Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation - Sandra Ingerman MA, Hank Wesselman Ph.D. 2010
Our Children Are Our Future
A recent poll has revealed that as children, as many as 61 percent of us received great comfort and support by communicating with imaginary friends—loving and caring beings who came through from the worlds of things hidden to be our companions. From the mystical perspective, the teddy bears and stuffed animals given to us by parents and relatives were exoteric symbols for esoteric archetypal forces that our parents, often unknowingly, were inviting into relationship with us. Our parents gave us dolls and animals partly because this is common in the Western world, yet on some level they might have had dim memories of their own imaginary friends who came into relationship with them during their childhoods.
At around the age of eight to ten, socialization by our parents, teachers, and friends encouraged the veil to drop, and our imaginary friends departed, their job done. At this point in our lives, we were encouraged to believe that the real world consisted only of what we could see, hear, feel, taste, and smell, so, in a sense, the world became less than it was. Most of us simply went along with it and accepted this as given.
The socialization process that occurs at this age, the “given” that children have come to accept, marks a level of initiation into an existence in which a child begins to feel a sense of separation from his or her ultimate source and, by association, from their spiritual allies. And why, we might ask, is this necessary? Perhaps it is so that we can fully incarnate into our embodiments so that we can learn the life lessons that are available to us on this physical plane of existence through which we grow, increase, and become more. For some, however, the veil remains thin and spiritual allies stay close, often visiting in dreams. For a few people, the veil does not drop at all.
Thus, in some ways, the way of the shaman is the way of the child. And, as Sandra Ingerman points out, beginners in the study of shamanism often immediately see the connection between shamanic journeying and their own childhoods:
When I teach workshops on shamanic journeying, a large percentage of my participants tell me that they actually journeyed as children. They simply did not realize that this was what they were doing, yet when their attention refocuses into the imaginal realms where their spiritual allies were waiting to companion and champion them, they discovered that these “spirit-friends” were assisting them through the perils and pains of their childhood.
Through the shamanic path, we discover that what we thought were “imaginary friends” in childhood—friends born of our imagination—were actually real spirits who were looking after us, notes Hank Wesselman:
We use the word “imaginal” when referring to the shamanic path with deliberation, distinguishing it from the word “imaginary” that refers to something that is created by our imagination, yet is not really real. “Imaginal” implies a being that has its own agenda and thus its own autonomous existence in a hidden reality that is quite separate from the one who is perceiving it. This is a concept well understood by the indigenous peoples of the world.
The shamanic path gives us the opportunity to reconnect with these imaginal friends from childhood. Sandra notes that this reconnection can be a very happy reunion:
Many of my students share with me that they remember the invisible beings who comforted them during times of abuse or some other type of pain and suffering as children. They also share that until this moment (in the workshop) they had forgotten this magical time in their lives.
In response, I have come to understand that as the veils between the worlds closed down for us, a magical and important component in our lives was lost. And since that time, most of us have learned through direct experience that when we acknowledge only the outer material world, this does not necessarily lead to happiness.
In today’s world, increasing numbers of us are feeling a growing sense of emptiness and despair, and we dimly sense within our souls a sense of longing for something, some path, that has been lost. As children, we knew the path of the world of things hidden well; it’s just that we have forgotten. When we rewalk this path with reverence and discipline, we rediscover that the mystery still sustains us today, just as it always did in the past.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Shamanic cultures give credence to the imaginal friends of childhood, and perform ceremonies to honor the transitions in a child’s life, such as childhood to puberty and adolescence to adulthood. In our modern world these rites of passage are not acknowledged in a way that helps children in their understanding of how to move into a new stage of life—and let the previous stage go.
As Hank points out, the “rites of passage” seen in Western culture do not come close to accomplishing what shamanic ceremony does in terms of preparing an individual for a new stage of life:
Getting a driver’s license, going to the high school prom, and drinking alcohol or smoking pot are pale comparisons to indigenous ceremonies in which each boy and girl is subjected to tests, trials, and tribulations that may include social isolation for many days and nights, fasting with no food or water during that extended time, and even enduring physical mutilation—circumcision, tooth evulsion, whipping, scarification, or tattooing, in which the “child” dies and the “adult” is born. During this time, their helping spirits may approach them once again, which is why many groups call such rites of passage the “vision quest.”
