Archive for the Journeying Category

The Hunt…

Posted in ceremony, Journeying, Shamanism on June 28, 2012 by Standing West

When it was time, I bound my left wrist with a red ribbon, tied with three knots: one for myself, one for my Uncle of the Forest, and one for the Great Spirit, who bound us together in our dance.

Then I made my prayers to the seven directions.  In turn, the Spirits of the seven directions bestowed upon me special gifts to assist me in the hunt.

In the East, Gold Eagle gave me his eyes that I might see as he did.

In the South, Grandfather Coyote blew upon me the smoke from his sacred pipe, that my human form might be obscured from the eyes of the one I sought.

In the West, Mother Bear covered me with the mantle of a she-bear, that Short Tail would perceive me as such when emerging from His den.

Crooked Bear, Chief and Grandfather of the North greeted me with the name “She Bear Comes Dancing,” and presented me with the sacred bullroarer so that upon hearing this, my Great Uncle of the Forest would believe a sow in heat had entered His territory.  “You must strike Him through the heart,” he said, “or else He will kill you.”

Mother Earth blessed me with the ability to walk upon her skin leaving nothing behind but the footprints of a bear.

Father Sky commanded that I hold aloft the Gray Birch spear I’d fashioned for this journey.  Below the blade was tied a red ribbon, signifying the blood of the Shaggy One, the First Shaman, in which it would soon be bathed.  At Father Sky’s command, the lightning leapt from the thunder clouds above us, striking the spear and flowing through my body.  “Your spear will strike like lightning,” the Ancient One said.

Finally, entering the Place Within, I was granted the stillness of an animal.  I was told that upon meeting me, Grandfather would sense only quiet, and know that I was not a man.

I thanked the Spirits for their gifts, and the Great Spirit for His guidance, and turning westward, started on my way.

I was met in a place of darkness and fog by my Spirit Brothers, Wolf and Porcupine. Porcupine sat warming himself by the fire.  “I’ll protect you from here,” he said rubbing his hands together; “you must go there alone.”  With that he turned and faced the fire again.

“Are you ready, child?” asked Brother Wolf.

“I am,” I replied, my voice a low, feminine growl; my breath a deep, heavy gust blowing through my long and pointed snout.

I followed Wolf through a blanket of fog and emerged behind a large Oak tree.  There, just ahead of me was a small barrow covered with branches and stones, the entrance way facing to my left.

“I will leave you here,” said Brother Wolf, his words barely penetrating the sound of the sacred bullroarer, which almost seemed to be spinning by itself.

“Wake up, Ancient One,” I shouted.  The words growled from my open maw and pierced the wall of trees behind the den.

Almost immediately He sprang from the opening and charged me with His arms above His head, towering over the more than man-sized bulk of my own body by at least a good six feet.  His mouth was cavernous and lined with angry teeth, dripping saliva.  His eyes were glowing slits, and silver lined the graying black of the fur around is His face.

I felt myself hesitate for only a moment.  And then the spear leapt from my hand, burying itself in the massive black chest…

In a moment of silence it was over.

Among the trees the faces of Spirits appeared: Ancestors, Teachers, and Animal Spirits with whom I am acquainted.  Each watched in silence as I knelt beside the fallen giant and offered a prayer of thanks.

I noticed my hands had now become human again.  The she-bear guise had melted away, revealing the man beneath. With reverence I drew my knife and pierced my Uncle’s abdomen.  I drew the knife slowly up to His neck.  I wiped the blade and returned the knife to its sheath.  I reached inside the still warm body and removed the entrails, placing them upon a mound of earth in the center of the clearing.

From the cavernous opening of the body before me a voice beckoned me to crawl inside and lie down.  As I did, the fur closed around me and I tumbled.

I came to sitting by a campfire.  A silvery black pelt was draped across my shoulders.

“What must I do to honor you, Grandfather?” I asked, feeling a presence behind me.

