Medicine Dance Image by Susan Seddon Boulet
I still find it difficult, after all these years, to accurately convey the profound healing I received through the practice of shamanism — personally and as a shamanic practitioner. The principles and practices of shamanism have been well documented. The works of Mircea Eliade, Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman, (to name a few) explain how core methods used by shamans– drumming, rattling, song, and other sacred rituals – provide a path for restoring health and joy to life. Core shamanism, devoid of specific cultural mores and codes, is a system of fundamental cross-cultural principles found in all shamanic cultures. These core methods are easily integrated into contemporary life and provide easy, safe, reliable means to manifest positive life-changing results. My remarks address the experiential aspect of core shamanism: the intimate ways in which the spirits transformed my life.
In the world of the shaman humans are one of the countless strands in the web of life, one part of the totality of Nature. This perspective holds that humans are related to all life forms not superior to them. A shaman’s world is divided into three spiritual realms: Lower, Middle, and Upper. A journey to any of these realms requires the shaman to alter his/her consciousness and directly interact with the spirits. In this trance-like state, a shaman is able to seek healing or ask advice from various forms of helping spirits: elementals, animals, plants, saints and sages.
My first experience of the spiritual realms and their healing potential was a journey to the elements. Heather Cumming, my instructor, asked me to hold a simple intention: invite the elements to assist me in unburdening myself– take from me all worries, fears, and anxieties that kept me separate from my Divine nature. Once that was accomplished, I would ask the elements to put me back together, in complete alignment with all Creation. (This is called a Dismemberment Journey) It sounds simple now but at the time I was terrified: what if I did it wrong, what if I couldn’t remember the words, what if the spirits didn’t come? Heather smiled and assured me these worries were common. She told me to release my ego, give myself permission to have fun, and continue to repeat my intention. In shamanism intention is everything. It is the fuel that drives our journeys. I did the best I could at quieting my mind, moved into my heart, and hoped the spirits would be there to assist me. I closed my eyes and listened to her drum.
I was instantly enveloped in a swirl of red light and a few moments later a strong wind carried me to the top of a mountain. I stood perfectly still as this wind ripped the flesh off my body until only my skeleton remained. You may be shuddering as you read this but during the journey I felt no pain: while in this altered state, residing in non-ordinary reality, one never experiences pain.
That same wind carried my skeleton to a volcano and dropped me into its core. I felt an overwhelming peace as I dissolved. A strong belch spewed me, now a wave of molten lava, and I slowly flowed down its side. I felt intense heat and smelled sulfur. There was a feeling of forward movement, a sense of caressing the earth, a bolt of cool air. All motion stopped and I arose from the earth, in human form once more. I felt renewed and strongly connected to the earth, air, and fire within me. The next thing I remember was the sound of the drum calling me back. I opened my eyes and felt fully present in my body. I felt expansive and at peace. I was surprised to find only five minutes had passed: it felt as if I was gone for hours.
I gained, through this one simple journey, first hand experience of the unlimited healing power of the Divine. This journey, as with countless others, showed me how easily I could unplug from my mind and shift into my heart by holding my intention. I learned the invaluable lesson that everything is alive and carries information: every blade of grass, every insect, stone or crystal. I know with certainty that we are part of a single web of life, in perfect alignment with Nature who is the ultimate archetype of balance and harmony.
Animals are an essential component of shamanic practice and shamans believe everyone has power animals. We are born with several power animals that are our guardians, protecting us from harm and illness. As we move throughout our lives we often acquire more power animals: the spirit of each animal lends us it’s wisdom- it’s medicine- and assists us in overcoming our obstacles and traumas, or assists us in our spiritual growth. All we need do is journey and ask to meet our power animals.
My journey brought me to Orca and Polar Bear. Each journey was vivid, sacred, and specific as each animal told me her story and the medicine each holds for my life. I have befriended many power animals that asked me to keep their identity secret. This is because our alliance is of a specific healing nature. Some shamans believe that if one were to speak or brag about their power animal, the animal would leave and take its wisdom and healing with it. That was not the case with Orca and Polar Bear: they made it clear our partnership was invariable in this lifetime and others would benefit from their medicine.
Orca came to me during a power animal retrieval. During the retrieval several students and the instructor saw Orca just as she appeared to me: full breach, asking me to follow her and swim in deep water. I was reunited with my pod as I swam alongside her. Hearing Orca’s song was familiar and comforting; it brought a tremendous rush of energy into my being and a release of sorrow- a sorrow I was not even aware of. She told me I was to stop hiding my gifts and bring them out into the world. She explained that she would assist me in this process.