Hawaiian elder Hale Makua once said that in ancient Hawai’i, each boy-child lived in the house of his mother until he was about six or seven years old. Then the boy went to live in the Men’s House, and the first thing that the men taught the boys was how to treat women with respect. In such a society, marital or spousal abuse was virtually unknown. The role of initiation rituals was (and is) the key.
In our Western societies today, many teenagers join gangs as a way to handle their transition from childhood to adulthood in an empowered manner. They are searching for some form of rite of passage to become fully initiated and actualized beings, so that they can discover who and what they are. If society or the community doesn’t offer a healthy way to achieve this, they will find some way to create an entrance into their new stage of life—whether by joining a gang or through engaging in criminal behavior in which the boy or girl feels they gain power over the society, family, or authority holding them down.
Thoughts from Hank:
If we were to consider today’s world from the male perspective, our young boys are unrelentingly influenced by films, news and social media, peer groups, and by cultural ideals to become warriors. In response, many embrace the ideal of becoming “powerful men” with beautiful and desirable women, money, status, “bling,” and the ability to become a dominating force in the world. A spiritual component to this process is nowhere in sight.
In our current world, those who walk the warrior’s path include corporate business persons, politicians, world leaders, economists, the military—people who by nature are strong leaders and who ideally should be working for the benefit of all in the positive polarity. When our politicians and our corporados fail in this task, we tend to move into the negative polarity. This is when we turn to covert and coercive ways of manifesting what we want via military, FBI, and CIA operations. Yet we usually discover that the solutions to our problems are rarely achieved through the negative polarity.
Hale Makua, my Hawaiian kahuna friend, was fond of observing that the positive polarity of the warrior is persuasion; the negative is coercion. It’s not that the negative is necessarily bad. The negative side allows us to learn our life lessons. And what do we learn in the school of hard knocks? The lesson, as Makua often observed, is about how to lose gracefully.
Our children are our future and it is important that they learn spiritual values sooner rather than later. It is up to us as their elders to provide a spiritual foundation in their lives so that they do not grow up to lead a life of spiritual and cultural emptiness.
In many shamanic cultures, children are reintroduced to shamanic journeying at puberty during the time of the vision quest. The ultimate goal of this challenging experience is for children to connect with their guardian spirits. In our modern world, children spend so much time watching television and on the Internet that they lack the ability to vision. So what can we offer them and how do we do that? According to Sandra, there are many ways to keep the imaginal realms alive for the children of today’s world:
Parents can help their children maintain this connection with their inner visionary ability by doing simple things such as keeping the conversations going about their child’s imaginary friends. Or they can lead their children into a journey to find an animal friend who protects them in life.
Many years ago a brilliant shamanic practitioner brought her nine-year-old son, Matt, to me. A teacher in school was being emotionally abusive to him. I taught Matt how to find what I called his animal friend, who filled him with power so that he did not take on the teacher’s abuse. His animal friend filled him with power in another activity, and he became a great tennis player.
Matt never lost touch with this helping spirit or the nonordinary realms. An extraordinary man who is now in his twenties, he is a well balanced, brilliant student who has gone on to very reputable schools and is making a difference in the world—and he is definitely a strong member of the transformational community.
Matt’s story is one of many testaments to the positive effects of journeying for a child facing life challenges. When I teach children how to journey, I drum for about three minutes. Children tend to journey very quickly and might get bored with a longer journey. I then tell them to close their eyes and look for a hole in the ground that they can enter. I then ask them to find an animal friend who is willing to protect them and to whom they can tell their problems. When I create the return beat on the drum, I ask that they say goodbye to their animal friend and come back.
After a few minutes of journeying, most children return and talk for a half hour about all that happened on that journey.
In the early 1990s I taught a one-day workshop in Salt Lake City for six-year-olds. Some of my students there wanted to teach their children how to journey, but they did not feel comfortable teaching it themselves. So I agreed to teach their children. A group of seven children and their parents came to my workshop, and we made rattles for singing and dancing by putting popcorn kernels in plastic cups and taping the cups together. It was truly a magical day, and what amazed me was how each child asked his or her animal friend what they could do in return for the help received. After each journey I asked the children to draw a picture of their journeys and to describe the picture to the group. This worked well as a way to focus the children on the help they received.
