Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation - Sandra Ingerman MA, Hank Wesselman Ph.D. 2010
The Shamanic Journey
One of the most common ceremonies in the practice of shamanism is the shamanic journey. Shamanic journeying is a method of direct revelation and it is the experiential centerpiece through which shamans make contact with their helping spirits to access empowerment, personal guidance, and healing help.
Shamans and visionaries know that the nonordinary reality of the “world of things hidden” is really a kind of a parallel universe to the one in which we live. The Australian aborigines call the nonordinary realms the “Dreamtime.” It is also referred to as the “Other World” in Celtic traditions, or as the “Spirit Worlds” by many indigenous peoples. As we have mentioned, these hidden realities are inhabited by compassionate, helping spirits, who may offer guidance and healing on behalf of all life on Earth.
ACHIEVING A SHAMANIC STATE OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Modern shamans will often use some form of monotonous, driving percussion, such as drumming or rattling, to achieve an altered state in which visionary experience becomes easily accessible. In Australia, shamans play the didgeridoo and/or click sticks, and some traditions, like the BÖn Po shamans of central Asia, ring bells. The Saami people of Lapland and Norway use monotonous chanting called joiking.
Research has revealed how the steady beat of the drum affects the brain to achieve visionary experience.
When we are asleep and dreaming, our brain typically fires nerve impulses in the delta wave state at 1 to 3 cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). When we awaken, the brain typically moves rapidly toward alpha brain waves that fire at 8 to 13 Hz. This is a resting state in which we are awake and aware, but we’re not doing anything in particular. When we have our first espresso of the day, our brain waves move into beta-wave states that fire at roughly 13 to 20 hz. These are high-frequency brain waves in which we concentrate, do our main work, and in which we function for much of our waking reality.
During a typical day, the left hemisphere of our cerebrum, the higher brain that is the seat of our intellect, functions mainly in these beta waves. The right brain, which includes much of our emotional and intuitive functions, remains in alpha waves. We typically shift back and forth between these two halves of our brain, so we experience surges that involve our work in the world (beta) and rest breaks for creative reflection (alpha).
Below the alpha state and above the delta state of sleep is an in-between zone commonly called the theta-wave state in which the brain typically fires nerve impulses between 4 and 7 Hz. This is a deep, reflective, dreamlike state that has been recorded in Zen masters and transcendental meditators, in psychics and trance mediums, and in shamans in altered states of consciousness.
In the theta state, the visionary experience is easily accessed, a fact that has been confirmed by investigators of higher states of consciousness.The drum or rattle is of great service in accessing this visionary state of consciousness. As we listen to the monotonous percussion of the drum or the dry whisper of the rattle, beaten or shaken at four to seven beats or shakes per second, both halves of the cerebrum entrain to this rhythm, essentially following the sonic driving of the drum or rattle. In response, both halves of the brain synchronize, slow down, and start firing impulses at 4 to 6 Hz, thus allowing an individual to enter the theta state of light trance. It is precisely here that we may find that numinous space between the worlds.
THE SPIRITUAL WORLDS
The shaman is a universal figure found in all the world’s cultures, and all shamanic traditions agree that the spiritual worlds are organized into three primary levels: the Lower World(s), the Middle World(s), and the Upper World(s). There are also numerous levels within each world. Although descriptions of these nonordinary worlds are subject to cultural interpretation, we will describe some of the more common shamanic experiences of them.
The Lower World is usually reached in the visionary trance state by journeying through a tunnel or some other kind of cylinder-portal that leads into the earth. This world is very tangible to the shaman and is characterized by caves, seas, dense jungles, forests, and deserts. The beings inhabiting the Lower World are the spirits of animals, trees, plants, and rocks as well as humanlike spirits who are connected with the mysteries of the earth. The Lower World is formed by the dreaming of everything that makes up the mosaic of what we call Nature.
The Upper World is experienced as above where we are now, and it is more ethereal than the Lower World. The lighting is bright and can go from pastels, to gray, to complete darkness. In these regions, many encounter crystal cities, cloudlike realities, and a variety of higher spirits. The Upper Worlds are formed by the dreaming of the higher gods and goddesses, the ancestors, the ascended masters, and the compassionate angelic forces that are willing to be of service to us—most often as teachers and guides.