“You must give yourself to me completely, that your people might live,” He said.

“I do,” I answered in a voice that was mine again.

“Then it is done.  You must now consume my heart, taking one bite for each of the seven directions who honored you with their gifts.”

With this, I stood upon a plateau, the heart of the Fallen One warm and heavy in my hands.  I did as the Ancient One asked me; taking one bite in each direction until finally I came to the Place of the Silence Within.

“Here you must not eat any of my heart,” Short Tail said.  “Instead you must offer a piece to the Earth.  The place within must always be kept empty, that power might be received.”

I did as He instructed, and held the last portion in my left hand.

“Now you must place the final portion against your own heart that the two might beat as one.”

I removed the bones holding my skin together and reached inside my chest, pressing the flesh of Grandfather’s heart against my own.  As the two merged together, an ancient power surged through my body, and a deep massive roar sprang from my throat.

As the echo died, I found myself in the clearing.

“Remove my head,” the Old One said, “and place it upon the spear amongst the entrails.”

A large blade appeared in my hands, and the massive head came cleanly away with a quick, downward stroke.  I set the butt end of the spear into the earth and placed the head upon the point, setting wildflowers in the eyes and ropes of turquoise around the spear, just below the jaw.

“Remove my skin and wear it,” the Fallen One commanded.

I did so, and turned to face the spear.  Atop the shaft was Grandfather’s skull, bleached clean as if by years of sun.  On the ground before the spear lay the skin of His head.  “Put it on,” he commanded.

As I pulled my Uncle’s face over my own, a thunderous voice echoed in my ears – my own voice permeated with ancient, ancestral power.

Now we are blood of blood.  Now we are skin of skin.  Now we are bone of bone.”

I left that place and returned the gifts to the Spirits of the seven directions.  The Spirit of the Within Place bid me keep the stillness, and it flowed outward from me, dancing through the whole of creation.

I committed the form of the spear, now an empty thing, to a fire I’d prepared for just this purpose.  As the flames consumed it, I told my story to the Spirits of the Fire, Smoke and Wind, that they might reach the Great Spirit’s ear and touch His heart that my people might live.

I pray those words might echo throughout the Universe, that they might resonate forever amongst the Heavens and the Stars, and return to bless us all. . .

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This, Too, Shall Pass. . .

Posted in Coyote, dreams, Inspirational, Journeying, Shamanism, Spirituality, visions on June 19, 2012 by Standing West

During a journey the other day, I found myself in the presence of a circle of Elders.  The air was filled with a heavy sense of purpose.  It was obvious that the Ancient Ones had called me here to stand in the presence of Power.  The oldest Grandfather handed me an Eagle feather, and presented me with a ritual I would need to perform every day for the next 31 days.

Immediately a litany of excuses tore through my mind.  Surely there wasn’t enough time for me to perform the ritual before work.  I get up at 4:00 every day as it is.  And I certainly couldn’t do it after work.  There were books to read for my classes and patients to journey for.  I stood there absolutely powerless as these and other equally invalid objections raced through my head.

The feather was taken away as quickly as it had been offered.  The Elders continued watching me without judgment. Next an ornate wooden cup was placed on the ground before me.  The cup was filled with a shiny liquid, so black it reflected everything in the lodge.  Without hesitation I took the cup and raised it to my lips, draining it nearly to the bottom.  I emptied the remaining liquid upon the ground as an offering to Spirit, and I heard the voice of the Elder who’d initially handed me the feather.

“The path of the Visionary is not for you.  Instead, you will walk the path of the Healer.” 

Upon hearing these words, I was filled with a sense of place.  There was no regret at my initial resistance to the offering of the feather and its required rituals.  Instead, I felt as if I’d finally arrived.  I knew now the direction my life would take, and for the first time, I felt my spirit exhale.

I thanked them for their teachings, and left them with gifts of food, tobacco, skins, and a sacred pipe.

