A Study in Shamanism

By The Silver Circle | May 6, 2001

Shaman (pronounced SHAH-maan) is a word from the language of the Tungus people of Siberia. A Shaman is a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness at will. The Shaman does this to contact and utilize an ordinarily hidden reality to acquire knowledge, power and to help others. The Shaman usually has at least one or more spirits in his or her personal service.

The trance or “ecstatic” state of consciousness the Shaman enters can be termed as the Shamanistic State of Consciousness (SSC).The Shaman does not enter this state for play, but only for serious purposes. The Shaman must also know the basic methods of accomplishing the work in the SSC before entering such a state. For example, if the Shaman wishes to recover a patient’s guardian animal, he must know the techniques for reaching the Lowerworld, entering it, finding the spirit animal and bringing it back safely. Subsequently, he must know what instructions to give the patient in the Ordinary State of Consciousness (OSC).

The Shaman is an accomplished see-er who works in the dark, or at least with the eyes covered, in order to see clearly. For this reason, the Shaman usually engages in such practises at night. Some kind of Shamanistic seeing can be done with the eyes open, but that kind of perception is usually less profound. In darkness, the distractions of ordinary reality are less, making it possible for the Shaman to concentrate on aspects of non-ordinary reality essential for the Shaman’s work. The SSC must also be entered with the assistance of drumming, singing, dancing and the use of rattles.

Shamanistic Enlightenment is the literal ability to lighten the darkness and see what others cannot perceive.

The First Journey

This is a simple exploration down through the tunnel into the Lowerworld. The only mission is to travel the tunnel and perhaps see what lies beyond. Make sure you thoroughly understand the instructions before beginning the journey.

To carry out the exercise, you will need a second person to act as a drummer, or a cassette recording of Shamanistic drumming.

Wait until you are calm and relaxed before undertaking any Shamanistic journey. Avoid alcohol or any psychedelic substances for at least four hours before the exercise. Eat only lightly, or not at all during the preceding four hours.

Choose a dark and quite room. Loosen or remove your clothing and lie comfortably on the floor without a pillow. Take a few deep breaths and relax your arms and legs. Lie there and contemplate your forth coming mission. Then close your eyes, placing a hand or forearm over them to keep out any light.

Now visualize an opening into the earth that you remember from sometime in your life. It can be one you remember from childhood, or one you saw yesterday. Any kind of entry into the ground will do. It may be a hole made by a burrowed animal, a hollow tree stump, a spring or even a swamp. It can even be man-made. The right opening is one that feels comfortable to you, and one which you can visualize. Spend a couple of minutes seeing the hole, without going into it. Note it’s details clearly.

Now either start the cassette recording, or instruct your companion to begin drumming. The drumming should be a strong, monotonous, unvarying, rapid beat. There should be no contrast in the intensity of the drum beats, or the intervals between them. A drumming tempo of about 205 to 220 beats per minute is usually effective for this kind of journey. Allow yourself ten minutes for the journey. At the end of that time, the drummer should indicate that your time is up by striking four sharp beats to signal that it is time for your return. The drummer should then beat the drum very rapidly for about half a minute to accompany you on the return journey, concluding with four more sharp beats to signal the end of the journey.

When the drumming begins, enter your opening into the earth. Go down through the opening and enter the tunnel. At first the tunnel might be dark and dim. It might go underground at a slight angle, or it might descend steeply. Sometimes the tunnel appears ribbed, and often it bends. Occasionally one passes through the tunnel so fast that it is not even seen. In following the tunnel, you may run right up against a natural wall of stone, or some other obstacle. If this happens, just go around it, or through a crack in it. If this fails, simply come back and try again.

At the end of the tunnel, you will emerge out of doors. Examine the landscape in detail. Travel through it and remember it’s features. Explore until you are signaled to come back, and then return through the tunnel the same way you went down.

DO NOT BRING ANYTHING BACK WITH YOU.

Power Animals

Shaman’s have long believed that their powers were of animals, plants, the Sun etc… the basic energies of the universe. Long before Charles Darwin, people in Shamanistic cultures were convinced that human and animal were related. In myth, animals were depicted in human physical form, but were distinguished by certain characteristics that are familiar to the species. In North and South American Indian Mythology, animal characters are not referred to as ‘a coyote’, ‘a raven’ or ‘a bear’. Instead these animals are referred to as Coyote, Raven or Bear. In other words, these individual characters represent the entire species.

