Solitary Shamanism * A New Path In the West?

One day we find ourselves spontaneously entering states which can only be understood in terms of the dramatic journeys and transformations unique to shamanism.

Going Where the Path May Lead
The path of the shaman is a calling, one with its own forms, its own practices. And it is not always what it seems. Indigenous cultures have a long tradition of shamanism, with its unique and dramatic forms.

But shamanism in the West may not look like traditional shamanism. It may arrive in someone’s life, as it did mine, quite apart from a group, a community, or a course of any kind. Western shamanism may take place entirely in the Mind – the Higher Mind – and under the tutelage of one’s Higher Self and spirit guides as well as the surprising, loving presence of animal allies.

Yet it is the traditional shamans themselves who tell us – “it is all Symbol, it is all Mind.”

A person of western culture may first encounter shamanism when some of its features begin to present themselves in meditation, dreams, or odd experiences. After awhile, it becomes evident that these features seem to belong together, and that they are fitting a profile which has its own identity. After some reading and reflection, it seems clear that shamanism has arrived in one’s life.

This May Be A Continuation of Shamanic Training From Other Lifetimes

In my life, shamanism seemed to arrive quite out of the blue, but I discovered, in Far Memory – when we recall another lifetime –  that it was not actually new to me as a Soul.  It was a path I had taken in many lifetimes as a traditional shaman, though this may be the first time I have explored this path in a western identity.

I had never given shamanism any thought – in this life. It seemed to me that westerners who sought it out were engaging in appropriation of traditional culture.  Shamanism, I was quite sure, was not a path for one who, this time around, was born in the West.

But now, I have come to wonder if there are levels  of shamanism; perhaps, as in other callings, there is continuous learning and growth as we move from lifetime to lifetime, into and out of different cultures, different civilizations.  As I wrote in Shamanism * Journey to the West, perhaps here, in the West, shamanism was itself embarking on a new, even evolutionary, adventure.

For the West, despite all that we have come to deplore and protest about its dominance of the globe, has opened the western mind to science.  And, paradoxically, it is the physics of the cosmos and the genetics of medicine which have shown us how shamanism and its mysteries are actually embedded in the cosmos and its laws.

Hallmarks of Shamanism * Enter the Allies and the Journey

Shamanism reintroduced itself to me after several years of special meditation (somewhat akin to active imagination). This was, looking back, an actual period of training which came to me spontaneously.

I followed this by starting to give psychic Life Readings, and these in turn introduced me to the work of Carl G. Jung, w hich helped me understand more clearly the kind of work I was actually doing with my clients.

And one day during those early days as a professional psychic, I was visited in meditation by creatures whose presence was a complete surprise.  I became aware of a very large Bear and very large Eagle. Going with the flow, as I always did in this kind of meditation, I sensed that their strength and protection were somehow meant for me.

And then, amazingly, I was up on the back of the Eagle, and we flew for some time higher over canyons and valleys, until we came to a wide, flat, sunlit ledge, with low branches and bushes surrounding. Here, I was laid down, and there, I seemed to rest in a way that I had never done before.

I don’t remember the journey back to my chair; I just arrived. But I realized that I was more exhausted than I knew, from many things, including family and life matters, not to mention the lengthy and draining Life Readings. I believe the arrival of the Eagle especially, somehow saved me from collapse.

I asked, as I usually do, for an explanation of what was happening…I had no context for these visitations by animals so typical of the shaman’s world.  And I learned that this was, for me, a revisiting of the shaman’s identity that I had forged, over many lifetimes, in many different old cultures. Now, I was engaged in a cycle of lives in the western world, and was, in a sense, blending the ancient with a modern approach to shamanism…

And, it is only now that I can see how shamanism, and its hallmark of journeying, had been part of those years of training prior to beginning the Life Readings.

I realized that as I traversed my clients’ many lifetimes, pausing in some, connecting up the threads of many, I was weaving my way back and forth in time and space, attempting various kinds of soul retrieval and healing.

What is Journeying?

