Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation - Sandra Ingerman MA, Hank Wesselman Ph.D. 2010
The Transformational Community
We have now given you, the reader, an overview of what it means to be a modern visionary—a modern shaman perhaps—as well as what it means to walk upon the path of direct revelation. As you read and absorb our thoughts that follow about the extraordinary community of positively focused souls that has come into being in our time, it is our hope that your inner light will brighten as you affirm with confidence, “Yes . . . this is who and what I am!”
AN INDIGENOUS PROPHECY
At this time, a plethora of well-intentioned books have been published focusing upon 2012, the year that many indigenous traditions such as the Maya, the Inca, the Hopi, and others have predicted as the end time of our world. This trend reveals an ever-increasing awareness in the public psyche that we appear to be coming to the end of our current cycle of ages.
In our research into this compelling issue, we stumbled across something significant that most of the writers have missed entirely—something that has bearing on the current resurgence of interest in the shaman’s path of direct revelation.
Nicholas Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) was an Oglala Sioux medicine man and shaman who is well known for the story he told an anthropologist named John Neihardt—an account that was published as a book titled Black Elk Speaks. In this volume, Black Elk tells the story of his life, as well as a great prophetic vision that he was given in his childhood. An instant classic, this book has been in continuous print since its original release in 1932.1
Less well known is Black Elk’s second book, told just before his death to another anthropologist named Joseph Epes Brown, titled The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Originally published in 1953, this book contains something that may have great relevance for all of us in our time.
At the book’s beginning, Black Elk recounts the mythic story of White Buffalo Calf Woman and of her gifting of the first sacred prayer pipe to the people (the Sioux). At the end of the account, he relates that as the Holy Woman started to leave the lodge where this historical meeting took place, she turned and said to a man called Standing Hollow Horn: “Behold this pipe! Always remember how sacred it is and treat it as such, for it will take you to the end. Remember also that in me there are four ages . . . I am leaving now but I shall look back upon your people in every age . . . and at the end I shall return.”2
According to Sioux philosophy, at the beginning of this “cycle of four ages,” a buffalo was placed in the west in order to hold back the waters. Every year the buffalo loses one hair, and at the end of each age, he loses one leg. When all its hair and all four legs are gone, the Sioux believe that the waters will rush in once again and the cycle of ages will come to an end—an indigenous prophecy of more than just passing interest considering the polar meltdowns very much in progress and the predicted catastrophic rise in sea levels.
A striking parallel to this myth comes to us from the Hindu tradition where it is the bull (Dharma—a symbol for the divine law) that has four legs, each of which represents an age in the cycle. During the course of these four ages (yugas), the true spirituality becomes increasingly obscured until the last age (manvantara) closes with a catastrophe.
The Sioux and the Hindus are in accord that the buffalo and the bull are now standing on their last leg and the buffalo is very nearly bald. It is also known that several white buffalo have been born during the past ten years, regarded as a clear sign by many Native American peoples that the current cycle of four ages is now coming to a close.
But Black Elk also predicted just before his death that with the closing of this cycle, the primordial spirituality would re-emerge and be restored, and on this foundation the next cycle of ages will begin again.
This last statement is highly significant because the primordial spirituality is the path of direct revelation—it was and is the shaman’s path—and interest in shamanism has increased dramatically over the last several decades as part of the widespread spiritual reawakening currently going on in our time—a modern mystical movement that has two sides.
THE MODERN MYSTICAL MOVEMENT
On one side, we find a resurgence of the religious fundamentalism that comes down to us from the Dark Ages: a narrow, literalist perspective that proclaims this world to be the kingdom of a remote, transcendent, authoritarian, father God who can be alternately beneficent and wrathful—and one to be feared. Today, this view has been embraced by misguided religious zealots and self-righteous terrorists who have the fervor, as well as the capacity, to ensure that this world will be their God’s kingdom—or nothing.
On the other side, we find the enlightened perspective of the secular humanists who perceive an immanent, omnipresent divine presence or power existing within all of creation. In their more expanded view, this divine pantheistic presence expresses one emotion only—love—and it expresses itself as a universal life-giving and life-sustaining impulse oriented toward the greater good.
In our time this more highly evolved perspective is quietly and definitively gaining acceptance among increasing numbers of well-educated, well-informed, and well-connected individuals, many of whom are in professional and social positions from which they may influence the larger society’s ideas and trends.
This view is also gaining ground within the general population, creating a broad social movement that is cutting across socioeconomic levels of achievement and status, one that transcends cultural, political, and ethnic boundaries.