The Middle World is the hidden reality, or the dream aspect, of the everyday world in which we live. This means that the Middle World has an ordinary and a nonordinary aspect to it. In the Middle Worlds the shaman can travel back and forth in time. It is also a place where the shaman can journey to look for lost and stolen objects, to perform long-distance healing work, and to find the souls of the recently deceased in order to help them across to where they are supposed to go in the afterlife.
It is also the level where the shaman can speak to the spirits of the rocks, trees, plants, wind, water, fire, and earth, because everything that exists in our physical world has its corresponding dream aspect in the Middle World of dream. Here, the shaman can also communicate with “the spirit that lives in all things.” We should add that the Middle World is also inhabited by a variety of spirits some refer to as “the hidden folk”—the faeries and elves, the trolls and forest guardians who are present in so many myths and stories. The hidden folk remind us of a magical time in our lives before the veils between the worlds were closed to us through cultural conditioning.
The Lower and Upper Worlds are transcendent realities where there are a variety of helping spirits who can assist the shaman in facilitating the healing of individuals, the community, and the planet. There are also helping spirits in the Middle World that are the nature spirits we described above. Who are the helping spirits in the Lower and Upper Worlds? The most common types of spirits who work in partnership with the shaman are animals, plants, or spirits who appear as teachers in human form.
The ones who appear as animals, or as combinations of animal and human form (therianthropes), are commonly known as “power animals.” These spirit guardians provide us with power, protection, and support. Shamanic cultures believe that when we are born, the spirits of at least two power animals volunteer to remain with us to keep us emotionally and physically healthy and to protect us from harm. These animal spirits are akin to Christianity’s guardian angels, and to the teddy bears and stuffed animals children bond with—they are much more than toys.
According to the shaman, the power animal is not the spiritual essence of one animal but rather the essence of the group oversoul of the whole species. So we don’t have the spirit of a bear, a kangaroo, a snake, or an elephant as a power animal. Rather, the spirit of all lions, all owls, all eagles, provides us with protection and power.
It is also understood that one power animal does not have more power than another. The spirit of mouse has just as much power as the spirit of tiger, but mouse does have different qualities and abilities as well as different lessons to teach from those of tiger. Once in relationship with a human, each power animal serves as a teacher in the initial stages of a fellowship in which it reveals to its human friend the qualities and abilities—or as some would say “the medicine” that it carries.
Trees are also seen as guardian spirits so we often use “power animals” and “guardian spirits” synonymously. Plants seem to provide help for very specific issues, so shamans often work with hundreds of plant helpers in their healing work.
It is not uncommon for people to have a guardian spirit or power animal such as Pegasus or a griffin, dragon, or unicorn. Although these creatures are mythical in our everyday reality, in the Lower Worlds they are real, and this is where they come into our conscious, mythic awareness. The same holds true for species that lived in the past and that are now extinct. The group oversouls of these creatures still exist in the Lower Worlds, so some people may have a dinosaur, mammoth, or saber-tooth tiger as a power animal.
The practice of shamanism is one of direct revelation and therefore there are no rules as to how many power animals or guardian spirits a person may have. We have as many animal spirits as volunteer themselves. We also discover through relationship with them that the animal and tree spirits may have very individual and specific teachings for each person.
Instead of pulling a power animal card or an angel card from an oracle deck and then reading in a book (or on the card) someone’s opinion of what that being’s message is for you, you can journey into relationship with that animal power or angelic symbol and then ask it directly why it has come to you and what its guidance for you may be.
The other type of helping spirits that shamans work with are teachers who appear in human form. In the cultures of the past, these typically were the gods and goddesses of the Upper Worlds; religious figures such as Apollo or Athena, Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama the Buddha, or Yogananda; or one of our own ancestors who wishes to be of service to us.
These helping spirits act as intermediaries between us and the power of the universe. They have compassion for our pain, suffering, and confusion, and therefore they volunteer their help. These spirits could be called archetypal forces or even transpersonal forces that are ancient human experiences, and as the shaman/visionary journeys back and forth between this world and these numinous realms, he or she gains access to different helping spirits on the different levels of the Lower and Upper Worlds. Through direct experience, the visionary learns where and to whom to go to for different types of help, yet, as José Stevens points out, it may be that the various helping spirits are all part of one source:
Perhaps not all shamans would agree, especially those of a more traditional perspective, but the main shamanic consensus is that all helping spirits are extensions of the One Spirit, whom we could call the Great God, Atman, Allah, the Tao, All That Is, or whatever you like to call the almighty. What this means is that all the helping spirits are literally aspects of the One, and as such, they are everywhere and available to support, inform, and assist us in myriad ways.
