bearing, standing
up rather than sitting, and generally behaving in a way that
commanded attention. This was deliberate, since teaching mask-
work can involve people entering trance-states bordering on
possession. In this sort of situation, a group leader is definitely
required, to act as an ‘anchor ’ for the situation, giving group
members the confidence to ‘let go’, knowing that someone is in
control of the situation and will not let it get out of hand. Once we
had finished the mask workshop, however, I dropped the serious
leader role and when back to being more nondirective. It seems to
be easier to move from playing relaxed to serious, than from playing
serious to relaxed. I’ve noticed this in films of tribal ceremonies,
where the shamans orchestrating the ritual can be at times quite
indulgent to the whims of their performers, and at others, keeping a
tight rein on the situation.
JACK YOUR BODY...
The ability to enter trance states is a prerequisite of most magical
systems, particularly Shamanism. A good deal of a shaman’s
training is concerned with cultivating the ability to enter trance
states and control them, for it is in such states, that much of the
shaman’s power resides. There are many routes into trance, and
indeed, there are many different shades of trance. The aim of this
series is to discuss some trance states, where possible giving
practical techniques for entering them. At this point it may be
appropriate to make a disclaimer - some routes into trance are
dangerous - so if you try anything out, the responsibility is yours
What is Trance?
A good question, that. In modern Western Society we tend to have
very fixed ideas about what constitutes a trance state - we tend to
think of someone who is passive, eyes closed & limp, or oblivious
to their surroundings. We tend to think of hypnotised people (the
word hypnosis derives from Hypnos - Greek god of sleep) as
quiescent & awaiting instructions. Two incidents come to mind at
this point. The first was many years ago, sitting in a circle watching
a “sensitive” woman enter trance. It started normally enough, but
she began to thrash about and scream - no one knew quite what to
do, and some members of the group tried to restrain her in various
ways. As it turned out, in her trance, the woman was struggling
against a demon, and the attempted ministrations of the onlookers
were hindering her performance. In the second incident, I found
myself in a similar position. After participating in a completely
botched-up ritual, I wished to leave the place where I was staying,
but didn’t fancy wandering the streets at 3:am in the morning. So,
finding a quiet room, I performed a shape-shifting exercise (I’ll
go into the details of this in a while) and entered a fairly deep
trance. Eventually, some of the people present decided that I was
under “astral attack by demons” and forcibly brought me back -
not a very pleasant experience, as you can imagine. The moral of
these tales is that we tend to have very definite ideas about what
people “do” in trance states, and when something happens outside
this framework, it is easy to do the wrong thing.
We tend to think of trance states as very definite & different
to ‘normal’ consciousness. But ‘normal’ consciousness is very
difficult to track down. We move in and out of different shades
of trance all the time, from daydreams to the total absorption
that occurs whilst performing any energetic physical activity - and
both daydreaming and physical exertion are routes into Shamanic
A problem that we acquire from our culture is that we tend to be
very ‘head-oriented’ in our experience - caught up with the
continual commentary of the inner dialogue, and the words & images
of the Hyperreal. Our sense of being a stable personality is
maintained by transactions, both real and imaginary, with others.
Move somewhere isolated and the self becomes more malleable
- another classical shamanic gambit for entering trance states. The
personality we acquire sets the limits on what we can, and
cannot do. Often, by entering trance states, whether intentionally or
not, we can perform feats or tasks that are normally outside our
normal repertoire. If the self-referential awareness is frozen by shock,
or distracted, the body seems to take over, moving us out of the
way of danger. We like to think of ourselves as being ‘in control’
of our bodies. This is in itself a problem, as ‘letting go’ and
becoming disinhibited (especially in a group setting) is very
difficult for some of us - letting it all hang out is generally frowned
upon. In other cultures, however, disinhibition is sanctioned and
is the mark of a successful event. Here’s Lucian’s description of a
Priestess of Delphi entering trance:
She went blundering frantically about the shrine, with the god
mounted on the nape of her neck, knocking over the tripods
that stood in her path. The hair rose on her scalp, and when
she tossed her head the wr eaths went flying over the bar e
floor....her mouth foamed frenziedly; she groaned, gasped,
uttered weird sounds, and made the huge cave re-echo with her
dismal shrieks. In the end, Apollo for ced her to intelligible
Entering trance is not always a pleasant experience, particularly
trance states involving possession. The feeling that something else
is using your limbs, & that your voice is not your own, is very odd.
