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.[ref]David Buckley, Strange Fascination. David Bowie: The Definitive Story, (London: Virgin Books, 1999), 21.[/ref]

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.” [ref]Ibid., 5.[/ref] He was left with a paralyzed and permanently dilated pupil.[ref]Ibid., 21.[/ref]

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.

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[ref]Lyrics from Revolution by The Beatles, 1968, Apple Records.[/ref]

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[ref]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[/ref] 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 the Revolution video below.[ref]The Beatles are lip syncing to a pre-recorded track. . .the opening scream is actually John, not Paul.[/ref]

Dylan’s Epic Shaman Songs

Although much of the rock and roll in the early 1960’s focused on adolescent themes with relatively simple lyrics and melodies – Bob Dylan changed all that.  He blew the doors wide open by writing rock and roll songs that included epic[ref]An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective epikos, from epos “word, story, poem”) is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_poetry[/ref] themes.

Dylan Epic Songs

Like a true shaman, Dylan’s epic songwriting was inspired by his mystical experiences in the dreamtime.  It changed the way people listened to music.  Dylan did “more than anybody else. . . to develop in a mass audience the kind of receptiveness to things imaginative and nontrivial.”[ref]Michael Gray, Song & Dance Man/The Art of Bob Dylan, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1972), 144.[/ref]

Here was rock music, part of the pop world, yet with it Bob Dylan was pumping out something of infinitely more dimensions than any one else had ever thought of in pop before.[ref]Ibid.[/ref]

Shamans’ songs are first-hand accounts of their ecstatic experiences. And, scholars theorize that ecstatic euphoria constitutes one of the universal sources of lyric and epic poetry.

The shaman’s adventures in the other world, the ordeals that he undergoes in his ecstatic descents below and ascents to the sky, suggest the adventures of the figures in popular tales and the heroes of epic literature. Probably a large number of epic ‘subjects’ or motifs. . .of epic literature, are. . .of ecstatic origin. . .in the sense that they were borrowed from the narratives of shamans describing their journeys and adventures in the superhuman worlds.[ref]Micea Eliade, Shaman­ism: Archaic Tech­niques of Ecstasy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 510.[/ref]

In Martin Scorsese’s film “No Direction Home,” Bob Neuwirth, friend and associate of Dylan, explains how during the early 60’s in the Village a key question always asked about any performer was “does he have anything to say?”[ref]Martin Scorsese, No Direction Home, 2005.[/ref]  That was all that mattered.  And, Bob Dylan offered his vision as to what was really going on.  He changed the way people listened to music – with his audience becoming part of a magical initiation that had the potential to transform anyone who was listening.

You Might Say I’m A Dreamer. . .

Anthropologists suggest that a significant factor determining whether or not a person becomes a shaman is that from an early age they are dreamers who have out-of-the-ordinary perceptions.  Their dreams connect them with the spirit world – which, ultimately, is the source of their power.

Like a shaman candidate, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon were dreamers who saw the world differently than most people.

Cave drawings on Sicily - Learn about John Lennon's Connection to Shamanism in the new John Lennon Movie - Shaman's of Rock and Roll

Cave drawings in Sicily

As a child growing up in Minnesota, Dylan recalled staring at the snow and having “amazing hallucinogenic experiences doing nothing but looking out your window.”[ref]Howard Sounes, Down the Highway. The Life of Bob Dylan, (New York: Grove Press, 2001), 17.[/ref] Later, in a “Rolling Stone” interview he commented that “I live in my dreams. I don’t really live in the actual world.” [ref]Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stone Interview, January 26, 1978.[/ref]

Jimi Hendrix was also a shy, dreamy kid – who spoke with a stammer. He claimed to see colors, not notes in his head as he played his guitar.[ref]Charles Cross, Room Full of Mirrors. A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 133.[/ref]  “I used to dream in Technicolor that 1966 was the year that something would happen to me.”[ref]Ibid., 118.[/ref]  And, in 1966, Jimi went to London and everything changed.

John Lennon said that “psychedelic vision is reality to me and always was. Even as a child. When I looked at myself in the mirror . . . I used to, literally, trance out . . . seeing these hallucinatory images of my face changing, becoming cosmic and complete.”[ref]David Sheff, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko One, (New York: Playboy Enterprises, Inc, St. Martins Press, 1981), 158.[/ref]

And, in his song ‘When I Live My Dream’ David Bowie declares that: “It’s a broken heart that dreams.” He acknowledges that he’s a “dreaming kind of guy.” And, he promises: “Nothing in my dream can hurt you.”[ref]From the album The World of David Bowie released in 1970.[/ref] This is just one of Bowie’s many songs about dreams.

These artists were definitely in touch with the dreamtime. It was a source of their creativity and it gave them the power to transform their lives.  And, for those who were listening . . . it showed us a way of connecting with realities far beyond our normal experience . . . opening us to the possibility of connecting with the source of our power.

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.[ref]Graham Hancock, Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, (San Francisco: Disinformation Books, 2007), 309.[/ref]

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.[ref]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.[/ref]

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. [ref]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).[/ref]

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.[ref]Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, (London: Penquin Compass, 1969), 231.[/ref]

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

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 . . . [ref]Shirokogoroff, S.M., Psychomental Complex of the Tungus, (New York:  AMS Press, 1980), 349.[/ref]

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.[ref]Mircea Eliade, Shaman­ism: Archaic Tech­niques of Ecstasy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964).[/ref]

As they apprentice with an existing shaman,[ref]In some cases the shaman candidate will apprentice directly with the spirit world – and not with a shaman in the physical world.[/ref] 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

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[ref]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.[/ref] 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.”[ref]Mircea Eliade,  Shamanism. Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964), 6[/ref]

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.[ref]Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone – An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie HorriganShamanism, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 10, No. 1.[/ref]

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.”[ref]Mircea Eliade, Shamanism,  8[/ref] 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.[ref]David Browman & Ronald Schwarz, Spirits, Shamans and Stars: Perspectives from South America, (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1979, 140.[/ref]