Change or Be Changed

“Times always change. They really do.
And you have to always be ready for something
that’s coming along and you never expected it.” 1Bob Dylan

We’re definitely living in interesting times – with lots of changes just around the corner. I find myself wondering if this change will be forced upon us by some calamity like an earthquake, more droughts, terrorism, a political coup, or some other environmental disaster.

And although I know that change is inevitable, it’s the not knowing part that causes me the most anxiety. My old habit of simply going back to sleep – by watching TV, partying with friends, shopping, or any number of distractions – no longer eases the feeling of dread about what might lie ahead.

Many of us are looking back to the 1960’s for clues as to what’s happening now. While those times were full of innovation – there was also the war, social unrest, and plenty of tragedies. And, yet it felt like we were on the verge of some revolutionary change. But, then came 1969 and the beginning of the great let down – and the realization that we hadn’t made all the needed transformations. And, soon followed that feeling of falling back to sleep.

And now, even though it feels like similar times, the stakes seem so much higher.  What’s needed is some perspective, perhaps a vision – and a shaman can provide that vision. The shaman knows a lot about change. He has transformed himself – and died to his old ways many, many times. And, when the very survival of the tribe is at stake, it’s the shaman who journeys into the spirit world and brings back the necessary vision to light the way.

The good news is that we all have the ability to make these journeys and access that wisdom.  And, working with a shaman or a shamanic practitioner can provide the much needed guidance and inspiration. With this wisdom we can change our ways of thinking and perceiving and hold onto that vision. And, with that power we can all dream a new world into being.  Each of us has a part to play.

So, where do you begin? If you’re already on this path – that’s great. If you’re new to it – these organizations listed below offer information and guidance – and are a great place to start. Welcome to the journey.


The Foundation for Shamanic Studies http://www.shamanism.org/
Based on the pioneering work of anthropologist Michael Harner – they offer books, articles, and training programs in shamanism and shamanic healing.

The Four Winds Society http://thefourwinds.com/
Founded by Alberto Villoldo Ph.D., a medical anthropologist and psychologist – they offer classes and in-depth training programs in luminous healing and energy medicine.

The School for The Shamanic Arts http://www.schoolfortheshamanicarts.com/
Founded by the Reverend Esther Miriam Jenkins, this school offers a variety of classes that explore shamanic and energetic traditions.

 

Notes:

  1. Bob Dylan, MusiCares speech, February 2015. Here’s the complete speech

Prince, the Ultimate Public Servant

Prince performing in 1983

Prince performing in 1983

Like so many of us, I was shocked and saddened to hear about Prince’s passing.  Not only was I a fan – but, I had hoped to interview him for my documentary, The Shamans of Rock & Roll.  Prince took us on a musical journey to other worlds – but, he was also the ultimate public servant.

After reading and watching all the interviews and comments from people who knew him well – the big takeaway for me was that he wanted to know what people were doing to change the world, to make the world a better place, and if they were using their platform for the good of others. That’s what mattered most to Prince.  He would often tell friends “whatever you are doing, level up!” 1

Shamans journey into other worlds and use the information, energy, and power from these worlds to affect positive change. They don’t use this power for themselves, they use it for the benefit of others. They’re the ultimate public servant. And, so was Prince.

Prince took us on a musical journey to other worlds. . .spreading messages about spirituality, sexuality, and politics throughout his performances. His artistry came out of the great African American musical tradition – which included Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly and the Family Stone.  These artists inspired him – but, he took it to a whole other level.

Prince was an activist, a social justice defender, and a philanthropist. He lead a revolution in artists’ rights, and even gave up his name during his battle with Warner Bros. just to make the point.

Because he didn’t advertise his contributions – and in many cases wanted to remain anonymous – we can only guess his true impact.  We do know that in recent years he had given money to the family of Trayvon Martin, supported school music and arts programs, 2 organized the “Rally 4 Peace” concert in Baltimore and released the song “Baltimore” as an ode to ending police violence.  But, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

In the tradition of a true shaman, Prince was all about public service.  And, he wanted everyone to get involved.  Beyond his musical contributions, this may be his biggest legacy.  So, what is your ‘level up’?