The natural tendency, especially for Westerners, is to resist the
experience, even when the incoming spirit is a beneficient one.
Often, people who are possessed have no memory or awareness of
what happened to them. Shamans often resort to drugs, exertion or
ritual to temporarily blot out the personality, making possession
Drumming Sleep Deprivation
Singing Sensory Deprivation
Chanting Sensory Overload
Hyperventilating Emotional Arousal
Choose any of the above routes - pursued relentlessly enough,
with determination and practice, you can use any of them to enter
trance states. Shamanic group rituals are well-orchestrated uses of
many of the above options. Only by repeatedly pushing yourself
over the edge will you learn to override the tendency to jerk out of
trance when you feel your control slipping. But the trance itself
is the means, rather than the end - this should be some objective,
such as entry into one of the innerworlds, possession by a spirit, or
acts of will. Dif ferent shamanic cultures can sometimes be
characterised by the dominant routes into trance. The nomadic tribes
of the North American Plains used pain as a route into trance,
demonstrating at the same time physical prowess; while the Kaula
shamans of India enter trance via prolonged sexual ecstasy. Use of
drugs to enter trance is, of course, an important part of shamanic
activity, but I’ll go into that another time.
Why enter Trance states?
Here are some good reasons:
1) Knowledge (i.e. that which cannot be gained in other ways) -
this ranges from asking auntie Freda what’s it like on the other
side, to asking a specific question about herbs to a particular
healing spirit. This can sometimes involve journeying to
particular parts of the innerworlds to consult with a particular
2) Enhancement of Abilities Possession by a war-god enhances
martial prowess, or temporary authority over other spirits. For
example, I had a client who had a recurring throat problem. I
examined her in a light ‘vision’ trance and saw a toad-like
creature that had swelled itself up and lodged in her throat. No
way was it going to come out willingly. My allies advised me
(again in trance) that the only entity the spirit would take notice
of was an even bigger toad, so we performed a healing ceremony
during which I became possessed by a toad-spirit, in order to
interact with the one in my clients’ throat.
3) Communal Ecstasy The shaman provides a very important task
for tribe or community - mediating between the everyday world
and the larger-than-life world of myth and communal lore. The
shaman becomes, or allows others to become involved in sacred
mythic participation. The shaman acts as the guide - navigating
the secret paths of the communitys’ cosmology.
This brings up one of the biggest stumbling blocks to assuming
shamanic roles in our culture - the fact that Western society has
an extremely complex pool of mythic images to draw upon. This
is not to belittle the shamanistic innerworlds. For example, a
Tamang Shaman of Tibet participates in a mythic world shared by
other members of the community - its history, myth and accumulated
stories - actualised and intensified by years of training, visions,
Contrast this with the mythic world available to someone in
modern Britain - an island that has been for centuries a melting-pot
of many different cultures, with the electronic arms of the
videodrome bringing in information from all over the planet,
across both distance and time. It is possible for someone to have a
good academic grasp of Tamang shamanistic beliefs, not to
mention SF, fantasy, mythology, upbringing and the myriad ways
of expressing spiritual endeavours. Also, modern society has tended
to hand over the realm of the mythic to professionals: therapists,
entertainers, philosophers - and we are to a large extent, cut off
from participation in the mythic world, except (for the most
part), sanctioned and sanitised escape routes which support
consensus reality even as they provide the illusion that they
challenge it. Anyway, all this leads to a pretty complicated
mythic life. Fortunately, some mythic images & processes, such as
the Underworld Journey (again, I’ll deal with this one another
time) are fairly universal. Others however, become ‘lost’ as
people forget or garble the routes into experiencing/understanding
them. We rely so much on ‘secondhand daylight’ - reading &
watching other people’s experience, that the oral transmission of
knowledge is comparitively rare. The first coven I was involved
with set an good standard - whenever the priestess wanted to
impart to me the ‘feel’ of magick, we would go out into the open -
whether it was a park, moon-lit street or by the sea shore. Direct,
physical experience, especially when accompanied by a guide
who isn’t into fucking you over, is better than sitting indoors
reading a book any day! Anyhow, I digress.
