To be frank, shamanistic ‘journeying’ has always been a ‘weird’ thing to me. In fact, I never quite knew how to take it. When it began to appear in me it was very ‘unusual’ and I didn’t know what to make of it.
Initially, I had no idea what it was. It was just a ‘weird’ thing I’d find myself doing every so often. It was something that I never spoke to anyone about (still, I’ve only mentioned it to a few people). But, one day, I did speak of this ‘strange’ thing to my friend and he told me that it sounded like something the “shamans” did. I had never heard of them before and began to inquire about who they were and what they did.
I found very strong similarities . . . there were too many similarities. This fact, I always felt, shows an innate tendency in all this, that the shamanistic phenomena is innately human.
I guess the biggest problem is that I am in a society that does not “accept” shamanistic ‘journeying’. Think about it: a person claims they separate from themselves and ‘travel’ into another ‘world’. There, in this other ‘world’, he confronts various spirits, beings, and such.
That sounds mad . . . doesn’t it? It sounds like something from some phantasy movie.
But there were times I thought it was mad too, to the point that it was frightening.
One time, not only did I feel I was ‘mad’ but it scared me to death. In fact, it scared me so much that I was apprensive to do anything associated with shamanism for over 10 years afterword! That says a lot . . .
Even now I feel apprehensive about writing about it. I’ve only minimally spoken or told anyone about this before.
Such was the fear of ‘madness’ it caused in me . . .
SOME NATURALLY APPEARING SHAMANISTIC BELIEFS THAT APPEARED IN ME AND HOW THEY MANIFESTED THEMSELVES
In the practice of shamanistic ‘journeying’ there became certain “beliefs” that seemed to come from nowhere. Many of these “beliefs” I was never taught or had seen or heard of. They were not a part of the culture I was brought up in nor did they correspond to any belief system in our society. Since they appeared in the ‘journeying’ I did not question them . . . they seemed legitimate . . . the were ‘real’ to me.
One of these beliefs, that appeared out of nowhere, was this idea that I could take ‘souls’ to the ‘land of the dead’.
At the time this appeared I only minimally knew anything about shamans . . . I was still inquiring. I was aware that they were involved with the souls of the dead, and did ceremonies for the dead, but I did not know the details or common beliefs that surrounded it.
It just so happened that in a ‘journey’ dream I was shown how to take someones soul to the ‘land of the dead’. In actuality, though, I was not shown it. I seemed to be ‘imitating’ something I already seemed to know, as if I instinctively knew what I should do. I even knew what it was for. Afterwords, I thought it was a strange thing that appeared.
Basically what I did was this: I have a bottle with a small neck in it, so I can cork it up. The dead person lies before me. I start from one end, such as by the head, lean over, stretch out my arms, and take a big breath in. While doing this I bring my arms together, as if to ‘gather up’ the air so it will go into my mouth better. After I inhale I take the bottle and blow the air into it. I do this again in the center part of his body, then the other end. After corking it up I throw it over my shoulder. Then there is a horse there, a ‘special’ horse’ who knows the way to the ‘land of the dead’. I then get on him and he takes me through a thickly forested passageway, where only he knew where to go.
This, if I recall right, is all I saw.
About a year or so later I saw a documentary which showed a shaman in a primitive tribe and guess what he was doing? . . . Almost the same thing I did: inhaling the ‘soul’ and putting it in a bottle. After this he got in a ‘shamanistic trance’ and took him down to the ‘land of the dead’.
I couldn’t believe it . . . and this was being done in the Orient somewhere, I believe, on the other side of the world!