The health and well-being of our children depend on our ability as adults to help them remain in contact with the spiritual worlds. It is important for their emotional health to feel that there is more to life than just what they see and hear in the material world. And it is crucial to our future to help our children maintain a spiritual state of consciousness so they find meaning beyond what exists in the material world.
There are many ways we can encourage children’s imaginations, emphasizes Hank; for one, it should be encouraged in schools:
One of my former students who teaches in the public school system created what she called “imagination time” and worked it into her sixth-grade curriculum. She began by telling her students that she had read an article in the newspaper stating that today’s kids lacked imagination in large part because of television and video games. She then informed them that they would all be working on their imaginations during the course of the school year to help improve their creative writing skills.
She began very simply by having her students close their eyes and imagine picking an apple and tasting it. She then asked what color apple everyone saw, and pointed out that she had not told them what color apple to see. In addition, some kids envisioned sweet juicy apples, while others imagined sour or even rotten apples. They then discussed whether what they had seen was a message just for them, reflecting something about their lives. This allowed them to discuss how our imaginations, that is our dreaming, often communicate with us best by using symbols.
As the semester progressed, the teacher began using a Sacred Garden exercise with the students. They began by imagining a meadow, and then they found a path in the meadow that led to their own special place where they could meet an animal who was there just for them. The animal could talk, and the place was somewhere they could plant seeds for the future, a wish for themselves, a wish for the planet. The children would water the seeds every time they went there. And after each imagination journey, they would write creatively about what they had experienced.
Some days, the teacher asked them to imagine sliding down a rainbow to see where they would land. While studying ancient Greece, they made an imaginal trip to Mount Olympus. While reading about Egypt, they explored a pyramid or dove into the Nile. Some of the children’s journeys were quite amazing. One boy came back from a journey and drew an elaborate symbol that looked like Sanskrit. Another boy connected with an Egyptian man named Imhotep who told him that he was one of the architects of the pyramids (which he was). One girl made contact with a Greek goddess, while others met up with grandparents who had died. One boy who was very military-obsessed had a military bunker in his garden.
These imagination journeys began as guided visualizations—no drum—but with very little guidance on the teacher’s part. Needless to say, the students loved these imagination exercises. One year they all kept journals, and so they painted or drew pictures of their gardens or wrote poems to accompany their images. And of course, their descriptive writing skills soared.1
A BOY’S SPIRIT AND RITE OF PASSAGE
One of our workshop participants in the Pacific Northwest leads a Peace Warriors spiritual mentorship program for boys aged nine to thirteen. This program is inspired by a similar project that has been developed for girls by the Life Blessing Institute (maidenspirit.com).
In essence, the mentors offer the youths an embodied experience of sacred ritual that connects the spirit/soul aspect within each boy to the sacredness of Nature, offering them the tools with which to deepen their own self-knowing through intuition. These include ceremony, meditation, shamanic journeywork, creative art projects, altar-making, movement, and drumming.
These are year-long classes, with each group consisting of a circle of eight youths who meet with their two mentors once a month from October to June for about three hours. They form a circle and make an altar in the center, learn the protocol for calling in the directions, pass the talking stick, engage in a meditation, do journeywork, share, eat together, and create an art project.
In this initiatory program, the topics for the year for both boys and girls might include: The Real Me (who am I?); Our Grandfathers or Grandmothers (where did I come from?); A Wise Man or Wise Woman Knows His/Her Directions (what does it mean to become a man or woman?); Symbols of the Sacred Masculine or the Sacred Feminine (what does it mean to be a sacred man or woman?); Inspired Role Models (culturally immediate accounts of men and women who have embraced the sacred in their path on Earth); The Rite of Passage (a day-long ritual, sweat lodge, or journey up the mountain focusing on connection with the sacred and the nature of one’s purpose); and Family Celebration (a ritual in which each boy or girl is given back to their family as an initiated young man or woman).
