Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Journey Begins…

Some of the most vivid memories of my mostly-forgotten childhood are of lying in the backseat of the car while my family returned from an evening out. Exhausted, comfortable and tranquil (not always concurrent qualities, eh?) my open mind drifted on the drone of the car's engine into open seas of semi-consciousness. This is when I first had communications with what I called "The Lights." The Lights were rippling circles of colors, usually purple and green, that seemed to move toward me or away from me. Like floating through a tunnel. The Lights felt gentle and loving, and I knew They were communicating with me, though it was in no language I recognized in the outer world. I considered them my friends in a time I had no human friends. I told no one about them. It never even occurred to me to try, partly because there was no way I could translate into English what I had experienced. The Lights have subsided and reemerged again and again throughout my life, but it is only in recent years, as I learn more about shamanism, that I recognize The Lights as an entrance into a shamanic journey.

A photo I took of a full moon rising over Joshua Tree National Park. This doesn't look at all like The Lights, but it's pretty!

In Michael Harner's book, The Way of the Shaman, the author observes that such a rippling tunnel image is experienced by shamanic practictioners in every corner of the world. The concentric circles or squares have been carved into masks or painted into mandalas by people in cultures that have had no contact with one another, cultures with widely varied environments and otherwise dissimilar aesthetics and traditions. Harner posits that shamanic knowlege is so consistent simply because "it works." A need arises in a community, perhaps resources and technology are limited, and so the Shaman travels to the spirit world to do some maintenance, some repair, some healing work.

I've heard about this book for years—that it was a classic on modern shamanism and a fundamental publication on the subject— and decided to include it amongst my required reading for my Initiate year with CAYA Coven. In fact, this book seemed so familiar that I was sure I had a copy lying around. After looking on every shelf of my home, I went out and bought a used copy (that had already been scribbled in. Turned out to be the Harner's autograph.) Certain passages were very familiar, too, and I must have read excerpts in other places. Then there was the layer of familiarity of the rippling tunnel and other aspects of shamanism that I have experienced without having any idea what was going on. No one had ever used the word shaman around me, but apparently the Hamatsa demonstrations I'd witnessed throughout my youth were a direct introduction to shamanism. My brother's flights into the wilderness were unmentored shamanistic rites that might have turned him into a great Medicine Man if it hadn't have killed him. The more I see my life and my society within a context of shamanistic knowledge, the more I realize that we truly, desperately need its healing powers.

I found the reading of this book to be very easy and rather a light introduction, however I did gather quite a few choice observations and suggestions that made it quite worthwhile. Here are a few bits I marked in my copy:

Tobacco Traps (to remove harmful intrusions)
"The nonordinary nature of the plant may be an insect form…"
"…part of the practice of the bone game is to use your animal aspect consciously"
Hunting a Power Song
"Big dreams are to be taken as literal messages, not to be analysed for hidden symbolism." [I have certainly found this to be true]
Rock-seeing (a sort of divination technique)
"the intervention of one human being (the shaman) on behalf of another often seems to evoke sympathy in the hidden universe…"
"the shaman is an empirist….'the practice of emphasizing experience, especially of the senses.'"
"The master shaman will try to integrate even the most unusual experiences into his total cosmology, a cosmology based primarily on his own journeys."

And that is my takeaway—to do less reading about shamanism and to go on more shamanistic journeys. A beautiful rattle recently came into my life, and with the frame drum from Uzbekistan gifted to me by a mentor of mine, I may have a fair start in traveling tools. The Lights have recently begun to congeal into little images of places and creatures moving in the distance. I feel the longing to go further, and to discover what may be revealed.