 

Notes:

  1. Here’s a clip from the April 25, 2016 Dr. Drew Show on HLN with Shaun Robinson talking about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJuxTwFiHNU
  2. Here’s one example of Prince donating to a school’s music and arts program: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/prince-reached-out-gave-money-to-delray-beach-art-/nq9hX/

David Bowie’s Shaman Eye

The first time I saw a photograph of David Bowie and his amazing left eye, I remember thinking. . . .aah, he’s got a shaman eye.   Somewhere back in my childhood I had been told that when someone has an eye that’s distinctly different from the other eye – this was the mark of a shaman.  But, what does that really mean?

Life on Mars Screenshot

Screenshot from “Life on Mars” video

David Bowie was born with blue eyes – but, after an injury as a teenager, he ended up with one blue eye and his left eye, with a permanently enlarged pupil, appeared brown or green depending on the light. 1

Although visible birth marks and birth defects are sometimes considered shamanic markings – people who suffer from hardships and traumas in their early lives – like family tragedies, accidents, illnesses, or even rejection from the tribe – are also likely candidates for shamanhood.  These experiences become part of their initiation process – forcing them to become familiar with the spirit world. By withstanding these trials, they build the strength and courage necessary to ultimately be transformed into a shaman.

David had injured his eye during a fight in high school and it nearly cost him his sight.  He describes how “the pupil was paralyzed. It started bleeding. I was in hospital for months. I was very near to losing the sight in both eyes. They operated and saved my right eye but my left eye is still very dodgy.” 2 He was left with a paralyzed and permanently dilated pupil. 3

This ordeal – and the other injuries and hard times he experienced growing up – set the stage for his initiation.  His inspired music and theatrical performances were full of channeled messages from the dreamtime.  He ultimately became a master of transformation – inviting his audience right along for the ride.

For more on the hard times in David Bowie’s early life, see my article,  David Bowie – Shaman’s Apprentice.

Notes:

  1. David Buckley, Strange Fascination. David Bowie: The Definitive Story, (London: Virgin Books, 1999), 21.
  2. Ibid., 5.
  3. Ibid., 21.

You Say You Want a Revolution

Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You’d better free your mind instead 1

John-editedYes, we are definitely living in interesting times.  On every level – economically, politically, socially, environmentally – it feels like we’re on the brink of some massive change.

People everywhere are waking up and demanding an end to the status quo. They’re tired of the political and corporate interests that seem to be ruling the world. Traditional power structures and institutions like government, banking, healthcare, education and the media have to transform. And, climate change just might be the final straw.

Everyone is looking for answers – and, they’re looking for leaders to show them the way.  But, can we really wait for those leaders to appear? Or is it up to each of us as individuals to clean up our own acts first?

Like John Lennon was telling us back in 1968. . .”you got to free your mind instead. . .”   A successful revolution can only come from within. . .by truly understanding who you really are. . .self-awareness is the key.  And, a powerful approach toward achieving new levels of self-awareness comes to us through the practice of shamanic healing.

But, why would a modern person want to look to some ancient system of knowledge for help? Well, it’s been my experience, that by working with a shamanic practitioner and looking at your life from a shamanistic perspective, you can find healing for whatever is ailing you. . .which can lead to a deeper understanding of your role in this revolution.

Shamans believe that during periods of great stress, fear, and trauma a person’s soul 2 will fragment. And, these “lost” or fragmented pieces will need to be found and re-incorporated into the whole.

So, if you find that you’re feeling angry, hurt, or disempowered. . .a shamanic practitioner can work with you to identify those lost parts and restore you to wholeness.

Yes, it’s definitely time for a revolutionary shift. . .and you are the key to making this happen.

The call is as potent as ever. . .please watch, Revolution. 3

Notes:

  1. Lyrics from Revolution by The Beatles, 1968, Apple Records.
  2. By soul I mean the spiritual essence that’s essential throughout your life. For more information, see Michael Harner’s at http://www.shamanism.org/articles/article01page2.html
  3. The Beatles are lip syncing to a pre-recorded track. . .the opening scream is actually John, not Paul.