Every Shaman has at least one Guardian Spirit or Power animal. It is through this animal, that the Shaman connects with the power of the entire species of that animal. The power animal can also appear to the Shaman in human form. Appearing in human form, is often indicative of the animal’s power. Another indication of this, is when, the animal is seen moving through an element that is not their own, such as snakes flying through the air, or birds swimming. When a Power Animal is in a Shaman’s possession, it acts as an alter ego for the Shaman, giving the Shaman the power of transformation. Specially the power to transform from human to animal, and back again.

It is important to remember that there are no mythical animals in the SSC. For example, a Dragon is just as real as any other animal.

It is possible for a person to have a power animal, and not be aware of it. Thus many people, specially children have at some point had the protection of a guardian spirit, and have lost it. The following areexercises which will help you get in touch with one or more of your unknown power animals.

Calling the Beasts

There are different names for this exercise in different cultures. It is a way for a person to get in touch with their animal aspects through dance. Keep in mind that a Guardian spirit can appear in animal or human form.

Undertake this exercise in a quite, half darkened room, which is free from furniture that can hamper your movements. It is helpful if you have the use of one or two rattles, but these are not necessary.

There are two parts to this exercise. (1)The starting dance, and (2)Dancing your animal. In both dances, you loudly shake a rattle in each hand, and dance in time to the rattle. In all dancing, you keep your eyes half closed. This allows you to cut down on the light, and at the same time enables you to know where you are in the room.

The Starting Dance:

Standing still and erect, face east and shake one rattle very rapidly four times. This is the signal that you are starting, ending or making an important transition in serious shamanistic work. Think of the rising Sun and the power it brings to all living things.

Still standing in place, start shaking on rattle at a steady pace of about 150 beast per second. Do this for about half a minute in each cardinal direction, while thinking of the element or power animals of that direction. For example, you can think of an Eagle in the East, a Lion in the South, a Serpent or Dolphin in the West, and a Bull in the North. Move clockwise.

Return to the East, and shake the rattle above your head at the same rate for about half a minute. Think of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and the entire universe above. Now, shake the rattle towards the ground, and think of the Earth, our home and the gifts she gives to us.

Still facing East, begin shaking both rattles at the same rate, and dancing along with the beat, as if you were jogging in place. In this starting dance, you are giving proof of your sincerity to the power animals, wherever they may be, by making a sacrifice to them, of your own energy in the form of dance. Dancing is a form of praying and evoking the sympathy of the guardian spirit.

Stop dancing, and stand still. Shake one rattle four times to signal that you are about to make an important transition.

Dancing Your Animal:

Start shaking your rattles loudly, but in a slow tempo of about 60 beats per minute. Start dancing around the room in time to the rattle. Move slowly and in a free form. Try to pick up the feeling of some kind of mammal, bird, fish, reptile or a combination of these. Once you feel the sense of something, concentrate on it and slowly move your body in accordance with the creature. Be open to the experience and emotions of the creature. Don’t hesitate to make noises or cries of it. By keeping your eyes half closed, you might be able to see the non-ordinary environment in which the animal is living. You may even be able to see the animal. Do this for about 5 minutes.

Without pausing, shift to a higher state of rattle-shaking and movement. Do this for about 4 minutes.

Another shift to a still faster pace of rattle and body movement. Do this for about 4 minutes.

Stop dancing, and mentally welcome the animal into your body. To do this, shake the rattle four times, and draw it and the animal towards your solar plexus.

Face the East, and shake the rattle four times, while standing still. This is the signal that your work has ended.

Once you have successfully gained your power animal, you make it content enough to stay with you. This is done through exercising your animal through dancing, and singing songs of the animal. Guardian animals usually only stay with a person for a few years, and then depart. So, in the course of a life-long shamanistic practise, a person will have a number of animals.

Hunting a Power Song

Every Shaman has at least one power song, which is used to “wake-up” the guardian and other helpers to assist in healing and other shamanistic work.

To get a power song, plan to spend a day alone in a wild, natural area. Choose a location which is free of people, and unaltered by people.

You must fast for the entire day before your excursion through Mother Nature. Stroll quietly, and sometimes sit. Just wander wherever your feet take you. As you walk around, discover what animal you feel like. It may or may not be an animal you have danced before. Take on it’s feelings, and enjoy it’s identity during the day. On your first excursion, you may only encounter a melody. Subsequent trips will unveil the words for your melody.

Power songs can also be found anywhere quite by accident. It is possible to encounter one on a Shamanistic journey through the Lowerworld, and even in dreaming. Power songs do not have to have elaborate verses, although they can. Many power songs are quite simple, made up few words, which are repeated over and over, and simple ideas. Use your power songs to trigger a mild state of trance in any Shamanistic work you undertake.

