Shamanism is a dimension of human experience that can be found in every culture in any age. It can be observed in a variety of forms, ranging from a fundamental spontaneous experience, derivative culturally shared practices, or as veiled motifs of spiritual, medical, artistic, scientific, and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Paradoxically, as shamanism becomes more culturally shared, it may become less authentic—less culturally challenging—and degenerative. Provoked by an experience of everyday life as a sort of “half-truth,” shamanism is a method that focuses on the erroneous belief in a separation of human life from nature. Shamanism focuses specifically on remaining alert to the creatural dimensions of human life that can be overridden by cultural, socio-psychological dimensions of everyday life.

Shamanism is an expression of an enduring wild state to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence and integrate into the natural world that continues to design and express human life across the long run.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conversations With Oak

In totemic work
In conversation with oak today
About their caring for offspring
And such exquisite sensitivity
Especially their quibble with stars

Perhaps next time
How and why they came to this ground
And how wonderful their optimism
And more about the gratitude of the one with blessed wounds
In marriage with lightning

And perhaps how oak is rain
And more of what wind had to say
And what sense of obligation and to whom?

Such overlooked intelligence and so wide open
And why so few of us listening?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Unspoken Language

Cy Twombly

Yet one more abandoned the heavy city's
ring of greedy stones.  And the water, salt and 
crystal closes over the heads of all who 
truly seek refuge.
Tomas Transtromer, from "Five Stanzas to Thoreau,"
The Great Enigma


We are born from the Earth carrying a unimaginably deep wisdom in our bones—an immeasurable oceanus of eco-literacy. We come out of the Earth itself like a small wave crest of its ongoing creation.  While we are remarkable for our capacity for self-design, the Earth expresses us and designs us.  And while speech-into-languages and language into written literacy seem to separate human life from landscape, Emerson accurately states in his essay Nature that our words come from nature.  And yet, our words become abstractions, and island us in specific cultures.   We tend to see our words and concepts more than the events that they represent.   And we ignore and down-prize a language that is deep and enduring and yet intimately known to us and that actually runs us and saves us.

There is a common unspoken language that is present in each of us and in each event in the universe.  It is neither inactive nor untranslatable. We read it more than we allow ourselves to imagine.  We can see it expressed directly in the forms and forces in the world around us.  It speaks directly in the shape of a tree limb or a grass stem or the billions of orbs of dew in grass.  It is also within us, in the eloquence of our billions-years old tested body design.  And when all is said and done, it is the language that keeps us alive across the long run of things.

Anyone of us can look about and see and taste and touch and even hear this language and easily sense that it is full of power: The light of the sun and the wind and movement of water in streams and in rainfall.  It is more than enough information and it comes directly into awareness from within and without.

And yet, we favor dwelling in a dream of beautiful abstractions.  In this dream, the sun appears to move across the sky when it is really the rotating Earth.   In this dream we find a world of parts—flowers and leaves that appear to be separate objects on a stage set. To live, to become ourselves, we imagine that we must take power from separate events and bring them inside to activate them.

In every era and in every culture, there are at least moments when we sense that we are living in a dream and not really listening to life as it is.   And in some moments we recognize these elements to be more eloquent than culture or society or psychology or biology.  And we “get it,” that our daily actions that carry us into the future are creatural and that our eco-literacy is vary facile.   “Shamanism” emerges as a response in direct practices and as powerful motifs in medicine and art.  It aspires to attune us to the unspoken language that keeps us alert to the changing conditions of existence.  But without strong cautions, shamanism almost immediate degenerates and degrades because it goes through a cultural filter that quickly co-opts it to serve the society.  Degraded, we might seek “power animals” from our dream of parts as well as psychic capacities that would make us special.

Yet, when authentic, when truly humane, we awaken on the inside of nature, buoyed up by it, made by it.  And then, rather than take from the Earth, we aspire to come into harmony with the power contained in the direct Earth, and to live it.

Everything we touch in the built environment required millions of human encounters to product the event in the present moment. And this is very beautiful.  And yet, it is a dream of the Earth rather than the Earth itself. and wears an abstract coat of language and can miss the very heart of language.  It is not the language of the sparrows and grasses and stars and wind and water.

And so, this experience of life as a dream or as a set of half-truths sometimes leads to an effort to step out of the dream.  Shamanism is not a belief system but rather a method of entry.  As a method, it is nothing special.  It is a ritual—as lean as we can possibly make it—that both aspires to desensitize us from the domination of our thinking and beliefs and to deeply relax our physiology, to allow us to become a creature. 

