Spirits, Heavens, and Spiritual Freedom

Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality - Michael Harner 2013

Spirits, Heavens, and Spiritual Freedom

We have gone from seeking spirit power in a cave to experiencing cosmic empowerment engendered by dismemberment. In between there was much more that happened to the Westerners whose accounts became part of the Celestia Study of experiences in nonordinary reality. Unfortunately there is not enough space here to describe more. Now that we are at the final chapter, let us take the opportunity to focus on some important subjects that deserve additional attention.


The quite common human view that spirits, such as human souls, are real is unacceptable to today’s science, as it has been for several centuries. Although one spirit, God, may be occasionally mentioned (as by Einstein), multiple “spirits” or “souls” are anathema and unacceptable in the scientific paradigm. In other words, Western science is founded upon a belief—the belief that spirits cannot exist.

This attitude has its historical origins in the attacks by the Church on such pioneering scientists as Galileo and Copernicus during the Renaissance and Reformation. In reaction, during the Age of “Enlightenment,” Western science and medicine decreed that souls and spirits did not exist and were therefore not relevant to scientific study and medical practice.

While this position is quite understandable historically, its perpetuation today limits the parameters of science by decreeing a priori that certain phenomena cannot exist. I am not alone in this view. As my colleague Paul Uccusic pointed out to me, the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said about spirits: “There cannot be found any reason a priori [Kant’s italicization] to deny their existence.”1

Even today science has yet to disprove the theory of the existence of spirits. And disproof of a theory, or falsification, is a cornerstone of scientific method, as noted by Karl Popper.2 As long as the theory of the existence of spirits is not falsified, it cannot logically be ignored by science. In other words, the position of science that spirits do not exist has quite unscientifically been a matter of faith, ironically resembling religious dogma.

A notable exception in the scientific community was the great natural scientist Alfred Russel Wallace, the simultaneous originator with Charles Darwin of the theory of natural selection. In the years subsequent to Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, Wallace made a painstaking investigation of the reality of spirits that culminated in his 1874 book, Miracles and Modern Spiritualism.3

Despite Wallace’s careful research, his book received a generally hostile reception. In 1896, responding to his critics in a later edition, he stated:

That theory is the most scientific which best explains the whole series of phenomena; and I therefore claim that the spirit-hypothesis is the most scientific, since even those who oppose it most strenuously often admit that it does explain all the facts, which cannot be said for any other hypothesis.4

Unlike the Westerners who were hostile to Wallace’s book, indigenous shamans had long since reached conclusions similar to his. Conducting countless healing experiments with their patients, often in life-and-death situations, their results consistently supported his conclusions, or, better said, his supported theirs. This they did over many millennia in thousands of different cultures and independently on five different continents. Not surprisingly, the fundamentals of indigenous shamanic practice are remarkably consistent throughout the world and provide the basis for core shamanism.

As Wallace indicated, such phenomena can best be explained according to the scientific principle of parsimony, and that parsimonious explanation is simply that the spirits are real. This is not to suggest that one should avoid seeking nonspiritual explanations of shamanic phenomena.

Among the most famous of the “impossible” phenomena are, of course, the accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs). Apparently for science they remain inexplicable. A specialist in NDEs summed up the situation this way: “What thirty years of scholarly inquiry has not yet revealed is why NDEs occur.”5

Similarly, when I asked Charles Tart—an outstanding pioneer in rigorous scientific approaches to the field of parapsychology—what mechanism makes mental telepathy work, he said: “I don’t have the slightest idea, and I don’t think anybody else does either.”6 He later added, “Scientific attempts to explain NDEs and the phenomena of parapsychology have ‘hit a brick wall,’ partly because of the many psychological complexities in this area, and perhaps partly because the reality of spirits has been denied a priori.”7

So the brick wall may be giving way, and Charles Tart is now considering the possibility of spirits having an effect in his experiments. He said, “I’m certainly open to the fact that there is a spirit world of some sort and, so sometimes, maybe many times, I have some ‘co-experimenters’ and I don’t know what they have in mind for that experiment.”8

Of course, Alfred Russel Wallace proposed that the reality of spirits provides an explanation for a variety of otherwise inexplicable phenomena that others have relegated to the acausal categories of “coincidence” or “synchronicity.”9

Wallace’s proposal is not surprising, since the principle of the reality of spirits has been tested and supported cross-culturally by shamans for thousands of years. Once one understands that spirits exist, much that appears impossible to outsiders is really quite understandable and even may be subject to replication. The phenomenon that follows is one such example.