During a second journey that day I was given a healing song by an Ancestor Spirit.  The Elders, it seemed, had more than made good on their word.

As the week wore on, this sense of purpose continued, and I began to feel detached from the usual distractions around me.  It was as if I’d left a good portion of my attention “over there”.

Enter: Coyote.

In his breakneck, howling, and often infuriating way, Coyote invites us to dance with the darkness of our souls.  His tauntings and misdirections often flood those murkier parts of ourselves with the light of our own awareness; calling upon us to examine them closely, and challenging us to accept these things as part and parcel of who and what we are.

Last Saturday, the Ragged-Assed One decided to send me a teaching in my dreams.  I was standing in the bathroom, and discovered that I had blood in my urine.  I decided to ignore it, but further attempts yielded the same results. As I couldn’t deny it any further, I instead decided to pay attention to it, and immediately observed the swirls of red and yellow blending together.

I awoke, writing it off as a “crazy dream”.  Yet something about it had unsettled me to the point where I found myself snapping at my wife. There was no logical reason for my outburst.  We hadn’t argued or found ourselves at odds in any way.

No, this energy was flowing from a deeper source.

As I tried to push it aside, a rage welled up inside me, followed by a heavy sense of confusion as to where it was coming from.  Finally, unable to locate the source of this emotion, I decided it would be better off if I just embraced it and sat with it for a while.

In that moment, the dream came rushing back.  Yellow: the color of the East, and place of vision.   Red: the color of the South, and place of emotion.   Coyote was showing me that regardless of everything I’d learned about myself in the last few days, I wasn’t ready to move on just yet.  And that even though I’d been given a vision of the purpose of my life, there was a darker, emotional part of me that couldn’t be ignored; and that struggling against it would only lead to greater consternation.

I thanked Coyote for his teaching; and laughed at the earthiness of his dream. In his own visceral way, the Mongrel Trickster was telling me that all I could do was accept this part of myself, and that in the end, this difficulty would pass. . .

Ceremony. . .

Posted in ceremony, Journeying, Shamanism, visions on April 5, 2012 by Standing West

Grandfather comes.  The short tailed one.  Devours  the dried berries and salmon I’ve placed on the altar for him with loud, hungry, appreciative grunts.  Drains the glass of honey water in one shameless gulp. Afterwards he settles back onto his haunches, breathing heavily.   Then, like a child he presses his head lovingly against his Mother’s breast and sighs.

We’ve danced together for some time now under the careful tutelage of one whose eyes, silvery white and fierce as arctic snow, see many things.  He teaches me to sing the healing song.  The song without words. The song that comes like Autumn wind, rattling limbs and shaking loose dead leaves.

We prostrate ourselves before the Elder.    In the dim and sultry firelight, the Grandmothers and Grandfathers stand.  In unison they begin to chant.  Moccasined feet press gently against green grass.  The sharp smell of sage smoke accompanies their movement.  Two approach; an ancient man and equally ancient woman.  They smile knowingly as the bearskin drapes across my shoulders.

I rise, embrace the woman and then the man, and the crowd gives way to Brother Wolf who studies me with calm and piercing eyes.  He shuffles away, following the crowd, and I am left alone with the Teacher.

We’re sitting now beside the fire in the circular glade near the door of his lodge.  A presence stirs within my chest.  Manifests in powerful claws and fur like moonlit snow; Spirit Bear, the Bear of the First Creation.

“Your power is increasing,” the Teacher says without any trace of emotion.

I open myself to this ancient power, and sense a familiar pattern.  Grandfather smiles as our spirits touch.  He and all his kind are gathered together in this sacred, singular, white robed space.

And we dance…

Bear it in mind. . .

