Dancing in the shadow

The self of my dreams came the day I found out that there was gold hidden in my darkness, that there was light shining in my bad behaviour, and that there was power hidden in the traumas of my past. Debbie Ford

One of the less obvious influences on Chakradance, often overshadowed by the more apparent influences of the Hindu-Tantric chakra system and shamanic trance-dances practices, is Jungian psychology.

While the Chakradance facilitator is all too aware that his or her role is to ‘hold space’ for the experiences of the dancers, a very Jungian concept, as is the use of mandala art to ‘contain’ the numinous experiences and energy of the dance. These Jungian aspects are often not obvious to the dancer.

I often refer to Jungian archteypes that people may encounter in their dance journeys, these will often manifest as visions of scenes that play out as interactions between archetypes like mother and victim, warrior and servant.

I have written about archetypes in these other posts. 

The experience of Chakradance is described like a ‘waking dream’ where the dancer lets go of their conscious, thinking mind and allows the unconscious mind to communicate through images, feelings, colours and insights.

This week another Chakradance facilitator posted about Chakradance as a way to interact with our shadow, a Jungian concept for the aspects of self that we are either unaware of or actively suppress because we are ashamed of that aspect of ourselves.

At a time when my shadow, in the words of Led Zeppelin, looms taller than my soul, and having just read a truly awe-inspiring post by a Jungian writer – see here – I felt one of those lightning bolt moments.  (Like a lightbulb moment but way more dramatic.)

Something’s coming up. Let’s see if it can articulate itself here…

Chakradance is a journey within. Using the chakra system as a map to consciousness, we dance beyond the everyday, five sensory awareness into a deeper experience of ourselves. With our eyes closed and our imagination as a guide, during Chakradance we experience our inner world as a waking dream. Many people see visions in their mind’s eye, encounter beings, ancestors, animals, different landscapes which all tell a story about the disposition of our inner self.

In the new Chakradance cycle, called Freedom, we have a different guide for each chakra who takes us on this journey. But I have found many people intuitively find their own guides in the dance as well, be they humans, ethereal beings or animals.

After participating in a Chakradance cycle, many people are surprised at the visions and experiences, not to mention the insights and transformations in their real lives, that they encounter.

It is so astonishing to uncover this unconscious aspect of ourselves, and to realise our conscious, day to day self is like the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitudes we all contain.

So when we immerse ourselves into the sound and movement of chakradance, what will often arise is aspects of ourselves that we have not been aware of. This can be visions, emotions or insights that are experienced in a loving and beautiful way. Sometimes we are ready to shift and release less attractive aspects of ourselves. These might be long buried memories, strong emotions, or even aspects portrayed as menancing creatures who come out of our subconscious dark zones. 

Like a deep-water diver, encountering sharks or other prehistoric and primal creatures that we may be afraid of, our first reaction to these is often fear or repulsion. But just as sharks have a vital role in the ecological wellbeing of the ocean, so our own shadow has a purpose. 

This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed. D.H. Lawrence

For me, when I began my Chakradance facilitator training, and I was dancing and studying the modality intensely on a daily basis, I had a number of powerful experiences. The most profound for me was an experience in the Solar Plexus Chakra, which not only happened in the dance but also in my dream life. This showed me something was shifting at a deep level in my psyche.

I was awoken from a dream, quite literally, with a bang. In my dream, a large metal pot or cauldron blew its lid with a loud explosion. As a result of reading Jung and experiencing Chakradance, I was becoming more curious about the messages my subconscious communicates to me in my dreams.

After waking from this dream, I felt quite agitated and unable to go back to sleep. There was the strongest feeling that this dream was an important message from my subconscious and I intuitively felt it was somehow related to my solar plexus chakra. So after discussing this with my Chakradance teacher, I moved on to this chakra. During the dance, I had a very powerful experience.

The dance of Manipura (the solar plexus chakra) begins with a flame, and as the music intensifies, the fire increases, and I danced like wildfire. I became one with the fire, I was fire, flickering and wild. It felt incredibly liberating and powerful, and then all of a sudden my perception shifted dramatically.

The experience transformed from being elemental fire, to being ON fire – being burned, encased in flames – and all the powerful emotions that came with it. Horror, fear, panic. Even knowing it was just in the dance, the emotional reaction was profound. 

I had flashbacks to memories of being hurt as a child, and a great rage rose within me. Ending up like an animal in all fours, I growled and raged, releasing suppressed emotions held within me since I was a powerfless five year old unable to fight back against her abuser. 

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster. Carl Jung

Recovering in child’s pose, I found myself saying to myself, “that was then this is now, it is safe to be powerful now.”

As I incanted this affirmation, came a vision of a fiery cauldron burning away the hurts of the past, all those experiences where I was persecuted, shamed, or abused for expressing my power.

I would love to report that since then I have never been less than powerful in my life, but it doesn’t work like that. In my life aspects of my shadow, like that scared and angry child, the one who was unable to be powerful and speak up, are still there.

The difference is that I know she is there, and I can see when that energy emerges, when I get petulant or sulky, when I over react to perceived criticism or rejection. These days, I am more mindful, more aware.

And I have made a sacred place for her, where she can be safe to express whatever she needs to. It’s my way of integrating her, without annihilating her. Because she’s part of me. If she hadn’t taken on all that rage and shame for all those years I may not be here today. Today instead of wishing her away I try to honour her. She’s a feisty five year old who screws up her face when she’s not happy and I love her!

I have also tapped into an inner wellspring of power that I never knew I possessed. Now when I dance the Solar Plexus I embody the energy of a fiery God – Shiva Nataraj – or a powerful warrior and feel these numinous qualities flow on into my life.

We need more people who are not ashamed of, or embarrassed by their pain, but who can instead respond to their own and others’ suffering – as an unavoidable facet of the human condition – with love, patience, sympathy, nurturing and respect. True happiness, after all, does not exclude sadness, but rather embraces it within the living paradox which personal wholeness demands. Maureen B Roberts

So what is this shadow? And why do we have it. And yes, you do.

Renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed that on the journey to discover your inner secrets and mysteries, you will encounter the dark, hidden crevices within your psyche. He called this place the “shadow self.” It is also called the lower self, animal nature, the alter ego, or the inner demon – the place where the unowned side of your personality lives.

The shadow is the parts of ourselves that we may try to hide or deny. According to Carl Jung, it can be said to consist of energy patterns, known as selves or sub-personalities that were disowned — pushed down into our unconscious in childhood, as part of our coping strategies.

Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept to describe how our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves” in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life.

Your shadow self is the part of you that stays unknown, unexamined, and out of the light of your conscious awareness. It is the part that is denied or suppressed because it makes you uncomfortable or afraid. Whatever doesn’t fit your image of your ideal self becomes your shadow.

Jung asked, “Would you rather be good or whole?” Many people choose goodness, or more accurately ‘correctness’ as a means to belong in society, and as a result, are internally fractured. There is your persona, the part you want the world to see, and your shadow, the part that you don’t.

What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion. This may be by means of physical symptoms in the case of a neurosis, or by means of incidents of various kinds, or by unaccountable moods, unexpected forgetfulness, or mistakes in speech… modern man protects himself against seeing his own split state by a system of compartments. Certain areas of outer life and of his own behavior are kept, as it were, in separate drawers and are never confronted with one another. Carl Jung

Jung believed that what you resist in life tends to persist and even become stronger. If you resist your dark side, it becomes more solid. Hence by trying to be good and suppress our shadow side we actually make it more powerful.

As Jung often said what we refuse to face in ourselves, we project into others and onto life creating an external world that seems to reflect our own worst nightmares. We create self-fulfilled prophecies of the stuff we least want.