The Journey is fundamental to shamanism, East or West, ancient or modern. It takes place in the conscious mind, but is like a dream or trance state in that it suddenly feels very real, as if one has moved their consciousness entirely to a new place.  The images and sense of translocation remind me of the strange advent of hypnogogic pictures as you slip between the waking and sleeping worlds.

The places in which you find yourself can be geographical and might be some place in past, present or the future. You may discover yourself to be inside a symbolic structure – a cathedral in the sky for example.

Your own person may seem altered, and the “work” you find yourself doing is usually surprising and spontaneously arising. Sometimes, you may actually be visiting one of your other lifetimes and whatever unfolds in the experience will be of some significance for this lifetime.

To share a few examples:  I once found myself high in the atmosphere over India, alighting on an old road, wrapped in a single cloak with a hood. I had changed gender and age, and become an old man, stumping along with a thick, crooked walking stick.  I seemed to be watching myself – at home in my chair – yet I was completely and deeply one with this walking old man.

Next, I found myself high in the Himalayas, standing in some part of the Ganges River, gazing downward towards the great plains of India. I lifted my hands up (my walking stick was gone) and I felt myself praying with the Spirit of India.  I was deeply concerned about the karma of this nation, with a vague presentiment about nuclear weapons and the forsaking of spiritual traditions.

I could hear myself – in this other form that was somehow still me – as I blessed a great nation, that it may not forget its destiny, as Mother of the World...

A Shaman Travels To the Underworld

At other times, in dreams I have visited what can only be described as the underword – an unlit, twilight zone, rather a confusing and disorienting place, often with roads filled with people who seem simply to be walking, without a clear destination.

It was actually very new to me, a late-in-life experience, but it went on for a year or so. Quite frankly, this kind of “travel” can be disturbing for a westerner, as our religions really don’t talk about other worlds except a very stern demarcation between heaven and hell, and this underworld was clearly neither or those.

I do not recall any case of interacting with an individual in these realms, though perhaps that is another phase I have yet to enter. Meanwhile, I can only surmise that this Underworld is one of the places inhabited by the dead who have not yet realized they are dead, or are perhaps expecting an afterlife which has not manifested itself.

In traditional shamanism, the work of the shaman in the Underworld is to make peace sometimes between the living and the dead, and thus release a soul from wandering. They may also be able to explain to a soul that they will be reincarnating, and may need preparation in an upper realm in order to make the best possible use of the opportunity of rebirth.

In any case, while it lasted, through a year or so, I spent many nights in dreams (or a state like a dream) where I would be walking along unlit roads, often out in the country, sometimes where I had grown up. Often though, I wa in areas of the United States, with which I had no known or remembered connection.

In rural areas, I would mix with thousands of other people on dark roads, where no one seemed to talk to each other. In large cities or towns, however, I could hear things going on around me, and could hear people, but they did not see me, so I imagine they would think me a “ghost” if they heard me at all.

I was often concerned – indeed panicked – about finding a way to get back home, and I suspect this was really the point. The shaman must be able to go anywhere in time or space, and getting home from such journeys may be somewhat problematic, without practice. And, in due course, these experiences simply stopped.

Crystalline Medicine by Charlie Frizzel

The Essence of Shamanism is Healing

What makes the path of the shaman different from other spiritual paths is that it is focused on healing. This is a special kind of healing which I like to describe as portable. Because, unlike other kinds of healing, no physical contact need occur and the shaman and client may be a world apart – indeed, they may even be dead.

The shaman’s healing is carried out through the sending of energy in symbolic form, into a person or situation, and then transformation of the energy through transformation in the symbol.

This is where “the magic” comes in, and this is not something that can be orchestrated by the shaman. It simply happens, as the shaman travels into the heart of the problem. The symbols which arise, and the process of transformation which occurs, are spontaneous events, though understood and often communicated as they happen by the shaman.

Shamanic healing takes two distinct forms: The first is concerned with Soul Retrieval, misnamed, in my view, because I think one is finding, liberating and reintegrating parts of the personality, rather than of the Soul itself.