Some time later someone I knew died. Several days later I was on the verge of going to sleep when I felt this ‘sense’, as if a big face was in my room, hovering over me. I knew it would remain a sense’ if I did not shamanize (as I knew that was the only way to know what it was). I closed my eyes, and separated from myself. Then I dreamt this:
“I saw a man who told me to “take him down”. I was apprehensive and didn’t know what to do. I seemed to say, “What do you mean ‘take him down’? I don’t know anything about that.” Then I saw the man there, lying dead. Following what I saw in the earlier dream I automatically did what it told me to do. Afterwords, I threw the bottle over my shoulder, as it was on a rope. Getting on the horse, I looked out to the pathway in the forest. I didn’t know what to expect. The horse took me into the woods. Suddenly I became frightened. I feared I may lose the bottle. I quickly grabbed the bottle and pressed it to my side and held on to it tight. We went through the woods. Branches went by me quickly, brushing against my arms. I feared the rope might get caught on one of the branches and it would pull the bottle right out of my hands. Then we were at a point where we went through a small tunnel in the mountainside, only 20 or so feet long. It seemed pitch black in there, though I could see to the other side. I became frightened for some reason. As I went through I could feel cold hands reaching out and touching me. I knew they were trying to grab the bottle. I held on tight to the bottle. I knew that if I let go his ‘soul’ may be lost forever. I was so terrified. I felt so frightened. What if I lose the bottle? . . . How will I find it again? I remember the horror of that thought. It haunted me. Finally, we made it through. We travelled downward and downward, to the south, down ward into a valley. On the south end of this valley was a beach. I could see a small island out toward the south, not very far out, maybe a few hundred feet. I wondered how we were to get across. The horse, to my surprise, walked onto the water and ‘trotted’ across. When we made it to the island we were at a beach. I could see people there in the distance. Somehow I knew that this island was the ‘land of the dead’. Then I looked down and saw an outcropping of rock, as the rock was predominately below the surface. I grabbed the rope, as the battle was now over my shoulder and laying on my back, and pulled it hard so the bottle came flying upward and forward and came crashing on the outcrop of rock. With this I “released” the soul. He was now in the ‘land of the dead’. With this I felt a satisfaction and a relief. Then it turned into blackness and I woke up.”
This was a wonderful dream and it was very real. I remember the terror of losing his soul as being very real. Even now, it sort of ‘shakes’ me. As with many shamanistic ‘journey’ dreams I felt as if it was a ‘real happening’ and did not question it. It was as real as any event. For a long time afterwords, I prided myself in this.
But, then, the viewing came. I went to the viewing and everyone was crying and sad.
I had this desire to say, “Oh, he’s all right. I took him down”. I felt he was OK and had no sadness or sorrow.
When the funeral came I can recall standing there with everyone and I felt a ‘sense’. I seemed to say, “what is that?” and looked up. I swear that, for a second, I saw him and another guy in the sky looking down on everyone. I seemed to say, “he has been allowed to see his funeral”. This was very real to me. It actually scared me. Later, after it was over, everyone was standing around talking. I felt this ‘sense’ again. I felt pin-pricks all over me. I looked into the crowd and, for some reason, said, “He is here. He has been permitted to walk among us.” I never ‘saw’ him but I could imagine him walking as if invisible amongst everyone. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be there, as if the fact that I “took him down” made me unqualified. I wandered off into another area of the cemetery.
It was some time later that I was reflecting on this and how it scared me and how real it all was. At this time, I took a long look over the whole thing and couldn’t help but say, “What am I doing? Am I going mad?”
I looked at all I claimed and did: taking a dead mans soul to the ‘land of the dead’ and then ‘seeing’ him at the funeral???
The reality hit me: am I going mad?!!!
This whole thing so frightened and scared me. I questioned my sanity. I didn’t dare mention or say it to anyone. It so affected me that I quit doing anything associated with shamanism for over a decade. I didn’t think about it either. I thought, for sure, that there was something wrong with me.
But this is not the only time I had involvement with the dead. Round about the time this was happening I had to go to a number of funerals. I used to love to go to funerals. There, while sitting as they said everything, I would close my eyes and separate myself off . . . and see what happens . . .
One time, while doing this, I found myself saying: “I think her soul is lost”. There’s another belief that appeared out of nowhere, this idea that people’s ‘souls’ can get lost, that if they don’t find their way, their soul will ‘wander’ endlessly.
I looked deeper and had this dream:
“I saw myself separate from myself and as if fly into the coffin where it went black. The blackness seemed like a thick fluid and I was flying through it. It was dark black but things seemed to ‘pass’ by me. I went and went and seemed to see different colors and weird noises and senses all about me. Then, in front of me, I saw it: the soul. It seemed to be this ‘entity’ in the darkness. I quickly snatched it in my arms and flew in the blackness again. The next I knew I was at the same beach as before and placed the ‘entity’ on the outcrop of stone. The soul was no longer ‘lost’.”
This, remember, was all done while all the speeches and that were happening, as I sat with everyone else on the bench. No one knew a thing as, my own personal and private madness played itself out.