One of the most famous mysteries in shamanism has been observed by visitors to the Arctic regions of Siberia, North America, and Greenland, as well as in the western plains and subarctic areas of indigenous North America: in public séances, tightly bound shamans are spontaneously freed of their bindings without any apparent help. Some Western observers simply have concluded that these feats are inexplicable. Others decided that they must have somehow been the product of legerdemain or fraud.

Rather than leaving such mysteries alone in the “dustbin of anthropology” as purported frauds or unsolved events, I have viewed them as exciting challenges to be possibly solved. In working to solve the mystery of the miraculously unbound shaman, I had a tremendous advantage—I knew from firsthand personal experience that the spirits are real.

Therefore, my only remaining work was to collect the known facts; to develop hypotheses as to how and why the spirits did what they did in a given situation; to test and improve the hypotheses through personal experiments; and then replicate these “impossible” or “miraculous” results publicly before observers. Eventually, I could teach students the spiritual “secrets” involved to see if they could be unbound themselves. If they could, it would be additional testimony for the existence of spirits.

In my first public bound-shaman experiments, others drummed to help me move into the shamanic state of consciousness (SSC), the nature of which has already been described. They then tied my hands and feet tightly with rope, covered my body (head included) with a blanket, and tightly wound rope around my entire body. Then with the drumming continuing around me, I called on certain personal helping spirits to come and help release me from the bindings. It took about three minutes.

Such a sudden success caused me to have doubts about the tightness of the bindings. Therefore, for the next experiment, which was public (before my students), I asked that the bindings be as tight as possible so that there would be no chance that I could struggle free on my own. Again I asked the compassionate spirits for help. This time, despite painfully tighter bindings, I successfully struggled to be free again.

I repeated this public experiment with painful bindings of maximum tightness several times with the same result. Why was this so? My hypothesis was, and remains, that the suffering encourages one’s compassionate spirit helpers to release the bindings.

Yet I was not fully satisfied with the results, for I had been slightly exerting myself physically to assist the spirits in being freed from the tight ropes. Then I remembered how the spirits wish to demonstrate their reality when seriously invited. So I decided, as an experiment, next time not to call for help from the compassionate spirits alone, but to invite Middle World spirits everywhere to demonstrate their reality to the “audience” by coming and freeing me from the bindings. Supported with two or three minutes of fast drumming by the entire audience, I made a continuing plea to all those spirits to free me. The ropes suddenly loosened or dropped off with no struggle at all.

Calling in “Middle World spirits everywhere” is not a method to be used in regular healing work, for many of those spirits, such as the suffering beings, are unqualified or unable to help with healing. Healing is fundamentally still up to the compassionate spirits working with the shaman. A distinctive feature of the bound-shaman event is that it gives spirits an opportunity to demonstrate their reality publicly, something that most seem anxious to do. When the demonstration is done, the now unbound shaman thanks them and tells them that they can return from whence they came.

After repeating this experiment successfully several more times on different occasions, I explained the procedure to some advanced students and gave them the opportunity to do the same. Generally they succeeded in being freed without any struggle, often especially if tightly bound! Importantly, soon the students were usually able to replicate the results in public settings by invoking spirit help in the manner I instructed. In other words, the unbindings were experiments replicable by others.

On these occasions, done usually in darkness, which helps the SSC focus, the spirits generally come to demonstrate their reality in other ways, too. For example, the room or dwelling may shake as if in an earthquake, a phenomenon known in the North American ethnological literature as the “shaking tent.” Also many small lights usually appear and move about in the darkness. Giant humanlike images appear to some. Cold winds may blow through the room. Unseen animals, hands, and objects may touch persons, just as they do in indigenous situations. All these events routinely occur, even to those who have never heard of them before.

In summary: why did the spirits come to these public séances to free shamans, shake dwellings, or perform similar feats? The answer was foreshadowed in the chapter titled, “We Exist! The Spirits Call for Recognition.”