Helping spirits come in two primary categories, those who have a physical form and those who do not or no longer do. Those that have a physical form are called “elementals” and may include representatives from the plant, animal, or mineral kingdoms, or an element such as the wind, fire, water, a mountain, a canyon, a cave, a star, the moon, and so on. Those helping spirits that do not have a physical form may include what have popularly been called angels and beings who can take on a physical appearance temporarily but do not operate out of the physical universe. They may include great teachers such as Buddha, Jesus, Mary, Quan Yin, Yogananda, St. Germaine, and Babaji.
It is important to understand that allies from both categories often work in tandem—so that it may be that if a shaman works with an eagle ally he is also working with Christ-force energy. Yogananda likes to work with hummingbird, Mother Mary with condor, Quan Yin with pelican, and so on. Of course these partnerships may vary shaman to shaman, person to person, culture to culture.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE SHAMANIC
In this section we will provide step-by-step instructions for how to perform a shamanic journey, including how to prepare for such a journey, setting the intention, traveling to the Lower World, Middle World, or Upper World, and how to return and interpret your journeys.
Before you begin your journey, disconnect your phone or turn off your cell phone. It is best to do journeywork in a place where you won’t be disturbed by loud noises or others around you. Find a comfortable location. You can journey lying down or sitting up. Remember you will have a clearer journey if you are alert.
The rhythm for journeying can be quite relaxing. If you fall asleep, that’s fine. You just went too deep. You need to find times of the day that are best for you to journey when you are not too tired and when your conscious mind is not as active.
It is good to put something over your eyes to block out the light. Shamans learn to see in the dark. This is because it’s a lot easier to perceive subtle imagery on a dark visual field. In this vein, some people close their shades and curtains. Do what is comfortable for you.
Some people light a candle in the room they are journeying in. The fire of the candle represents the light of Spirit. Some like to burn incense, which helps to create sacred space.
Once you have prepared the room, you might want to dance, sing, chant, or do some movement to get the oxygen moving through your system. This helps to quiet the mind filled with thoughts that prevent you from sinking deep into your journey. Taking the time to dance and sing will allow your heart to open. The spirits communicate with us through our hearts, and we “see” in our journeys through our hearts.
You might choose to use the audio with headphones or you might feel the rattling or drumming more in your body by using external speakers. It is important to remember that you are in full control of yourself in the journey. You can go up or you can go down; you can talk to the animal spirit who comes to you or you may back away from it. You cannot control what spirits come to meet you or what they may say to you, but you can choose how to react, or even whether to stay in the journey. In this sense, shamanic journeying is different from daydreaming, in which you make up who the characters are and all the conversation that follows.
As you begin the journey, listen to the drums, rattles, and other instruments on the track and intentionally breathe into your heart. Imagine your energy moving from your head into your heart. Place your hands on your heart, and as you breathe feel your hands moving up and down with your breath.1
Setting an Intention
In a typical shamanic journey, we set our intentions in advance, and these goals set up a resonance, a drawing power, that will bring us toward that which we are seeking. For example, you might ask for guidance in your life, in your relationships, your health, or your work in the world. Or you could ask a question that will help you grow and evolve, such as “What do I need to focus on in my life right now so that I may maximize my potential at all levels—to make a living on the one hand as well as work on my life lessons on the other?”
Other questions might be “How might I resolve the issues around (this) relationship?” or “What do I need to do in order to achieve a successful outcome in my business?” You will note that we are not using the word “should” as in “should I do this?” or “should I do that?” in an intention-setting question. According to Hank Wesselman, it is important to stay away from “should” when asking a question of your helping spirits:
The word “should” will not bring you into connection with that which you are seeking—intuitive guidance. This is because it’s the job of your conscious self, your intellect—or as the Hawaiian kahunas would put it, your mental soul—to make decisions. Spirit (your higher self or oversoul) will not do that for you because it is not its function to tell you what to do. But Spirit will provide you with an expanded perspective of the issue at hand, whatever it may be—and in my experience, my spirit teacher/ oversoul inevitably provides me with “the spread.” For example, Spirit might tell me, “ Well, you could choose this option . . . or that possibility . . . and if you do, this (or that) might happen.”
Your intention for a shamanic journey can also involve questions for friends, clients, and for the communities that you live in. In doing so, be aware that there are ethical issues in the practice of shamanic journeying. It is important to make sure that you have permission to journey on behalf of someone else. If that person has not given you permission to work for them, do not proceed with the journey, because this could be considered a violation of that person’s boundaries. Correct protocol involves the person in question asking for you to work on their behalf, because the simple act of their asking is the beginning of their healing process.