Making the Journey to Recover a Power Animal

In order to restore a Power Animal to a person, it is not necessary that the person be lacking one at the time. A person can have up to two Guardian Spirits at a time. A third Power Animal, however, cannot enter the body with two already present. It will simply drift away to be made available at a later time.

Power Animals usually come and go unexpectedly from a person, especially after a few years. If a person shows power loss, through depression or illness, such work should be immediately undertaken, in addition to whatever medical treatment is being applied. In any case, the regular practise of this exercise is an important way to assure a person of possessing power. It is better to have your own drummer for this exercise.

The Journey:

Keep aside an evening that you intend to do the work in. Eat a light lunch that day, but do not have any dinner. Abstain from drugs and alcohol all day.

Use a quite, dark room, and remove all furniture, or at least, clear a wide area for movement. Light a candle on the floor, where it will not throw too much light.

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Go through the steps of the Starting Dance, and Dancing Your Animal. If you have a drummer, have him beat the drum in time to your rattle. If you are using a cassette, shake your rattle in time to the drum. Do this only when you are actually dancing.

Shake your rattle four times in each of the six directions – East, South, West, North, Heaven and Earth). This is done to draw the attention of the spirits of the particular realms.

Next, walk very slowly around your ‘patient’ four times. Shake the rattle in a slow, but strong and steady tempo. Return to stand besides the patient.

Begin to whistle or hum your power song, and shake your rattle in accompany with it. Do this until you are aware of a slight alteration of consciousness.

Now begin to sing the words to your song, still shaking the rattle along with the beat. Do this until your consciousness alters more. Keep on doing this until you have a strong urge to collapse and lie down on the floor.

Once you are on the floor, push your body against the patient, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip, and foot-to-foot.

Without delay, cover your eyes with your hand, and begin to shake your rattle just above your chest. The drummer begins beating in time to it.

Shake your rattle at a very fast rate, until you see the entrance to the Lowerworld.

When you go into the entrance, stop shaking your rattle, but your drummer must keep on accompanying you on your journey.

Once you are in the Lowerworld, avoid any non-mammals you might encounter. Specially spiders or swarming insects, or any serpents or fish whose teeth are visible. If you cannot pass by these things, you must return immediately, and try again another time.

Search the landscape of the Lowerworld with your eyes closed, for the power animal you seek. The secret of discovering a power animal, is that it will show itself at least four times in different aspects, or different angles. Do not strain yourself you find the animal. If it is going to show itself to you it will.

After seeing the animal four times, clasp it to your chest immediately with one hand. The animal will come willingly. Holding the animal, pick up your rattle and shake it sharply four times. This signals the drummer to stop drumming for a moment.

Now shake your rattle very rapidly, while the drummer keeps up the tempo set by you.

When you return, set the rattle aside, while still holding the animal to your chest. Rise to your knees, and face the patient. The drummer should stop drumming, as soon as you rise to your knees.

Place your cupped hands on the patients solar plexus, and blow through you hands with all your might to send the spirit into your patient.

Then, with your left hand, raise your patient to a sitting position, and, place your cupped hands on the top rear of the patient’s head. Once again, forcefully blow, to send any residue of the power into the head.

Pick up the rattle, and shake it rapidly and sharply in a circle four times around the whole length of the patient’s body. This is done to make a unity of the power with the body.

Quietly tell your partner of the identity of the animal you brought back. If the animal is one you do not know, describe it’s appearance. Describe all the details of the journey.

Assist the patient to dance the animal that you have just retrieved. As you shake the rattle, gradually increase the tempo in accordance with the patient’s movements. The drummer should follow the Shaman’s lead. After a while, shake the rattle four times to end the drumming and the dance.

Gently assist your patient to a sitting position on the floor, with a reminder to dance the animal regularly to encourage it to stay.

Power Practices

Consulting a Power Animal:

The Power Animal can be consulted in order to obtain advise on problems. This is commonly called “divination”. To do this, simply journey to the Lowerworld to see your animal. Your Power Animal is usually quite close by, and you won’t have to journey far, before you see it. Quite often, it is at the end of the tunnel.

When you see your power animal, silently greet it, and pose your question. Most often, the power animal will provide the answer by moving it’s body in an unusual way. However, sometimes, it may lead you on a journey. The experiences on the journey will be relevant to your answer.

The first few times you do this, it is best to keep your answers simple, so that they may be answered in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ form. When you become more experienced in understanding the animal’s language, the questions can be more complicated.

