Are there “invisible worlds of spirit that lie beyond the physical earth and sky”? Do all forms of the natural world hold unique energies and wisdoms that we can learn from and use to rebalance our inner selves?
I’ve been having a great time exploring the world of spirit animals and shamanism this week. One of the benefits of being a writers means I can call this “work”. One of the realities of my Wayseeking tendencies is that, when it comes to traditions connecting with the great mystery and matters of spirit, I really can’t help myself. 😉
“The search for a spiritual practice can be confusing because ultimately we are seeking a path for the soul, and the soul’s true journey through life often lies hidden in the shadowy landscape just beneath conscious awareness.”
This is from Tom Cowen’s Shamanism — a hint of the vast underbelly of spiritual traditions which may different in form and ritual, but underneath are all looking for a similar experience of connection to the wider universe and an expansion beyond our narrow limited experience of ‘self’.
Shamanic journeying, the method of practice to connect our smaller self with the Great Spirit, involves various means of altering consciousness (drugs and/or drumming to name the most common). The aim, Cowen explains, is for the journey-er to “move outside ordinary space and time to explore the spiritual realms that most people encounter only in myth and dreams.”
I’ve been looking at this stuff particularly in terms of ‘animal medicine’.
So far my experience of ‘animal medicine’ has been limited to my New Year’s tradition of choosing a spirit ‘animal card’ that might bring me some advice, guidance and support in the coming year.
The idea of ‘animal medicine’ is based on the concept that each animal carries a certain essence and certain strengths or characteristics that we can apply to our own lives to achieve a better sense of balance or to illuminate parts of ourselves which have been hidden in our subconscious mind. Rather than the idea of ‘medicine’ as something to fight off disease, the shamanic concept of ‘medicine’ is a means of re-establishing balance in the mind, body and spirit.
This year my animal is ‘prairie dog’, which brings the message of retreat. The importance of retreat as a means of restoring my energy, of stepping back from efforts to control life, of pausing and hesitating before I rush forward to try to meet every request and invitation others send my way…all of this has been very good medicine for me this year, helping me balance out my over-achieving, self-critical, pleaser, introvert-in-an-extraverted-world tendencies which can definitely leave me depleted.
So when we work with animal or plant medicine, we are connecting with these aspects of the natural work on a spiritual basis, accepting their powers, strengths and wisdoms into ourselves.
Another aspects of shamanism I found intriguing is the belief that when we suffer a trauma, part of our soul spirit takes off and can get stuck in invisible worlds.
This kind of interpretation of human psychology/well-being has been dismissed as superstition by many of us in this scientific, fact-based world. But if we look both at Jungian mythic imagination or at the basic idea of the subconscious mind, this kind of repression of parts of ourselves seems less primitive and more like another means of imagining our complex evolving emotional and mental states.
Using various methods to achieve altered states of consciousness, shamanistic journeys take the traveler to others worlds — an upper ‘non-ordinary’ world or the underworld. With the help of spirit animals as guides, the lost part of one’s spirit can be retrieved or unstuck. In this way, balance of the spiritual self is restored.
I’ve got a few characters in my next book that will come into contact with people who practice animal medicine/shamanism… so I’m already looking forward to journeying vicariously through them and exploring what their own animal spirits will reveal about their deeper selves. And in the meantime, I’m going to get on reading Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, which I’ve been meaning to read for years!
(Any of you read this book and have thoughts about it please share!!)