A recent discussion on my friend Ravenari’s Livejournal got me thinking about my place in the grand scheme of shamanic practice. Ravenari is one of my go-to people, so to speak, regarding shamanism, particularly when dealing with traditional forms of shamanism. She practices Vilturj, a form of Russian animism with a rich collection of shamanic elements that she learned from certain family members (she’s one of the very few people that I would consider being in possession of a “family tradition” of any sort). While this obviously doesn’t make her an automatic expert on every single flavor of shamanism out there, she does provide some really good insight from her own perspective.
At any rate, she made a very profound (to me, anyway) observation on my practice. She had written a post about how having a single power animal isn’t enough when journeying into the Otherworld. While a power animal can perform some tasks, there are also areas that s/he may not be of much help. While not everyone may agree with this assessment, I think she made a good argument in favor of having a diverse “team” of helping spirits, rather than just the power animal that is relied upon so much in many forms of core shamanism and neoshamanism.
Now, when I’ve done guided meditation, and in my limited journeying experiences, I didn’t think I had a whole entourage of spirits with me. At most I either turn into the animal myself, or I have one animal next to me, or offering me a ride. There are others I meet along the way, but most of the spirits and deities I consider to be companions and guardians never show up in any visible way. I brought up this observation in this thread. Ravenari pointed out that although I may not “see” such folks as the directional totems, the Animal Father, etc. on my journeys, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. I may very well be working with a lot more entities during my experiences than I initially considered.
Although this does make me feel a little more like I’m “doing it right”, so to speak (since I did agree for the most part with Ravenari’s initial post) it is rather humbling. I don’t think this means there’s anything wrong with me or what I’m doing, per se, but it does make it clear that as far as shamanism in particular goes, there’s so much I don’t know even the very basics of yet. Granted, I have years and years of practice and learning ahead of me; I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a student in a way. But it does put things into perspective.
I guess the way I see it is like university degrees. I have a B.A. in English, but suppose I went back to graduate school and got a Master’s degree in English as well. I see that as similar to my work with animal magic in particular, animal magic from a neopagan perspective mixed with some chaos magic. However, delving into shamanism in a deeper way would be like getting a second Master’s degree in a different subject. I’d have already gained the basic tools for dealing with advanced academia, but I would still have to learn specifics. In the same way, my decade and change of experience with animal magic, as well as magic in general, gives me some tools to work with, as well as some of the basic “curriculum” of shamanism, but there’s a lot more for me to learn before I can say I’ve mastered the material in any way.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that I can voice no opinions or comments, or that the experience I do have isn’t good enough. But this is why I like talking to other people; not only does it keep me in perspective, but it helps me to see things I might otherwise have missed.
“While this obviously doesn’t make her an automatic expert on every single flavor of shamanism out there”
Ohhhh it really really doesn’t. I mean this is me we’re talking about, probably one of the more self-destructive people I know. What a champion I am for the cause, eh? *grin*
But in all seriousness, I am a big supporter of an ensemble approach to journeying. But then over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more what damage can be done to people who genuinely journey without that, and have even had to clean up after them a few times (to basically help retrieve Urt fragments that were split during such journeys).
Erynn’s writings on the topic (especially her critique of Core Shamanism because of it’s dumbed-down and therefore dangerous approach to journeying) within that thread were also very in line with my own ways of thinking about it.
A person who has practiced Wicca for 10 or even 20 years may still never have come into contact with the Otherworlds, and still – when going into shamanism on this level for the first time – be out of their depth until enough time, patience and hard-work has been sunk into the practice. It doesn’t invalidate any of that previous experience, it’s just as you say, a different area of study. Kind of like a lateral leap.
The hard work over the past fairly intensive seven years (which isn’t much, really, though I suppose it’s a lot when you look at my age) has gifted me with an ensemble which is particularly adept at helping me out in the Underworlds, which is where I do a great deal of my work. In those seven years, I have had the opportunity to become more familiar with certain places, spirits and deities, and also with soul work.
Now I am being called to the Upperworlds, for the first time in seven years. And I suppose even I myself am aware of, and humbled by, just how much I *don’t* know. I also know that the majority of my ensemble cannot come with me into the Upperworlds, except for perhaps Ovatne. So I am in many ways starting anew, too.
None of your experiences are invalid or wrong or anything like that, and your dedication to always increasing and expanding your knowledge (with your willingness to self-question) is admirable. I sometimes think you may doubt too much at times (but I think that’s normal too, you know?). But lately I have seen a newer spiritual confidence in yourself, I wonder if this corresponds also with your established connection to Animal Father.
Okay, enough rambling from me! 🙂
I really like when you write about these things, because you have a really solid approach to what you’re doing. It seems as though you go into shamanism without expectations of what *should* happen (e.g., you go into the tunnel, and find whatever you’re supposed to find at the end, etc.). Plus you admit there aren’t always happy endings, and that it isn’t always safe. But most importantly, you speak from your experience, and I think that there’s nowhere near enough of that.
I haven’t yet had reason to go to the Upperworlds, and may not for a good long while. I think sometimes people expect that they must go up their immediately to be a “real” shaman (again the choreography of core shamanism). I’ll be curious about your experiences there, since it’s wholly new territory.
I can be pretty hard on myself, but I wouldn’t keep plugging along if I didn’t think there was something to all of this. OTOH, I do try to be cautious and avoid self-delusion; without having the benefit of a pre-existing cosmology, I’m basically drawing the map as I go along.
I do appreciate you noting the improvement in my confidence, though. I think sometimes it’s hard to get a good perspective on what I’m doing since I’m, well, in my own head. This means a lot coming from you, and I know that if you saw me something really asinine that you’d call me out on it, so it’s not just “I wanna make Lupa feel good” 🙂
This is such an interesting thread to read…I feel like a bit of a voyeur in a way, as if this is a conversation that we are not intentionally meant to hear, but can learn from nevertheless.
I like the approach that there is no “right way” to approach shamanism. I also like the “tunnel/Harner” reference. For what it’s worth, I’ve recently felt the “call” of the shamanic path and, after picking up Harner, felt like I’m doing everything wrong. It left me with the impression that “if I don’t instantly see the Tunnel, I’m doing this wrong.” Your affirmation of this makes me feel much more comfortable as a beginner.
I read this when you first put this up. This may be a weird questions, but did you check in with Animal Father or the other spirit beings that you work with about this? I’m just curious what your spirits say about this.
While I don’t consider what I do shamanism per se, my trad does emphasis the need for spirit allies” (our jargon) in regards to working with the Otherwords. I don’t always see them myself. I think I will ask my own spirits about this next time I do trance work.
Awarewolf–Give yourself time. There’s no hurry, and better to take the time to get into something that works than rush yourself just to fit in. And good luck 🙂
Ash–I think they were more just waiting for me to figure it out. I could tell they were amused when it finally dawned on me. Part of the issue is that I’m primarily used to guided meditations, which are mostly sight oriented, and only what you see is important. So it never really occurred to me to ask about who I *didn’t* see!