Shamanic States of Consciousness
What am I doing here?
Lighting the sacred fire, setting up the alter, and washing the sacred objects in smoke are all a part of the preparation, but what is also going on is that I am becoming more and more aware of the Spirits, and as their nearness becomes more and more tangible, so does my mission, whether I be asking for help for others, or for myself. It is my experience that I should be as clear as possible in my intentions: without clarity of intention, one can easily return from a journey knowing that something has happened, but not knowing what it was, as Alice experienced with her adventures in Wonderland. This is also what can happen when the goal is simply to experience the ecstasy of the shaman, but the ecstasy is only the doorway to the world of the Spirits, while the intention is the key to understanding.
However, there are some interesting and seemingly paradoxical aspects to this. For example, sometimes when I get to my spirit helpers and tell them why I have come, the mission which comes out of my mouth is not necessarily the same as the one that I so carefully formulated before I left my body. The reasons for this are mainly that when I first formulate the mission, even though my consciousness has already started to change, I am still in fairly close contact with, and influenced by, my own personal desires concerning my life, my hopes, my fears, or, if I am working for someone else, the life circumstances of that person who has come to me for help. However, when I cross the threshold into the spirit world there is a shift, and for each threshold I cross after that there are further shifts. The deeper I get away from my own ordinary reality the further I leave my ego-self behind. The result being that when finally I get to my teachers and helpers in the spirit world to ask my question, my original and mundane view of the situation is changed into a more universal perspective, and I am shown what I need to see instead of what I thought I wanted to know.
It often happens that the mission I start with is very appropriate,
but even so, the response of the Spirits can be very surprising, as
I once experienced in a healing ceremony. Illness can happen when
what seems to be separation, or blockage, comes into the flow of life.
The shaman works together with his spirits to remove those blockages.
In this particular case, I was working with a woman who had been suffering
from colitis, and unsuccessfully treated medically, for two years.
Doing the diagnostic work I could see that there was a huge python coiled
in her lower intestine. The python told me that it was the woman's spirit-helper,
and that it had been unsuccessfully trying to get her attention for
some time. I was told by my teacher to remove the python and put it
into a special stone I had, and then give the stone to the woman. This
I did. Thereby the woman not only became aware of the python and
its benevolent intentions, but she could also communicate directly with
it by holding the stone in her hand. While removing the python from
her intestine, it told me that it wanted the woman to seek and to come
into contact with her own spiritual path. I delivered this message to
her. At the time of the work, I had no personal knowledge of the
woman. After the healing, she told me that her parents were from India.
She had been raised a Hindu, but did not have a serious religious or
spiritual practice, and was in fact a psychologist working in the psychiatric
ward of a hospital in an industrial city. Two months later I received
a letter from her, telling me that that since the healing ceremony she
had had absolutely no symptoms of the illness. She also wrote that during
her holiday she had visited an uncle who was a guru. Her uncle had giver
her the same message as the python - to seek her spiritual path.
The shaman has spirit helpers. The Spirits are not metaphors of anything. The shaman works by asking the spirits for help. Some of the keys for doing shamanic work are knowing how to ask for help, knowing what to ask for, being able to receive the help offered, and being able to bring the help back home with all its power and depth. The journey begins when the shaman steps into the spirit world, and this generally happens while the shaman calls to her spirit helpers, guides, and teachers, asking for their help, as in this incantation of Ghindia, a shaman of the Orochee of eastern Siberia:
deeper the shaman journeys, the closer he comes to the essence of his
power - the power of the Universe - both metaphorically and literally.
Metaphorically in that the journey takes him further and further away
from the reality of his daily life where he started, literally because
the experienced separation between him and the essential Power of the
Universe dissolves, until, in some cases, there is no separation.
The shaman experiences many shifts in consciousness during the journey. As mentioned before, these shifts can occur with changes of location and/or dimension in the spirit world, but there is no limit to the depth of the shamanic journey, or to the changes of consciousness experienced by the journeyer. For example, embodying a spirit helper is a wonderfully empowering experience and involves a total reorientation. It can also happen that the shaman enters into the body of one of his spirit helpers and experiences the Universe from that spirit's being, while at the same time maintaining her own awareness. With each of these changes the shaman's experience of consciousness expands. Some people even experience dying and death during the journey. Once, on one of my courses, an anthropologist, close to seventy years old, died. Fortunately, his wife, who had died some years before, knew that his time was not at hand and, after a deeply moving reunion, sent him back. When he finally returned to the world of the living he told us that when he realized that he was dead he did feel a detached concern because of all the trouble his death would cause for me and the course organizer. But now he was dead and that was that. But for him, there was no question - he had died and gone to heaven: it was not a "near-death experience", it was an experience of death.
even deeper changes in consciousness than death are possible, and these
are not unheard of, even for practitioners with a modern western cultural
background. These experiences go beyond what we call today "visualization"
or "imagery." They include all the senses, and sometimes even
go way beyond the senses, for example, the experience of becoming unified
with what I refer to as the Power of the Universe. To experience this
is to go beyond knowing, beyond awareness, and beyond death. This is
to go into the essence of being, into what some would call consciousness.
To further the point de Angulo noted:
These two statement capture the essence of the animistic experience of life. Further, to the point, Frank Cushing points out that
Thus, the shaman is a servant of the people and a servant of the Spirits
at the same time. Being a servant of the people and a servant of the
Spirits at the same time is not an easy job, as Ghindia's invocation
indicates. It often does not leave much room for the individualism we
pay so much homage to in the western world. The shaman is often required
to make a pact with the spirits, which often contains certain taboos.
If one will be a powerful shaman, this can only happen with the participation
of the Spirits, and this calls for surrender.
more the power of the Spirits flows through her, the more powerful the
shaman becomes, as long as the power is used properly; that is, as defined
by the Spirits. After initiation, perhaps the most important teaching
from the Spirits for the would-be shaman is how to live with power in
her own daily life in a way which is acceptable to the shaman and acceptable
to the society she lives in. Without learning these teachings, the neophyte
risks insanity, or, perhaps worse, being feared as a lunatic, or merely
dismissed as a neurotic. These teachings are necessary because the more
she works with the Spirits, the more conscious the shaman becomes: more
conscious of the spirits as entities, or containers, of the power of
the universe, and therefore more conscious of the energy/power of the
Universe, and more aware that the energy/power of the Universe is the
power that is in her, and that it is the source of - and the same as
- her own power, her own deep consciousness. With this realization
comes the knowing that there is no separation between the power of the
individual, the individual's consciousness, the power of the Universe,
and Universal consciousness. They are one and the same. In other words,
as one of my teachers in this reality once told me, "Everything
that's me isn't ME."
paper was originally written for the meeting of