But, interestingly, this idea of ‘catching lost souls’ is seen in shamanism. They often do it, as I found out, at funerals, catching the soul of the dead so it doesn’t wander for eternity and placing it in the ‘land of the dead’. What I did, then, was something shamans have done at funerals for centuries.
THE QUESTION OF ‘MADNESS’ IN SHAMANISM
All these things bring interesting questions about shamanism . . .
The biggest question of all: Is it all in our heads or is it actually happening? That is to say, was the ‘soul’ taken to the ‘land of the dead’ or was it all imagined in our minds?
Scientifically, I think it would be safe to say that they’d say it “didn’t” happen . . . nothing here can be ‘measured’ and it can be explained off in other ways. Science can explain stuff like this off in a heartbeat. Remember, this deals with religion . . . the “enemy” of science. Most certainly, they’d say it’s in my ‘head’ . . . from the scientific perspective, it probably is madness.
But, I don’t care what science says. Science may be good for fluid mechanics and engineering but it fails when dealing with the ‘human’ in life. That’s a fact!
Be gone science! Let us turn from all your measuring instruments and logic. You are not needed here.
I knew that the only way to understand shamanism is to look at it from another perspective . . . the ‘human’ perspective.
The question then becomes: What makes shamanism humanly relevent? What did it mean to me? What ‘impulse’ did it satisfy? What made it ‘necessary’?
I will say that, in shamanism, there was something humanly relevent, it had a meaning and satisfied an impulse. It was necessary for me to do.
First of all, in this impulse there was no ‘madness’. What made it “appear” mad was that it conflicted with the culture I lived in. As such, it was ‘mad’ only in relation to the culture. By itself, I saw no ‘madness’. In fact, I saw the opposite.
One of the reasons why I ‘prize’ shamanism so highly is that it revealed and taught me so many good things in life. If I stand back and take a look I cannot help but say: There is no madness here! Never did it ‘unhinge’ me in life. Never did it put me in jeopardy. Never did it threaten me. Never did it harm me. Never did it create anything ‘bad’. Never did it misguide me. In actuality, shamanism ‘placed’ me in life, it made life ‘real’, and it taught me a lot about life. In the ‘dreams’ of shamanism I received some of the greatest insight and wisdom I have ever received, surpassing anything anyone has ever told me or that this culture taught me.
This shows that, for me, shamanistic ‘journeying’ became a place of learning and development. It surpassed all the education and learning I ever received from books, people, public school, and college.
It was amazing!
But, I should note that there is a form of ‘madness’ in shamanism. It is not the ‘mad mad’ we think of in this society, of ‘losing our hold on reality’, becoming psychotic, and such. This is ‘clinical madness’.
Shamanism is a madness of going beyond human experience. This takes a ‘madness’ of sorts. In this case, the ‘madness is the ‘ability the going beyond’ human experience. It is, in a sense, a form of ‘losing hold’ of normal human reality but it is not a ‘clinical madness’. A person is ‘mad’ but they still ‘have a hold’ on life. This makes shamanistic madness sort of a ‘partial madness’.
I’ve heard if often said in shamanism that a person will “either become a shaman or go mad”. This shows that there are even traditions in shamanism that specify its closeness to madness. It shows that shamanism “needs” a ‘madness’ to work.
But, unlike ‘clinical madness’, the ‘shamanistic madness’ generally ends up helping life and improving life. In shamanistic societies the shaman heals, guides people, develops beliefs, does ceremonies, etc., all for the benefit of society. There is no madness here. It is for this reason, that I speak of this as the “wonderful madness”.
FEAR IN SHAMANISM
Interestingly, many shamans are frightened by the experience of shamanism . . . so my fear was not uncommon.
It’s not uncommon that some will have their first experience and be so frightened that they will have nothing to do with it afterwords and ‘refuse’ the shamanistic calling. I recall hearing of one man, in South America, who was so frightened because he said that he ‘saw god’ and it terrified him.
The various activities of the shaman can also be frightening. As I mentioned above, I was scared to lose the ‘bottle’ with the soul in it. This was so frightening, frankly, that I don’t know if I would want to do it again. I’ve had other fears as well. The fears of various unknown entities. The fear of getting lost. I’ve even had fears that I would separate from myself so much that I would die. And then there is . . . the fear of madness.
Many ‘working shamans’ describe fears when they battle ‘bad spirits’. One shaman remarked that he was frightened everytime he had to fight a bad spirit because he knew one of them would have to die.