You should keep some form of dairy in which to record your shamanistic experiences. These you should record as soon as you finish a journey, so that the memory is still clear.

You need not wait until you have a problem before you undertake a journey to see your animal guardian. It is beneficial to visit without posting questions. You will find positive things happening in your life around such visits.

Keeping Power:

When a Power Animal is restored, one usually begins to feel better immediately, and then begins to feel a power flowing through the body, gradually over the next few days. When this happens to you, it is important no to become complacent. Your Guardian Spirit has entered your body, not only to help you, but also to help itself, by experiencing the material form. Therefore, you should dance your animal at least once a week, even just for a few minutes, using the aid of rattles. This helps keep the power with you.

Even if you dance or exercise your animal regularly, you can still expect it to grow restless, and to start travelling long distances. This usually happens while you are asleep. Even if your guardian Spirit is not with you, the power remains. However, if you start waking up in the middle of the night feeling dispirited and depressed, it is a sign that your Guardian Spirit has left you. If this should happen, you should immediately seek a companion to make the journey to restore power.

Since one’s Guardian Spirit can be off wandering while you are asleep, it is common practise not to wake up a sleeping Shaman, suddenly. In many cultures, this is considered dangerous.

Big Dreams:

Dreams from a Shamanistic point of view are of two types. ‘Ordinary’ and ‘non-ordinary’ or ‘Big Dreams’. Big dreams are ones that occur several times, or nes that are so vivid, that they almost seem real. Big Dreams are considered to be communications from your Guardian. These are not symbolic, but are literal.

Should you have a Big Dream that has negative connotations- e.g. an automobile accident. You should immediately enact the dream once you are awake. The dream is not symbolic, but your enacting of it is. Just go through the motions of the incident in a simple way, and get it over with.

The Bone Game

This games is known by Western North American Indians, as the ‘Stick Game’, the ‘hand game’ or the Bone Game. Shamanistic power and seeing are utilized in this game. It may be played by only two individuals, but most commonly, there are two opposing teams of at least sic members each. In the game, the teams take turns attempting to ‘see’ the location of a bone or bones hidden by the opposing team.

A person designated as the ‘see-er’ or ‘pointer’ tries to locate the marked bone within the hands of the opposing team, while the opposing team tries to prevent the person from seeing the hidden bone.

Before beginning the game, the teams should select a first ‘see-er’ and back-up ‘see-ers’ should the first not be successful. Next ‘hiders’ and back-up ‘hiders’ should be selected. It is a good idea also to appoint a referee to ensure all of the rules are adhered to and to keep tract of the scoring process.

Before the game begins, team members may decide to sing their power songs to help awaken their guardians, however, once the actual game begins, no talking or singing is not allowed between team members. Non-verbal communication must be used to indicate when someone is volunteering to be a new see-er or hider.

See-ers often work with their eyes closed. Sometimes a see-er may even turn his back on the opposing team, in order to see more clearly. Experience is the best teacher to find out which way you see best.

Team members must also decide on how they can help the seeing process. For example, all the members might touch bodies, leading to the see-er, to create a cone of power. The team that is hiding, must disrupt the seeing process, by singing, shouting, dancing or whatever else they wish to do to disrupt the see-er.

When both teams are ready to play, they line up facing each other, about four feet apart. A line should be indicated between the teams. If indoors, this can be a cord, or lighted candles. It is against the rules for any part of a team member’s body, to cross the line. If this occurs, a counter is awarded to the opposing team.

Any object can be used as counters – from feathers to sticks. Each team has three or four counters, and this is placed inside the line in front of the team. The object of the game is to win all the counters. A team has to win not only the opposing teams counters, but also it’s own.

Two bones or sticks are used. These must be as much alike each other as possible. Chicken wish-bones are good for this. Wrap a black thread or string around one bone. This is the bone that the see-er must pick out.

When the game begins, the hider must turn his back on the opposing team and shuffle the bones around in his hands. When he is done, he should turn back to face the opposing team, and stick out both of his hands in front of him. His team then starts a disruptive process to prevent the other team from seeing clearly. When the hider is ready, the referee should begin beating a drum.

The seeing team remains quite, and concentrates on providing a shield of tranquility around the see-er, and sends him power to help his seeing. The see-er must pick out the marked bone in the hiders hand. This is done by the see-er pointing to one of the hiders hands.

If the see-er is correct, the team wins one of the opposing teams counters. If the see-er is wrong, his team looses a turn, but does not surrender a counter to the opposing team. In other words, counters can only be won by successful seeing, not unsuccessful seeing.

* Compiled by the Silver Circle
Blessed Be

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