I think I first became aware of my shadow 18 years ago. Having hit, in 12-Step parlance, my rock-bottom through alcohol and drug abuse, I found myself sober in a 12 Step program. Suddenly I had no Dutch courage, no medicine, no anaesthetic, and no buffer between myself and reality. I had started using alcohol to numb my feelings at age 15 so at age 25 I had acquired zero emotional maturity or coping mechanisms that didn’t involve a drink, a fix or a pill.

I found myself sitting in cold and dank church halls and community centres – where many AA meetings seemed to be held – with hideously bright fluorescent lighting – “ve have vays of making you talk.” Even though I had spend much of my ‘drinking years’ in dank bars, the veneer of alcohol always made everything sparkle, it gave me a warm inner glow, and the dim lighting covered a multitude of sins.

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell

Now I felt exposed, transitioning from a creature of the night to an attempt at daytime normalcy, I found myself squinting and blinking at the brightness of the world, like a mole forced out of her hole. Supermarkets were particularly painful. The combination of the bad Muzak, over-lit endless aisles of stuff and people was pergatory for me.

Especially the people. Early detox from alcohol is defined by it’s combination of the physical shakes and extreme paranoia. I was sure every person in the place was watching me trying to wrestle control of my hand to pick up a packet of cereal or extricate money from my wallet. If someone actually spoke to me, it all became too much, the walls would start closing in and I had to abandon all my shopping and leave.

It was a shock to see what a ‘shadow’ person I had become, more comfortable in the dark, shadowy side of life, invisible, afraid of the most ordinary things.

In the AA program I was forced to confront my ‘defects of character,’ another ways of describing the shadow aspects of my behaviour. For someone who had meticulously avoided any emotions, or difficult aspects of myself, this was a hideously confronting process. On a daily basis I was faced with the choice of facing my shadow or facing complete annihilation. It was not a happy time.

We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. Sigmund Freud

But, through this process I learned to be increasingly more comfortable with myself, all of myself, and embarked on a path of self-awareness and self-acceptance as I had never known before.

It was to be my first of many experiences, where I discovered that facing my shadow, no matter how painful or undesirable, brought untold gifts.

Eventually though I found myself again at a rock bottom. Having crashed and burned emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually not long after my fortieth birthday, again I was searching for answers.

As appealing as it was when I was happy, from this depressed state I found much of the New Age stuff very shallow. Wishful thinking, affirmations, faking it until we make it, are sometimes helpful to get out of the rut, but they cannot be long term life plans. True authenticity comes from facing the shadow. That stuff that lurks just beneath the surface that we push down with a myriad of avoidance strategies from sedation to excess busyness.

I am highly suspicious of any practice which focuses only on the light or positive aspects of our being. We are all made up of dark and light. A really simple way to uncover your shadow self is to see what really irritates you in others, what drives you bonkers. Is it disrespect? Arrogance? Greed? Inconsideration? Guaranteed the stuff you most resent in others is stuff you deny or repress in yourself. This is called projection, we literally use others as a screen to project our shadow traits onto.

Our journey of Self-Exploration is a bit like Dante’s Inferno. Before making our way out of “hell” we must walk through the depths of our inner darkness. Many religions symbolize these experiences well. Two famous examples include the case of Jesus who had to face Satan in the desert, and Buddha’s encounter with Mara (the Buddhist Satan) before his “awakening”.  Mateo Sol

We all do this, so there’s a couple of options, suppress it and keep frantically chanting OMs hoping that no one realises our murderous rage within, or acknowledge it. Take a look at it. Next time you judge someone else, either for the positive or negative – even jealousy often is us projecting our unowned good qualities on another person – witness that.

Be curious. Dive into it. Ask yourself, can I be disrespectful, arrogant, inconsiderate? Maybe sometimes these qualities are actually useful. Especially when used consciously.

When I stumbled upon Chakradance, something lit up inside of me. Here was the best of the New Age. A practice that combined ancient wisdom with modern psychology. It drew upon the Chakra system, shamanic dance and Jungian psychology. All practices which resonated with me. And best of all, it was music and dance! I had always found great freedom and liberation from my difficulties by pumping up the stereo and dancing myself silly. Chakradance gave me a framework to use this for my healing.

Any practice which takes us out of the conscious mind and engages with the unconscious, be it dance, creating art or music, meditation, immersing ourselves in nature, will help this more primal side of ourselves to emerge.

In Chakradance we dance into our unconscious, and then we create a mandala drawing so we can express all this beautiful untapped energy, and all the powerful images we encounter which help us to recognise these hidden parts of ourselves.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age. Walt Whitman

Because the shadow is often made up of primal instincts and urges we have repressed, as well as tribal and ancestral traits we have rebelled against, I feel that the base chakra is particularly relevant to this work.

When I was in India last year I took the opportunity to see an Ayurvedic doctor. In Ayurveda all aspects of self, mind, body and spirit are addresssed. So as part of the consultation, he discussed the state of my chakras. He felt that my physical and emotional symptoms indicated my base Chakra was weak – almost non-existant! – and needed activating. I have been practising the mantras he gave me and the chanting practice. When the Chakradance Reboot Your Base Chakra eCourse came up I immediately signed up.

I am a great believer in divine timing. As my shadow self seems to be bursting out causing me to act, think and feel in ways I find very overwhelming and challenging, I have this beautiful practice of Chakradance to ease me back into my body, to help me integrate all these aspects of self. Chakradance is gentle like that, it doesn’t force things to come up in the psyche, Jung believed that could be counter-productive. But when stuff is ready, it rises, and it feels so good to be able to dance through and integrate my shadow work.

In the base Chakradance we connect with our power animal. Dancing our power animal is one of the most powerful shamanic practices to revitalise and strengthen our spirit. Each animal brings its own strength, wisdom or medicine, and a connection to our primal, instinctual nature.

Mine is an animal who hibernates seasonally, and as such as we head into Winter here, I am reminded of the restorative power of cave-time, time to withdraw from the world, rest, nourish and replenish the body.

The work of the soul is not always sparkly and full of surrender-gasms. As Caroline Myss said the truly powerful and great spiritual moments are usually accompanied by great humility or suffering, as the metaphor of the birth of the messiah in a stable illustrates.

In my eyes, indisposed. In disguises no one knows. Hides the face, lies the snake. And the sun in my disgrace. Chris Cornell

During this time of increased shadow rising, I became increasingly depressed. Perhaps instead of something rising up, it was a place I descended into.

Weirdly my darkest nights of the soul coincided with the tragic suicide of my musical hero Chris Cornell. I felt that right there was my shadow, I so empathised with the darkness that took him on that lonely night in Detroit.

I drew on my love for my son to get me through, like a candle illuminating the dark I knew I had to survive the darkness for his sake. It sounds melodramatic I know, but when you are hanging on by a thread, you use whatever power you can.

Depression can be seen as a descent into shadow. It certainly feels dark, and as though every negative and undesirable aspect of self takes front and centre stage. However there is also a palpable shift in awareness as if a doorway into a previously hidden part of life is opened.

Depression is a wilderness where nothing makes sense or has meaning. As long as it doesn’t take me out completely, this mental blackout can be helpful. It often forces me to challenge what truly has meaning in my life, what has substance, what brings vitality and joy. And similarly to recognise that which does not.

Leading up to this bout of depression I had done some work with a spiritual healer that included soul retrieval. In fact I could pretty much pin the beginning of my descent to that time. I became curious about this link between soul loss, soul retrieval, shadow and depression so I began to read more about it.

Soul loss is the idea that parts of our soul or spirit break away during traumatic life experiences, leaving us less vital. In psychology this idea is known as dissociation, where a person may have no memory of the trauma or seem disassociated or overly detached from their current life.

In psychology they are not concerned with where these lost parts go, but in many shamanic traditions, there is an understanding that these parts have gone to places in non-ordinary reality or the ‘spirit world.’ Shamans are experts in tracking down and coaxing back these lost soul parts to be reunited the body of the person they were splintered from. This is soul retrieval.

