If the lesson is how to be a shaman, then the question must be asked “what is a shaman?” A shaman lives in and understands the unity of life as it is expressed in the physical life and the planes of existence beyond. The shaman very much feels the physical, and sees it as a place of service. However, the physical is seen as a portion of all that there is. It is the schoolyard where we begin our lives. The rest of life, in its recognition of unity, is open-ended as it is lived consciously and freely.
Heather Hughes-Calero writes that the shaman lives as a Soul in a physical body rather then a physical body/mind with a soul. This differentiation is very important as it conveys a wonderful freedom in the statement “all is spiritual”. If all is unity, and all is spiritual, than unity is spirit. The shaman’s life is based on these principles. Heather also writes that, what is phenomena to the uninitiated, is only a matter of reality to the initiated, and we are limited only by our perceptions. Do you perceive from the Soul or from the mental? Where are your perceptions?
Before I read the above words of Heather, the teachings of Rolling Thunder and Tom Brown conveyed to me the sense that the magical is the reality of the ignorant. The shaman experiences the same reality as an everyday thing. The magical is possible because it is natural. Aleister Crowley is credited with saying that every act done with intent is magic. This is true, but many of our discontented and disconnected intentions are harmful and destructive. The shaman mixes in an understanding of the spiritual connectiveness to make every intention not only magical, but healthy and natural in its effect.
How does a person learn to be a shaman? How does a person learn the soul connections? This paper will explore a few facets of this wondrous puzzle. Pay attention. There is a shaman in all of us.
THE SOUTH AND THE WEST
If magic is considered to be the wondrous creation of things and events (energy), magic is a matter of intent (wishing), and we are all capable of doing magic, why isn’t life wonderful? Why don’t we relate to the seemingly abstract notion of spiritual unity as we work our own magics? The answer is found in the South and West directions of the Inca Medicine Wheel.
The Inca Medicine Wheel is a mandala, a model, of growing shamanically. The directions of South and West address the reshaping of our lives from the mundane existence of the body/mental. Fully half of the wheel talks to healing our lives so we can transform the magical to the ordinary. The transformations of our lives are the first lessons a shaman must face. These lessons were harsh and life threatening to shaman apprentices of the past. Pain, physical deprivation, isolation, and mental torment were applied to those who wished to be shamans. Only those who passed these trials could walk on and seek the natural rewards of their path. The Medicine Wheel reveals the purpose of the suffering, and offers some surprises for modern seekers.
The lesson of the South is to achieve freedom from the fear of the past. The past represents the attachments to ideas, lifestyles, habits, opinions, traditions, and motivations that are given to us by society. The fear originates for what would happen if the attachments are not obeyed. What if we are not like our fathers and mothers? What if we do not conform? The harsh lesson in the South is that the past holds the shaman from being in the present. The past was perfect in it’s own moment, and the expressions of the past may have been genuine in their own place, but they are only malignant intruders in the present moment. Both the pleasure and the pain of the past hold us prisoner. The bars of our cell keep us from feeling the spiritual unity of the present moment. The bars are formed from the fear of pain and the fear of loosing pleasure.
Grudges and addictions are put aside on the path of the South. The purity of the moment appears as the burdens are shed. The muddy puddle reveals its inherent clarity as the mud is removed and put in its proper place. Grudges and additions – fear and longing – are not destroyed. Instead they are recognized and put aside. They are brought forward from their hiding places and purged in the light of self-acceptance. The purging is similar to turning on a light in a dark room. The darkness vanishes. The only substance that the past has is what we give it. Once the power of grudges and addictions are removed, the clarity of mind is achieved.
The fear of the future remains. This is faced in the West. The little deaths and the big deaths hold us paralyzed. The present moment is held prisoner to what could be. Change is seen as the enemy. The ultimate change, the passing of the body/mental, overshadows what is happening NOW. The lesser entities, those of everyday change, harass us and wear us down. The combination of the ultimate change and the lesser changes rob the future shaman of unity. Why? Fear of the future places the shaman in the same place that the fear of past transported them to.
The revealing light of the West is the experience of death. We voluntarily experience, with love, acceptance, and understanding, the small and large changes of life. When experienced and accepted, either in actuality or symbolically, the deaths/changes of the future no longer have power over us. The fear is removed as we are born again in a continuous fashion. It is not enough to be born again once. Instead we offer ourselves to die and rebirth at any moment. This makes the moment. This defines the moment. When the present moment is no longer based on the moments of the past, and only recognizes past moments as having their own past rightness, and there is acceptance that the moment will pass away and be reborn, than all is in unity. The unity of the moment, the spiritual, and all things, is embraced.