In our dream life, when we look at a tree or the moon, we tend to see what we have learned about a tree or the moon rather than the event before our senses.  We dream “tree” and “moon.”  In shamanic method, we aspire to listen deep enough so that our culturally colored imagination can drop away.  Having fallen away, the imaginary can become the imaginal.  The very real imaginal is often veiled at first, yet often refreshing and restorative.  Rarely instantaneous, but rather by returns, we train in this method of entry.

The imaginal is the unspoken language.  And we try to come into harmony with the unspoken “words” that appear.  We do this, not as an esoteric, spiritual act, but rather as a practical, profane way to optimize our life and our health.   

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dogma Free

NOT DERIVATIVE  /  DEGENERATIVE (ELIADE) SHAMANISM, of which MOST "shamanism" is, even the most traditional--more of a religious shamanic motif.

Not a post-modern blend of wondrous Sufi or Zen or complex sounding, more something free of convention, free of culture, society, psychology--creatural.

GETTING BACK TO THE HEART PRACTICE.  When you think that you have got it, perhaps, you think, again.  You make a stab at turning off your thinking.  Take a serious look at the cultural constructs that you are applying.    It is not unrelated to to the same problem in resolving Zen questions--koans/kong-ans.

Instead of something easy, try to imagine taking up something so limited, so impossible that perhaps one in 100.000 thousands of Koryaks living so intimately with the landscape find impossible to do.

And yet, still, it appears in human life in any age.  Eternal, enduring.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Drum Sings Sky Down

Lance Kinseth, Calling Down Moon, 48x48”


Drum’s vibrations obviously pulse through us, but they are far more than drum’s.  In that way in which a wave is the ocean, these vibrations are Sky-sized.

Endless Sky, containing Earth and galaxies and Cosmos, comes down.

Sky is already here, inside mass, inside us and the surrounding space, and unbound in the holy river and sea.  The trees and mountains are Sky.

Drum forms a pathway for the essentials of Sky to come down or for you and I to go up.

Raven and Crow are two of the essentials—faces of Sky.   Raven and Crow are present, even already inside us, and yet—like Sky—are touchless.

Perhaps one time Moon or Raven comes down and perhaps in another time we go up to Crow, and still more magic: we do not move.

If we are lucky we sense them and we interact with them.

If we are even more lucky, a time will come when they are known to be us.

The atmosphere is the essence of their bodies and of your body as well.
And yet, we spend most of our time in a world that does not exist, that we contrive, and call this very real reality of Sky a “dream.”

Sky is our very existence in each moment and, in its vast, unending formless form, that which designs us and expresses us.  Our most real scientific measures are saying this to us.

Our hands are Sky’s hands. 

Sky is the body of spirit that extends out beyond galaxies and cosmos. 

We exist deep inside spirit as a congealed form of energy to fit the local conditions of existence. 

We are not little pieces of spirit. 

There is no end or beginning to us, no separation, no previous life, no coming and going, no ending and beginning. 

The differences that we feel—such as what I choose to eat or how you dress—are real, but small and narrow expressions of our identity and of our limits. 

A fish is river-shaped; a blossom is the tilt of the Earth toward the sun.

And were we to get hold of it, opening a pathway into Sky can optimize us, attune us to the longer reaches of ourselves, bring us into harmony, and heal and sustain us. 



WHEN SKY SWEEPS DOWN in drum sound, all is transformed.  Be it far northern Eskimo kilaut or Koryak boubin.  Drum’s vibration sweeps sky into the present moment.

Do you seek it’s wisdom?

Sky is more than space above landscape.  Sky is the farther reach of landscape.  Earth is in it, as well as star—Sun—and Milky Way Galaxy that contains Sun as a small obscure star, and all galaxies and the farthest reach of cosmos, that unknown terrain of universe or universes and/or more.

And Sky is the immanent form of Raven and Crow that can seem ghost-like to us, appearing to wear the appearance of thin air.   Spirit-Beings are not really spirit-beings in the catholic sense, not real this thing or that thing, not really something either exclusively outside or inside, but rather, are manifestations of inseparable, interpenetrating Sky.

When Sky sweeps down, as Sky endlessly does, but typically so far outside our consciousness, Raven/Crow/Moon sweeps down.  In drum sounds, Sky sings and comes down or we fly out to meet Raven/Crow.  When we leave the world that we have contrived, we find ourselves inseparable an in a world where self and landscape are no more or no less than facets of a whole.  We look at our experience contriving parts and miss the elephant.  It is like trying to cut the river into parts to see the river.  Sky is the horizontal and vertical terrain in front of our senses as well as the literal atmosphere above us that presses into us as our very breath and our very sensing as well.

And perhaps if we are lucky—if we are “called” into such consciousness—Raven/Crow/Moon open this inseparability.