Many years ago when I was studying shamanism in Bali, I had a conversation with a friend about this. As a psychotherapist he pointed out that the mind is always trying to find balance or equilibrium, and as such rejects anything that threatens this. Bringing back soul parts after many years, especially soul parts that were splintered off on account of trauma, must throw this balance of the psyche into turmoil.

I wish that soul retrieval were safe, simple, and filled with the white light of love and light that people think it is. But something cannot be powerful and safe at the same time. Mary Shutan

Interesting alongside this deep suicidal depression, I also had other old dysfunctional behaviours crop up. And I craved cigarettes so badly I actually asked a drunk guy for one, fortunately he said no. I haven’t been a smoker for over sixteen years.

What I began to intuit is that some of the soul parts that had come back were pretty dysfunctional when they left.

Whether you see these parts as repressed aspects of self or lost soul parts, the effect of bringing them back into consciousness is the same, they are strangers to the psyche who has been getting along just fine – or so it thinks – without them. Sometimes it is not a happy reunion.

And seemingly they had brought some of their old dynamics back into my psyche, throwing me into turmoil. In a way my shadow selves were ignited and fueled by this process, and I was left in a frightening shadow world where all I could see was darkness and hopelessness. Much like the teenage addicted and suicidal me.

You will have to stand someplace you’ve never been willing to stand before. Go to places you have deemed off limits. This is the time to take off the shell of your past and step into the rich possibilities of your future. Debbie Ford

Fortunately, weeks ago I had signed up for a Spontaneous Transformation workshop on stress and overwhelm. Spontaneous Transformation is a beautiful technique that addresses this very issue by dialoguing with these soul parts and helping them address the trauma in order to find a resolution, recognition and integration.

Through this daily practice and through Chakradance, I have found peace with myself again. And beyond that, these angry and hurt parts of myself actually taught me a lesson or two about how I could be kinder and support myself better in my life.

In India, the Hindus practise Aarti, which literally means an illuminating light in the darkness. I believe by bringing the light of awareness onto our shadow we can find gold there. Don’t throw away the treasure in your cave because  you’re scared of the dark – light a candle and see the gold in there.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) Walt Whitman

Hari om tat sat. Namaste. Blessings.

Try Chakradance – Rhythm for your soul



The Shaman’s Blues

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Before I sink into the big sleep. I want to hear the scream of the butterfly. Jim Morrison

Recently, at a party, someone asked me about the Shamanism training I’m doing in Bali. As I fumbled my way through a rambling answer, it made me think, I really need an ‘elevator pitch’ to answer these questions.

The truth is, shamanism isn’t really something I can explain succinctly as a concept, rather it is something I practice, something that is unfolding to me. It is highly experiential. It’s outside of the comfort zone of the modern western mindset. So far outside of that zone, it’s like it grew wings, and flew to Neptune. To explain it, I have to ask you to set aside everything you think you know.

That said, I think its worth exploring. What do I mean by shamanism? What is my practice? Do I even want to call it shamanism. If not, then what?

And how do I convey all that to people without sounding like a complete looney?

“Oh yes, I commune with spirits, and I don’t mean a martini”

Enter the eminently eloquent Frank MacEowen, to save me from my tangled tongue (and unintentional alliteration) to describe it to y’all.

Shamanism – the practice of entering into a non-ordinary state of consciousness and leaving ordinary reality to acquire knowledge, guidance, or healing energy. Shamanic spirituality is one way of listening deeply to ancient powers in the land and within the human soul. Frank MacEowen

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Okay. Got it? Not really? Alright, I’ll explain it some more. But to be perfectly honest, I can describe it until I’m blue in the face, which would be entertaining yes, but you really have to experience it to understand. Here goes…

Essentially, shamanism describes the oldest living paths of spirituality and healing, dating back tens of thousands of years, found in cultures all around the world from ancient times up to the present day, and yet many people don’t know what it is or are confused about the practice.

Part of this confusion stems from the term ‘shamanism’ itself, which is used describe a group of diverse traditional cultural and spiritual practices, even though they are not all one and the same. However, the remaining practices that continue in the world today do share many common approaches to healing and living in commune with the natural and spirit worlds. Hence the use of a common word to describe them.

Anthropologist Mircea Eliade in his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, wrote that shamanism underlays all the other spiritual traditions in the world, and that the most distinctive universal feature of shamanism—but not the only one—was the journey to other worlds in an altered state of consciousness.

It all sounds rather fanciful to the Western mind. Journeying to commune with spirits? Why, just hand me that crystal ball and hit the smoke machine… Woo-woo!

Michael Harner makes the important distinction that shamans do not ‘believe’ in the world of the spirit, they actively engage there.

In shamanic cultures, where shamans interact with spirits to get results such as healing, it’s no surprise that people believe there are spirits. But the shamans don’t believe in spirits. Shamans talk with them, interact with them. They no more “believe” there are spirits than they “believe” they have a house to live in, or have a family. This is a very important issue because shamanism is not a system of faith. Michael Harner 

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While shamanic practices vary across cultures, there are many ‘core’ practices that are universal or near-universal and these constitute ‘core shamanism’.

Shamanism is a spirituality rooted in the idea that all matter has consciousness and that accessing this ‘spirit that lives in all things’ keeps the natural world, including us humans, in balance, healed, and whole. A shamanic practitioner seeks to be in relationship with the spirit in all things – a path to sustainable harmony not only with all humans, but with each and every plant, animal, and spiritual entity that is a part of our world.

The anthropologist Michael Harner, who established Core Shamanism, writes that “the word ‘shaman’ in the original (Siberian) Tungus language refers to a person who makes journeys to non-ordinary reality in an altered state of consciousness.”

Michael Harner says that using such a term helps people to understand the type of healing being undertaken, and avoids the often negative connotations of other culture specific terms like “witch doctor”. Although the term is originally from Siberia, there is evidence that the shamanic practices existed on all inhabited continents. So it’s essentially an umbrella term for similar traditions found the world over.

Shamans are often called “see-ers” (seers), or “people who know” in their tribal languages, because they are involved in a system of knowledge based on firsthand experience. Shamanism is not a belief system. It’s based on personal experiments conducted to heal, to get information, or do other things. In fact, if shamans don’t get results, they will no longer be used by people in their tribe. People ask me, “How do you know if somebody’s a shaman?” I say, “It’s simple. Do they journey to other worlds? And do they perform miracles?” Michael Harner 

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A shaman is a man or woman who uses the ability to see “with the strong eye” or “with the heart” – according to different cultural interpretations – to travel into hidden realms. The shaman interacts directly with helping spirits to address the spiritual aspect of illness and perform soul retrievals, retrieve lost power, as well as remove spiritual blockages. The shaman also divines information for the community. Shamans perform a multitude of roles in their communities, acting as healers, doctors, priests, psychotherapists, mystics, and storytellers.

Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit. Shamans speak of a web of life that connects all of life and the ‘spirit that lives in all things’. Everything on earth is interconnected and it is the shaman’s role in the community to keep harmony and balance between humankind and the forces of nature.

Shamanism is a system of direct revelation. One of the major ceremonies a shaman performs is called a shamanic journey. In a ‘journey’ a shaman enters into an altered state of consciousness and travels into the hidden realms that many describe as non-ordinary reality – like a parallel universe to ours.

The Otherworld is the interiority of place, just as the human soul is the interiority of an individual. This is not to say it is “inside”, but rather that it is hidden and invisible, and its depths cannot be penetrated by ordinary means. Jason Kirkey

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The Australian aborigines call non-ordinary reality the Dreamtime. In the Celtic traditions it is referred to as the Otherworld. In these hidden realities there are helping, compassionate spirits who offer their guidance and also their healing help. There are also some not-so-helpul ones and the skilled shaman knows how to avoid those ones, with the assistance of their personal power animals or spirit allies, who act as guides in non-ordinary reality.