Sandra Ingerman shares the ethics of journeying on behalf of someone else. As she points out, there are ways to ask for help from spirit guides when you feel compelled to journey for someone but that person has not given you permission:
If you are having a problem with someone, don’t journey on what their problem is. Instead, you might journey on what you need to know for yourself in order to heal the relationship or the issue in question. Don’t ask your helping spirits to send help to those who haven’t asked for it. Asking for help is a key part of any person’s healing process, and so it is they, not you, who must set the process of their own healing into motion.
Another way to entreat the help of your spirit guides is by asking them to perform a healing to alleviate the pain of a physical or emotional issue with which you are dealing. In traditional cultures, a person in need of help went to the community shaman and asked for healing, and the shaman intervened in the spiritual realms on this person’s behalf—and this was where the healing happened. In other words, you do not always need to journey for yourself. At the same time, many people report profound healings when they ask a helping spirit to perform a healing on them. It is definitely a journey worth trying.
Entering the Trance State
There are many ways you can use the audio for journeying. To begin, select one of the tracks, then lie down on a blanket on the floor, or sit in an armchair in which your entire body is supported comfortably. Close or cover your eyes with a bandanna or eye pillow, then listen to the sound and focus your attention fully on your goals for the journey. Then you can open the portal by intentionally shifting your conscious awareness from “here” to “there,” wherever “there” may happen to be.
Keep in mind that the shaman/visionary is always aware, to some degree, of what is going on around their physical body while journeying. You will be able to hear the sound of the drum, rattle, or other instruments throughout your journey—as well as the heater going on, the aircraft flying over your house, or the dog barking next door.
Allow the rhythm to carry you into the spiritual worlds and later to call you back. Each track ends with a short period of rapid drumming, rattling, or use of click sticks and will assist you in refocusing your awareness back to your physical body and in directing your brain waves back from theta toward alpha.
You could also drum or rattle for yourself while journeying. In this way you can choose the speed of the beat that works best for you.
In response to the constant barrage of movies, television, books, and computers, we’ve become a visual culture. Life becomes richer when we can see, touch, taste, and smell, and when we can listen to the sounds of music and nature. As we learn how to use all our senses in this world, as well as in the inner worlds of things hidden, our intuitive abilities strengthen. The same holds true when we use all of our senses in a journey. This allows us to enter fully into the journey.
In shamanic literature, the words “shamanic seeing” refer to seeing with our hearts rather than with our eyes. The shamans and visionaries of all the world’s traditions know that the spirits make contact with us through the doorway in our hearts, and what we receive through that channel is sent to our higher mind, our intellect, our egoic soul or self, which then thinks about it, analyzes and integrates it, and makes decisions about it.
Thus, our minds interpret and assign meaning to what is “seen” through the heart, and rather than being the villain to be demonized and dismissed, our egoic self is to be trained, uplifted, and brought into a new level of awareness.
Everything that happens or is perceived in a shamanic journey is part of the answer to the question we have asked, and the intellect’s job is to assign meaning to the symbols that we have perceived and to figure them out. The heart and the mind are thus in relationship. In fact, your ego/intellect/higher mind is the source of your intentionality as well as your creative imagination. It is your inner chief, your inner director, who, influenced by beliefs and convictions, steers you successfully (or unsuccessfully) through life.
Even if you open all of your senses in your journey, you are still bound to face certain challenges as you begin journeying. Furthermore, we all have our own way of receiving information in our journeys. We live in a visual culture, and so people expect to see images in their journeys. Some people do see images, but others hear their spirits talking to them or experience their journey as sensations in their bodies. If you are not seeing images in your journeys, then notice what you are hearing or feeling. You may be more “somatic” in how you access information rather than visual.
Another common challenge is that you may experience mind chatter that gets in the way of being able to enter into the shamanic state of consciousness. Shamans typically prepare to enter into trance (nonordinary states) by singing and dancing to create a sense of separation between what is “now here,” and what is “in there.” In this sense, it is good for each of us to find ways to quiet the mind. Perhaps begin your journey by taking a walk, singing, or dancing in order to move your energy away from your mind and into your heart.
It is easy for us to get lost in the challenges of our analytical thinking, a product of our egoic self that creates doubt. The higher mind often proclaims (at times with considerable authority) that we are making up our journeys.