The number of people who hold this more enlightened perspective is not known with certainty, but as we have already indicated, fourteen years of sociological research (see endnote for Chapter 13) conducted in the United States by demographer Paul H. Ray and his wife Sherry Ruth Anderson, has revealed that as many as 70 million Americans may fall into this group with another 90 to 100 million in Europe. Ray and Anderson’s analysis also suggests that Westerners have arrived at a point in history in which the prevailing mythologies are not working any more.
These hundreds of millions of enlightened souls among us know—without being told—that the time has come to create a new cultural mythos in which we synthesize a whole new set of ways of viewing ourselves and our society, our problems and our strengths, our communities and our world. The numbers of enlightened souls are not small—and they are growing.
Such a shift in the dominant cultural pattern happens only once or twice in a thousand years, and it is significant that this one is occurring during a period of ever-accelerating social change, enabled by a worldwide communication system and technology unlike any seen before. Ray and Anderson’s survey reveals these citizens to be socially concerned, environmentally aware, and spiritually focused creative people who are carriers of more positive ideas and values than in any previous period in history.
These people are the Transformational Community, and they know with absolute certainty that if we continue to do business as usual and fail to produce a new story, Western civilization may well collapse, taking the rest of the world with it. This awareness is producing an increasing sense of urgency, accompanied by a growing insistence on social, political, and economic reform that will benefit everyone, not just the powerful and the privileged.
THE CYCLE OF AGES
Anthropologists might call this shift in consciousness—this presence of a Transformational Community—a new kind of cultural revitalization movement, one that is reaching toward the future rather than retreating into the past. According to historian Richard Sellin in his book The Spiritual Gyre, this revitalization movement is happening right on schedule. He suggests that our Western preoccupation with the linear development of our civilization is, in fact, a misconception, and that the zeitgeist—the spirit of the times embodied within the intellectual trends and moral values characteristic of any age—tends to express itself in cycles that repeat themselves on a regular basis.3
According to Hank Wesselman, the first age of this cycle was longest: the Upper Paleolithic Period or Late Stone Age that lasted from around 42,000 to 11,000 years ago:
When cross-referenced with the perspectives of indigenous peoples today, rock art created during the Late Stone Age reveals that the people’s religious practice was animistic and expressed the conviction that everything, both animate and inanimate, is invested with its own personal, supernatural essence or soul. This belief implies that everything around us is both conscious and aware, at least to some degree, revealing an immanent intelligence within Nature with which all humans were once in constant, intimate relationship.
This was the primordial spirituality passed down to us from our Stone Age ancestors, and during those times Nature was God and the religious practitioner was the shaman.
The second age of the cycle was the Neolithic Period, one that lasted for perhaps four thousand years. This age began with the closure of the Stone Age and the end of hunting and gathering as humanity’s primary lifeway. The Neolithic Period was characterized by the rise of agriculture, animal domestication, and the establishment of the first permanent, year-round villages and towns.
The religious sphere of the second age in all likelihood still belonged to the shaman, and everything in Nature, both animate and inanimate, was considered to be alive. Yet something else was clearly going on, reflected in the numerous sculptures of pregnant women found at many Neolithic sites. What these represented to those who lived more than six thousand years ago is problematic to us today, but the archetype of the fertile female was obviously preeminent, revealing a concise area of focus within their spirituality.
This second age came to an end with the emergence of the first socially stratified city-states about five thousand years ago among the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, and during this time a new form of spiritual expression emerged: polytheism, which affirms the existence of many high gods and goddesses existing above and beyond Nature. This is a stratified, hierarchical cosmological view, and its appearance reflected an entirely new perception of ourselves, one that developed once we began to live in stratified, hierarchical societies.
This new form of religion became the dominant spiritual focus for the third age—a period that included cultures such as the Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Anatolians, Egyptians, Myceneans, Phoenicians, Minoans, Greeks, Etruscans, Celts, and of course the Romans. During this age, which lasted perhaps three thousand years, the first stratified religions emerged, managed and run by the first bureaucratized priesthoods. Before this time, there simply was no concept of high gods and goddesses, despite what many well-intentioned writers may claim.
The various high gods and goddesses in these traditions came to symbolize aspects of the human psyche in a supernatural sense, as well as some aspect of the natural world in an ideological sense—such as the Greek father god Zeus, associated with the elemental forces of lightning and thunder; his brother Poseidon, associated with the oceanic realm; and his daughter Athena, a feminine archetype of wisdom and the wise woman as warrior. Among the Romans, these deities were known respectively as Jupiter, Neptune, and Minerva, and with the collapse of the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago, that third age came to an end.