Posted in dreams, Inspirational, Journeying, Shamanism, Spirituality, sweat lodge, visions on February 13, 2012 by Standing West

I’m not a person who typically has prophetic, meaningful or even memorable dreams.  I can pretty much count on one hand the number of times this happens in a year.   Generally, my dreams are psychic patchwork, stitched together from tatters of the day’s events with a rough internal framework holding them together.   A few nights ago, however, I experienced a dream that demanded more than just a casual review.

I was sitting naked at a campfire in a circular clearing.  Suddenly, Grandfather Bear entered the clearing and leapt on top of me, pinning me to the ground.  As I lay there with my face pressed into the rocky earth, he began to nip at my right hand.  I struggled futilely to free myself.

Sensing absolutely no malice in his attack, I realized immediately that this was an initiation of some sort.

I knew instinctively that even though I couldn’t possibly throw him off, I needed only to wait for the right moment, and I could escape.  No sooner had I reached this conclusion, then he released his grip and I slipped free.

As the scene shifted I found myself walking down a gravel path.  I was dressed in gray deerskin and moccasins; simple yet durable clothing well-suited to the rigors of the journey that lay ahead of me.  Behind me, I felt the presence of Grandfather and Grandmother Bear.  They smiled, and I knew that they would always be there to protect and advise me as the situation required.

The message here is obvious.  This work is not something that can be forced, or pummeled into shape.  Grandfather’s nipping of my right hand, the hand of strength and masculinity, reflects this.  This also seems to be indicated by my being clothed in gray deerskin at the end of the dream.  Among its many symbolic meanings, Deer stands for gentility.  This is the reason why we receive the Grandfather Stones from the fire with White Tail deer antlers before placing them into the pit at the center of the sweat lodge; we wish to offer them some measure of gentleness after their ordeal in the sacred fire.

Gray is the color of neutrality, a mixing of white and black  – Masculine and Feminine – into a new color blending the sacred energies of both.  The presence of the male and female aspects of Bear walking behind me on the path away from the clearing at the end of the dream speaks of my need to commit to balancing these energies within myself.

The spiritual path is not for the faint of heart.  To walk it truthfully, one must constantly be aware not only of one’s actions, but of their implications and the inspiration from which they spring.  We struggle with the apparently contradictory task of abandoning ourselves completely, that we might be hollow bones through which the love and healing energy of the Creator can flow unimpeded, while strengthening ourselves to withstand the rigors of faith, and the work this journey requires.    It is through the bringing together of these two seemingly opposing viewpoints, like striking flint and steel, that a divine spark is produced, illuminating the pathway of our lives. . .

Slowly, but. . .

Posted in Inspirational, Journeying, Shamanism, Spirituality, visions on January 13, 2012 by Standing West

In the true spirit of winter, I find myself withdrawing lately.  Looking inward.

It’s an odd feeling after the steady rush of activity that was these last several months.  I move a little slower these days.  My mind drifts a bit more.  And long hot baths have become an almost nightly occurrence. It’s good to relax and take the time to clean up my own spiritual back yard; to nourish myself on what took root in the spring.

The work I have been doing revolves around the house.  No major projects, much to my wife’s chagrin, but we started on the garage this morning, and the “Honey-do” list is dwindling, albeit slowly.

My spiritual practice also seems to be deepening.   While my journeys are less frequent, they are more impactful.  Grandfather Bear is asleep, after all, and it wouldn’t do to awaken him for frivolous reasons.

I’ve also recently completed my healing regalia. Or rather, I should say, Grandfather completed the regalia through my hands.  It’s been an interesting two and a half year process, and much wisdom has come about through working with my “bear skin”.

What started as a dialog between myself and a tutelary spirit has finally established itself in the physical world – and that is indeed the essence of what this path is all about.  We act as a bridge, a wire if you will, plugged into the Spirit world and the Physical.  The energy of the Creator flows through us and manifests here for the greatest good of all.

As I’ve heard so many times around the arbor and the lodge, “All we need to do is show up, and the work somehow gets done.” And there’s never any shortage of work, or energy to accomplish it.  “Ask Spirit for energy, and you’ll receive it,” our Dance Chief Kristen often tells us.  And so it comes – as much as needed – and enters the world that my people may live. . .