When doubt happens, we must have compassion and patience with ourselves and think about the nature of the culture in which we were raised. Most of our parents did not talk to us about helping spirits, and in fact, the presence of spirits was not part of our experienced reality in daily life. We were socialized in a manner that excluded the presence of helping spirits or the existence of the invisible realms. Think of how many years you have lived closed off to these worlds—and of how it is only now that you are discovering that the precious worlds that we visited often as children do in fact exist.
When your analytical mind interferes during a journey and tells you that you are inventing all of your visions, Sandra suggests that you agree with your mind and keep on journeying. If you try to battle your mind, you will spend the whole journey in internal dialogue.
According to Hank, it is also important to note that it is not the analytical mind that is doing the journeying, but another part of the self:
The aspect of the soul that journeys is not the higher mind or intellect. It is the “body mind” or the “physical soul” or what some call the “subconscious” of which we shall say more shortly. Enough to say here that this physical soul observes, and it sends what it perceives to the mental higher intellect that judges and “assigns meaning to.” Yet this physical soul/self is not creative; it cannot make anything up. It simply observes and remembers what it has experienced for later reflection and analysis by the higher mind as they are forever in relationship.
As we journey and observe the results of our journeywork over time, patterns become apparent to us—life lessons that may have extraordinary, even vital, meaning to us. This is why the shamanic method of direct revelation has been passed down across the millennia as a time-tested system. For example, in traditional societies, if the shaman could not divine the location of potential food sources or perform successful healings, the community did not thrive, and if the individual could not divine the sources, as well as the nature, of their personal obstacles, he or she did not survive.
In addition to learning how to shut off the intellect, there are several other things you can do to ease into your journey.
1. As mentioned before, always set an intention. This helps maintain focus and concentration so that you don’t get distracted by mind chatter and the ever-present concerns of ordinary life.
2. Get in touch with the best times for you to journey—i.e., when you are fresh, awake, and rested and when your mind is clear and uncluttered by details.
3. Nourish yourself prior to journeying. What you eat and drink affects your concentration and your ability to stay alert. Discover what kind of diet supports your adventures into the invisible worlds. If you eat a heavy meal before you journey, it might be difficult to concentrate and stay alert. It is also best to avoid drinking alcohol before journeying for the same reason. It tends to cloud the mind.
4. Intentionally breathe into your heart to help shift your awareness from a mental state to a heart space. The spirits communicate with us best through the doorway in our hearts, so at the onset of a journey set your intention to see through your heart into the inner realms of spirits and visions.
5. Find someone else to journey for you. Sometimes you may be too emotionally attached to the outcome of a decision or issue, or you may be in an emotional state about something in your own life or the life of a loved one. In such a case, you might not be able to move yourself (i.e., your higher mind) out of the way in order to access the spiritual guidance accessible to us through the heart. At these times, it might be better to find an accomplished journeyworker who could journey for you.
6. Be innovative and try different ways of journeying. You might be surprised by how much using your body can strengthen your shamanic practice. As Sandra has noticed, there might be a way to go about your journey that will help release the higher mind.
Lying down and journeying is actually not a traditional way of working.
I find that many people cannot journey while lying down as this way does not promote full disengagement from mind chatter and full engagement in the spirit realms. Many people need to move and dance their journeys or sing/chant their journeys.
Many people find that standing or sitting while drumming or rattling for themselves helps them engage more in the spirit realms. I have stronger journeys when I drum for myself, and I often like to sing my journeys while chanting about what is occurring.
There is no right or wrong way to journey. Shamanic journeywork is a learned skill that improves with practice. Allow your journeys to the different worlds to be fluid and organic, and try to pay attention to what you perceive. Explore different levels of the other worlds, both up and down. You will meet new helping spirits along the way who will be willing to guide your path of discovery in your life. In fact, they will be honored to be of service to you in this way. Be an adventurer and accept the love, wisdom, and healing that the spirits and the universe are trying to share with you.
Think of your shamanic journeying practice as a work in progress. It will deepen and grow as you continue the practice. The key is to practice, practice, practice and to establish a long-term relationship with your helping spirits with whom you develop trust and good communication skills over time.
You might want to experiment with a longer drumming session or even drum for yourself, dance, or sing, as this can help a person move more out of their higher mind space into the inner realms. Have some patience, and don’t give up. We live in a culture of instant gratification, but the shamanic journey requires a patient disposition. It is a learned skill that improves with practice.
