I arrived for the first day of the course at the Amadeus Centre in Little Venice, West London on foot after a thirty five minute walk from my B&B. It had been a hot and sticky night, airless on the inside and too loud on the outside to open the windows. I hadn’t quite grasped that Kilburn High Road would be alive for so long after the witching hour.
By the time we were all seated in the large room there was a buzz of anticipation as people made contact with others who had made this journey (no pun intended) to learn about shamanism and shamanic practices.
The things we’d been asked to bring, a palm sized stone, a blindfold, a rug or cushion, pen and notebook, were all laid out beside us. (Well, I was sitting on my rug.)
When we were all seated Simon and his assistant Martha welcomed us. After the housekeeping arrangements were relayed Simon began by putting shamanism into context.
He said it was the ultimate democratic spirituality. There’s only you and spirit, no rule book to follow and no intermediary.
He paid tribute to the two people who had been highly influential in his understanding of and development as a shamanic practitioner, namely Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner, and gave us a quick overview of shamanic
In all traditions where shamanism was practices.practiced (and this was world-wide before organise religions brutally squashed it, ridiculed it, or killed its masters) three things were consistent:
The Drum: 4-7 beats per second encourages the brain to move into theta waves, the state between sleeping and waking, where connection with spirit is most effective. Most spiritual practices such as meditation, chanting, and prayer are designed to help you reach this state. The drums have been proved to be the most effective at getting you there quickly.
The Voice – Is used to connect with spirit and with each other, particularly in healing when it can have a soothing and healing effect on the client.
The body – movement is an integral part of shamanic practice. Often the shaman will act out the journey he or she is undertaking on behalf of a client.
A shaman is someone who is able to move awareness from this reality into another to access information and bring it back into this one in order to heal or to provide guidance. A shaman works in partnership with spirit, and is able to make him or herself a ‘hollow bone’ or an ‘empty reed’ in order to allow spirit to work through them. A lot like trance mediumship. Indeed there was a lot of references throughout the workshop of similarities between the two forms of practice, with some small but significant differences. Mainly that a shaman would never interpret the metaphors of the journey s/he undertakes for the client, whereas spiritualist sometimes do.
He said a shaman is not a title one gives oneself, in the same way a hero would not call himself a hero. It is a title bestowed on one by others for the practitioner’s consistent ability to heal and to help.
He went on to say there are no rules as such in shamanism – the individual gets the direct revelation while speaking to spirit during a ‘journey’. This is in contrast to religions where the rules include all that is in the holy book and must be obeyed and carried out by all in the same way. Religions also require that other people interact with God on our behalf, i.e. the Pope.
A shaman’s map consists of three worlds: Upper, middle and lower. The upper and lower worlds exist as spiritual reality and it’s where the shaman journeys to find answers to questions, solutions to problems, or means to heal. The middle world is the reality as we know it.
A journey always involves an intention which is set prior to undertaking the journey. The nature of the intention will determine whether the shaman travels to the upper or lower world.
Spirit present primarily as animals or as humans because we are both. Animal spirits mainly, but not exclusively, inhabit the lower world, and humans mainly, but not exclusively, the upper world.
The shaman always travels from an axis mundi, i.e. a recognisable point on this earth. If travelling to the lower world it could be through the roots of a tree, down a rabbit hole, or in a lift. Journey to the upper world could be from the top of a mountain, a tree etc.
The final bit of information he gave us before our first journey was that a shaman engages all his or her attention with intention. There’s no scope for thinking about what to cook for dinner, or what to wear for the work’s do.
With this we were taken into our first journey.