Tori McElroy writes that this specialised, sacred role of the shaman exists in many cultures, and the accounts of shamanic trance-journeys are remarkably similar around the world. The ecstatic trance seems “to open the human mind to archetypal experiences transcending cultural boundaries.” The spiritual realms are almost always experienced in three layers: the middle world, equivalent to the physical plane of the earth, the upper world, equating to the heavens above, and a third that lies below the earth, or the lower world.

Certain psychologies might tend to identify the Otherworld with our psyche; the inner realm of the human mind and soul, and that the going-ons there are reflective of our own processes. Other people might lean towards the more spiritual or mystical understanding of the Otherworld as an actual place, a spirit-world, inhabited by very real beings. What is actually important is that no matter how we understand the Otherworld, in all the stories in which it plays a part, those who experience it are transformed. Jason Kirkey

Each culture interprets these realms a little differently, but there are such strong similarities of experience it suggests that the pattern of imagery arises from the journey process itself, rather than from cultural expectations.

There is even evidence that the shamanic journey may have been part of the development of all religions, and although the practice has all but vanished in many cultures, remnants of it exist in myths and traditions. This is where core shamanism can assist in the reconstruction of these practices, for example in Celtic shamanism and druidry.

There are a variety of ceremonies that shamans perform. Like priests, they lead ceremonies to welcome children into the world, perform marriages, and help people transition at the time of death. They lead ceremonies to mourn the death of loved ones. There are important initiation ceremonies performed to mark certain transitions in a person’s life such as from moving from childhood into adulthood.

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Typically shamans use some form of percussion, especially drumming or rattling, to go into an altered state that frees the soul of the shaman to journey into the invisible worlds. Many traditions also believe that music, drumming, singing, rattling, helps to attract the helping spirits.

Because it is not an organized religion as such, but rather a spiritual practice, shamanism cuts across all faiths and creeds, reaching deep levels of ancestral memory. As a primal belief system, which precedes established religion, it has its own symbolism and cosmology, inhabited by beings, gods, and totems, who display similar characteristics although they appear in various forms, depending upon their places of origin. John Matthews

Indigenous Australian shamans use the didgeridoo and click sticks. Some traditions use bells. The Sami people of Lapland and Norway also use monotonous chanting called “joiking”. My mother heard a recording of women chanting and told me it reminded her of the way the women sung, usually as they performed group tasks, in Ireland where she grew up.

So why bother journeying? Shamans journey to assist their community and its members, whether to transition through stages in life, or out of the living realm, or to heal illness. Shamans look at the spiritual aspect of illness. An illness might manifest on an emotional or physical level but the shaman is looking for spiritual imbalance or disharmony, which can cause the illness and prevent its healing.

I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed. Led Zeppelin

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Sandra Ingerman, my teacher and experienced shamanic practitioner, has found that most shamanic cultures around the world believe that illness is due to the loss of the soul. It is believed that whenever we suffer an emotional or physical trauma a piece of our soul flees the body in order to protect itself and preserve the integrity of the overall soul. The soul is our essence, life force, the part of our vitality that keeps us alive and thriving.

In modern Western psychology, this is understood as dissociation and post-traumatic stress disorder. In either case, a fragment of the psyche (meaning “soul”) breaks off to preserve the integrity of the whole.

The helping spirits who inhabit parallel worlds to the human world have a perspective that often cannot be seen by a practitioner in ordinary states. Therefore shamans work in partnership with the helping spirits in performing healing work, including soul retrieval, where these lost soul parts are coaxed back ‘home’. In many hospitals in the United States, Native American shamanic healers work alongside Western doctors to heal patients.

Inevitably when journeying, shamans become extremely connected to the spirit in nature, the the land spirits, and to the local plants and trees, and receive information about their potential healing properties. This is a more sensible explanation of plant medicine than simple trial and error. The plants themselves have wisdom and a willingness to share this with us humans.

To live life from this sort of truth would require us to acknowledge the needed reciprocity between this world and the Otherworld, inner and outer, humans and nature. However, this sort of recognition of the interconnectedness of all things is exactly what is needed to heal the perceptive split between these realities. To do this we need to cultivate the ears of sacred listening that can hear the profound music of the Otherworld and bring our fragmented soul back into the wholeness of the soul of life. Jason Kirkby

creamSo why do I find shamanic journeying so very appealing? I think it’s because I have been inadvertently doing it all my life.

Music is a doorway into the realm of the soul. Jason Kirkey

My dad is to blame for my passion for music, he ignited an insatiable fire when he gave me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band for my 8th birthday. Now I wonder if I should blame my love for the esoteric on him for the same reason.

There is a song on that album called ‘Within You Without You‘. It was George Harrison at the height of his immersion into the Maharishi’s following. In 1967, The Beatles — along with actress Mia Farrow and musicians Donovan and Beach Boy Mike Love — made a pilgrimage to Rishikesh, India, the headquarters for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the bearded, long-haired guru who gave the West a somewhat toned-down form of Hinduism called Transcendental Meditation.

I knew none of this. I just listened to the song, the lyrics. It blew my little eight year old mind.

Can’t you see you’re really only very small and life flows on within you and without you. George Harrison

This album also marked the Beatles descent into psychedelia, both in the form of psychotropic drug use and the ensuing art and lyrical shift that emerges as a result of opening that particular ‘door of perception.’ For a young child, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was not a great imaginative leap, akin to the journey down the chocolate river in the Roald Dahl classic. And yet that imagery left an indelible imprint on my mind.

st peppers

From there I leap-frogged into what I see now was a shamanic love of music. Music took me on a spiritual journey.

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You’ll find that it’s stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
Are somewhere just being their own. The Byrds

I loved the psychedelic sixties. I emulated its art and fashion. Its mindset. I loved the sit-ins, the peace rallies, the flowers, the unbridled hope for peace and love, man.

And the music. Oh my. How I loved the music.

Holed up in my room, draped in batik fabrics, incense burning, posters of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Jim Morrison adorning my walls. I listened non-stop to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Donovan, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Cream…

Led Zepplin and Deep Purple sang songs of Mordor and Taliesin, steeped on the Druid-shamanic tradition of Britain. 

The Byrds sang the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which describes the natural cycle of life and death, the ebb and flow of the seasons and of life itself.

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven. 

deep purple taliesin

Jim Morrison channeled his Native American spirit in those epic songs that really took me places – “ride the snake, to the lake, the ancient lake, the snake is long, seven miles…” More recently, these lyrics came to me in a journey and guided me along to that very lake.

The Doors were perhaps the most unashamed to embrace the shamanic roots of their lyrical inspiration. Being named for the Aldous Huxley book The Doors of Perception, Jim Morrison was no stranger to journeying, and his songs can take you there.

The Doors of Perception is a short book by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1954, detailing his experiences when taking mescaline. The book takes the form of Huxley’s recollection of a mescaline trip that took place over the course of an afternoon, and takes its title from a phrase in William Blake’s 1793 poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Of course I found this book on dad’s extensive bookshelves, along with a beauty of a book by Colin Wilson called The Outsider which introduced me to many authors of his ilk, and of course the entire Beat generation of writers. Whilst providing a context for my own sense of outsider-ness.

There’s a whole other post in the connection between plant medicine and shamanism, but suffice to say the sixties were a hotbed of opening the ‘doors of perception.’ But like my own experience with psychedelics in my twenties, without sufficient intent and reverence for the plant spirits, it is easy to get lost there.

200px-DoorsofPerception

Did I love this music because it sang of my spirit’s yearnings? Or did the music shape me? Probably both.

I was a star-gazer, a collector of special stones, shells, and leaves, an animal lover. A nature child, happier up a tree or in the ocean than anywhere contrived by humans. Listening again to The Doors perform The End, I hear the undulation of the journey process.

Music is your only friend. Dance on fire as it intends. Jim Morrison

The surrender to the rhythm and vibration. Shamans dance to shake off the anchor of the ego that binds them to this reality. I danced to these songs by candlelight and incense smoke and lost myself to the lyrics of nature love, rocks, stones, flowers, talking to trees and animals.