Perhaps if scientific investigation is made of the repeatable occurrences of the unbound-shaman phenomenon, the spirits may get some of the recognition they deserve. Note: predictable results are based on the experimenter’s assumption of the Reality of Spirits, much as the assumption of the reality of the Law of Gravity is a basis for predictable results in Newtonian physics.10 Caveats: this experiment should be conducted only under the safe supervision of a Foundation for Shamanic Studies faculty member who has taught the practice. Various safeguards include: using a blanket sufficiently porous that bound persons can breathe; not tying the bindings around the neck; a maximum of three minutes for keeping persons fully covered and bound; the practice should not be undertaken by persons with cardiac or respiratory problems. In case of doubt, they should consult a physician first.



We have seen from the Westerners’ Upper World reports that they commonly entered heavenlike realms with celestial music or singing. Still, did they really enter into what can be defined as “heavens”? For definitional help, I chose to consult Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, because it represents American common usage.

In Webster’s, we find that the word “heaven” often means “the celestial powers; God.”11 While our Westerners encountered “celestial powers” (Chapters 811), a single being in human form who might be called “God” was almost never encountered. This is consistent with an earlier quote—what the Canadian Athapaskan people say of those who drum to heaven: “… they don’t see God. They just see people who are working for God.”

Much depends, of course, on how one defines “God.” Some might consider the Westerners’ ineffable and ecstatic unions with the cosmos to be union with “God,” while others might consider use of the concept of “God” in any form as unacceptable. It is really up to those who make the ascensions to decide whether or not such experiences are evidence of a supreme being or its equivalent.

Another definition in Webster’s is that “heaven” refers to “a place or state of supreme happiness.” The Westerners, as we have seen, commonly reported experiences of happiness or joy extending to deep ecstasy and union while in the Upper World. Also, according to Webster’s, a feature of “heaven” is that it is “the place of existence of the blessed after mortal life.” The latter is consistent with the encounters with deceased persons described in Chapters 89, and 10.

While the above definitions do not cover all the various phrases ascribed to “heaven” or “heavens” in Webster’s, the characteristics given are consistent with the Westerners being in heavens during their journeys, at least in terms of definitions. Therefore, I shall hereafter speak of them as being in heavens.


In many Native North American cosmologies, the Lower World is also seen as a heavenly place where one would like to go after death. This, however, is not the declared view of many of the world’s Great Religions, whose adherents number into the billions and among whom the lower realms are commonly portrayed as hells of suffering where people fear going upon death. Such a portrayal ranges from Christianity in the West to Buddhism in the East. In other words, theologically taught cosmology causes persons not to want to go there—ever.

The major organized religions tend to place the heavens in the Upper World. Indeed, the reported ascensions to them by the founders of Great Religions are often the basis of their authority. As Roger Walsh has pointed out, the founders’ experiences preserved in sacred texts resemble shamanic journeys.12 The revelatory details of those ascensions are accepted today by hundred of millions of followers of major religions as a matter of belief. Unlike the founders, the followers are not expected, or sometimes not even permitted, to ascend to those realms except after death, and even then only if they qualify in terms of the tenets of their religion. Since “dead men tell no tales,” it is an airtight theological system that maintains its authority as long as no one, such as a shaman, actually goes to the Upper World and comes back with a report that differs significantly from the official versions.


If we assume the accuracy of the reports by the various founders of world religions of their heavenly experiences, we then have before us evidence of the existence of multiple heavens, heavens that apparently were individually appropriate for the founders. Likewise our Westerners found multiple heavens, each person discovering his or her own.

Similarity or uniformity of heavens is not mentioned as a requirement in Webster’s definitions. Indeed, if a “heaven” is to be “heavenly,” it seems only natural that each journeyer would experience a heaven that is perfect for him or her. More fundamentally, as already discussed, all of nonordinary reality is perfectly “tailored” to the person experiencing it. (However, that does not mean that all nonordinary reality, as in the Middle World, is heavenly for that individual.)

What seems remarkable is that the Westerners’ heavens, despite their individual characters, commonly shared themes and types of experiences, as we have seen in the case of celestial music and heavenly choirs. (For example, see Chapter 8. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Westerners were accessing heavens, but there is even more evidence to support this view, as will be discussed.)


Our Westerners report that in their Upper World ascensions sometimes they find themselves entering a temple, as in the following case of a person who had never been in the Upper World before and did not know what to expect. On this particular occasion, the visitor saw there a monk writing. He found this “really interesting” but decided to go on.


I started by going up a waterspout that I had seen when on a ship in the South Pacific. I entered the spout and went up into darkness and then went around the sun for a little while.…

I went up through a cloudlike resistance, the barrier to the Upper World. I was glad that I didn’t find St. Peter and the gates of Heaven, because I might have been disappointed. Instead, it was a large wat [Buddhist temple], like one might find in Thailand.