And with its demise, as before, a new kind of religion came into being: monotheism.
Monotheism’s three primary expressions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—profess the belief in a single great god who created the universe and everything in it in a singular event, with lesser spiritual beings, angels and archangels, saints and prophets, ranked below. Once again, this belief system reflected a new perspective of ourselves, because as our societies had become more centralized and more hierarchical, with an executive director on top—the king or queen, emperor or president—so had our perception of the supernatural world.
The new religion, monotheism, reflected this by assigning an alternately wrathful, alternately beneficent ruler god, variously called YHWH, Jehovah, Allah, or simply God, as the supernatural executive director or CEO, and this has been the dominant (and dominator) religion in the Western world for our current two-thousand-year age cycle.
Sellin proposes that this fourth age began with a comparatively long theocratic phase in which society relied heavily on religious doctrine and truth was determined by divine direction from the father god, operating through a bureaucratized and politically motivated priesthood. Any informed overview of Western history reveals that such has indeed been the case from the adoption of Christianity by the Romans until the Age of Enlightenment, a period that lasted roughly 1,400 years—a time in which the pagan spiritual practices of the tribal peoples of Europe were ruthlessly suppressed.
The spirit of the times changed considerably at this point. As the guilds gave rise to the infrastructure of the current corporate world-state, the rise of science and intellectualism contributed to the onset of the second stage of our age, a secular phase in which the expansion of our geographical and intellectual horizons, as well as our economic power, occurred on an unprecedented scale. In response, truth was redefined within a new mythology—science—and religion was generally discredited. This relatively shorter phase, dominated by scientific rationalism, has lasted for about three hundred years. The current spiritual reawakening suggests that this phase has now drawn to a close.
With the dawning of the age of Aquarius, Sellin asserts that we are moving into the third and final stage of our two-thousand-year age, a spiritual phase, in which science and spirituality are being synthesized and integrated in an attempt to transcend both previous stages.
We can also observe that the sheer number of people involved in this transformation reveals that this modern mystical movement is not a fad. Rather, this broad social phenomenon heralds the emergence of an authentic Transformational Community, one whose beliefs, values, and trends are already shifting the cultural norms of Western society.
THE NEW SPIRITUAL COMPLEX
The new spiritual complex that is emerging has no name as yet, nor is it focused on the teachings of some charismatic prophet, guru, or holy person. Its singular, distinguishing feature involves the realization that each of us can acquire spiritual knowledge and power ourselves, making the direct, transpersonal contact with the sacred realms that defines the shaman/visionary, without the need for any priest or religious organization to do it for us. In this manner, all people acquire the freedom to become their own teacher, their own priest, their own prophet, and they can receive their spiritual revelations directly from the highest sources—themselves.
As we engage in this ancient human experience, each of us inevitably discovers that our personal consciousness is part of a greater field of consciousness, a deep insight currently being illuminated and confirmed by quantum physics. This is the direct path of the mystic at its absolute best, one that leads the spiritual seeker into the experience of self-realization and spiritual empowerment.
It is not surprising that this new spiritual impulse seems to be integral in nature, drawing on all the world’s wisdom traditions, from the East to the West, from animism to Zen. What is surprising is that right at its core a cluster of principles can be found that were embraced at one time by the world’s indigenous peoples.
In approaching the idea that principles of indigenous wisdom are involved in the genesis of the new spiritual complex in the West, we are broadly concerned with the general mystical insights that were once held in common by virtually all of the traditional peoples and are thus the birthright of all. We hasten to add that modern spiritual seekers do not seem to be retreating into archaic belief systems, nor, with rare exceptions, are they interested in playing Indian or becoming born-again Aboriginals.
To the contrary, many members of the Transformational Community are seriously reconsidering the core beliefs and values once held by the traditional peoples, and right there, embedded within them all, we find the path of direct revelation.
MODERN MYSTIC BELIEFS
At its inception, the quest of the modern spiritual seeker is intensely personal. Yet as it progresses, it leads us inevitably toward a universal and ultimately altruistic perspective—one that includes a number of mystical beliefs.
For example, ongoing direct experience of the transpersonal worlds leads the seeker to an inescapable conclusion: that everything, everywhere, is interconnected, and that consciousness is the “etheric field” through which this linkage is achieved. This is a core belief that is clearly articulated by the indigenous tribal peoples who were our distant ancestors at one end of the human continuum and at the other end by the quantum physicists and Zen Buddhists of our own time.