4) Connectivity This is concerned with making connections -
finding links between different ideas and subjects; making a
creative leap that brings on a flood of new ideas & enthusiasm. I
often enter a trance state to overcome writer ’s block - letting
fragments of conversation, poetry or images slip across my inner
eye. Something will well up from the inside, and ideas &
connections leap up like iron filings onto a magnet.
5) Demonstration of Ability In our culture, you may be able to get
away with impressing people as a shaman because you’ve plowed
through the complete works of Kaledon Naddair (no mean feat!).
Apprentice shamans however, are sometimes required to enter trance
states as a demonstration of their prowess. It is quite common for
spirits to test you by placing you under extreme psychic pressure,
so that the experience becomes a compressed version of the
underworld initiation. Some spirits, demons, & deities will do
their best to drive you bananas, only yielding their wisdom when
you have proved yourself equal to the task. The spirits of
psychotropics are particularly prone to that kind of behaviour, but
I’ll save that for another time. There are other good reasons for
entering trance but I’ve forgotten them, so I’ll move on.
You can’t become a shaman in your bedsit, in isolation from
anyone else, although periods of deliberate isolation are
neccesary from time to time. Also, there aren’t many instructors in
shamanism hanging about (not unless you commit yourself to an
endless round of weekend workshops), so you will have to learn
from everyone and everything. It’s important to learn to recognise
the onset of changes in awareness, and explore all possible routes
into trance. Learn to trust your own senses and your intuition,
rather than the internal dialogue or what you think you “ought” to
Much instruction can be gained via dreaming. Prospective shamans
may even be identified by virtue of the content of their dreams,
and it is not unusual for people to meet their guides in dreams. We
tend to think of dreams as a very personal aspect of our experience,
so it is sometimes disconcerting when someone that we know
appears in our dreams. In dreams, historical time is abolished,
and distance is no object. We may witness events from the past,
future, or alternative presents. Despite appearances, much of our
dream content is controlled by external agencies. If you study
Jung for long enough, you will have “Jungian” dreams. It can be far
more rewarding to develop a personal dream-language, or avoid
any rigid system of interpretation. I tend to find that prolonged
magical activity of any sort will mold the contents of your dreams
During the Shamanic Development Course run by Sheila Broun
and myself in 1987, I had a dream which illustrates this process.
we were preparing for a session on musical improvisation, and I
had spent the afternoon making a set of claves. In the evening, I
sallied forth to the pub and got hideously drunk. I was suprised to
have a very clear dream in which I was approached by two
spirits who said “we are the spirits of your claves, these (below) are
our names which you will burn onto the wood with a hot wire and
give us butter to eat.” Which of course, I did. This made the claves
a bit ‘more’ than just two bits of cut down broom handle.
Dreams are a useful starting point for entering the innerworlds.
It can be useful to induce prophetic dreams, or meetings with
spirits so that you can discuss a particular problem. A friend of
mine who makes incense and perfumes reports that she occasionally
dreams of a unique smell, which on waking, she can then analyse
and manufacture. The magical artist Austin Osman Spare wrote
that he would sometimes awake to find himself standing in front
of a finished picture, having drawn it in his sleep.
If you’re going to get into dream-life seriously then it’s essential
to keep a dream diary . Writing down your dreams helps you
remember them, and is indispensable when you start to evolve
your own dream-language. Here’s some practical exercises:
1) Dream Control
The easiest way to begin this is to choose something that you want
to dream about, and visualise it until you fall asleep. A mantric
sigil is also useful, for example:
I WANT TO DREAM OF THE MONKEY SPIRIT
Knock out all repeating letters & compress
I WAN ODREM FHK SPIR
NAWI REMOD SPHRIK
Constant repetition of this ‘mantra’ before sleep will eventually
empty the mind of the associated intent, and it will stimulate the
Deep Mind (i.e. the subconscious) to throw up the appropriate
images in dream.