However, these personality fragments (Carl Jung called them subpersonalities) have broken away from the main personality core, and can only express themselves through unconscious pathways.

They are often subversive and unhappy; they can halt or delay one’s achievements and goals. They typically have broken off due to a trauma in a time and place to which the shaman can travel in a journey. Here, the healing consists in making a profound connection with the fragment, and carrying them on the shaman’s “wings” back to the main core of the personality.

The second kind of healing is related to the first. Within the trauma with which the personality fragment is embedded lies a karmic knot.  For karma does not arise so much from a need for balancing or punishing or even educating as it does from the need to untie a “knot” which binds two things together in an uncomfortable, negative way.

This knot continues to generate patterns similar to itself as a natural law of replication. In so doing, it keeps drawing the attention of the person it belongs to, requiring them to keep thinking about the same old issues and problems until, one day, the light goes on, and in some form of therapeutic encounter, this karmic “knot” is dissolved.

Untying the Karmic Knots

One might well question if another can help untie a karmic knot. Isn’t this the responsibility of the person themself?  The answer to this came to me – long before I ever asked the question – when I was quite young.

I often look back on a very psychic, unusual “teaching” dream which was dropped into my mind and then left, perhaps as a beacon, a marker, for my return in later years to pick up the threads of shamanic training.

In that dream, I and 2 other young women were taken, by an unusually tall, slim man, dressed in pale beige/brown, into any empty movie theatre. Here, we took our seats in front of the big screen, while the one I thought of as a teacher took up his position running the movie projector at the back, well behind us.

He began to run a film which consisted of a series of small scenes in which, just as someone was about to be killed, harmed, or led away into slavery, a person would appear and change the course of the events. The person would look up, realize they had been rescued, and race away.

Meanwhile, the Man-In-Brown – the teacher, was explaining to us that those intervening in the scenes were those who released people from karma. The events about to unfold were the result of karmic laws, but these could be changed. In each society, he explained, “there are those who go among the people, and free some of the people from their karma – not in all cases, but in some. And, in those moments, the person being freed may not recognize what has happened, nor do they need to.”

“In every society,” he went on, “those who free others from their karma have been spoken of as witches, and recognized to have these abilities.” And, with that, the dream ended.

I have thought of that dream many times over the years. I did recognize one of the other two women as my friend, and I told her about the dream. But our paths diverged in later years and I have no idea if she remembers that dream or realizes that we three were among “the witches” in each society – that one day, somehow, we would exercise that strange gift of liberating another from a karmic knot…With all her gifts, I like to think she does.

Finding the Center, the Point of Power

As part of the shaman’s journey, I have been learning about the vital importance of perceiving and entering the Center of any particular situation – be it health, relationship or past-life events.  For it is in the Center of any living dynamic that we find the strategic position, the point of power.  Here, and only here, can one effect a transformation of energy so that the karmic knot dissolved.

This may be done through a symbolic enactment of which you are a witness but also author. It may be done by a surge of a powerful sense of love, grace, and strength which one can pass from your being to their being. It feels like a healing, but it always also involves a sense that liberation has been achieved, a loosening or even breaking completely of a karmic bond.

Again, arriving in the presence of the person seems as real as knocking on their door. Do they know? Perhaps, if it happens in a dream.  Otherwise, it is not likely, for this exchange of energy appears to be taking place at deep levels of the shaman’s, as well as recipient’s, innermost being.

However, on one occasion, years ago before I had begun any of my spiritual, psychic or shamanic studies, I apparently carried out a Sending. I had been unable to contact a person in her shop, having missed a bus and arrival time in her city.  I must have been deeply concerned, enough that I appeared in her shop doorway and was so real my friend waved to me, only to look up a second later and find no one there. Apparently, it was my way of saying, “Don’t worry, I’m on my way.”

More dramatically, as my father lay dying in the final hour of his life, I fell asleep in the chair beside his hospital bed. Unforgettably, I found myself rising up with my father, as we flew silently, like two invisible seagulls through a still dark, pre-dawn sky.  When we came to a great mountainous barrier, I wondered “How will I get him through?” But just then, the mountain range parted, an opening appeared, and just beyond it, floating meadows of glorious, brilliant flowers beckoned, pulling us in with their hypnotic beauty and above, the vibration of pure love.

