The Path to Altered Consciousness
If a state of altered consciousness is active when the subconscious and conscious minds are working together, how do we arrive that that state? The first step is very easy: believe that it is possible. Believe that information can come from unseen places. Believe in divination, channeling, spirit guides, omens, prophecies, time travel, astral projection, and all other manner of subconscious things. Believe in the magical and those things of the altered conscious. You will then see what you believe and the cycle will be upward instead of downward.
Belief is reinforced by tools that are part mundane and part real. The tarot is a good example. The cards are only pieces of card stock. However, they provide a tool to connect to the synchronicity of the universe. The cards provide a means of looking through the veil that separates worlds and energies. The printed card stock becomes a magical tool as it taps into the intuitive energies and archetypes that are ever present and waiting to be contacted.
Knowledge can do the same thing. Knowing color associations, names of angels, rituals of invocation, and so on, gives the user tools to connect to the altered consciousness. The shaman is taught a potentially complex system of beliefs which includes the knowledge and belief in the names of the helping spirits in the shamanic pantheon, the memory of certain texts (sermons, shaman-songs, legends and myths), the rules for activities (rituals, sacrifices, the techniques of ecstasy) and the objects, tools and paraphernalia used by shamans (drum, stick, bow, mirror, costumes, etc.). The expression of all of these elements are determined by the tribe/group that the shaman operates in. The student of shamanism will be exposed and taught according to the tribe/group they instructed through. We have our own metaphysical belief structures that are just as complex. While these are not are traditionally “shamanic”, they do have a tremendous power because they are OURS and they are there for us to use as we alter our consciousness.
Tools and knowledge are just parts of the path of altered consciousness. They should not be thought to be the journey or even the destination. There is a danger here for the growing shaman or anybody on a spiritual journey. There is a trap here. When the tools and rituals of the shaman are seen as dogma, that is, a fixed set of rules, the shamanic path becomes a dead-end. . A person who says, “I am a Master”, has come to their dead-end. This trap is laid by the teacher. Custom, tradition, and ceremony are just tools for a spiritual path. Once the basics are learned, a person must walk their own path. The teacher who holds a properly prepared student to fixed ways is holding them to a dead thing. Anyone who has the tools and only follows the path of others will not discover the living expression of the altered consciousness.
There is a trap that the student sets for themselves. In this modern world everyone wants things too fast without taking their time to learn the tools before setting out on his or her journey. There is a danger for those who do not learn the tools of their group fully and try to walk a spiritual path. They will be thrashing aimlessly in the dark and will eventually hurt themselves and others. Tools have power, and there is responsibility in their power. Teaching will follow a set pattern not because it is dogma, but instead because of consideration to the maturity of spirit and knowledge of the student.
The trap of the teacher and the student are shared by all mystical schools. However, the teaching and learning of shamanism is more endangered because of the uniquely individual path and experience of the practicing shaman.
Shamanism, or any practice of altered consciousness, is ultimately a method, not a religion with a fixed set of dogmas. People arrive at their own experience, deriving conclusions about what is going on in the universe, a place that is “just the way things are”.
There is the following writing from an ancient Chinese parable:
“Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek instead what they sought.”
In summary, to achieve a state of altered consciousness one must first believes it can be done, finds tools (cultural and self) and then uses the tools instead of being used by them.