Visitation rites. . .

Posted in ceremony, Inspirational, Journeying, Shamanism, Spirituality, visions on November 22, 2011 by Standing West

“…everything that is
is alive

the lantern walks around
the walls of this house have tongues
even this bowl has its own true home
the hides asleep in their bags
were up talking all night
antlers on the graves
rise and circle the mounds
while the dead themselves get up
and go visit the living ones.”

“Things a Shaman sees”
-David Cloutier

The system is failing, folks.  The bipartisan “Super Committee has failed to offer a solution for the staggering $1.2 trillion debt that we’ve  piled onto the backs of our children’s children.  Markets crumble, houses are foreclosed, unemployment is on the rise – yet a cabal of powerful men in grey suits serves up nothing but flippant sound bites in hopes of shifting the blame and covering their collective asses – and the slavering maw of the military industrial complex gorges itself on an ever-increasing smorgasbord of natural resources culled from the very populace it’s sworn to protect.

Yes, the system is failing…

And so it must, if we’re ever going to survive.

Our society has lost its way.  Or rather, like a team of horses fitted with blinders, the general populace finds itself goaded into a narrow alley way by the relentless prodding of fear and greed, charging headlong towards the cold harsh reality of a brick wall, seemingly without the ability or desire to turn itself around.

And yet, the prodding continues.  The twin drums of jingoism and consumerism set the pace for a dead-end ride that can only end one way.

The homunculus of our consumer based society, fueled by testosterone, rapacious corporatism, and blatant Empire building has gorged itself on the lifeblood of Pachamama and her children, and finding itself ensnared in the trap of rapidly dwindling resources, now turns its rabid fangs upon itself.

I’ll leave the speculation as to the exact steps that brought us here to the social scientists, economists and philosophers.  What’s clear, however, is that our society at large has cast aside its connection to the Divine Feminine. We have torn down the Earth Mother and put up the Whore of Babylon in her place.

Which brings me to the symbol that accompanies this post. What appears to be a three-pronged pitchfork is actually a letter from the younger futhark or Scandinavian runes.  The name of the rune is “Yr”, and I’ll relate its relevance to the contents of this already lengthy post after a bit of necessary background.

This past Sunday afternoon, I had the great privilege of being summoned to a council of spirit Elders during a shamanic journey.  We sat beneath a moonless sky spangled with millions of stars, the meager firelight illuminating an occasional buckskinned knee and wrinkled cheek.

A pipe was lit and made its way around the close-knit circle.  As I readied myself to receive the chanupa, a pair of bony hands reached across the fire, grabbed my collar, and yanked me towards a stern and furrowed face hovering in the darkness above the flames.  I recognized the face as that of an elder I’ve visited several times in recent months.

“ You will be the spiritual keeper of this land,” he snapped.  “You’re an Elder now, so act like it.”

Without waiting for a reaction, he shoved me back into place. The tension was broken almost immediately when a roar of laughter erupted among the Elders.  Relieved, and somewhat dumbfounded, I raised the pipe to pray, and passed it to the Grandfather seated next to me.

It was then I noticed for the first time that our circle was comprised entirely of men.  “Where are the women?” I asked the now smiling medicine man who’d rebuked me.  His gaze shifted over his right shoulder, and I became aware that we were surrounded by a circle of women just beyond the reaches of the firelight.

The women support us,” he said.  “They operate from the shadows to protect us and give us strength.”

With that, he touched a stick to the fire and both circles vanished, leaving me staring at pit of smoldering ashes, the runic symbol in molten silver at its center. This is not the first time I’ve been shown a rune, but my unfamiliarity with the language required some research before I could make sense of its meaning.  While the explanations from several websites vary only slightly, this from Articlesbase.com seems to capture the essence:

“On this physical plane of reality we live under the Law of Duality. Man-woman; hot-cold; dry-wet; gravitation-levitation; etc, etc. These seemingly opposite forces dissol(v)e when they meet in the center…

Rune #16 YR.(I)ts primary runic function is to balance the male-female energies. The main rune-meaning for YR is mystical union.