2) Group Dreams
Here, a group of people can attempt to dream of being present,
in each others’ company in a real or imaginary place that all
concerned are familiar with. Again, visualisation and mantra are
useful in attempting this. The first step is to achieve a common
perception of the dream, and then, later on, the group can perform
willed acts. A group of us once attempted this using the M.C.
Escher print, “Relativity”.
3) Lucid Dreams
Lucid dreams are characterised by the fact that in a lucid dream,
you are aware that you are dreaming! Lucid dreams are also much
easier to remember , and you are more able to act with
intentionality, rather than just being a passive participant in the
dreams’ events. One way of inducing lucid dreams is to strive to
see your hands in your dreams, the ‘shock’ of which will allow you
to enter the lucid state. I was once dreaming of my home town, with
everything as it was about 10 years ago; until that is, I looked
down at my feet & realised that I was wearing my goth boots - the
incongruity of which allowed me to enter the lucid state, and, by
projecting a symbol upon a nearby house doorway, I was able to
enter one of the Innerworlds.
It can be rewarding to try and approach dreaming from a non-
western point of view, such as that of the Aborigines or the Senoi of
Malaysia. Some anthropologists believe that the Senoi dream
psychology is the source of the tranquility of their lives.When first
contacted by Westerners in the 1930’s, the Senoi had had no violent
crime or conflicts within their community for between 200300 years.
This is a very common exercise - taking on the form of an animal
to gain (temporarily), an ability or quality associated with it.
Some sports psychologists tell athletes to pick a particular
animal and visualise themselves as it during warm-up exercises -
which is more or less what the shaman does, except that the shaman
is more likely to use animal skins, masks, drugs, postural and
vocal mimicking as aids. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
called this exercise ‘Assuming the God-forms’, whereby the
practitioner used a variety of props to ‘assume’ the form of a
particular mythic figure, uniting themselves with it until they took
on the power associated with that figure. This can be worked towards
as a group game, whereby people pick an animal and mimick its
behaviour. Shamans tend to have particular favourites - in some
Central American tribes, the words for shaman and jaguar are the
same. The shamans of the Jivaro people, who practice headhunting
and head-shrinking, assume the forms of giant tarantulas. Even
forms of martial arts can be related to animals - the Crane, Serpent
and Panther being three Eastern forms.
Shape-shifting is also used for innerworld exploration, both in
trance vision and dreams. You could start, for example, by casting
your vision forth in the form of a cat to stalk the city streets at night,
and work from everyday animals and pets, towards mythological
and bizarre composite entities. A friend once cured herself of a
spider phobia by deliberately cultivating the spider as her power
animal, using the very fear and revulsion (emotional arousal) to
propel her into trance. Visualisation alone is the weakest route
into shape-shifting. As a general rule, it seems that the more
intensely physical the method of trance induction, the more intense
the level of trance - and hence the more ‘real’ the experience. When
the toad-spirit wore my body, I found that I couldn’t walk or oppose
my thumbs, & that I salivated copiously. Maya Deren, whilst
researching Voodoo rites in the 1940’ s, found that she became
possessed on several occasions, and once ‘woke’ to find that not
only had she participated in the proceedings, but that she had led
the rite! She describes her feelings of becoming possessed:
“My skull is a drum; each great beat drives that leg, like the
point of a stake, into the ground. The singing is at my very ear,
inside my head. This sound will drown me! “Why don’t they
stop! Why don’t they stop!” I cannot wrench the leg free. I am
caught in this cylinder, this well of sound. There is nothing
anywhere except this. There is no way out. The white darkness
moves up the veins of my leg like a swift tide rising, rising; it is
a great force which I cannot sustain or contain, which will
surely burst my skin. “Mercy” I scream within me. I hear it
echoed by the voices, shrill and unearthly; “Erzulie!” The
bright darkness floods up through my body, reaches my head,
engulfs me. I am sucked down and exploded at once. That is
While possession is quite common in shamanic cultures - it is
fairly rare in Western Magick, though actors often report that
they become so involved with their roles that they ‘become’ that
character on stage. It is a kind of trance that allows us to do things
that, normally, we are not ‘allowed’ to do - either by others, or our
acquired sense of our own limitations. It is the spirit which is
responsible, not the person. Accounts of possession can at first
seem terrifying or violent, but in the culture where possession is
accepted, that behaviour is sanctioned and expected. The spirits are
known by the group, and their habits and behaviour known to
most of the human participants. When someone is entered by a
spirit, this becomes apparent by their altered posture, gestures,
facial expressions and voice. As soon as one person enters trance, it
becomes easier for others to do so as well.