Spiritually, we are likely to imagine the landscape as separable from ourselves, either as a stage-set in which we act out a rather brief temporal life before entering a more spiritual, transcendent “heaven” or as a landscape of “come-arounds” in which our soul moves across life spans though a variety of forms. 

Shamanically, however, landscape—that is far more sky than solid mass as its physical and spiritual essence—is god-like, and we—deep within it, ensouled rather than a separate soul—are expressions of this godliness.

Not just for aesthetic pleasure, awareness that everything that is landscape is in us brings us inside is this very deep reality to optimize each moment.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Refuge / Disappearance

Evenk Headdress [search images]

A WAY OF SEEING in the dark, a way of knowing, retrieval or restoration?

Such a way may deteriorate into a pathway to discouragement or self-delusion, as if the landscape could be oversimplified—a “sham” that misleads oneself or others.

At its core, accessing the natural may be more a process of taking refuge, and, if realized, …the water, salt and crystal closes over the heads of all who truly seek refuge [from “Five Stanzas to Thoreau,” in Tomas Transtromer, The Great Enigma, p.6].

With such a turn in life, taking refuge, being truly absorbed, disappearing, a need for power or control or vision or knowing is realized to be unimportant, as well as impossible.

A powerful unseeing, with perhaps bright glints here and there that seem to make another world in this world, aliveness may turn into that which it is, wholly natural and eased, deep in…inner greenness / artful and hopeful [Transtromer, p.6].

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"In Medicine Words"

[phrase from dg nanouk okpik]

            You drive into a meaning made of trees.
            Or not exactly trees.  It is a sense
            Of running through and under without let,
            Of glimpse and dapple.  A life all trace and skim
            The car has vanished out of.  A fanned nape
            Sensitive to the millionth of a flicker.
[Bold mine,  from Seamus Heaney, “The Road At Frosses,” in Simon Rae [Ed.], The Orange Dove Of Fiji

In woodland, gaze into a tree.  Any tree.
But…not exactly.

Open tree to a larger name, simple, eased as if you were opening a meadow gate, not intellectual—
“Plant,” or to “flora,”
And the, still eased, open “Plant” to “aliveness,”
And a sensate flood of joy washes in.

Even in the slightest breeze, the quiver of leaves.
Profound, detailed sensitivity dancing all about you—“ the millionth of a flicker” everywhere

“Tree” could have been different.
Tree might have evolved to be hardened. Crustose, like lichens, walled, stump-like.
But tree is an open channel, another form of rivering:
Starlight into mass and upswelling hydrology and mineral and aliveness.

And even more is offered in this aliveness overflowing the bowl—
Insects and the prayers/songs/canticles of birds and microbial life and on and on.

And what are these birds?
“Bird” swelling to “Fauna” swelling to “aliveness.”  

The commonplace name of everything contains a wide-open medicine word.

A shamanic quality.

It is not old, but rather enduring and unending eternal.

In each event and in each common word is a medicine word if we are up to it, if we are really post-industrial and post-modern and reaching toward our human potential.

In older days, living amongst trees and wild grasses,
Perhaps your aunty, swirling the iron skillet on the fire sees sparks
And remarks that somewhere there must be a war,
Old skillet and fire and spark had something to say. [p. 98]

Or to optimize the potato crop, the children might have been admonished
To release parts of themselves, [p. 6]

On in personal names [not “I’m number 1 type of names” or names picked off a popular list, but rather naming related richly to aliveness and sometimes self-depreciating or incident–related because self was not central]: Fred Bloodclot Red, Weasel Heart, Louise Stabs-in-the-Back, Bumblebee . [pp. 82, 84, 98]
[From Ray A. Young Bear, The Invisible Musician]

And so in sensing, perhaps allow yourself to transform concepts/thinking into “medicine words” and see what miracles might appear in that which seems known, overworked, and banal.  And most intriguing, perhaps find your life in it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shamanic Apprentice Training





            Preface          Awakening From A Dream     viii

            Chapter 1      The Modern Encounter With Shamanism     1    

            Chapter 2      Describing Shamanism     23       

            Chapter 3      Revisioning Landscape and Imagination     61      

            Chapter 4      Shamanic Deep Imagination     77

            Chapter 5      Toward An Indigenous Modern Shamanism     96

            Chapter 6      Ensoulment Work     118

            Chapter 7      Totemic Work      140   

            Chapter 8      Recovering A Wild State     162    

                                 References Cited     189    

                                 Appendix 1     Selected Critical Elements     192   

                                 Appendix 2     Modern Provocations, A Sampler     199

                                          Appendix 3     Twenty General Study Questions     206

Total: 216 pages/104,427 words
Title, Notes, Contents, Dedication, Preface: 2216 words/9 pages
Chapters 1-9 + appendices: 102,211 words/207 single-spaced pages