 Do you believe in rock ‘n roll? Can music save your mortal soul? Don McLean

The songs and art, inspired as it was by Indian art, found a seeking soul and guided her home. It was a rocky road at times. My teenage years were a journey through hell. Depression and addiction marked my soul journey through the initiation of the shadow. I sought chemical escape, but without a guide or a clear intention, I merely lost myself. I emerged bruised, broken, and emptied out to be a hollow bone.

It was not long after our early human ancestors developed the capacity for language that music began to develop as well. There is something about music that connects us more deeply to each other and the world than language could ever articulate. Jason Kirkey

janis

You may think it’s a stretch of the imagination that the psychedelic music of the sixties led me to shamanism, but to a person of a shamanic culture this would not seem strange. Music, both as sound and a storytelling device plays a major role in shamanic cultures, especially in the oral transmission of stories in the European culture.

The presence of the spiritual in music is something recognized by all ancient cultures. Celtic mythological sources are full of references to music in relation to the spiritual and the Otherworld. Music serves as an archetype in the sense that it is a recurring mythopoetic theme or “image” pointing to a collective experience of the human soul. In Celtic mythology this theme is music as a doorway or threshold to the Otherworld, and the transformation towards wholeness that comes with such an encounter. Jason Kirkey

The first grade of druidry is the bardic grade, where the initiate learns to recite stories, poems, and songs as a way to convey knowledge and evoke a blurring of the boundaries between this world and the other. The Australian aboriginals have their song lines, where they literally sing the land. And the Irish had their place name stories called the Dinnsheanchas.

Ireland has a great store of traditional music and there is a great diversity of style and nuance. Each region has a distinctive tradition. One can hear the contours of the landscape shape the tonality and spirit of the music. The memory of the people is echoed in the music. John O’Donohue

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So while it’s a stretch , it’s not a completely unfounded one.

In shamanism an important journeying tool, used to connect with one’s spirit allies, is a power song. My power song came after keening an Ani De Franco song repeatedly while the ocean’s waves crashed over me. I was utterly heartbroken at the time, and the complete annihilation of ego brought on by this devastation opened me up to the elements in a visceral way.

This experience could be seen as sacrilegious to some – a spiritual awakening via popular music, indeed! – or as a demonstration that music still carries at its essence the transformative power to shift us into another world.

Music plays the central role in Celtic soul-restoration, forming the most subtle net to help the soul parts reassemble. Caitlin Matthews

The music, the foray into mind-altering chemicals, was all part of my initiation into spirituality.

My dad, who has been such a powerful influence in my life, is in and out of hospital now. He has such strong will, but I know that won’t keep him going forever. In shamanism, there is a great many practices that address all of life’s transitions, inducing death. So this morning I listened to the most recent lesson from the Shamanic Journeying course I am doing online with Sandra Ingerman.

Words cannot express my gratitude that I will have these skills to assist dad. How beautiful that I have already done a power animal retrieval for him, I told him what his animal was and he grinned from ear to ear – he bears an uncanny resemblance to said animal. He doesn’t have a clue about this stuff, and yet at some level his spirit knew and was gladdened.

Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know,
The piper’s calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind? Led Zeppelin

HousesOfTheHoly

Now I can tell him that when his the comes there’ll be a loving spirit there to guide him across the boundary between worlds. It will be someone who has passed over that he loves and trusts. How beautiful is that? And I don’t say it from blind faith or wishful thinking. I say it because I have met these spirits myself. And because for tens of thousands of years, spirit has been helping us make these transitions, if we only knew how to connect with them.

Death as a rite of passage, a conscious transition, in comfort and peace. With loving guidance.

In the Celtic traditions, spirals symbolise so many aspects of life, and the circle is a metaphor in almost all shamanic cultures. Nature moves in cycles, seasons, days, shamanic cultures have always revered these cycles, for survival yes, but also the wisdom of recycling life, not becoming fixed or attached to anything, “to everything turn, turn, turn…”

As I share my Dad’s last years on this plane, I have reflected much on all he has shown me. He has always been a man who embraced all the abundance of life. Wracked with disability and health issues from birth, his irrepressible spirit saw him make a dream life for himself, travel, education, family and a heart-led career. He became editor of his own journal, the only option for a frustrated writer in the pre-blog world!

Now, it is my turn, all that he has shown me has contributed to who I am today. My responsibility is to be courageous, to not hold back on the burgeoning worlds I am experiencing. To be brave and open and trust that I can can use these otherworldly guides to navigate this transition.

byrds

So in answer to my own question, I guess I’m okay to call this shamanism. It seems a little arbitrary to name it anything, given that it has been a part of me long before I knew it to even name it. I have always bucked against organised religion, and naming this feels a step in that direction. However naming it also opens me up to a wonderful community of fellow practitioners. The important thing though, it not what I call it, but the very tangible results it produces in my life, and the lives of others.

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you. Gaelic Blessing

Cead Mile Beannachta! (One hundred thousand blessings)

Images:

Album cover and poster art from 1960’s and 1970’s

Sources:

Sandra Ingerman, Walking in Light

Shamanism by Tori McElroy

Jason Kirkey, The Song of the Earth. Music and Healing in the Celtic Tradition

Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone
An Interview of Michael Harner by Bonnie Horrigan

University of Minnesota, What is shamanism? 

You’re not broken

Spirit-of-Fire

We are the sum of our ancestors
Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae
They stretch to the stars
They ultimately reach the void
This history is inscribed in our psyches
Silence and solitude enjoin us to remember
Our whole and great body. Joan Halifax

You’re not broken. You don’t need fixing. There’s nothing wrong with you. If you could just sit with yourself, and feel your true nature, and love yourself as you are. If you could love yourself so much that all the fragments, all the broken off pieces of yourself would come flooding back to be in the majesty of your being.

Find what is natural, not what is normal. Panache Desai

I am fascinated at the moment with the Arthurian Legends, the priestesses to the Goddess, the knights, the shamanic magic of Merlin, I am currently reading at least different three books about it.

The ‘Mists of Avalon’, as with all Arthurian Tales, present many archetypes of woman. The difference in their fates appears to be an issue of power. Those who felt abused by life ended up in the convent finding peace in God’s forgiveness. Those who acted in the service of the Goddess stayed powerful and active in the world. Then there were those who were destroyed by a selfish desire for power.

How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole. C.G. Jung

Shamanic_Soul_Retrieval_Reiki

Is is possible that we can reframe trauma to be seen as a service to the Goddess? Not the inflicting of the trauma itself, but the life force that keeps us going on, striving towards wholeness. Or if you prefer a less religious version, as a pathway to individuation of the Self.

For me, when I feel hopeless and broken this idea brings great comfort. It is becomingly increasingly apparent to me that I have reached a fork in the road where I can see myself as damaged and in need of constant healing, and suffering in irredeemable pain. Or I can walk the path of power, that there is nothing wrong with me, that all this pain and healing and awakening has led me to a place where I can guide myself and others along the path to wholeness.

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing. Rabindranath Tagore

mending

As is my want, I am reading several books at the moment. It is a strange practice that walks a fine line between powerful cross-pollination of ideas and total confusion.

I have picked up Vagina:A Biography by Naomi Wolf where I left off – namely at the part where it ceased to be an “oh wow!” journey into the wonder of the female sexual nervous system and forayed into some – truly frightening – anecdotal evidence of the degree and longevity of the effects of sexual trauma on physiology and psychology. Not to mention on mental wellbeing, sexuality, and creativity.

Simultaneously I am reading Jungian and mythological accounts of the Arthuriam legends, and about shamanic soul retrieval.

The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness. Madeleine L’Engle

As such there is a melting pot of ideas in my mind – which fuelled by some celtic inspired rituals to the triple goddess has inspired me to purse this nexus of goddess power/shamanic soul retrieval and psychic healing from sexual trauma, and all it’s associated long-term issues for a person’s mind, body and spirit.

