Shamanism: Agony Before the Ecstasy or: Give me that Old Age Religion COPYRIGHď 198Ě B┘ SC

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Shamanism: Agony Before the Ecstasy or: Give me that Old Age Religion COPYRIGHď 198Ě B┘ SCARECROW« PERMISSIO╬ T¤ PRINď AN─ STOR┼ FOĎ PERSONA╠ NON-COMMERCIA╠ US┼ IË GRANTED« AN┘ OTHEĎ US┼ IË FORBIDDE╬ WITHOUď PERMISSIO╬ OĂ TH┼ AUTHOR« There have been many changes in the Craft and the broader Neo-Pagan movement within the last decade. The wider dissemi- nation and rediscovery of traditional knowledge and lore, as well as efforts to create a real sense of community for the Wicca, and the advent of major gatherings has been good for the movement, while other innovations seem to be a hindrance and a blind in our quest for the Gods. As is true of any religion, the Craft has myths of origin and function. The early origin myth that portrayed the Craft as a European, Paleolithic faith that was practiced and preserved across the millennia, only to go "underground" during the "Burning Times", before being resurrected by Gerald Gardner (and others) in the 1940's has now been largely replaced by the newer myth that modern Wicca is functioning as a (mainly) white, middle class Euro-American Pagan shamanic system. A popular corollary to this second myth is the notion that shamanism can be taught and absorbed in a weekend or week long workshop. Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and others have discussed the nature of this first myth at length. Culturally, there is no more continuity between the religions of the Cro-Magnon culture of Europe and British Wicca than there is between Christianity and the Paleolithic religions of Egypt or Arabia. I might add that the entire cultural and religious complex of a Paleolithic gathering and hunting faith is inappropriate to most of us, as dinner is more often provided by McDonald's than by McMastadon's. This more recent myth (modern Wicca as shamanism) is not useful to the Craft, as it fosters the inaccurate and offensive notion that the participants attending these weekend seminars have had the training, and developed talents on a par with those of native peoples with shamanic medicine systems, such as the Jivaro of the Amazon, the Lakota of North Dakota, or Tibetian Bon lamas. There are many possible paths to enlightenment, and not all paths are useful for all students. Just as not all health professionals can or should become neurosurgeons, it is not beneficial to think that all of the Wicca and Neo-Pagans can benefit from shamanic training. Truth be told, none of the material currently offered to Crafters/NeoPagans at large even remotely approaches the requirements for shamanism. The term "shaman" ultimately derives form the Sanskrit word "sramanas", meaning an ascetic, or one who practices a form of denial. This term was borrowed by the Tungus peoples of Asia, who term their elite religious practitioners of magic, healing, psychology, and spiritualism "shamans". Shamanism can be traced to at least the upper Paleolithic period of prehistory (c. 25000 BCE), and may indeed date to the period of late Homo erectus (c. 400000 BCE). Identical artistic conventions and religious motifs identifiable as shamanic are present in Central America, Australia, and Asia. Shamanism is a religious and spiritual system that functions to provide "primitive" cultures with a spiritual technology that helps to resolve social and medical problems. A shaman functions as a guardian of the spiritual and cultural traditions of a society, and maintains balance and tranquility within their community. Most tribal, village and band structured societies lack the notion of a dichotomy between physical and mental ills. The entire person was sick, and needed healing. So strong is this connection between the physical and spiritual components of the person, that damage to one portion of the whole, whether physical or psychic, manifests in the "other" realm. A potential shaman was oftentimes a person who was seriously ill, usually near death. During the process of dying, the physical body undergoes states that are accompanied by corresponding psychic stress (astral and ethereal encounters, of you will). At a point of major crisis within the process of death, the Gods/Spirit Guides/Power animals are re-presented to the person through the symbols and myths of that specific culture. During this condition of crisis, the person dies, or is cured by being given the information that they need to be healed, along with certain mystical techniques. (This is one major difference between the shaman and one who "merely" undergoes a near-death experience-the latter cannot long retain or communicate their spiritual knowledge to others.) The shaman has returned to life in a miraculous fashion. Now, the shaman has returned, but not as the same person. Their world view and mind have been shattered and re-integrated. They have survived death, and returned as masters of the Divine flame. They can