The various activities and processes of ‘initition’ and learning the techniques of shamanism can be frightening as well. Many entail a ‘symbolic death’. Even recently, I’ve had a ‘journey’ dream that entailed my death. It was frightening. I actually thought I was dying.
These all show that there is a fear in shamanism. It is part of what goes on and is part of the makeup of shamanism. This fact, it seems to me, is seldom noted.
For me, to be frank, the greatest fear I have in shamanism, and which causes me the greatest problem, is the fear of madness and that I don’t know what I’m doing. This fear can, and has, stopped me in my tracks. It is one I struggle with down to today.
THE PROBLEM OF SHAMANISM
It became clear to me that shamanism is a ‘world conception’, a way of associating with the world. It happens to be a form no one, in this culture, can understand anymore. But, as I said above, it seems innately human. It has appeared all over the world since the beginning of time and it appeared naturally in little old me . . . without knowing a thing about it too!
That says a lot.
It seems that learning shamanism becomes a lesson in a specific type of world conception and perception more than anything else. It is seeing the world in a unique way.
It seems, to me, that certain people are predisposed to this point of view. Even in shamanistic societies only certain people are ‘shown’ it. This shows that it is not a conception that is for the ‘masses’. As a result, it is very particularistic to certain people. It shows that shamanistic societies has two forms of shamanism:
- Shamanism as lived by the shamans.
- Shamanism as a way of life by the common people.
The shaman has a far greater knowledge and awareness of shamanistic things than the common people. This shows a significant relationship between the people and the shaman. It seems that the shamanism of the shaman is a reflection of the common people and the shamanism of the common people is a reflection of the shaman. They are both reflection of each other and need the other to be relevent and ‘alive’. They both ‘feed’ off of each other, so to speak. This relationship creates the ‘shamanistic society’ or way of life. Disrupting this association, it seems, destroyed many shamanistic societies in the world. One of the first thing it did is destroy the shaman . . . they generally vanished! But, typically, many of the beliefs created by the shamans persisted in the common people even after the shamans have been gone for decades.
But, for me, this relationship became a problem as I was now dealing with a shamanism that does not reflect the common people or the society. It created, in a sense, a ‘detached shamanism’. In fact, I speak of it as the ‘personal shamanism’, as it has no relationship with society. Because of this, it is sort of ‘crippled’ and ‘impaired’. It is done primarily for myself. It’s interesting that, early on, I almost instinctively, tried to give it a social relevance . . . but there was no society there. I could feel a ‘social sense’ in shamanism from the very beginning. This is why I was so concerned about people’s ‘lost souls’ and such (as described above). Slowly, the reality of the situation made this break down so that it has become a solitary endeavour.
But, despite this, I feel that shamanistic ‘journeying’ is worth doing and practicing. As I said above, it has shown me so much. It’s something that I continue to look into and inquire about and develop . . . continuing the adventure and discovery into the ‘wonderful madness’.
ON HOW I EXPLAIN THE SOULS JOURNEY TO THE ‘LAND OF THE DEAD’ DESCRIBED IN THE ‘JOURNEY’ DREAMS ABOVE – THE ‘BELIEF SHOW’
The ‘journey’ dreams above describe the idea that our ‘soul’ separates after we die and must travel to a ‘land of the dead’. This idea seems worldwide and a characteristic trait of human thought.
Oddly, this conflicts with my ‘intuition’ of what actually happens at death. I tend to believe that our self and our soul disappear at death. It becomes ‘reintegrated’ into nature again, much like our body. In other words, we literally ‘cease to be’. When we ‘pass out’ at death we are ‘gone’.
Being that this is how I tend to feel then why did my ‘journey’ dreams refer to the ‘souls journey to the land of the dead’, as they portrayed them as a ‘real’ event . . . and why did I enact them out?
My feelings are that these are ideas for the living. They satisfy the concerns of the living and actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the dead themselves. It would mean, then, that they are not ‘real’ events. No ‘souls’ were ‘taken down’ and there is no ‘land of the dead’. These are representations or symbols of “concerns” that we, who live, have. In actuality, they have nothing to do with the ‘dead’ but the living peoples views of the dead, as well as their worries about it.
Being that I did the ‘journeying’ alone and, particularly without any cultural support, shows that it satisfied an ‘inner concern’ within me. If I lived in a culture that accepted these ‘journeyings’, and had similar beliefs about the dead, then doing them ceremonially or ritually, in public, would “ease”, so to speak, everyone elses concerns. It would help the grieving of the relatives. It would comfort everyones concerns about death.