I woke up then, in shock, to find my father breathing his last breaths, and I knew that somehow, despite all the pain we had caused each other in this lifetime, it had been my gift and my duty to help carry him Home.  Much later, I understood that this kind of journey is one of the oldest known tasks of the shaman.

The Akashic Records where we leave our fine carvings in the pillars of Life.

The Shaman’s Journey and the Akashic Records

The shaman’s journey often leads into various Dimensions beyond the three we know here in the human world.   Karma lies in each person’s experiences in each lifetime, so accessing these experiences, and the karma arising from them, takes place within a cosmic library – the Akashic Records.

The release from karma is a mysterious process which has to do with the laws of justice but also of love and grace. We are unable, as human beings, to fully grasp the mysteries of karma, and even the shaman does not fully understand the why and the when of healing. But we do know that, in ways as old as humanity, the shaman is led to the right place and time in which a karmic bond was forged.  Here, again in a process the shaman can describe but of which he or she is not the author, a karmic “knot” is cut.

The traditional shaman typically accepts a request to make this journey, but the outcome cannot be guaranteed.  The solitary shaman does not as a rule have a public role, but takes a journey in response to an inner prompting, and is guided to the person’s store of Akashic Records.  No shaman,  however, can simply decide to heal someone; they can only rise to the occasion when called.

All becomes possible in past, present and future, once we understand the transformative interactions of soul, psyche and symbol. For the solitary shaman, training seems to take place entirely within the Mind, under the tutelage of one’s Higher Self, in partnership with spiritual guides whose presence is subtle, never intrusive, and always loving.

Over time, one learns to allow all shamanic experiences to arise – along with the knowledge – spontaneously. Trusting the cosmos, trusting the mysterious, invisible logic of the patterns unqiue to each psyche, the solitary shaman does not have a community to guide the work, and must be guided by trust.

You may journey for someone who does not know you, for reasons you do not understand. Yet you may not be able to journey for someone you know and love, or even for yourself. All will depend on the complex laws of the cosmos and the mysteries of the Akashic Records. Sometimes your own unconscious prevents further work in an area of yourself; sometimes the person you yearn to heal has another destiny.

As we know, sometimes healing is an unwelcome gift. A person may be unwilling to take on the new and open Road offered by leaving a disability or old karmic knot behind. 

The Western Shaman * A Solitary Path?

What I have described in this post seems to apply to what we may call a solitary shaman. This path does not lead through western or traditional training and does not seek out a community of practitioners. Perhaps most remarkably, it does not require the ritual trappings of drum, rattle, or music to commence and end a journey seem necessary.

Yet despite the unique path to shamanism described herein, it still centers on healing, and on doing so through journeys taken in the Mind and the use of symbol to effect transformations in karma, psyche and Soul.

Timeless Wisdom The Ancient Well
Time and Tradition The Archetype of the Ancient Well

Shamanism Reborn in the West?

The western path may represent something new, a transformation. It may be a continuation of what I have described as shamanism’s journey to the West.

I certainly believe that the study of shamanism should begin with exploration of indigenous traditions around the world. Here, in these ancient wells of knowledge, we discover the truly magical, mystical power of who and what we are as human beings. The early shamans of the world and their successors in time are the sacred Keepers of a legacy which should never be forgotten. It remains as the root of all we truly know about magical transformation.

However, I wonder if shamanism itself may be, like all forms of life, in a state of evolution?  Might the older forms of shamanism be one day left behind?

Through exploring the solitary path of the western shaman, it seems to me that the same transformative journeys do take place as in the traditional forms of shamanism.  They arise out of the same deep psychic states and their results – the healing through release of karma – are the same.  Without leaving one’s armchair we can enter the Sacred Circle and find the point of power – for it is always within the Mind.

© Carol Leigh Rice 2024

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