If you lose your concentration during your journey, make sure you are breathing into your heart and keep repeating the intention for your journey until you are back on track.
The First Journey to the Lower World
For your first shamanic journey, you might wish to visit the Lower World to meet up with a helping spirit—one who will provide you with power, protection, and support. Often this spirit will appear as a power animal.
Before you begin your journey to the Lower World, think about a place in Nature that you can use as your entrance. Traditional ways of going to the Lower World are through an opening in the earth such as a cave; a body of water such as a lake, river, stream, or waterfall; a tree trunk; a volcano; or a hole in the ground. Any way you can get into the earth is fine. You don’t need to have been in this opening before. Just know that it exists in ordinary reality. Hank notes that wherever this place may be, reflecting on it should conjure a feeling of serenity:
In my training workshops, we call this place the Sacred Garden, the memory of a place in Nature with which we have formed a connection during life, a place where we feel a sense of peace and tranquility. At the beginning of our journey, we simply refocus our awareness into our memory of this place so that it can become a kind of Grand Central Station for our shamanic journeywork into the Lower or Upper Worlds from then on. It can also become our personal place of power and healing in the dreaming of the Middle World.
When the drumming or other instruments on the accompanying audio begins, visualize yourself as you enter into the earth’s opening in your place in Nature. You will find yourself in a transition that might appear as a tunnel or cylindrical portal of some kind that leads you into the Lower World. Follow the tunnel down and then out into the light while you keep repeating your intention to yourself, i.e., “I wish to meet a spirit helper in the Lower World.”
As you emerge into the Lower World, look around you. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, someone or something will be waiting there for you.
If it is an animal spirit, ask it, “Are you my power animal?” This will give you information on how your power animal communicates with you. It might answer you telepathically, or it might lead you somewhere or show you something. Once you have an answer from your animal, start to build a relationship, ask it a question, or ask it for healing help.
You might also ask the animal if there is anything you need to know at this time in your life. This is why it may have come to you—to convey that information. If it indicates that it is not there as a helping spirit for you, ask it to take you to your spirit helper, and it will. This is probably why it has come to you.
If you want to visit other levels of the Lower World, you can keep looking for openings into the earth. Ask your new friend to accompany you—to guide you into other levels of experience— and it will. Stay in the journey until you hear the call to return: the period of rapid drumming, rattling, or click sticks on the audio. If for any reason you want to come back sooner, just retrace your steps, turn off the audio, and you will be back.
The Upper-World Journey to Find a Teacher
For another one of your first journeys, you might choose to visit the Upper World. To journey to the Upper World, you also want to begin at some location in Nature, but this time you will need to access the world above. Some shamans use the tree of life and journey down the roots into the Lower World or up the trunk and into the branches to travel into the Upper World.
Other traditional ways of entering the Upper World are by climbing a rope or a ladder, jumping off a mountain, going up on a tornado or whirlwind, climbing over a rainbow, ascending the smoke of a fire or chimney, or finding a bird or something that flies to take you up. Any way you can get up is fine. Some people have even used a hot air balloon to access the Upper World.
Before the music for journeying begins, find a place in Nature in which you can experience yourself standing. Once the drumming or other instruments begins, notice what appears as a way to transport you up. You can ask the power animal friend you met in the Lower World to accompany you, and it will.
If you are seeing planets and stars as you journey upward, you are still in the Middle World. Keep focusing on your intention— to meet a teacher in human form in the Upper World. There will be some sort of transition that you go through that will let you know you have entered the Upper World. For some people it is a layer of clouds or fog. It is not a barrier; it is just a transition. Remember the story of Jack and the Beanstalk—where Jack climbs up the beanstalk and encounters a cloud layer before he enters a new world? That’s the transition space.
Allow yourself to go through the transition into the first level of the Upper World. Notice if there is a teacher waiting there for you. If so, you might ask this being if it is your teacher. If you get an affirmative answer, ask your teacher a question that is important to you right now, or ask for healing help.
If your teacher is not waiting for you at the first level, keep searching through the different levels of the Upper World until you find someone. Once again, stay in the journey until you are called back.
In meeting your teacher, Hank teaches that we can reconnect with our higher self in the Upper World:
We may reconnect with our transpersonal aspect, our higher self, or what some call our oversoul in the Upper World. This meeting can be extraordinarily life-changing as we may find that our “spirit teacher” is actually ourself—but ourself in the Upper World rather than ourself in ordinary reality.