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

Naomi Wolf travelled to Sierra Leone in 2004 at the height of the civil war. She visited a camp where literally hundreds of women – who had suffered brutal sexual trauma at the hands of soldiers – were housed. Jimmie Briggs – founder of the anti-violenece organisation ‘Man Up’ – wrote that the victims of sexual trauma seemed more affected in some ways that any other trauma of war, he says, “It is as if the light has gone off in their eyes.”

grilmirrorwolfWolf also writes about a condition called Vulvodynia – a condition I suffered from for many years during my late teens and early twenties, undiagnosed beyond being told “it was all in my head.” Turns out it was in my head, not psychosomatic as the doctor suggested to me, but a condition of the nervous system, which affects the pelvic nerve, causing painful sex as well as affecting general wellbeing.

Wolf writes that sufferers of this condition also present as if the “light has gone out of them.” Often expressing a lack of will to live.

Wolf hypothesises that damage to a woman’s pelvic nerve has an effect on their neurological function, affecting vitality, depression, and even their will to live.

Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself. Dictionary of Word Origins

I wonder if it’s possible to heal these women, whose “light has gone out of their eyes”, even those who have been so damaged by rape and sexual trauma that the very fabric of their being has been torn?

This description of the light going out of their eyes, speaks to me of soul loss, and I say that as someone who has experienced trauma and depression and a loss of hope. I also speak as someone who has found healing and path to wholeness again.

As twee as it may sound – to those who haven’t experienced the journeying practice – I wonder can shamanic healing and dancing life into their souls through Chakradance and moving meditations help these victims of trauma? I believe it can. I believe Chakradance can be a gentle, loving, and self-managed soul retrieval process.

So what is soul retrieval?

Shamanic journeying varies slightly from culture to culture but it is a system of healing that has been continuously in use for over 40,000 years.

Shamans divide the spiritual cosmos into three worlds; the Upper World, the Middle World, the Lower World. A missing soul essence may be found in any of these worlds. Shamans most often use the beat of the drum to take them into an altered state of consciousness and carry them in spirit flight into the hidden universe of these worlds. Once there, they meet with their helping spirits, power animals and spirit teachers. It is the spirits who then lead the shaman to the places where lost soul essences are found. Working hand in hand with their spirits, the shaman retrieves the lost soul and carries it back to the person who is awaiting its return. The soul is sung back, blown into the body and welcomed home in a beautiful ceremony. Beth Beurkens

shaman

Journey work is done by entering a meditative or trance-like state, a theta brain wave state, through the use of repetitive drumming or other percussive sounds, singing, chanting, bells rattles or dancing. In this state we can journey to non-ordinary reality, to the realms of spirit, where we can communicate with guides, power animals and reclaim lost parts of our spirit.

Being able to engage with the realms outside of what we call our life is the role of the shaman. Our vast Universe and our expansive life is made up of layers upon layers of energetic realms. It is within these realms that energies can get lost, trapped, bogged down or wounded. Our soul, when faced with tremendous pain, suffering, loss, trauma or fear, can often retreat in an effort to protect, to hide or to grieve. The roots to our soul loss can go deep into our life story and often we find it challenging to trace them to the cause of our unbalance on our own. Lisa Meade

Soul retrieval, one aspect of journeying, addresses the idea of soul loss. The idea being that those of us who have experienced trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, especially where our physical body was violated or threatened, may have had a soul-splintering experience, where parts of our soul literally fled to the far reaches of the universe, and stayed there.

Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life. Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out – and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away. Robert Moss

Sandra Ingerman writes that in psychology this state is called disassociation, but little attention is paid to where the self goes, or how to get it back. Rather it is viewed more as a psychological pattern of coping with trauma.

The main symptoms of soul loss are issues with personal power, difficulties with healthy boundaries, loss of vitality, or even loss of the will to live.

When we talk about soul we are really talking about light. In returning the soul parts and lost vitality to the client we are really returning light. Sandra Ingerman

One of the many techniques a shaman uses – in addition to singing, chanting, howling, yipping, dancing, stomping, waving leaves around, and smudging you with smoke and essences, it’s a very noisy, vibrant experience – is to blow the spirit into your being. As a passionate devotee of yoga and the Vedic wisdom that ‘breath is life’ I really like this idea.

If you’re not familiar with the practice of shamanic soul retrieval watch this explanation and demonstration by Daniel Leonard:

Try this soul retrieval practice for yourself on Tai Carmen’s blog post on Soul Retrieval – you’ll have to scroll down for the practice, but the whole post is worth a read.

When you pray, you visit the kind innocence of your soul. This is a pure place of unity which the noise of life can never disturb. You enter the secret temple of your deepest belonging. Only in this temple can your hungriest longing find stillness and peace. John O’Donohue

dreaming-with-horse-spiritAffirmations for wholeness by Trina Brunk:

I welcome all my feelings. I am willing to receive my soul’s communication through my feelings. I am whole and my feelings are part of my wholeness.

I give thanks for the blessing of life and all the loving support I receive from my forebears. I give back what is not mine.

With every breath I easily release attachment to emotions. The emotions of others have no effect on me. I experience balance and wholeness on all levels of my being. I am at peace.

I release my attachment to being right. I trust the flow of life and I effortlessly, joyously allow it to carry me. I empty my mind and enter the silence and here I am blessed, replenished and healed.

I no longer defend against knowing what I know, seeing what I see, experiencing what I experience. I accept my wholeness. In my undefended innocence I am whole.

Forgive me my blunt assertions in this post, forgive my contradictions. I mean no offence to those who suffer – all these ideas are nascent and unformed. They spring from a hope and a desperate desire to believe there is the potential for wholeness for myself and all people who desire to be restored to their true vitality, no matter how great their suffering.

Bless!

 

Sources:

Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman

Soul Retrieval by Tai Carmen

Vagina: A biography by Naomi Wolf

The Shaman’s Way by Michael Harner

 

Images:

Spirit Of Fire

Shamanic_Soul_Retrieval_Reiki

shamanic-soul-retrieval

dreaming-with-horse-spirit

mending

women in mirror

 

Journey into the soul of the world

theodor-von-holstThe Wish 1840

I stayed up all night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died. Steven Wright 

When I first encountered the Tarot a few years ago, it was absolutely in the spirit of fortune-telling. I was struggling in life and love, unsure of what direction I should take, and nudging the big 4-0. A friend did readings, so I thought, why not?

Despite the many glorious myths, the use of the tarot has a fairly humble history and dates back to the mid 15th Century, where it had its origins in a pack of playing cards.

mamas cardsMy grandmother, an avid card player with a multitude of beautiful decks and ornate card boxes, owned a deck of ‘fortune-telling’ playing cards.

Knowing her, I imagine they were merely a quaint conversation starter, but I do remember being fascinated with them as a child.

I would choose the fair woman for myself, and hope to be dealt out in the same pile as the fair young man, my childhood sweetheart. That meant he was thinking of me.

As with all things occult, from ‘Bewitched’ to ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, to the ‘Witches of Eastwick’, there were plenty of glamourous role models to testify to the delights of extra-sensory powers.

Remember that the Tarot is a great and sacred arcanum – its abuse is an obscenity in the inner and a folly in the outer. It is intended for quite other purposes than to determine when the tall dark man will meet the fair rich widow. Jack Parsons

Oops!

I had no idea of its true power. Since then I have been consistently amazed at the messages and guidance I have received through readings, and yet, still not quite making the connection that this wisdom was not inaccessible to me, outside of a professional reading.

Having made no pains in this blog to disguise my issues with personal power, it should not surprise you, dear reader, to learn that I have been slow to really acknowledge and integrate my own agency when it comes to the world of the psyche and healing.

As a direct result of my forays into understanding archetypal patterns, the light bulb finally went on.

