Preface from Hank Wesselman

Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation - Sandra Ingerman MA, Hank Wesselman Ph.D. 2010

Preface from Hank Wesselman


In accepting Sandra Ingerman’s gracious invitation to co-author this book, I was immediately aware as an anthropologist that an opportunity has been created to explore the dimensions and boundaries of an extraordinary subculture that has taken root in the Western world in our time, a community to which you, the reader, most likely belong.

We could think of it as the Transformational Community, and since the word “transformational” has become a buzzword in this time of change, there is something quite mysterious we should mention right at the onset.

A new spiritual complex is quietly, yet definitively, taking form within the heart of this community, one that brings us to the subject that lies at the epicenter of this book—the path of direct revelation.

This is the path on which each of us, as individuals, may directly engage with the Great Mystery of existence, however we may think of it, bringing it into our everyday lives and, by association, into our relationships and our work in the world.

This is the ancient, time-tested way of the shaman, the mystic, the visionary—the spiritual path that may take each of us straight into the experience of authentic initiation—a way that may guide us into the irreversible vortex of personal awakening that is referred to in the East as “enlightenment” and in the West as becoming “God-aware.”

This is the path on which each of us may discover who and what we really are, gaining insights that may be quite in contrast to the scripts that society at large has handed to each of us to act out. In the process, we may discover that these scripts have suddenly become completely and utterly outdated.

As Sandra and I begin to share our thoughts about this extraordinary social transition with you, the reader, my attention inevitably turns toward those parts of my life spent working as an anthropologist among the tribal peoples of Africa, for it was there in the bush, among the indigenous traditionals hundreds of miles from the nearest road, hot bath, or cold beer, that I first stumbled upon this path more than thirty-five years ago. It happened through a series of spontaneous dreamlike visionary experiences that were intensely real and that became utterly life-changing.1

I was thirty years old then, a member of a scientific research expedition exploring the arid, eroded landscapes of eastern Africa’s Great Rift Valley in search of answers to the mystery of human origins. In those days, I suspected that my fellow scientists were unlikely to be receptive to talking about these anomalous experiences, so I turned toward some of the African tribal men who were working with me. We had become friends across the years, living in a tented safari camp in remote areas of southwestern Ethiopia far from the tourists’ tracks. In my discussions with these men, I slowly discovered that they held a perspective that was quite foreign to my scientist’s way of thinking about the world.

Right at the core of their worldview lay the perception that the multi-leveled field of the dream is the real world, that we human beings are actually dreaming twenty-four hours a day, and that the everyday physical world came into being in response to the dream, not vice versa. These assertions were always accompanied by a conviction, strongly held, that the dream world is minded, that it is consciousness itself—alive, intelligent, and power-filled—infusing everything that emanates from it with awareness, vitality, and life force.

Of course it took me many months, even years, to fully comprehend and assimilate what these indigenous men were talking about, but I did understand right from the start that this was not a philosophical theory for them, nor was it a concept. It was a percept, an absolute known based upon direct experience—upon direct revelation if you will. It was also among them that I first encountered shamans.

Interestingly, I was also to learn from them that shamanism is not a religion, nor does it conflict with any religious tradition. It’s a method, and as I was to discover first-hand it can become a way of life when practiced with humility, reverence, and self-discipline—a way that has enriched my own life beyond measure.

So allow me to take up Sandra’s invitation, and in the book that follows she and I will share with you something of what we have learned along the path—something that may have provided us with priceless and quite unique pieces of the puzzle about who we are, how we got this way, and where we are headed.

The shaman’s practice of direct revelation is the ancestral precursor of all our religious and philosophical traditions, both ancient and modern. This is a given, and while some may consider this to be an extraordinary claim, the great antiquity of the shaman’s path is confirmed by what we know from the archeological evidence of rock art and cave art from Ice Age Europe and elsewhere in the ancient world.

For example, a paper published in the American journal Science in January 2002 reveals that the shaman’s path may date back to at least 77,000 years ago. The evidence for this includes slabs of red ochre excavated at Blombos Cave in southern Africa along the Indian Ocean, several of which were deliberately inscribed with curious designs that seem to represent a matrix or web or grid-like net.

What these cryptic symbols meant to those distant peoples cannot be interpreted with accuracy by us today, but the symbol itself, once created, is repeated endlessly in rock art from that time forward in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and in North, Central, and South America as well. Cross-cultural studies carried out with the last makers of traditional rock art, the !Kung San Bushmen of the Kalahari, reveal that this grid or net or web is a visual phenomenon seen by entranced shamans on their journeys to the “other world.”2

In the Western world, when we hear the word “shaman,” most of us tend to conjure up an image of a masked and costumed tribal person dancing around a fire in the dark, involved in some sort of mysterious ritual accompanied by drum beats. But inside that cultural shell of mask, costume, and ritual, there is a woman or a man with a set of very real skills.

All true shamans are gifted visionaries—masters of the trance experience who are able to achieve expanded states of consciousness in which they can dissociate their focused awareness away from their physical body and enter into an alternate reality in which they typically encounter numerous archetypal and transpersonal forces who are waiting just offstage of the human drama, yet willing to help us in various ways. Indigenous peoples and modern mystics alike usually refer to these forces as spirits, and specifically as “helping spirits.”

Among those forces frequently met are the spirits of nature, including the spirits of animals and plants and elementals, many of whom have been in service to humanity as helpers and guardians for tens of thousands of years. But visionaries of all traditions and religious faiths also encounter the spirits of their ancestors and the higher, compassionate angelic forces, many of whom serve us as spirit teachers and guides. Among them can be found our own transpersonal spiritual aspect—our higher self or oversoul of which we shall make mention.

Perhaps the most fundamental shamanic principle from which everyone may benefit is that in the shaman’s practice, there is no hierarchy or set of dogmas handed down to supplicants from some higher religious authority complex. Shamanism is the path of immediate and direct personal contact with Spirit, deeply intuitive, and not subject to definition, censorship, or judgment by others. On this path, each seeker has access to this transcendent connection and all that this provides.

Interestingly, shamans tend to run in families, a fact that has led some investigators to suggest that there may be a genetic foundation recorded in our genetic code—our DNA—for the ability to expand our conscious awareness and achieve trance. It has also been suggested that a substantial portion of the human population may possess this genetic program—a hypothesis supported by some anthropological field observations. Among the traditional !Kung San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, for example, up to 50 percent of the typical hunting-gathering band could “shamanize” when the need required it.3

This suggests that the ability to engage in the visionary experience of the shaman may be one of the hereditary birthrights of all people everywhere, revealing that one does not have to be a traditional tribal person to engage in this ancient mystical experience.

The shamanic tradition, like all the other mystical traditions, transmits a body of information and techniques that allows novices to re-create and directly experience the abilities of their ancestors, and if we go back far enough, we are all descended from indigenous ancestors, Westerners and non-Westerners alike, and they all had great shamans.

It was through rediscovering and re-experiencing our ancestors’ abilities that each new generation took on the responsibility to perpetuate and refresh a continuously recreated tradition, even adding to and changing the accumulating spiritual treasure of wisdom and technique. For it was always in this way that the visionary path remained vital and meaningful to those who chose to walk it across time.

The growing body of cross-cultural ethnographic literature about shamans and their unusual abilities confirms that the path of direct revelation is part of the cultural heritage of all people, although it was largely lost in the West for more than a thousand years due to ruthless and systematic suppression by our organized religions.