Many understand the oversoul to be our immortal-self aspect—the source of our intuition and our inspiration, the higher self that may communicate with us through dreams and visions, ideas that appear in our minds in response to need, those hunches and slips of the tongue. It is the “god-self” or “angelic self” or “transpersonal witness” who loves us unconditionally, who listens to our prayers and works in mysterious ways.
In the Hawaiian kahuna tradition, this oversoul is called ’Aumakua. Makua means “parent,” and ’au means “time,” making this transpersonal being our “parent in time.” The Hawaiians often refer to their ’Aumakua as plural—as “the ancestors,” and through journeywork we usually discover it to be a mosaic composed of many personalities. Through relationship, we often discover these personalities to be our past selves in former lives, revealing our oversoul to be our immortal aspect traveling across time, growing, increasing, and becoming more in response to what we do and become in the Middle World of physical existence.
In this sense, the oversoul field that resides in the Upper World could be thought of as one of our ancestral lineages, revealing that we have three ancestral lines: our mother’s lineage, our father’s lineage, and our own personal ancestral field.
The Middle World
The Middle World is the nonordinary realm of the world we live in. As is explained in this section, you can journey in the Middle World to communicate with Nature. Middle World journeying was traditionally used for finding lost or stolen objects. To do this, instead of journeying to the Lower or Upper World, you would experience yourself within the journey moving outside of time and searching your house or outside for something that is missing. You will be able to travel very quickly through space, rather than being limited by your physical body.
You can also journey to the sun, the stars, and other planets in our solar system. In the Middle World we also have access to the faeries, devas, and elves, who are collectively known as the spirit people.
For a journey in the Middle World, you can visualize yourself walking out your front door and traveling to some aspect of Nature with which you would like to communicate—a place that you know or have visited during your life—a place where you feel connected, at peace, and in tranquility. Sandra, who emphasizes the connection to Nature in her shamanic practice, stresses the importance of communicating with the natural world as part of your journey:
In shamanism everything is alive and has a spirit. In our time many of us no longer remember how to communicate with plants, trees, rocks, or weather spirits, yet we can talk to them in their nonordinary aspect. In this way we can speak to the divine in all creation.
Pick something in Nature you would like to communicate with such as a favorite tree or plant, the moon, a rock, or a cloud. When you begin your journey, experience yourself walking out your front door and meeting the spirit you wish you to speak with. Once you finish with your conversation you can return to ordinary reality.
Another way to reconnect to the natural world is by focusing on the image of the Sacred Garden, in other words, a natural place that holds great resonance for you, which Hank teaches about. According to Hank, this Sacred Garden operates by four primary rules:
1. Everything in your Sacred Garden is symbolic of some aspect of yourself or your life experience.
2. You can communicate with all the elements in your garden for personal divination and greater understanding.
3. You can change your garden. This means you can use your creative imagination to add things that you wish to have there—a waterfall, a great tree, a standing stone, or a bed of flowers. Conversely, you can delete elements that you do not wish to be there. You can drain that swamp or clear a beach of rocks to allow you to enter your turquoise lagoon more easily.
4. When you change your garden, some aspect of you or your life experience will change in response. This is how true magic works.2
Shamanism is a life-long spiritual practice where you can journey into the hidden worlds time and time again. At yet another time, you can reverse these journeys and ask to meet a teacher in human form in the Lower World and a power animal in the Upper World. You can also continue journeying to visit the spirit of a tree or plant or an elemental spirit in Nature with which you wish to communicate in the Middle World. Or you might choose to do a Middle World journey to find a lost object.
When it is time to return from a journey, there will be a change in the monotonous beat recorded on the audio. The signal to return begins with four sets of seven beats. At this point say “thank you” and “goodbye” to whomever you are talking to. Even if you are not with a helping spirit, say “thank you” and “goodbye.” The reason for this is that “goodbye” signals to your psyche that something has ended. Saying goodbye will help you feel more grounded when you return from your journey.
Next there will be a shift in the beat to a more rapid percussion for a minute of so. During the rapid return beat, slowly retrace your steps back to your starting place. When you hear the last change in beats, you may take off any eye cover you were using and open your eyes. Then reflect on your experience and take notes.
Coming back from a journey has to do with your intention and making a choice to do so. You can always take another journey at another time if you didn’t finish getting all the information you need or if you want to visit another realm of the inner worlds.