I entered this huge temple, into this grand room. It was gold-plated and just glorious. I went into this study and there was a little Tibetan-type monk studying. He was writing. I found this really interesting and wondered what relationship, if any, I had to him.

I decided that I should keep going. Then the drum sounded the return signal. So I whizzed back really fast, retracing all my steps. I came back down the waterspout and jumped onto the ship.13


The previous report foreshadows this one, in which a Westerner entered a “kind of magician’s laboratory” and unexpectedly saw a large book with Arabic-like lettering that disappeared as he approached it.

When I went to the Upper World this morning, I went to the second level and I found a very large city there, with a castle on the edge. I stopped at the edge of the castle wall and climbed up to the first window, which was about two stories up, and there was kind of a ledge there. I climbed through the window into kind of a magician’s laboratory, although I didn’t see a lot of details. I knew it was a laboratory, because there was a Merlin-type figure there, dressed in the robes and peaked hat. And, I think, white hair, but I didn’t notice.

I was immediately attracted to a very large book on one of the tables, with what looked like Arabic lettering. As I approached the book, the lettering disappeared. I quizzed the magician about what was in the book. He didn’t answer, so I progressed onwards up to other levels.14



This person’s teacher took him to what the journeyer sensed to be the seventh level of the Upper World. He had several adventures on that level, including passing through clashing rocks (his only mission). Then he arrived at a huge set of old buildings in white marble that reminded him of the library at Alexandria. By using a third eye that he had been given, he was able to see printing on the scrolls, “but it was in languages and symbols I didn’t understand.” He was told that he was not yet ready to understand what this meant. Here is his report:

My teacher took me to a place that I sensed was on the seventh level of the Upper World. There was a box canyon with a steep back wall. Up near the top was a cave-like entrance with huge rocks opening and closing. They were ten to twelve feet tall and hinged at the top. They opened and closed violently and loudly. There were eight sets of them, each about two to three feet deep. Pondered how to get through and asked my teacher, who told me I had to do it on my own, but to trust my intuition.

After watching for a while, I noticed a pattern to the openings and by timing my moves just right I could get through. I made it halfway and got out of sync. I was able to find a small hole in the side of the cave to wait in until I could get back into time with the rocks.

When I emerged, I was on a large plain and it was so bright I couldn’t see very well. I found a path and walked along it. It was much like Africa. I continued around a curving path and came upon a very old man dressed only in a loincloth and very dark-skinned. I think he was from India. He said nothing, but handed me a beautiful blue eye and I knew it was my third eye.

I continued along until I saw a female lion. She said she had a gift for me. It was courage, courage to believe what I see with my third eye.

I continued along the path and came to a huge set of buildings in white marble. They looked very old. I thought of the library at Alexandria. I went inside. There was no one. There were benches and tables, and the walls were lined with scrolls of parchment. I took several down, but they appeared blank.

I wondered for quite a while how I could get the information and then realized I needed to use the eye I was given. With it, I could see printing on the paper, but it was in languages and symbols I didn’t understand. I asked out loud what this meant and was told I would be able to comprehend it later when I am ready for it.

At that point, the return sounded and I left the way I came, except this time it was very easy to get through the clashing rocks.15


The Westerners had never been told of the existence of indecipherable books or writing in the Upper World, or anywhere else. In fact, I must confess that at first I did not ascribe any particular significance to their appearance in reports. Then the following account made me sit up and pay attention. Someone at last was able to read at least one of the words in the otherwise indecipherable books and writings.

[The book] is thick and giant—like the old illustrated manuscripts. It is a nice weight, very heavy. I open it. I can’t read it.

It has something on it to indicate what the book is, but it is not clear. It is old lettering. I turn the page to find a whole page of real small print, with an illustrated letter at the beginning, like the old books used to have. It is beautiful. Like the stuff I used to print when I was working for a small press. But I can’t read it.

So I look back to the teacher; he seems real interested in what I am doing. He is watching me, so I turn the page again. It is just more and more pages, beautiful … I can’t read it. I hold the book real close. I look back at him. He raises his arms like no big deal. I open the book in the middle, the back. It is just the same. The whole book is filled with something, but I just do not get it. It is just not in focus. Can’t concentrate to read it.