Ah! So that tarot, a deck of archetypal images, is a conduit between my subconscious and the collective unconscious. A conduit I can tap into all by myself.

Then I remembered a fabulous article my friend wrote many years ago on the use of the tarot in psychotherapy, called ‘Can the tarot be ‘real’? – a psychotherapist explores the modern relevance of an ancient tool’.

In this article he asks the question, why do people seek out tarot readings for fortune-telling and love predication and then enlist psychologists for their “more weighty” issues? In other words, why don’t we take the tarot seriously as a psychotherapeutic tool?

So how does picking a random card from a tarot deck work? How could it possibly be meaningful as more than a parlour game?

John_William_Waterhouse_The_Lady_of_ShalottIn my last post I wrote about archetypes, those symbolic images which pervade our stories and culture which Carl Jung linked to his theory of the collective unconscious.

The tarot practitioner, in full awareness of potential for the unconscious to communicate through the archetypal symbols in the cards, asks the seeker to hold a question in their mind – an intention, if you will – and shuffle the cards.

The link between the unconscious and the chosen card can be explained by the principle of synchronicity – the communication, via the medium of the collective unconscious, between mind and matter.

I wish the tarot could be taken out of the world of entertainment and invited into the world of psychotherapy. I too found that a very different sort of person typically saw a tarot reader or fortune-teller from the one who would enlist the services of a therapist. Need the world of academic psychology spurn the experience of mystics and sages? Need the tools of the ancients be useless in the hands of the doctor? Finn McMillan

The interpretation of the personal meaning of the card for the seeker is another matter, and one where the skill and experience of the tarot reader is vital. The reader will use their intuition as well as teasing out the intuitive connections of the card for the seeker. In a most similar fashion to a counsellor, except with the added tool of the archetypal symbol of the chosen cards.

For example a card may have a generic meaning, but may also spark a very personal reaction in the seeker, images in the card, such as animals or other natural elements or colours may be meaningful.

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.  Clarissa Pinkola Estés

As with most things, I developed quite a fixation with the tarot and divination, despite warnings it should not be used frivolously, I, well, used it frivolously. And also like with most things, I tried it out as an external source of power, I tried to manipulate it, doing multiple readings with multiple card decks, until I liked the answer I got.

Eventually I twigged that it was a tool to investigate my unconscious, not a magic wand, or an idle plaything. It would illuminate my inner guidance and wisdom, but it would not tell me what to do. It may ask me the question of why I continually look outside of myself for answers. Or why I feel the need for definitive and divinitive answers at all. And that is a mighty good question.

All cultures across time have gazed upwards to heavenly bodies and downwards to the earth to seek answers to the big questions of life.

Chinese Taoists read patterns on tortoise shells, which evolved into the I Ching. Vikings consulted the runes. Ancient Roman shamans observed the entrails of slaughtered animals and grains that hens pecked, for divinatory messages.

From indigenous cultures various forms of inner journeying – the Aboriginal Dreamtime or the Native Americans vision quests – to Yahweh’s instructions in the Old Testament for using a sacred set of dice to make decisions in his name, divination is an intrinsic part of all cultural traditions.

The invention of paper, gave rise to the book of the I Ching, and the printing press, in the 1450s gave rise to printing of books in Europe, and the reproduction of card decks, including Tarot cards.478917376_640

It is a testament to their usefulness that these systems have survived to modern times.

Shamans also utilise this link to the unconscious to do their healing work, although often less divinatory, and more visionary in outlook, looking to heal the soul’s trauma rather than see it’s future, shamanism nonetheless works at the same level of the psyche.

This week I had a healing session with a shaman. I have seen healers who use shamanic techniques, but I’d never seen a bona fide shaman before – immersed in the South American indigenous shamanic tradition.

 It has always been the role of the shaman to go into an altered state of consciousness and track down where the soul fled to in the alternate realities and return it to the body of the client. Sandra Ingerman

The session was based on the idea of soul retrieval. Basically, those of us who have experienced trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, especially where our physical body was violated or threatened, may have had a soul-splintering experience, where parts of our soul literally fled to the far reaches of the universe, and stayed there.

Sandra Ingerman writes that in psychology this state is called disassociation, but little attention is paid to where the self goes, or how to get it back. Rather it is viewed more as a psychological pattern of coping with trauma.

themisThe main symptoms of soul loss are issues with personal power, difficulties with healthy boundaries, loss of vitality, or even loss of the will to live.

When we talk about soul we are really talking about light. In returning the soul parts and lost vitality to the client we are really returning light. Sandra Ingerman

One of the many techniques a shaman uses – in addition to singing, chanting, howling, yipping, dancing, stomping, waving leaves around, and smudging you with smoke and essences, it’s a very noisy, vibrant experience – is to blow the spirit into your being. As a passionate devotee of yoga and the Vedic wisdom that ‘breath is life’ I really like this idea.

So I have taken to blowing into my chakras when I do my morning energy work. Imagine it as blowing on the embers of a fire to flare it up. I had a wonderful experience in my Integration chakradance last night using shamanic techniques, but more on that next week.

The Shaman told me that in those moments I describe in meditation, where for want of a better word, I am in a blissed state of oneness and love, that if I set the intention to recall my soul, it will be drawn back to me with a magnetic force.

It is this degree of autonomy and self-healing that I seek, although I intend to continue working with this shaman, I need to know I am powerful in myself, and not dependent of healers to ‘fix’ me.

Can we remain on a rational plane when discussing inner felt experience that speaks to us personally, and with bona fide self-certainty, while at the same time being neutered by the inhospitable hands of logos? Jon Mills

The word ‘Divination’ is derived from the Latin words: divinatio/divinare, meaning to foresee or to be inspired by a god, and obviously related to the word ‘divine’. Do you see where I’m going here? Divination less as fortune-telling, but more as a seeking of union with the divine. And what was my shamanic experience, if not a calling back of my divinity, my spirit? See, and you thought I was off on another tangent entirely!

This week, in my Chakradance training, I have been exploring the crown chakra, or Sahasrara, which means “thousandfold.” This chakra is represented by a thousand-petaled lotus, not literally though; instead, it implies the infinite nature of this chakra, which provides us with our most direct connection with the divine.

The dance of sahasrara is an invitation to the soul to enter the body through the crown chakra in the top of the head. My experience of this deep connection to spirit was a journey into the soul of the world.

I entered the dance with the intention of experiencing oneness with spirit and as the sun was going down outside my window, I imagined flying through those golden rays with bands of angels, through endless amber skies.

From this aimless, albeit highly pleasurable, flying, I found myself at a place that I felt was the source of divinity. Everything went purple – the colour associated with the crown chakra. A purple throne appeared, and somehow I knew I was meeting God. The angels with me bowed on one knee in respect, like knights to their king, and suddenly there was a group of cloaked druids bowing too. I got to my knees. I was surrounded by light, like a rainbow aura in all the colours of my chakras.

Out of the golden and purple light came a lion, a beautiful, graceful, majestic lion, and then as if from the lion itself, came a lioness as well, and they walked to either side of the throne. The lioness came to me and walked into me, straight into my centre, her energy melding seamlessly with mine. Her power was unbelievable, grace, dignity, strength, wisdom, and this deep and profound sense of calm and safety.triple_goddess_w-Lion

She spoke to me as she led me on a journey. It began in a tree, as we sat in its branches, she told me the story of the soul of the world. It all began in Africa, everything began there, then she walked me through snow, across continents, Asia, Russia, Europe, so many ages, ending in Britain, as Queen, to King Richard I, the Lionheart. Through incarnations as a slave, an empress, a farmer, a witch, a queen, a warrior, a priestess, a mother, all different archetypes.

She said to me “you are royalty” and then left me but with the knowledge that her spirit is always within me.

So of course after this fabulous vision I went off on a rather literal tangent. I mean, Richard the Lionheart’s queen, that sounds fab!