THE CHILDREN’S FIRE
Indigenous cultures had their individual ceremonies to work with children and pray about their success and future. Today we need to journey to find our own ceremonies that honor our own children and the children around the world.
With relation to initiatory ceremonies that help children step out of one life stage and into the next, Carol Proudfoot-Edgar adds that it is important for children to engage with contemporary shamanism, and that children might have an easier time connecting to shamanic practices than adults:
The very young have just entered the world from “the other side” and still carry an active relationship from the lands they have recently left—the spirit world. They tend to be comfortable with their invisible friends, whether they be animals, faeries, humans, or beings for which we don’t have categories in our ordinary world. As adults we must listen to our children with respect and support these relationships whenever we are invited to engage with them. If we will do this, then the child’s transition from There to Here will unfold at a natural pace.
One important issue for the shamanic community is “How shall we inform the young of the sacred nature of this new world into which they have arrived?” The ways to do this are as diverse as the many cultures in our world. Common to all these cultures are traditions that include mythic stories, songs, dances, and crafting—ways that allow the very young to continue to engage with the spirit realms. The memories of these traditional experiences will become embedded in their bodies, minds, and hearts and become a critical resource as the children face future challenges or obstacles, which may then become adventures of positive transformation.
This issue of tending the children has arisen in various circles over the past sixteen years. During this time, we have welcomed the birth of several children.
We developed a ceremony to address this issue. On our altar, we have the Circle’s Fire (our candle). Around it we create a Children’s Fire of seven novitiate candles (a sacred number) that burns through our time of gathering, and we include a daily prayer or activity involved in tending the Children’s Fire. At the end of our gathering, one of the women is appointed to take home this Fire and keep it burning until the fuel has been completely used— that is, until the wax has been completely transformed to Light and Fire. During this time, we asked that any dreams, visions, or experiences that come forth regarding the children and the world they are moving into be shared with all of us so that we might, if so called, take thoughtful action upon them. By having and tending this Children’s Fire, we have been led to understandings and activities focused on nurturing children that we might not have done otherwise.
Having a Children’s Fire is just one of many ways of reaching out in order to help children stay connected to the imaginal realms. The six-year-old daughter of a close friend invited me, many years ago, to her school to share about “Indians and Thanksgiving.” This became the occasion for drumming, singing, and stories about sharing the bounty of Mother Earth. This led to further invitations to tell the children stories with a request to be sure to bring my drums! I now see that part of my role in my community is to take these seasonal celebrations (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) as occasions for sharing the mythic sacred meanings that gave rise to these cultural celebrations with children. Beneath all these holidays exists the call to love one another and treasure our planet home.
Our children need to be invited to experience times of shamanic dancing, drumming, singing, and storytelling. I shall never forget one Bear Medicine gathering in which two sisters, aged four and six, were invited to hold a large sculpted MotherBear. They walked around the entire Circle and quite spontaneously invited each woman in the Circle to kiss the MotherBear. As they moved around the Circle, they walked with incredible dignity and delight; they seemed to know they were initiating the older women there to embrace the Mother in the form of Bear. Now when I think of the children, I ask myself, “What can I do today that recognizes the gift of the children to the world and includes them in the Circle?” They have much to teach us; we have much to share with them.
When children are included as part of a ceremonial circle with adults they trust, in which they feel permission to share their stories—including their imaginal friends and the inner adventures they have with them—these young beings experience a form of validation. This validation is the positive polarity of spiritual experience, and once it is acknowledged by their elders, it will serve them throughout their lives.
In our modern world it is rare to see inner light and joy shining through people’s eyes. In Chapter 8 we wrote about the extraordinary light that shines through the eyes of indigenous people. This light and joy are the result of people who have a rich inner life from working in the spiritual realms.
We want our children to have passion for life. We want to teach them how to find inner wealth that goes beyond what they can buy in the material world. We want to teach our children how to experience the beauty of Nature and how to honor the earth, air, water, and sun which give life.
You can journey on ways to bring spiritual practices to your children. And as you introduce children to shamanic journeying, they begin to make spiritual connections that will positively shape their lives in the present and will guide them into a good future.