cure, blast, divine, manifest states of physical control and abilities that are far beyond those of ordinary members of their society, and send out their spirits. They can conduct others to the realm of the spirits to be healed, or taught. This is the easy method for beginning on the shamanic path. Now, let us examine the more difficult, but more common method: A member of the society (or a visiting anthropologist doing their MA or Phd fieldwork) feels the need, or receives a divine sign that they need to become a shaman. (This is well described in Michael Harner's book, The Way of the Shaman) The candidate prepares for initiation by undergoing a preparatory phase that generally involves some sort of extreme physical hardship, such as running for days, going without sleep for extended periods, piercing the body with needles or thongs (as with the Lakota Sun Dancers, or Yogis) to cause exhaustion/pain and create a physiological condition where one can survive and experience a shamanic vision quest. The hopeful initiate will then go through an ordeal of body, soul and spirit. Through whatever means (continuous drumming, cognitive inversion, lengthy trance dances, and, occasionally, entheogenic substances like peyote or amanita) the would be initiate is stripped, one layer at a time, of their comfortable images of the world and the self. This process is not without certain dangers of its own, as individuals with no previously known history of epilepsy often go into seizures characteristic of grand mal episodes. (It should also be noted that such physical states do not, of themselves, indicate the attainment of any desirable spiritual state.) The mechanisms of the conscious mind that classify sensory information into objects and concepts (thereby shielding the person from a direct knowing of reality) are bypassed or overridden. I should try to clarify some of the terminology and concepts associated with these "non-ordinary" states of consciousness and awareness. All of the states that have been discussed so far are classified as "trance" by the anthropological community. Trance states can be loosely defined as any state of awareness that bypasses the normal information processing of the conscious mind. This category can also include any activity of a repetitive nature that induces a feeling of timelessness in a person. It is also recognized that trance states differ in depth and/or intensity. The capacity to enter trance states is (seemingly) present in all humans to one degree or another. Manifestations of trance states in an individual generally depend on the attitudes of the particular group towards trance. During trance states, many different sorts of activities can occur. These include: 1) Mediumship , or "Channeling" information or a personality that is not normally accessible to the person. 2) Being "ridden" by a deity (as in Haitian Voudon or Brazilian Santeria) and manifesting the traits and attitudes of that deity. 3) Possession, or the state that results in the temporary displacement of the personality by an outside entity without the permission or control of the vehicle. In many, many cultures, conditions required for a shamanic initiation require that the psyche and body perceive the nearness of death. I am not referring to a symbolic or ritualistic representation of death, but to the actual process of dying. At the point of no return, when a union of the entire being has been attained, the shamanic vision quest will begin. The term "Vision Quest" is used rather sloppily in Neo-Paganism. Anthropologically, it refers to a vigil where one is presented with the underlying symbols that form the basis of that particular culture. This (hopefully) results in a journey back to the pristine, or original condition of human existence, where people, animals, plants and gods share a oneness of being. This journey is often facilitated and directed by chanting the old legends, or, in the Huichol Mexican Indian culture, by actually assuming the identity of a god or ancestor and walking back through sacred and real space to the land of their origins, which they call Wirikuta. (See the book Peyote Hunt by Barbara Myerhoff for details.) In this culture, a candidate lives the legends, actualizing them anew here on earth. The Huichol are well prepared for their experiences and visions by a lifetime that has been spent hearing the old tales, and living with their religious symbols daily. A common motif of many shamanic initiations is to feel that the flesh is dissolving off of the bones, until the candidate is reduced to a skeleton. The body is then reconstructed by the Gods or spirit helpers, giving the shaman a body that is of divine origin. In a similar vein, the Australian Aborigines undergo a ritual procedure where they feel that crystals are actually being placed inside their bodies, and while experiencing this agony, feel that their bodies assume the properties of crystals. Generally, clear quartz crystals are viewed as solidified light or the