Shamans versus Priests

While conducting research for my documentary, I’m frequently asked about the difference between priests and shamans.  While the shaman plays a priest-like role, there are differences between the two.

For some context, let me begin by stating that many scholars have theorized that all of the major world religions have shamanism at their very foundation.   Whether the founder was Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, et al. . .

These religions grew out  of attempts to describe, depict, and explain the supernatural experiences of their founders – who were, by any standard, shamans of the highest order. 1

Shaman's Mask - Shamans of Rock and Roll

Shaman’s Mask

And, as the anthropologist Weston La Barre asserted:

All our knowledge of the supernatural derives de facto from the statements made by religious visionaries and ecstatics (i.e. prophets and shamans) – the Priests only administrate the ecclesia established on this supernatural basis. 2

A further review of the anthropological literature indicates that while some overlap may occur as to what constitutes a shaman versus a priest – shamans primarily obtain their powers from direct contact with spirits – and priests earn their credentials through special training associated with their particular religion. 3

As Joseph Campbell describes:

The priest is the socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized religious organization, where he holds a certain rank and functions as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him, while the shaman is the one who, as a consequence of a personal psychological crisis, has gained a certain power of his own. 4

Bottom line, shamans have the direct experience and priests are part of the religious bureaucracy . . . in most cases.

Notes:

  1. Graham Hancock, Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, (San Francisco: Disinformation Books, 2007), 309.
  2. Weston La Barre, “Hallucinogens and the Shamanic Origins of Religion in Peter Furst (Ed.), Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens, (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972), 2611.
  3. Gerald Weiss, “Shamanism and Priesthood in the Light of the Campa Ayahuasca Ceremony” in Hallucinogens and Shamanism, edited by Michael J. Harner, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).
  4. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, (London: Penquin Compass, 1969), 231.

My Introduction to Shamanism

 

Carlos Castaneda Cover - Shamans of Rock and Roll - Shamanism MovieLooking back, I can see that my inter­est in shaman­ism began while read­ing Carlos Cas­taneda as a teenager. Cap­ti­vated by the stories of his encounters with Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian shaman, Castaneda’s books gave me a frame­work from which to begin to explain expe­ri­ences I had as a child.

Often while play­ing in the woods around dusk – especially at Girl Scout camp (go figure) – I’d sud­denly feel a shift in my per­cep­tion – with the look and feel of my sur­round­ings altering completely. It felt like I had entered a different world. Even though I was still in the woods, my senses were heightened and I would be in this state for sev­eral min­utes before returning back to what felt like a more ordi­nary real­ity.

Read­ing Cas­taneda gave me the lan­guage to begin understanding some of these experiences. There seemed to be much deeper levels of reality than what I was learning about and experiencing in school or at church. And, Castaneda gave me permission to look beyond that ordinary reality.

Years later, while studying Native American traditions, I had the good fortune to participate in a work­shop with Michael Harner from The Foundation for Shamanic Studies (www.shamanism.org) that would fur­ther deep­en my expe­ri­ence with shamanic practices. In particular, I learned how to journey into other worlds and make contact with the spirits that I encountered.

Since then, I’ve used journeying and soul retrieval techniques in many heal­ing ses­sions. And, I even got the chance to take a work­shop with Cas­taneda him­self shortly before he passed.

I’ve also been a long-standing practitioner of the Bön Buddhist tradition. Bön is the indigenous shamanistic “religion” of Tibet – and is one of the world’s most ancient unbroken spiritual traditions. While much of its teachings are similar to Tibetan Buddhism, Bön Buddhism retains much of the richness and flavor of its pre-Buddhist roots.
For more information on Tibetan Bön Buddhism please visit www.ligmincha.org.

Can you choose to become a Shaman?

Shaman's drum - Learn more about Shamanism in the new Shamanism Movie, Shamans of Rock in Roll

Shaman’s drum depicting symbolic map of the Universe

Well no, not really. A shaman is chosen by the spirit world.

According to the shamanistic worldview – the universe has three levels – an Upperworld, Middleworld, and an Underworld – and it’s full of spirits.  Shamans are adept at traversing these worlds – and contacting and dealing with the spirits they encounter along the way.