Fears are selfish. Fears originate from disconnection from the universe. If we accepted that everything was connected, had purpose, and was spiritual, there would be no fear in the horrific or awe in the wondrous. There would only be acceptance of our place. The light of this acceptance is the light that dispels the darkness of grudges and addictions. The same light dispels the fear of the future, for all is seen as having a time and place. Fears rearrange the universe. The new fear based arrangement may have little resemblance to what is really there. It is naturally unsettling to think we have a map of a town, and find that nothing is where it should be. Our sanity is doubted, and the resulting distrust of the map - our sense of unity with the universe – shuts us down as we run in smaller and smaller circles. Eventually fear convinces us that the small circles of our lives are reality, and we are lost.
The ever restricting bindings of fears are illusionary. They have only the substance that we give them. They are only what we put intention into. They are the magic that we are creating now. They are the destructive magic that predominates our lives. How do we change this? What lessons does the shaman have that can guide us? The shamans of old embarked on harsh initiations that forced the recognition of the illusion. Through pain and deprivation the phantom shadows were dispelled. The shamans were forced to give up supporting the fears if the shaman was to survive the initiation. The shaman would fail, indeed, perhaps lose their lives, if they hung onto the fears. All of their strength was needed in the moment of the initiation in its apparent cruelty and hardship. Just as the fires of the melting pot separated the dross from the pure metals, the suffering of the shaman’s initiation removed the fears of the past and future. Only the purity of the moment remained.
The shaman’s first learning experience is preparation for, and then experience of , the initiation. The initiation addresses the fears/attachments of the past and future. The initiation is the proving ground for the soil that magical workings, based in practical understanding, will grow.
Are these initiations practical, or even possible, in today’s age? I would submit that our modern times rival the initiations of the past. We must initiate. We are given the challenge to either throw off the fears or die a living death. The death we face is more horrific than any death the shaman faced in initiations of old. They were faced with the lost of the physical, while we as a society are faced with the death of our souls. The fight to regain spiritual unity is a painful experience, filled with as much drama and pain as the initiations of the past. There is a certain amount of pain when we are disconnected and not know it. To be aware of our disconnection, and not be able to achieve it, can be maddening. This madness can bring people to take their own lives in a variety of ways – suicide, gluttony, addictions, abusive relations, and so on. The benefits of a successful initiation are wondrous, and the person becomes a valuable asset to lead others along the path.
Training and initiation of the past took many years and was a solitary event with experienced guides. Our modern society is not one of waiting and cultivating. We rush about. The rushing of a modern initiation increases the probability of perceived failure, thus leading to actual failure. Spiritual initiations have a component of despair and loss. Those who have walked the path before are there to tell the initiates that it is normal. They cannot reduce the pain of the initiate, but they can keep the fragile soul on the path. A combination of hurrying our initiations and the lacking of experienced guides can be devastating in our modern age. There are answers. The universe can and does provide guides for the seeker. However, be warned that the guides cannot heal the pain of the initiate. If they do heal the pain, the initiation is postponed and the seeker may even be returned to the starting point.
THE TEACHERS AND THE LESSONS
Who will guide us in this modern age? Who are our teachers that will prepare us, and then guide us, through the initiation and beyond? The answer lies in the goal of the shaman: unity of the spiritual. If the spiritual is the lesson, and all things are spiritual, than all things are our teachers.
All things are my teacher. All things includes all the events and people that are encountered. The judgment that an event or person is not worthy of being a teacher comes from fear. So, the acceptance of the concept that all are teachers moves the shamanic student away from fear and further along the path. The crass, ugly, bigoted and hateful are seen as teachers. The wiseman and the simpleton are held in equal reverence for what can be learned. How is this possible?
Each teacher has a different lesson. Every lesson has its own time, place, and goal. No lesson is more valuable than another when the goal of understanding and living unity is achieved. Gaining from a teacher’s lesson is a matter of being fully present to receive the message. We must be ready to receive the message of a lesson, and ready to honor the teacher of the message in their own divine clarity of the moment. This is done by withholding judgment, and listening to the connecting truth that is presented.
The horrors of mankind are legion. Atrocities are common. Even in the dictators that direct the sufferings, and the grand suffering they inflict, there are lessons and the dictators are teachers. The lessons may be about the lack of compassion that a disconnected living produces, and may point to our own disconnections. Judgment of a wrong is often merely a projection of that impurity that lies within ourselves. The person that condemns the killer holds seeds of death in their own soul. Recognizing these seeds by recognizing the condemnation is a valuable lesson, with the killer being the teacher. With the lesson learned, the killer is seen through eyes that come from a soul that has let go of that small piece of death. The lesson learned, the killer is no longer a teacher about carrying death within us. They transform into a teacher of compassion and forgiveness. A new lesson replaces this one in the next moment and so on.
Each moment has its own teachers and its own lessons. The teachers change roles; the lessons change directions. The only thing that does not change is the student’s ongoing acceptance of the new teachers and the new lessons. The stability of the moment, in the face of changing faces and events, is a testament to the growth of the shaman toward achieving the unity of spirit that is the shaman’s marking.