souls of other shamans. As the Vision Quest begins, one of several possibilities will occur: a) the person may die of fear. b) the person may die of physical injuries. c) the person lives, no shamanic experience occurs, but becomes insane from the unresolved stresses the psyche has experienced. d) the person lives, but no initiatory experience occurs. e) the person emerges as an insane shaman, with talents, but no integrated personality. f) at the moment of crisis, the person may either be given, or find the tools and spiritual helpers they need to heal themself, and return to the world with a knowing of the wholeness of the Universe that is seen, interpreted, and realized through the attitudes, symbols, and myths of their culture. The initiate has become the first shaman, the first initiate, who can perceive the numinous unity of all things. A shaman can be distinguished from other members of a Pagan society by the following criteria: (1) A shamanic vision quest is of greater commitment, longer duration, and is much more demanding of body and spirit than the "simple" vision quest of a layman that occurs as part of a socially sanctioned rite of passage. (2) A shaman will obtain abilities and talents from many different guardian spirits or deities. Members of a Pagan society that has a shamanic religious complex normally obtain one or two power animals during their lifetime, but a shaman has an entire mythic realm of animals, plants and natural forces at beck and call. (3) A shaman is able to manifest extraordinary abilities as needed. The simplest demonstration of this is the physical balance and leaping abilities that a shaman can exhibit as a direct proof of their kinship with the messenger birds of the spirit world. (4) A shaman can possess his/her spirits or gods and assume their forms and talents - the reverse of a classical possession. In short, the way of the Shaman is fraught with perils and traps to catch the unwary. The journey from near death crisis to ecstasy requires time, patience, and agonies of spirit and body. Mircea Eliade has observed that a shaman suffers more than any other member of a society. They are only rich in their understanding of the unbroken wholeness of being, and in their ability to live within this garden of Eden, experiencing a kinship with all of being, and deliver its apples to other mere mortals, or to transport them there for a visit. For reasons that I hope are clear, one cannot call seminars that are currently available to Neo-Pagans "shamanic training". The psychic, physical and emotional stresses that a teacher of shamanism would need to inflict on their students to would be illegal, foolhardy, and generally not useful in our modern society. Putting a feathered headband over a patische of Hindu tantra, American Indian ways of healing, and poorly understood traditional Wicca and then terming it "Shamanism" is offensive to Native Americans (and others) who have invested years of their lives and endured numerous personal hardships to attain their enlightenment. At best, Neo-Pagans can become guests to their religious and cultural traditions, and should not expect them to welcome the efforts of the white man to plagiarize the only things that have not yet been taken from them-their ceremonies and practices. That said, I believe that there can one day be shamans among the Wicca and Neopagans. There are means within a Euro-Asiatic heritage to actualize the goal of shamanism. The shamanic complexes of Europe and Asia are probably less well known to us, due to the relative paucity of material, and a scarcity of living practitioners. Close reading of the Finnish "Kalevala", the Norse "Lay of the High One" or the Saga of Hrolf Kraki, as well as Irish mythology, poetry and legend can suggest a variety of approaches towards a European shamanism. The ancient musical instruments of Europe and Asia (bullroarers, skin headed drums, whistles that imitate the call of birds or animals, rattles can be used to induce trance (at the simplest level of usage). One possible plan for shamanism would involve a series of rituals designed to determine whether or not the person actually needs this path. That decision made, intense work with the music, symbols, tools, deities of the religious framework (Finnish, Norse, Britic or Continental Celtic or Germanic, etc.) that one has chosen would then be needed. This undertaking will require years to allow the rituals and myths to effectively penetrate to a level of subconscious understanding. [Hint: If you cannot do a full ritual in your tradition perfectly (without the book) during a flood while rebuilding a car engine, you aren't ready for the next step.] Physical disciplining, and achieving an understanding of the human potential is the next step. The entire being will undergo the process of initiation, and must be prepared. Our culture has encouraged us to forget the senses, strengths and capacities of our bodies. A discipline such as ultramarathon training, ritual dance, or