Take notes after you return so that you have a record of your experiences. When we reflect on what we perceived during the journey, we receive a whole new level of information. It is almost as though our so-called subconscious or physical soul was aware of all sorts of things that our conscious/egoic soul aspect was not aware of during the journey. By remembering what was perceived or seen, our body-soul gives us even more insight into what the journey holds. Use the information that follows to help you reflect on and interpret your journey.
Interpreting Your Journey
It is most important not to ask others to interpret your journeys for you. Remember shamanic journeying is a practice of direct revelation, and the only one who can interpret your journeys is you. Messages from your journey may come in the form of symbolic communications or mythic narrative, in which there is an inherent truth. Spirits give us these stories/myths/impressions for a reason. The teaching is for you, and you alone. No highly respected psychoanalyst, therapist, or well-intentioned friend can interpret them for you.
The rich legacy of archeology reveals that the spirits have been in service to us for tens of thousands of years. Our journeys are literally ancient human experiences that are helping us to grow and evolve—to change and become more than we are in response to our life lessons. In doing so, the spirits often convey to us metaphorical stories that have deep meanings on many different levels. It is important not to get stuck on trying to interpret your journeys literally. Yet if you look at the story, you may see the deeper truth within the myth that was and is eternal.
To interpret your journey, ask yourself open-ended questions. You could ask, for example, “How did the scene of the sun rising and filling me with warmth answer my question?” Let yourself speak or write in a flowing manner about your journey until the answer comes to you.
You might find that you need to sit with your journeys for a while and allow clarity to come through at its own pace. Some images and visions are given to us to experience first and understand later, sometimes years later.
If you are struggling to uncover your journey’s meaning, you can always make a follow-up journey and inform your helping spirits that you did not understand the answer or the information they gave you. You can ask that they give it to you in another way, one that makes sense to you. The spirits often communicate best through metaphor, so be careful about being too literal in your interpretation.
ALTERNATIVE TO JOURNEYING
As Sandra has noted, there seems to be a change in recent history, an awakening, that is allowing for more and more people to connect to the other worlds with more ease:
Many of us who teach shamanism today have found that people are having an easier time accessing guidance from the spirits than they were in the past. And some people find they do not always have to take a formal journey to receive direct revelation. For example, many of my students, especially those in their twenties, tell me they don’t travel to the Lower Worlds or Upper Worlds. Rather their helping spirits travel directly to them in a journey.
Carol Proudfoot-Edgar is one teacher who has found that a formal journey is not always necessary, and she has changed her teachings to reflect this change in consciousness:
In past years, I required participants to have some shamanic training before taking my advanced courses. It seemed especially important that individuals be trained in the shamanic journey method.
In the past four to five years, however, I have loosened this requirement, and I simply ask potential participants to share their method for connecting with seemingly invisible beings or entering realities other than the ordinary. I came to realize that the Ancestors, the Guardian Spirits, and the entire invisible web surrounding and holding us were behaving differently. It is almost as though the spiritual work done in the last three decades has opened doorways through which helping spirits are now moving with ease; we only have to quiet our minds, open our hearts, and make known our compassionate intentions in order to make contact with them.
EXERCISE: WORKING WITH YOUR ANIMAL COMPANIONS
One way we can experience these spirits moving to and fro is by working with one of our animal companions, who are always aware of altered realities, says Carol Proudfoot-Edgar. Perhaps the increased presence of our animal companions in our lives is one signal that we, too, are drawing closer to our spiritual interconnectedness across all dimensions.
If you do not have an animal companion, then work with a friend’s pet. It is important that you and the animal are comfortable in each other’s presence.
Most animals are happy to hear either quiet drumming or the sound of the rattle shaking gently. Sit beside the animal and spend some time speaking with and assuring the animal you wish to connect with his or her helpers. Once quietude is present, very gently drum or rattle and perhaps hum softly; the air around you will change and you will experience even more of the alert relaxation of the animal companion. Soften your eyes behind your lids and ask to see the spirit beings that are the allies of this animal. Once they reveal themselves to you (through sight, smell, or touch) you might ask them how they help this animal and if there is anything that you need to know about this animal companion. The primary purpose of doing this is to discover just how close and available to us the myriad spiritual beings who are the guardians for our animal companions are. This is one form of direct revelation. However, we must be prepared when doing such activities to honor everything shown to us and to thank those beings who present themselves to us.
Shamanic journeying is a wonderful and potent way of accessing spiritual wisdom. In the next chapter we will learn the importance of reconnecting to nature and how we can use the shamanic journey to assist in this.