The centre of the shaman’s cosmology is the axis mundi - the pole,
ladder, or world-tree, which is the shaman’s access point to the
different innerworlds of the mythic cosmology . It seems
reasonable to assume that the Qabalistic Tree of Life evolved from
a shamanic world-tree. The crossroads is another axis mundi
symbol, appearing in Celtic, Greek, and Haitian mythologies. The
innerworlds are populated by hosts of spirits, demons & ancestors.
Contact and knowledge of these entities is part of the shared
totality of experience of a tribal society, mediated by the shaman.
This is rarely the case in Western culture - there is a vast variety of
innerworlds which may be explored. The Deep Mind is very
receptive to suggestion (after all, that’s how we learn), and can
clothe itself in any kind of images. There are numerous cases of
skeptical westerners being stricken by the curses of shamans.
One option for the would-be urban shaman is to allow the
client to enter a trance, then act as a guide as they move through
their innerworld, using empathy and open-ended questioning. I find
this preferable to other options as it allows the client to arrive at
their own solution, at the same time drawing on their own power-
from-within to heal themselves. It seems, at times, that all that is
being done is that one is creating the ‘space’ where someone can
learn to heal themselves. The alternative is to take the problem
into your own innerworld and ask an ally about it. More orthodox
divination techniques should not be overlooked either.
Critics of the Western approach to magick often point out that
it can become too much of a head-trip, concerned with
abstractions and mental constructs. Shamanism however, is
intensely physical, often to the point of intense discomfiture.
Shamanic magick often involves pain, disarrangement of the senses,
delusions, hallucinations and states bordering on obsession and
personality disintegration. It’s a lot of fun, really.
There’s no way that you can seriously approach the practice of
shamanism without at some point, looking at the role played by
chemical aids - drugs. It is a common misconception that drug-
induced states are somehow not as valid as states of awareness
achieved by other means, and that drugs are somehow less ‘spiritual’.
This attitude is particularly narrow, and shamans in different cultures
and epochs have snorted, eaten, rubbed into their skin or stuffed up
various orifices all manner of concoctions as aids to entering
visionary trance. Even if you don’t intend to take in anything stronger
than Perrier water yourself, it still pays to know about various drugs
used in our society - their effects and what, if anything you can do
for someone who’s taken an overdose or is having a bad time with
something. Sooner or later, someone will turn up on your doorstep
who’s taken some drug that they can’t handle, and ask you to guide
them through the bad trip or whatever. In this sort of situation it’s
difficult to say “sorry I don’t approve of that sort of thing” and slam
the door in their face. it’s useful to have at least a broad knowledge
of the more common street and prescribed drugs.
On another tack, you might well ask “what constitutes a drug
anyway?” We know that caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are drugs,
but they are generally sanctioned by society. You can have 20 pints
of bitter and this is considered to be okay, but a puff on a joint ...
that’s something else. In the present context, a ‘chemical aid’ is any
substance that helps you enter a trance state, a definition which
covers a lot of ground. take incense for example. It’s not usually
thought of as a drug, but it’s certainly a chemical aid. Apart from
the influence of smell, some incenses cause particular physiological
effects. Some gums and resins act to increase skin temperature, whilst
others give off Carbon Dioxide when burnt. Camphor, in particular,
af fects the brain (in very lar ge doses it can produce epileptic
convulsions), and Tabunco induces a strong feeling of drowsiness.