Orca told me it was vital I return to the land of my ancestors, Greece, in order to reclaim my healing powers. At the time I was hesitant, once again thinking with my rational mind: how could I possibly manifest this in my life- I hadn’t the finances or the time to make such a trip. It is imperative that we honor the messages and wisdom our power animals offer us. If we place our trust in them, as we would a dear friend, all is taken care of and anything is possible. And so it was no surprise that shortly after I agreed to do this, keeping the intention strong in my heart, continuing to journey to Orca daily, the opportunity appeared. Six months later my son and I made a sacred pilgrimage to the islands of my forefathers- Nisyros and Cephalonia. Orca accompanied me on the journey, guiding my every step, instructing me on how to pay homage to my ancestors. My son and I visited the town where my maternal grandmother was born and we visited the home where she raised her family. Orca advised me to hold special memorial services for my grandparents and invite the entire town to attend. I followed her instructions to the letter and received a huge healing: the spirit of my grandmother greeted me the day I arrived on the island. She told me she was waiting for me and she was one of my guides. I had never met, nor heard about my mother’s mother. As I sat praying at the service, she showed me her life and the lessons she learned. She reminded me that her obstacles were my obstacles, her strengths were my strengths and I could call upon her at any time for advice and healing. And in bringing my son along with me, he too would receive healing and awaken to his own gifts. I have known her love and support ever since that journey to Nisyros.
Polar Bear healed my soul in other ways. She explained it was she who nurtured me when I was an infant, protecting me from the anxiety and fear expressed in my household. It was her medicine that filled me with love and joy, allowing me to embrace life and experience it as an adventure. As I continued to deepen our relationship, she taught me the importance of forgiveness and the harm I caused my physical body by holding onto grudges. Her compassion and unconditional love enabled me to freely pour these gifts onto others. In time, I taught others how to heal their hearts on the physical and emotional levels.
St. Gerasimos, the patron saint of Cephalonia, has always been a strong presence in my life. As a child, I remember sitting in front of his icon silently offering my prayers to him. My father would tell me miraculous healing stories of those who made the pilgrimage to his church. I myself remember visiting the church on his feast day in October, seeing scores of people in wheelchairs and crutches, waiting to view his remains and be healed. But not until I began journeying to him did I fully witness the enormity of his grace and the power of his blessings. I would join him in his monastic cell where he sat in meditation. Each time I came upon this spirit he showed me a page from a book of prayers. He would then kneel in front of a small window and pray, turn to me and hand me a single page from his book. A week or so later I came across a new image of him. I noticed a short prayer in Greek to the right of this image: an image of him holding a book of prayers in his left hand and offering a blessing with his right hand. The prayer read: “St. Gerasimos of Cephalonia, Angel of God, who strengthens those with diseases, heals those with demons, and pours out healings to those who honor him”. In that instant I saw his spirit before me, arm extended outward, holding his prayer book. He smiled at me and turned to the small window. I finally understood his message: he wanted me to return to his church, kneel in that cell, and pay homage to him.
After my trip to Nisyros, my son and I flew to Cephalonia and visited his church. I sat in his cell and gazed out the window. The nuns who were in charge of the grounds told me St. Gerasimos would look out that window and bless ships as they left the harbor. Later that same day I visited the church that house his remains. As the nuns lifted the jewel-encrusted lid of his sarcophagus, I physically felt his spirit beside me, instructing me on how he would assist me in my shamanic work. I now experience the presence and love of this spirit as an ally. Shamanism has redefined my understanding of social relationships. I now know there is a higher intelligence bringing us into communion with these enlightened beings, whose sole intention is to ease our suffering and teach us the lessons they themselves have learned. I learned I am co-creator of all that exists in my life: the sorrow, illness, health and joy.
In providing me with innumerable opportunities to experience the Divine at work in my life, shamanism has transformed my understanding of healing into something that is alive and fluid. The beauty of my faith has expanded one hundred fold and I have found great solace in reconciling science and faith through new healing rituals. Shifting my awareness with something as simple as a drum, rattle, or power animal song, instantly transports me to spiritual realms. I have learned to see through a new set of eyes, commune with my guides and teachers, with the consciousness of land, bodies of water, and other natural landscapes. In this altered state I directly receive information on what needs to be healed: this is the beauty and power of the shaman’s journey. I can journey to spirit allies and engage in a cooperative effort to restore power, wholeness, and balance in my life. My guides protect and encourage me in my spiritual growth much like a mother protects and guides her children. I have been given the gift of knowing first hand I never walk this path alone; there are many who walk with me.
Shamanic healing is a path for restoring health and vitality for those who have suffered the ills of stress in contemporary life or the feeling that life has lost its meaning or sparkle. It is an effective way to cure the root cause of that pain, heal deep soul traumas and release patterns of suffering without relinquishing one’s power.
For those who enjoy their lives but sense there is more out there, these core methods afford us the opportunity to reach our soul’s desires. It is more than a set of sacred tools and techniques:shamanism is a way of life. It offers us an authentic alliance with those that inhabit the spiritual realms. This understanding allows us to entertain the possibility that the laws of the spiritual and physical realms stem from One Source and we can always bring ourselves into alignment with that Source. Why not take a leap of faith and try it? You’ll be surprised at what you discover.