In some respects, it was a ‘show’.
This type of ‘show’ is one of the most powerful things about shamanism . . . and belief in general. In many ways, shamanism is a ‘show’, a performance. It is played by the shaman upon himself and on the shamanistic society. But it is not just a ‘show’, a ‘put-on’, something played before our eyes. This is not like commercialism, where they are trying to ‘play at our emotional strings’ by associating it with something. In these types of shows we are just ‘sitting there’, as the show tugs at our wants and desires, preying upon them, in order to get us to do something. Nor is it like a movie, where we just ‘follow along’ with the story line.
In the shamanistic ‘show’ there is much more. It is a performance of ‘active belief’. By this, I mean that it is not just a performance of belief where a belief is shown to us in story form (such as watchihg a show on the life of Jesus). In shamanism it is ‘active’, it is acting itself out before our eyes as a reality, as a fact. This requires for us to believe. Without belief the ‘show’ fails. This is why, for example, many modern people will never understand this phenemena.
The shamanistic ‘show’ reveals a strong relationship, seen with any belief system: of the image of belief and belief itself. The simple fact is that without an image belief cannot manifest it out. One of the problems, nowadays, is that we have limited our ‘image’ of belief to almost nothing. The Judeo-Christians has made it a ‘sin’ to have an ‘image of god’. This would later be confirmed by the Protestants. Science has done nothing but destroy religious belief and phenemena. We’ve developed too many attitudes that degrede and debase belief systems. Consumerism and technology has moved us away from any belief system at all. After all this, we’ve lost much of our ‘images’ of belief. As a result, we have lost much of our association with any image of belief. This makes it hard to understand the power and need of it.
The shamanistic ‘show’ has a number of qualities that make it more than a just-a-show, which include:
- It serves a practical human purpose.
- It involves deep inner themes.
- It demonstrates a belief.
- It is happening before our eyes.
- It is not trying to manipulate us for petty things.
The important thing about the shamanistic ‘show’ is that the image of belief is real and active. It is demonstrated as an act. This makes it a ‘real event’.
But, we must remember that it is a demonstration of belief and symbols of belief. It reflects a “spirituality”. As a result, these ‘souls’, spirits, beings, and such cannot be looked at as some scientific fact, measurable and seen. We are looking at the inner human perception of the mystery of life and how it’s ‘fact’ is demonstrated within us. It is, in effect, a display of our ‘inner life’ that is within us, demonstrated it in a way we can all see and relate to. By making it ‘real’ our inner life becomes ‘real’ and has a reality to it. Because of this, it establishes a ‘connection’ to our ‘inner life’ that we otherwise would not have. This is its power and its need. This ability has all but been lost in the modern world. As a result, no one can ‘relate’ to it making it so no one can see the power in it.
This display of belief, as a reality, I call the ‘belief show’.
One of the effects of the ‘belief show’ is that it makes belief ‘real’. This means that the spirits, beings, gods, or whatever are real and tend to be taken as real. But they are not real in a scientific sense, of something seen and is measurable. We must remember that we are dealing with a different type of reality here: the ‘inner reality’ of the ‘inner life’. We have forgotten, nowadays, that the ‘inner reality’ is the most powerful of all realities, as it reflects our inner life and humaness. In many ways, life rests on this inner reality. It is what gives our lives value and meaning.
This fact shows that we have ‘two realities’ that we live in:
- Inner Reality. This is of our inner life.
- Outer Reality. This is the reality of the ‘real world’, of the seen, measurable, and such.
Both are real. Both are ‘facts’. Both are facets of life.
The ‘belief show’ is one of the ways we connect with our ‘inner reality’. This is one of the reasons why shamanistic-like belief can be very powerful. One of the testiments of this power is that this ‘show’ heals people all over the world. I have been told, several times, that they have given people medications and pills and they don’t cure people of many illnesses in shamanistic societies. Basically, western medicine doesn’t work as well as we think. They said that the only a cure that worked was that done by a shaman. And, remember, much of this healing involves ceremony and ritual, not putting drugs into our system. This shows, to me, that cures came come from other sources. It also shows the power of our inner life.
But, as I said, it needs an image to manifest this belief . . . an image that’s real, an image that’s useful. The ‘belief show’ is a good source for this.