Another common misconception about the role of drugs in trance
is that all you have to do is to ingest the substance of your choice
and passively ‘let it happen’. Well this is fine if you just want to
have a good time, but during trance, your perception must be directed
or focused. Shamans often train their apprentices by guiding them
through the visions, and instructing them in how to appease the
spirit of the particular substance. All drugs have their own spirits,
whether they grow in the ground or come in a gelatin capsule. So
where do the spirits reside? In the substance, in us, or somewhere
else? I like to think that they are emer gent properties of our
experience, invoked like virtual particles from the dance between
the molecular configurations of the drug, and the shining webs of
neurochemical patterns in the brain. The substance hits our system,
and the spirit is ‘unbottled’. Some of them are friendly, while some
of them will do their damnedness to kill you. Ride them out, and it
is said that they can teach you much, but you must be very careful.
In recent years, several foolhardy people have died trying to emulate
Carlos Casteneda - ingesting psychotropic concoctions mixed up
by obliging shamans. A friend of mine once spent about eight hours
preparing a certain species of cactus which he and his friends had
been told had hallucinogenic properties. It was only after they had
drunk several cups of the resultant brew, that a passing native saw
them and enquired what they were doing. On being shown the large
pot simmering with vegetable mush, he remarked that they should
be careful as the dye they were making was very strong. They listened
with growing horror as the native explained that there were two
types of cactus that looked similar. One was a powerful giver of
visions, whilst the other was used for making dye. If drunk though,
it was a powerful emetic! So as you can see, it pays to be cautious,
whatever the nature of one’s chemical aids. It’s very easy to slip up
when dealing with any toxic substance, and there is also the legal
angle to consider as well.
What is a shaman but someone who’s been there, and make it back
again. The Underworld Journey, they call it. A deliberate descent
into the labyrinth, with only the thinnest of threads to hold onto. It
comes to us all, in one way or another. Some make it - some don’t,
but it never stops. The summons keeps a calling you back. And
This is a great cycle of transformation. It has peaks, plateaux and
troughs - the movement of which you can learn to endure, and even
welcome. Change is necessity - to live and adapt and grow. Sure it’s
painful to feel madness gnawing at the back of your brain, but maybe
caterpillars feel the same way about becoming pupae - driven by a
cellular necessity into the unknown.
Our culture has left us largely unprepared for this process, branding
it a form of madness, to be banished by bright needles & the smug
self-satisfied psychologist who explains away our secret dreams,
our desires for wildness. The summons is continually being blunted
by those who would set limits on the imagination. ...”it’s not real,
only imaginary”...”stop daydreaming”...”you’re an escapist”...yeah,
right. We break from the lies, then break from ourselves, and shatter.
Not once, but again and again. Not breakdown, but breakthrough...
Doesn’t matter how long you stay down there - a week, a year, a
day - you’ll be back. Might as well get used to the scenery.
When the summons comes, you’ll know it. The journey may well
take years. You’ll meet friends and allies, be challenged, and maybe
crushed occasionally. Necessity can be a mean mutha. Remember,
never leave the boat - unless you’re going all the way. The trigger
may be different each time - crisis, drugs, gnosis, a brush with death
- these are the ways your allies open the doors for you - the risk is
entering feet first. Death is, in fact, a critical factor . You must
surrender yourself to death - lie back in her arms and she will most
likely hand you back. If not, well better luck next time.
A helpful clue is to let go, when there’s nothing else you can do.
Relinquish control. Imagine yourself hanging above a bottomless
cliff, holding onto a branch. Take a deep breath, cross your fingers
and let yourself plummet. If you’re going down, you have to go all
the way. It’s hard sometimes for us to do this - to sit still and do
nothing - but occasionally it’s the best option. Knowing when not
to act is as useful as knowing when to act. You can only get this by
paying attention to yourself & to what’s going on around you. We
tend to live in a sea of words and symbols, but below our necks lies
a good ally - the body.