Within all of us is the desire for union with ourselves. Men desire the union with women, who are their spiritual counterpart. Women desire the union with men who are their physical counterpart. We all spend a great deal of time and energy searching our counterparts on the physical plane…

Other meanings for Rune YR: Rune of Mystical Union; Rune of Perfection; Rune of Night and Moon; Rune of Process Bringing Radical Change; Rune of Overturning of Affairs.”

By their actions the Elders had spoken clearly. The time has come for a radical shift in the way we conduct ourselves on this planet. Clearely our species will never survive unless we as individuals learn to balance our Masculine and Feminine impulses. . .

The Snake. . .

Posted in ceremony, Journeying, Shamanism, Spirituality on August 2, 2011 by Standing West

“I saved you,” cried the woman
“And you’ve bitten me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

-Al Wilson

I recently had my eyes opened to just how diluted the shamanic path has become – or rather, perhaps I should say, how lax those who claim to walk it can sometimes be.  At a circle this weekend, one of the attendees brought an implement with her which she held while journeying.  Although I did feel some emanations of power coming from it, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and so I said nothing about it – a mistake, and display of carelessness on my part, as will later be seen.

During our final journey, the item, in spirit form, flew at me from across the room and nearly imbedded itself in my chest.  An ally of mine intercepted the attack, threw the spirit form back into the item and sealed it there.  I continued my dialog with an Elder who proceeded to examine me and remove all traces of the item.  After the circle, I received additional healing through a partner of mine I’ve performed ceremonies with countless times over the last few years.

I pulled the woman aside who brought the item in and related to her exactly what had happened.  She explained that she had received no formal training in the use of the implement (a phurba, or Tibetan tent peg, which is used in Tibetan shamanism to anchor sacred space, heal, or in her words, kill demons).  She went on to tell me that she was meeting with a shaman who lived across country who would teach her how to use it, but that it would take some time.

By her own admittance, she did not know how to handle or store the item, nor did she know who made it, or where it originally came from.  She purchased it because she was attracted to it, and thought she might be able to use it to heal herself and others.  I discussed with her the nature of power items, and explained to her that everything is alive, and quite often has its own intent.  I addressed the fact that had I not been protected, I might, and quite probably would, have left this world.  I also explained that it might have attacked someone else in the room, and that they might not have been so lucky. As a final warning, I told her that there are people out there who would just as easily have hurled it back at her, and that she might have learned a powerful lesson in a very difficult way. After promising that she would not bring it out in public again until she learned how to properly work with it, she was on the phone with her teacher.

Then yesterday, I received an e-mail from a student of mine who was offering to teach people to journey and encounter their animal guides and teacher spirits…in 25 minutes.  I immediately called her and asked her about this.  She asked if that wasn’t enough time.  I was taken aback by this, especially since we’d worked together one-on-one for over a year and a half.  During that time, we’d worked extensively with Power Animals and Spirit Guides.

After speaking with her again at great length about the shamanic view of the world, the possible dangers of journeying for the inexperienced, and the nature of a bond between practitioner and Power Animal, she decided to go with a simple guided meditation instead.  She later e-mailed me and thanked me for my intervention and stressed her desire to “do it right”.

We who walk this path are driven by our hearts.  But we must also pay attention to the voice of reason.  We must never place others at risk simply because we are eager to see them healed.  In our service, we are nothing more than a bridge between the Spirit and the Physical.  We “do” nothing except open ourselves to the creator and allow his work to manifest through us.  If we are careless, or motivated by by ego in this, in our eagerness to serve, we can place the very ones we would help in harm’s way. . .

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