Anthropologists have identified several characteristics that are common to most shaman candidates.

A shaman candidate will usually from an early age be a dreamer and they will have “out of the ordinary” perceptions.  Their dreams connect them to the spirit world and will ultimately connect them to the their power.

Consider this description of a young shaman candidate among the Tungus in Siberia

A child who has dreams, different from ordinary ones, who is subject to strong emotions, change of mood, and in general, when his behaviour is not like that of other children, is supposed to be a candidate . . . 1

The shaman candidate will also have suffered “shaman’s sickness” – which is caused by an event or trauma such as family tragedy, illness, or rejection. These experiences force the candidate to become familiar with the spirit world. 2

As they apprentice with an existing shaman, 3 the initiate will learn to journey to other worlds again and again. They will also receive instruction on how to make and use their healing tools: their drum, costume, ceremonies, and herbal remedies. And, they learn healing songs and dances.

Ultimately, as part of their initiation, the candidate must journey down into the Underworld and encounter the spirits associated with their “disease.” If they recapture their soul from these spirits they are healed. Their self-cure ultimately empowers them to act as the healer for their tribe.

So, can you choose to become a Shaman?

No one actually chooses to become a shaman – they are chosen – and they can transform and heal themselves – or suffer the consequences.

By Patrice Hall

Notes:

  1. Shirokogoroff, S.M., Psychomental Complex of the Tungus, (New York:  AMS Press, 1980), 349.
  2. Mircea Eliade, Shaman­ism: Archaic Tech­niques of Ecstasy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964).
  3. In some cases the shaman candidate will apprentice directly with the spirit world – and not with a shaman in the physical world.

What is a Shaman?

The word “shaman” comes to us from the language of the Evenk, a Tungus-speaking group of hunters and reindeer herders in Siberia – and it refers to a person of any gender 1 who makes journeys to non-ordinary reality in an altered state of consciousness.

Although the word “shaman” originated in Siberia, shamanistic practices exist throughout the world, primarily among indigenous peoples. The practice of shamanism is a method, not a religion – and it coexists with established religions in many cultures.

Siberian Shaman - What is a Shaman? Learn more in new shamanism movie - Shamans of Rock and Roll

Siberian Shaman

The shaman sees the universe as “triple-layered” – consisting of an Upperworld, Middleworld, and Underworld – that’s inhabited by spirits. In their trances, shamans are able to communicate with these spirits – and they serve as mediators between people and the spirit world.

Religious historian, Mircea Eliade, wrote that shamans have “special relations with ‘spirit,’ ecstatic capacities permitting magical flight, ascents to the sky, descents to the underworld . . . etc.” 2

The ecstasy that’s associated with shamanic trance-like states is not the ecstasy that’s familiar to our western experience – but, ecstasy in the Latin sense – meaning states outside of the normal state, emotion, or consciousness including extreme states of anger, joy, and other emotions.

According to anthropologist Michael Harner these esctatic states are achieved

In about 90% of the world . . . through consciousness-changing techniques involving a monotonous percussion sound, most typically done with a drum, but also with sticks, rattles, and other instruments. In perhaps 10% of the cultures, shamans use psychedelic drugs to change their state of consciousness. 3

So, what is a shaman?  Eliade wrote that “the shaman is the great specialist in the human soul: he alone ‘sees’ it, for he knows its ‘form’ and its destiny.” 4 Shamans are public servants working on behalf of the collective.  The shaman guards the community’s soul.  And, if the need arises, society itself can become the shaman’s collective patient. 5

Notes:

  1. In the Tungus language the word “saman” was gender neutral. The word applied to both men and woman shamans. The words “shamanka” and “shamaness” that are sometimes used to designate female shamans are modern contrivances.
  2. Mircea Eliade,  Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 6
  3. Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone – An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie HorriganShamanism, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 10, No. 1.
  4. Mircea Eliade, Shamanism,  8
  5. David Browman & Ronald Schwarz, Spirits, Shamans and Stars: Perspectives from South America, (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1979, 140.