SPIRIT ALLIES AS SHAMANIC TEACHERS
The modern shaman does need wisdom and guidance that our modern society seems to not have. The answer to this absence, indeed one that shamans have always had, is that of spirit guides and allies. A willingness to look beyond the physical enables the shaman to tap into beings that have knowledge and wisdom. These beings exist within the expanse of what the shaman calls reality, but outside of what could be considered physical reality. The allies cannot be measured or recorded, but they are very real to the shaman and those who can see beyond the veil of the five senses.
How does one contact a ally? Cultivation of the six sense, the third eye, the intuitive factor, holds the answer. What are these things? Are they magical? No. Instead of expanding our senses, we are instead merely recognizing a sense that was there all along. The spirit world, the elemental world, or whatever you wish to call that place of otherworld allies, was always there. The shamanic student is merely like the blind man who is seeing for the first time.
The blind man seeing for the first time is a valuable analogy. It expresses the thrills and dangers of expanding the perception of the universe. The blind man, while always living in the same world that they can now see, does not readily recognize the dangers that were there all along. Fascination with the colors may put common sense aside and the newly sighted man may walk into traffic, not knowing what a truck looks like. Their safeguards are down and the same, but new, world becomes potentially harmful when precautions are not made. This is the place where a trusted spirit guide comes in. The spirit guide is like the person who tells the newly sighted man what a truck looks like, what fire looks like, what different drinks look like. Their guide has knowledge about the “new” surroundings that can benefit the shaman and keep them from harm.
Spirit allies come in many forms. They can be angels, elemental spirits, ancestral spirits, animals spirits, people spirits, and non-human spirits. The word entity, guide, helper, keeper, and so on can be substituted for the word spirit in the previous sentence. The energies are similar if not identical. The type of spirit ally is dependant on the intent of the shaman. The culture that a shaman comes from can predispose them to animal guides. Another culture may seek angels, while another may seek elemental spirits. The shaman attracts the spirit allies that they seek/intend. Is one spirit ally better than another? No. They have their own relative strengths and weaknesses as people do. Some embrace the idea of spiritual unity more than others, but all are valuable as teachers. A shaman will recognize when a spirit ally is not longer useful. Indeed, sometimes the spirit ally will recognize this before the shaman and the spirit ally will leave by their own free will. Another spirit ally will then come.
THE MAGIC BEYOND
The path of the shaman in this paper has moved through the South and West of the Inca Medicine Wheel. They have faced the fears of the past and the future. All things are seen as teachers and everything in their life is a potential lesson. They have gained spirit allies to their cause. All of these things require, foster, and promote their unity with the universe and the spirit that is that universe.
What now of the magical abilities of the shaman? What of the healing and the divination? What of the ability to do the impossible – manipulate weather, transport objects, walk through objects, read minds, create illusions, float, fly, and more? These magical abilities have nothing to do with magic. They are very ordinary events that are merely very improbable to those who don’t have the knowledge and the intent.
The shaman first and foremost sees and honors the connection of all things. The shaman understands that other bodies that exist – energetic, astral, etc., and understands the workings of all of these bodies and the forces that act on these bodies. With this knowledge, practice, and understanding, the shaman can do their “magic.”
The writings of Rolling Thunder were very instructional to me in this concept. He said that there was a time and place for everything. Everything already exists, and the shaman merely creates a situation in which the event may occur. The shaman must have knowledge of the timing, qualities, and dynamics of the event. The shaman must have practiced the knowledge with an intent to succeed. And finally, the shaman must understand. Understanding is the act of connecting with spirit. Understanding brings the knowledge and the practice to a place of manifestation in the proper time and place. The improbable ordinary occurs, and magic is seemingly performed.
Ritual is the gateway to making the improbable ordinary manifest, but ritual without understanding is like shooting fish with a gun. If there are few fish in the pond, or the fish swim deep, the gun will have no effect. If there are many fish in a pond and they are close to the surface, the gun fishing will probably succeed. The shaman uses ritual with understanding. Ritual without understanding may have dire consequences. In the fishing analogy, the dire consequences manifest in a really mad sea serpent coming out of the water and eating the unprepared fisherman.
How do we avoid the sea serpents of life? Do not rush the magical side of shamanism. It will come in time. Seek connection with spirit and the understanding will follow. The dazzle of the magical is merely window dressing to the goal of becoming whole with the universe. There is a saying that magic is in the air. To the shaman, the air is magic. The people, animals, rocks, trees, spirits, and everything else is also magic. All things become ordinary in this sameness of magic, and all share the divinity of the moment.
More could be said about shamanic teachers and teaching methods. One day I will write a paper that speaks to specifics of shamanic teaching. It is enough for now to take in what has been presented in this paper. I am a beginning seeker myself on the shamanic path, and I have merely seeing the outlines and shadows of the path ahead. My own allies have given me revelations. Their advice is to listen to myself and seek the wisdom in the moment. It is not an easy path, and the obstacles I place in front of myself seem great. These obstacles will pass as I learn, do, and understand. Do the same in your life.