Another core belief of the modern mystic concerns the existence of more than one reality. In addition to the everyday, objective physical level in which we all live and have families, friends, and careers on an ongoing basis, there are the nonordinary, subjective levels of the dream worlds or spirit worlds outside the time-space continuum, where the laws of physics and cause and effect do not work in the same way.
This belief leads directly into another: the ability of some individuals to expand their conscious awareness and enter into these alternate realities with ease. This conviction that we can easily access these alternative states reveals why the rediscovery of shamanism has become a major thrust within the Transformational Community. The relative freedom with which the shaman’s time-tested methods for achieving mystical states can be learned and practiced, even by nontribal Westerners, stands in stark contrast to the years of rigorous training often required in many of the contemplative disciplines such as meditation and yoga before significant consciousness shifts are achieved.
Another belief held by modern mystics is that by utilizing the shamanic method to journey into these inner worlds, the same levels that Carl Jung called the archetypal realms of the psyche, the seeker may enter into relationship with spirit allies—inner helpers, teachers, and guides who may provide the seeker with access to power and knowledge, protection and support. Among these beings one can find connection with her or his personal Higher Self, variously known as the transpersonal self, the angelic self, the god-self, the overself, or simply the oversoul.
Another related belief concerns the existence of a field of mystical power, perceived by virtually everyone as an invisible essence or vital force that is widely dispersed throughout the universe and highly concentrated in certain objects, places, and living beings. It is becoming generally understood within the movement that everyone can learn how to access, accumulate, and focus this power, and that one’s health, well-being, and success in life are ultimately dependent on being able to maintain, and even increase, one’s personal supply.
This awareness gives rise to the belief in the existence of a personal energy body—a subjective self-aspect that carries this power as life force and provides the “etheric pattern” or energy body around and within which the physical body is formed and maintained. The ability of some transpersonal healers to manipulate the energy body in restoring and repairing the physical body is a skill that many in the Transformational Community have personally experienced. It is believed that this energetic matrix can be perceived as an aura by those who have psychic awareness and that it can be enhanced by utilizing the energy centers within it called chakras in Eastern thought.
Taken together, these beliefs constitute an emerging worldview that is being embraced by an ever-growing population of well-informed souls. And as we have mentioned already, those who hold the new view believe that it offers an unprecedented promise of hope for all human beings everywhere as well as a firm guarantee of sweeping changes to come.
THE MODERN MYSTICS
Modern spiritual seekers tend to develop in isolation, becoming deeply immersed in personal spiritual studies that are often triggered by spontaneous visionary experiences that society has taught them to conceal. If as many as 43 percent of the general population in the United States has had such experiences (as cited by an anonymous Gallup poll done in 1987), this pool may be even deeper than the 50 to 70 million “cultural creatives” (26 to 30 percent of the population in 2000) that Paul Ray has suggested.
Modern seekers tend to be individualists, people with very full lives who like to gather in local meetings or spend their vacation time attending workshops in which they can acquire direct experience of such practically useful subjects as qigong and reiki, psychic healing and shamanism, meditation and yoga, to name only a few. They then tend to disperse back into the wider society where they utilize what they have learned to benefit themselves, their networks of family and friends, and their communities. The growing body of social research reveals that the Transformational Community exists as an ever-expanding set of overlapping networks that extends across North America and into the international population.
These contemporary spiritual seekers are interested in spiritual liberation, not repressive or rigid dogma, and they tend to be deeply distrustful of any organized religious hierarchy. Because of this, steadily increasing numbers are leaving our mainstream religions in droves, yet this is not an atheistic or anti-religion movement.
Despite their disaffection for and lack of affiliation with organized religions, most transformationals profess belief in some form of universal godlike consciousness, and Jesus of Nazareth is regarded as an important spiritual teacher whether or not the seeker is psychologically Christian.
Although these seekers may achieve a relatively higher density in the large urban centers and in certain geographic regions like California, Paul Ray’s research reveals that they are evenly distributed throughout the general population, suggesting that they are everywhere, in every community, and at every level of society.
In their search for authenticity, the transformationals are quietly, yet definitively, gaining a level of spiritual freedom and power that has not been experienced in the West for almost two thousand years. In short, this quietly and steadily escalating social phenomenon has all the appearances of a spiritual revolution.
Seen from this perspective, the resurgence of interest in shamans and their practices may in fact represent the seeds of the next religious tradition in the West—one that will determine much of the Western world’s spiritual focus and practice for the next two thousand years and beyond.