a high level of attainment in a traditional martial arts discipline (iaido, Shaolin Wu Shu, or Pentjak Silat) are probably the simplest approaches available in modern America. Many traditional dance and martial arts systems can teach at least the physical and psychic fundamentals needed for moving meditation and shape-shifting, which were two of the traditional attributes of an Old World shaman. It should be realized that tribal Europeans and Asiatics possessed spatial, color and temporal perceptions that are very different from that of moderns. While our rational, scientific culture knows that the world is round, our ancestors of seven thousand years ago dealt with the reality of curved spacture has encouraged us to forget the senses, strengths and capacities of our bodies. A discipline such as ultramarathon training, ritual dance, or a high level of attainment in a traditional martial arts discipline (iaido, Shaolin Wu Shu, or Pentjak Silat) are probably the simplest approaches available in modern America. Many traditional dance and martial arts systems can teach at least the physical and psychic fundamentals needed for moving meditation and shape-shifting, which were two of the traditional attributes of an Old World shaman. It should be realized that tribal Europeans and Asiatics possessed spatial, color and temporal perceptions that are very different from that of moderns. While our rational, scientific culture knows that the world is round, our ancestors of seven thousand years ago dealt with the reality of curved space. While our society uses rectilinear spaces that are then filled with objects possessing straight lines and angles, many Pagan cultures of Europe and Asia structured their living environments around the motifs of the spiral, ellipse, or circle. An examination of the art of the early Minoans, Celts, or Tungus reveals a strikingly fluid artistic style. Symbols and spatial concepts appropriate the chosen Pagan culture should be experienced on a daily and frequent basis to effectively communicate to the subconscious mind their importance. After all, these symbols and spatial concepts will enable reintegration of the self during the shamanic vision quest. The methods of old Europe and Asia seem to have been designed for a solitary practitioner, or a very small group. At a minimum, the initiate must discover, actualize, and climb (or descend) through the world tree (which is the cosmic axis) or maze to a place that is no place, at a time without time, and realize the unity of all things. The concept of a tree that unites all of existence is central (no pun intended) to the shamanic systems of Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The shaman oftentimes climbs up an actual tree as he or she ascends through the worlds. Once again, the mythic cosmos and actions in the physical world have an isomorphic relationship. The world tree is today seen in Continental Europe as the maypole, a remnant of the Irminsul, the oak tree that united sky and earth. (It should be remembered that the sky was masculine and the earth feminine to the Germans.) In much shamanic artwork, the tree seems to symbolize the attempt to attain the One. The ovoid is associated with the shamanic state after climbing the tree. This can be seen as a female symbol. Europe and Asia also have a history of religious dance, and I suggest that small groups might be able to integrate dance into forms and rituals that might allow the attainment of shamanic initiations. Many dances (i.e., earlier forms of the waltz, quadrilles, English country dancing, Dervish zikr) posses spiraling patterns that can be seen to express the principles of divine motion. (In passing, it should be noted that the common square dance term "Do-See-Do" translates into English as "back to back", which refers to the dance of the witches that was considered obscene by the clergy of the Middle Ages. An analysis of these dance forms in light of patterns of kundalini circulation might prove interesting to the reader.) The act of climbing the tree or walking through the maze and breaking through the barrier is the uniting of the spiritual and the physical, allows the initiate to perceive and manifest the One (called Godhead or "Dryghten" by some). Iţ yogaČ thň yogÚ caţ attaiţ stateˇ oŠ ecstas¨ (Nirvanaę wheţ thň kundalinÚ energ¨ (vieweń aˇ femaleę ascendˇ througŔ thň chakraˇ t´ thň to­ chakraČ blossomˇ aˇ ß thousanń petaleń lotusČ anń uniteˇ witŔ thň divinň lorń oŠ creation« Iţ eithe˛ descriptionČ thň shamaniŃ initiatioţ allowˇ onň t´ seň thň worlń iţ itˇ pristinň conditionČ anń t´ experiencň thň unit¨ oŠ alý things« ButČ le˘ uˇ no˘ insul˘ thosň wh´ havň maintaineń thiˇ patŔ iţ aţ unbrokeţ unit¨ fo˛ 2Á thousanń yearˇ b¨ stealinš o˛ imitatinš thei˛ paths« T´ paraphrasň thň statementˇ oŠ anothe˛ teacherČ man¨ arň calledČ bu˘ fe¸ choosň t´ come« Le˘ uˇ hopň thosň wh´ choosň t´ comň havň thň strengtŔ t´ becomň shamanČ anń no˘ shams«


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