There’s various titles for this process - ‘the Dark Night of the
Soul’, ‘the Hump’, ‘the Apophis phase’, ‘Nigredo’, but it’s all the
same. This is a time for testing. And you can’t take anything in with
you - forget beliefs, dogmas, weapons, attachments. You’re on your
A weird ramble, eh? Well sorry ‘bout that, I’m trying to write
with my feet rather than my head. Trying to get the feel across rather
than easy bite-sized chunks of text. What I’m talking about here is
initiation. There’s a lot of bullshit talked about this term, like the
prats I used to meet (not so many these days) who used to say “I’m
not allowed to talk to you ‘cos you’re not AN INITIATE.” Or, “Well
we can’ t give you the details of that ritual ‘cos you’re only a
Neophyte” which was great, ‘cos I went into W. H. Smiths & got
the details out of Mr. Farrar’s latest book.
It’s like saying “I’m better than you, ‘cos I read the Guardian &
not The Sun.” Nyahh, you can’t be in my gang!
Simply put, the term ‘initiation’ is the conscious recognition that
you have reached a turning point in your development. It is the
awareness that you are at this point that is the key, and the recognition
that you are entering a period of potential self-transformation. All
the ritual stuff is unnecessary - though many people find ritual a
useful (and fun!) way of dramatising the inner/outer process. Sure,
you can be initiated into the belief system of a particular group or
cult, but the deepest level of initiation is into yourself. Someone
else can act as a guide or helper, but they can’t do it for you.
To pass between the worlds usually involves some kind of
catharsis; an upheaval, trial or test. The necessary disruption seems
to be the ‘trigger’ for the plunge. This can happen as a result of
your own developmental exercises, as a ‘coincidental’ event, or it
can be induced by someone else. This last means is perhaps the
most difficult and rewarding part of the role of initiator - knowing
when to apply the light touch so that the awareness of the initiation
cycle is triggered. Touch, and then let go - because once someone
begins an active initiation, there’s not a lot else you can do. Except
maybe listen, or not, depending on the necessities of the situation.
Hopefully that person will do the same for you, one day.
In some ways, initiation is a feint at death. A lot of the attachments
you previously held on to will most likely have to go out the window.
It tends to lower your self-esteem, realising what a stupid bugger
you’ve been. It tends to give rise to the feeling of being an ‘outsider’,
which, if clung to, can rapidly turn into feelings of being ‘one of the
elect’, a ‘Magus’, or a ‘rebel’ - whatever pose seems the most
attractive. The choice is yours alone - either stay there in the void,
or reach out your hand to someone else.
We see the initiation cycle in terms of the larger-than-life images
of the Mythic world. The initiatory journey is told the world over in
faery tales, plays, campfire stories to Science Fiction. Two of my
own favourites are The Tale of Jumping Mouse, and Apocalypse
Now. The Journey tends to go like this: summons to departure, the
riverboat, journey into chaos, meeting friends and temporary allies,
trials and obstacles, the final encounter with an agent of Change,
the return to the surface, and the return to the community as ...?
This is of course, the journey portrayed in the major arcana of the
Tarot, but it is an eternal journey that reaches into all of us; the
Fool, Luke Skywalker, me, you - everyone. It never ends; - I don’t
believe in utopias, perfection, or ‘True Selves’ which are eternally
bathed in bliss. The striving is the important bit.
The techniques offered in this book are by no means definitive -
just a beginning. There’s much more to be said on this subject, but
you will find other works to help you. Probably the best way to use
this book is to find some friends who are interested and try and
explore the techniques together. You don’t need any fancy trappings,
as your BodyMind is all that is needed at this stage. With other
people helping you, you’ll learn faster and have more fun too.
Shamanic Voices, Joan Halifax
The Black Goddess & the Sixth Sense, Peter Redgrove
The Way of the Shaman, Michael Harner
Dreaming the Dark, Starhawk
Psychonaut, Pete Carroll
The British Magical Herbal, Paul Bennett
Weaving the Web, Moonshine Publications
The Search for Abraxas, Neville Drury
Wizard of the Pigeons, Megan Lindholm