In Shamanism found around the world in indigenous communities, a psychic connection with particular animal spirits called allies is considered essential. These are sources of power and creative energy which protect, sustain and guide the Shaman in his or her own life, as well as assist the Shaman in working with others.
The indigenous Shaman also makes use of spirits who may be dead family members, other shamans in this world or in other dimensions, and even higher-level shamans who visit this world only occasionally over millennia, to elevate the vibrations of the world in a kind of Christ-like mission. Shamans, in other words, do not work alone; they receive help from entities living and dead who populate the many realms and dimensions of creation.
I was never interested in having a working relationship of power with an animal, be it a majestic buffalo, soaring eagle, or beaver. I have always been even less comfortable, as a psychic, with establishing contact with “spirits” who may or may not be entirely trustworthy in terms of spiritual motives. We all know the warnings around the Ouija board and attracting low forms of discarnate entities who appear real enough – that’s not the issue – but who seem bent on mischief and even psychological damage.
I have come to believe that the advent of beautiful, uplifting animal presences – Eagle, Buffalo and Bear – is one of the first signs that Shamanism is entering ones’ life. I have come to believe that these living animal figures are Archetypes, and they are as real and energy-filled as any of the other archetypes we talk about – not only in Jungian but also literary and psychological contexts.
In my case, they entered my life many years after I had embarked on the spiritual path and indeed embraced the role of professional psychic. They entered during a form of Active Imagination which I have practised for about an hour each morning for the past 50 years of my life. They did not appear, however, until I was around 40, and had been doing psychic readings with a strong Jungian focus on psychology and healing for about 10 years. It seems likely that I had, unknowingly, been on an apprenticeship for some time.
As I found, these initial appearances can be alien and intrusive to the rational western mind, yet opening the heart and mind to them seems to be part of a letting go process which is also a form of spiritual initiation.
In the beginning, my first reaction was almost an indignant rejection – I truly disliked the idea of copying, importing, the essential trappings of indigenous Shamanism into my life.
I had never been a New Ager drawn to indigenous practices such as Shamanism – it had always seemed like cultural appropriation of the worst, most dishonest kind. My Aquarian nature rebelled aganst what I thought was a kind of copycat, wannabe approach to spirituality.
Yet here I was, meeting a great shaggy Buffalo on an open plain, approaching him with humility, hands outstretched, making a solemn promise “I will never eat buffalo meat again…” This, though I had never eaten a piece of buffalo meat in this life. I knew though, that I had hunted buffalo as an American Indian, and this promise had to be made as part of the new sacred relationship.
In my experience, you will have a main, or chief animal ally but this may change over time. You may or may not feel a strong connection all the time, and even in prayer and healing work as a solitary western shaman in your armchair, you may not, for long periods, feel your animal ally’s presence.
Remember, there seems to be a connection between your own inner needs for physical, emotional and psychic protection and renewal which is just as important as your ally being a power source for your work. How these relationships “work” is still rather a mystery to westerners not immersed in a culture which accepts and explains them.
You may be surprised to find several such allies appear over time, and feel a sense of temporary loss if one of them simply leaves, but you will soon find equilibrium again. There is a great deal to be learned from coming to know and understand as much as you can about this special animal that has come into your life. Yes, it will always be a mystery, but that is part of the great spiritual Road.
Spirits As allies
The practise of calling on “spirits” as helpers in indigenous shamanism is even more problematic for western shamanism than the presence of animal allies.
In indigenous shamanism there is a real emphasis on calling on spirits to both help and hinder others in the course of the Shaman’s work in the world. These spirits are often those of the ancestors, immediate and distant, and their connection with the living through the Shaman is viewed by Shaman and community alike as essential to all problem-solving, healing and cementing the bonds of kinship and tradition.
Like Wicca and Paganism, indigenous Shamanism seems comfortable with using spiritual power for helping or harming, depending on the situation. This alone is enough to put off most western modern Shamans, since we come largely from a New Age tradition in which using any form of energy to harm another would be a grave wrong and incur karmic penalties.
However, spirit helpers corresponds roughly to the surviving belief within Catholic Christianity that there can be ongoing communication between the living and the dead, in a mutual-assistance relationship.
While the Saints are considered stronger “allies”, it is quite acceptable for a Catholic to feel that a relative or other person who has died is still able to be present and helpful – though none of this amounts to the dramatic “calling up of spirits” which the Shaman achieves in direct spirit communication.
Within New Age thought and practice, “channelling ” of spirit entities is quite natural and expected, given the framework of beliefs, but few would describe this process as one of enlisting aid for specific tasks, except in a “behind-the-scenes” presence and helping hand.
Nor is there any emphasis upon spirits being those of ancestors whose continued presence maintains the fabric of a people or community. Guides are contacted for advice and information, but their energies are not usually enlisted as power to be harnessed and directed in a specific enterprise.
On the other hand, In Wiccan and Pagan communities, there is a pantheon of gods and goddess and numerous nature spirits, most of whom have names and are invoked as part of rituals and with requests for help in specific undertakings.
Archetypes – Gods and Goddesses – and Spirit Helpers
It is possible to see at least some of these spirit helpers as the gods and goddess – archetypes – of ancient Platonic, Jungian, and New Age Thought. However, most indigenous shamans would insist that their “sources” are unique and highly personal, whereas we think of an archetypal energy as universal, a Form. That does of course leave room for each Form to have its own unique Content, and so we may be able to conclude that some spirit helpers are one of the vast array of archetypes we human beings seem wired to perceive and interact with.
I think it likely that spirit helpers are both archetyes and unique personal beings – each individual has to decide if they are benign and genuinely helpful. Some, perhaps most, psychics feel the presence of “guides” when they are doing their work for a client.
Some mediums – like Jane Roberts and Seth – directly channel personalities which may be fragments of their own personality, parts of their OverSoul such as one of their own Selves from another lifetime, entities from other dimensions, and other beings who are not in physical form but whose nature must remain a mystery.
We all know there is a fine line between mental illness and the psychic, shamanistic world – entering into personal relationships with specific spiritual beings for any purpose is something I still personally do not include in my spiritual or psychological life. I do sense and welcome “my guides” as a general presence in meditation and in psychic/astrology readings, but I have never known them as specific beings with names or needs or purposes.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear from people about all the things I write about here!
I recommend you visit my Shamanism * Journey To the West in which I explore the East-West Silk Road transfer of knowledge to the West, in particular Shamanism, just as in the The Sixties Buddhism and Yoga as part of Hinduism and the teachings of the Dalai Lama, made their journey to the West.