I did not know much about Richard I’ s queen, Berengaria of Navarre. For good reason, it seems, he basically met her once, married her, and then ignored her, he was rather busy with the crusades, after all. She joined a convent when he died. Not the grand love story I had in mind. Figures. Maybe I’m being too literal. Maybe it’s archetypal…

Or the great and powerful Sehkmet, the Egyptian lion-goddess, whose breath formed the desert, in the dawn of creation.

Seriously though, this is where Jung saves my arse from disappearing into a blithering idiot about being a reincarnated this, that, and the other. These images and visions are archetypal energies that we all have access to. I am just as much Sehkmet as the guy driving the tram.

It’s psychic wisdom I’m accessing here and I have to drag my ego-mind back from its delusions of grandeur and fantasy, and contemplate, ‘what is the nature of this wisdom I am receiving, what is it I need to access or acknowledge in myself?’

Because really, even if I was the reincarnation of Richard I’s queen or an Egyptian goddess, who cares? I mean I’m sure my 13 year old is not going to pick up his dirty socks for Sehkmet anymore than he does for me.

The lesson for me, and it keeps repeating, to knock, its, way, into, my, thick, skull, is that I have to stop looking for ‘outside’ forces or powers to guide me, to tell me what to do, right from wrong, I must trust my own inner navigation system.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. William Blake

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_Ball

So what does all this have to do with love? I must ask as sahasrara is the seventh chakra, and love is my seventh intention.

In fairy tales, love transforms, the lowly is powerful, the prince appears as a frog, the princess as an old crone. A kiss makes them beautiful and desirable to love. Yet, beyond the happy ending we read about, he may yet become an old frog, and she an old crone. Can we still love then?

Do we try to fix our lovers, in the sense of correcting them, yes, but also in the sense of keeping them in a fixed predicable state, so they don’t take us my surprise or challenge our status quo, our stability. Do we aim to control and thus repress the force of love?

In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Can we ever know really ourselves, let alone another? Is not love then a promise to make that journey into the unknown, to honour each other’s journey, and by necessity, will that not mean our paths must diverge at times?

Love is all around, so why the obsession with romantic love? Well, sex obviously. But it’s more than that. It’s a longing for a deep soul connection and an experience of the divine oneness, orgasm is the easy ticket, but as the mystics will tell you, you can get there alone, and no, I don’t mean like that!

My intuition asks me if what I am really longing for, is a connection with the divine, a deep connection and sense of wholeness.

The desire and pursuit of the whole is called love. Plato

gustave-dore-les-saltimbanques-1874  EntertainersPlato wrote that the original human souls were split into two separate bodies by the gods, in order to make us less powerful, and as such our lives are spent trying to find the other half to make us whole. No wonder I get antsy!

The upside of all this angst and unrequited love is it has led me to tarot, and tarot has led me to explore my unconscious desires.

It’s said that the shuffling of the cards is the earth, and the pattering of the cards is the rain, and the beating of the cards is the wind, and the pointing of the cards is the fire. That’s of the four suits. But the Greater Trumps, it’s said, are the meaning of all process and the measure of the everlasting dance. Charles Williams

So like all my posts, this one has been ruminating for a time. As I have said before, there was good reason that love was my last intention. It does tend to twist me up in knots.

Each week as I hit ‘publish’, and my latest creative endeavour takes its steps in the world, amid a mild panic regarding typos and grammatical errors, is a sense of letting go and moving on to new territory.

Inevitably about two minutes after I publish, I have some revelations, which sometimes conflict with what I just wrote. Initially this caused a great disturbance in me, but now I relish this shifting, this perpetual motion, this realisation, that from moment to moment my being is in a state of flux.

Soon, I feel the germination of a new idea forming, the next intention begins to loom in my inner vision. Over the week I enter, what is now, a familiar pattern. I have some ideas, with which I must enter the ‘creative desert’ as Caroline Myss calls it. Here I experience a nothingness, which can be a terrifying experience as a writer! Yet I see it now as a place of surrender.

Here I give up what I think I know in order to experience a connection with a greater knowing, whether you call that your higher self, the collective unconscious, God, or call it Betty, it doesn’t matter, it is a place of releasing the ego mind to experience something vast and timeless.

During the week, lots of synchronicity happens, people say things, I read things, I dream things, I meditate and chakradance, and I envision things. Then comes the point I sit down and try to put all of this into some coherency. To greater and lesser degrees of success at times, I’m sure.

‘Follow the coincidences’! Life is full of magic once you open yourself to the gift of synchronicity! Imelda Almqvist

Maccari-Fortune TellerWhat occurs to me is that the beginning of anything, including a relationship, is a process of creation, of creativity. I wonder if its possible to go into this creative desert with our lovers, our friends, our family.

On any given day, it is a new beginning. Can we let go of what we think we know and to be open to a new experience of our beloved, of ourselves, of the relationship?

We human beings, as all of life, are all always in flux, so really, even if you have been married to someone for 50 years, those two people who woke up next to each other today are still new to each other.

I have become somewhat averse to the obsession with ‘change’ in our culture, as it seems a little forced and potentially controlling and ego-based. It suggests to me that I, or someone else, is lacking in some way, when I know we all have infinite depths that we have yet to plumb before we even experience the totality of who we are, so why would we want to change what we do not yet even know?

Yet the idea of constant awakening and evolving to new aspects of our selves, of releasing and surrendering, to allow what doesn’t work to make way for something else, that I like.

Love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

As a parent, we must allow our children to grow up and evolve from dependent toddlers to independent adults, perhaps we should be allowing the same degree of evolution is all our relationships. Allowing is a beautiful word. Allowing and trust, that we don’t need to grasp on to people to love them, we can hold them gently, and let go when needs be.

I wonder if this need of mine to deeply understand myself and others may just be another tactic in a long line that keeps true intimacy at bay. Just as knowing my feelings and writing about my feelings does not equal feeling my feelings, perhaps knowing about love does not equal knowing how to love, or actually loving.

Oh, love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it. W. B. Yeats

Maybe this is the true nature of the spiritual seeker – the archetype of the seventh chakra – the unending commitment to not knowing, just being what is called for in each present moment. And maybe love is just the ability to offer this unconditionally to another.

So what of love? For now I content myself with the myriad of non-erotic love in my life and the journeying into self. The oracle cards tell me to wait, the turtle, symbol of slow stealth reoccurs, and the lioness is a symbol of divine timing, of knowing when to lie in wait and when to pounce. In the meantime I have painted my nails red, so something glorious is brewing.

Affirmations on the crown chakra from Chakra Anatomy:

I am part of the Divine.
I honour the Divine within me.
I seek to understand and to learn from my life experiences.
I cherish my spirit.
I seek experiences that nourish my spirit.
I listen to the wisdom of universe.
I trust my intuition.
I am open to letting go of my attachments.
I live in the present moment.
I am grateful for all the goodness in my life.
I love and accept myself.
I know that all is well in my world.
I am connected with the wisdom of the universe.
I am open to divine wisdom.
My life moves with grace.
I am at peace.

Bless!

 

Sources:

Can the tarot be ‘real’? – a psychotherapist explores the modern relevance of an ancient tool by Finn McMillan

Jung’s Metaphysics by Jon Mills

http://divination.com/resources/articles/history/

http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=109562

http://www.sandraingerman.com/soulretrieval.html

For the shamanic healing I had see Shaman vision weaving with Free Spirit www.visionweaving.com/free-spirit/

 

For more on the Tarot and psychotherapy, Tarotpy, http://dreamsandtarot.com

 

Images:

“The Fortune Teller”, Theodore Von Holst

“The Lady of Shallott”, John William Waterhouse

Shamanka

“Themis”, Michele-lee Phelan

“Triple Goddess with Lion”, Gaelyn Larrick

“The Crystal Ball”, John William Waterhouse

“Les Saltimbanques”, Gustave Dore

“The Fortune Teller”, Cesare Maccari

“Thus Perish the Memory of our Love”, John George Brown