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.