Let us now reconsider what we have learned in this book about the shaman and the path of direct revelation. And as we do, be aware that what has been shared with you is very much part of the new story that we all are writing—a new cultural mythos that will require a new, upgraded perception of how we see ourselves and our relationship to the cosmos—as well as a new, upgraded profile of the divinity.
THE PATH OF DIRECT REVELATION
Over the last decade, shamanic practitioner, teacher, and modern mystic Tom Cowan has felt encouraged by discoveries in the field of the “new physics.” Science has proven what those engaged in the shaman’s journey have known for a long time: that our current religious beliefs are outdated and inadequate. Here Cowan discusses how such discoveries have resulted in the need for a new language to talk about both the subatomic world and our reemerging awareness of the mystical realms:
For years, those of us involved with the mystical life and its attendant path of direct revelation have been encouraged by ongoing discoveries in the fields of the “new physics.” In an age when so many religious faiths and spiritual beliefs are being challenged or proven inadequate from the more evolved perspectives of the modern world, it’s always reassuring to find that one’s understanding of the universe is shared by others, especially those who view the world from the distinctly different perspectives of biology and physics.
It has been suggested that our current language is ineffectual in describing the subatomic world and what goes on there. The same could be said for our emerging awareness of the mystical realms. It has also been suggested that we need a new language.
All of this is encouraging because language is most definitely our “thing,” one that is constantly shifting and changing as we grow, increase, and become more than we were. If we need words that have open-ended meanings, words that haven’t even been defined yet, we will create them. If we need poetic symbols or metaphors that are open to various interpretations, we will create them.
This means that our uniquely human creative imagination is going to have to play a greater part in understanding the world (and the universe at large) than it has in the past. And the truth is that the development of our capacity for creative imagination over the past three centuries has been extraordinary, producing a force that may in fact alter the course of human evolution.
For example, an old worn-out analogy of the Newtonian world is that everything is like a pool table where a pool cue hits one ball that in turn hits others that move around the table and bank off the sides and may or may not hit even more balls. My imagination doesn’t have to work very hard to grasp this. On the other hand, an electron can get into some kind of echoing warp with another electron and no matter how far apart they travel, they continue to mirror each other’s movements and conditions—a known and proven phenomenon in wave-particle physics.
Trying to imagine this makes the inside of my eyes itch. But I’m curiously happier thinking about those mirroring electrons than the dreary clicking of billiard balls. I enjoy playing pool, though I’m not sure it’s possible to have a good time with those clone-ish electrons.
What can we do that is like them? Our imagination quivers with the awareness of our unlimited potential; in the end, that may be what makes all the difference. When our spiritual beliefs are grounded in what we might call the primordial spirituality, we relish those things that are mysterious and unexplainable. And the earliest spiritual beliefs, as far as we know, were beliefs about the Powers of Nature.
I’m capitalizing “Powers” so that it’s clear these Powers were seen as divine or sacred, and that they had some kind of consciousness about them. They were also mysterious because no one in those cultures that thrived in those primeval millennia had scientific explanations for what was going on with them.
Even today, with the knowledge that we do have, storms, lightning, electricity, fire, and other phenomena retain some element of mystery even when we know the physics behind them. These natural forces retain some unpredictable, uncontrollable mind of their own, and this keeps them in the realm of the mystery. Seen in this light, the need for our creative imagination to understand them becomes obvious, even paramount.
“Imagination” is the buzzword here. According to Aristotle, images are the language of the soul, and I have always felt this explains our human need for spirituality. Imagination can be seen as the creative realm of the soul. So needing a new language, or poetry, or what we might call “imaginative flights of wondering” to understand our world keeps us attuned to the outer Greater Universe and the inner Otherworld in which we live.
The outer Greater Universe can be perceived with microscopes or telescopes and other sleek technological devices for probing way down inside or outside. The inner Otherworld is perceived through the visionary’s expanded consciousness through which the Outerworld and the inner Otherworld of myth and dream are revealed to be mirrors of each other, like those twin electrons.
And it’s possible that those electrons are analogous to the archetypal forces known (mythically) as the faeries or the devas in the garden that are dancing with the very same physical processes that course through the stems, roots, and buds of plants. Maybe our inner awareness of this is why the primordial spirituality has found a resurgence of interest in our lifetimes.
As scientists continue to expand our perspective about the marvelous, mysterious, complex, and intelligent universe, this knowledge quite naturally allows us to feel those spiritual yearnings of our primal ancestors who, with far less scientific understanding, stood in awe of the beauty, power, and terror of the Powers of Nature.
This was and is the beginning of the path of direct revelation.