I ask, should I continue to try to read it? He nods his head. I open the page; turn the page. Something about an island. The word “island” has just come up. I do not know what that means. He shrugs.

Should I keep trying? No, I shouldn’t. I close the book. Put it back on the shelf. It just locks in there real snug.

I take another book. I open it one third of the way through. It is like a giant photograph that goes right off the edges. It is black—no, it is gray. I have the feeling that I could fall right into it.

So, I look back at him. It is a mixed message. What should I do? I think I should close the book. So I close it.

He nods—wrong book or something like that. He indicates that I should put it back on the shelf. It was a very strange feeling, like I could have gone right into the book, head over heels. Very strange. A powerful book of some kind. It is like a window. Okay, but that is back on the shelf.

I walk back to the teacher. Should I go back and read more? NO. I guess that is enough for now.16

The one word she reported was “island.” To get even a single word from one of these books was a triumph; but what is the significance of the word?

First of all, since it was her ascension, I ordinarily would defer to her primacy in deciding on the meaning. However, the journeyer was not available, and I could not restrain my curiosity. I went to the sixteen-volume Encyclopedia of Religion (of which Eliade was editor-in-chief) and looked in the index to see if by any chance there was an entry for “Island.” There was none for “Island,” but there was one for “Islands,” and this is what it said: “Islands as symbols of paradise.”17 That was quite exciting, but I had been looking for “Island,” not “Islands.” This index entry then referred me to a page in another volume. I pulled it out from the bookshelf and opened it to the indicated page. There I saw the heading “Island,” and it was in the encyclopedia’s section titled “Paradise”!18 Paradise! I could hardly believe my eyes. It was as if the question of whether these were really heavens that the Westerners had visited was answered by the heavens themselves.


The Westerners, without foreknowledge that writings of any kind might be part of their ascension experiences, appear to have made a major discovery. The writings and books they encountered in the Upper World may be the Heavenly Book, so named by scholarly authorities such as Geo Widengren. He states, “Few religious ideas in the Ancient Near East have played a more important role than the notion of the Heavenly Tablets or the Heavenly Book.”19 He notes the discovery of tablets or books by Moses as well as by other prophets and holy personages when they ascended to heaven, as recorded in sacred Near Eastern writings from the time of Babylonia onward.

Widengren also mentions the theme of seven heavens (“levels”), as in this statement about Moses’s ascension: “According to a Neo-Hebraic description … Moses went up through the seven heavens.…”20 Interestingly, in the Upper World one of our Westerners found indecipherable scrolls on the seventh level (see this page). Among the shamanic Ostyak people of Siberia there is the belief that one’s fate is written on a seven-story mountain by a goddess.21

In other words, prophets, ancients, and other holy persons are recognized as ascending to heavens and encountering the Heavenly Book there. This seems to be another reason to conclude that the Celestia Study Westerners did ascend to heavens, especially since they were not expecting to see writing or books of any kind. We already have seen other evidence, such as heavenly choirs and celestial music, that they were in such realms. Thus the Upper World heavens entered by the Westerners were real, in nonordinary reality, along with appearances of what seems to be the Heavenly Book, consistent with reports of its existence by ancients involved in the founding of some major Near Eastern religions.

In summation, these contemporary Westerners, using core shamanic ascension methods, entered heavens and had experiences heretofore generally assumed to be reserved for the founders of Great Religions. These experiences included hearing heavenly choirs and celestial music, entering realms of splendor, meeting deities and the deceased, celestial dismemberment, cosmic union, and the discovery of indecipherable scrolls and books, and finally one displaying the significant word “Island,” as noted above. In conclusion, it appears that the heavens, contemporary or ancient, are not products of imagination but are seen (and heard) in remarkably similar ways by persons thousands of years apart.

The reported ancient versions of the Heavenly Book were tablets or scrolls with a variety of emphases (by “ancient,” I refer to pre-Christian, pre-Islamic times). The Tablets of Law given to Moses are one example.22 Starting with ancient Mesopotamia, some other subjects of the Heavenly Book were said to be the following: the Gods, the Mystery of Heaven, the Mystery of Heaven and Earth, Destiny, Wisdom, the Law of Earth and Heaven, Truth, the Secret of Creation and the Causes of the Things, Life, and the Remembrance of Good and Evil Deeds.23

Returning to the case of a Westerner being shown a book with the legible word “Island” displayed, and which turned out to be synonymous with “Paradise,” it would be very interesting to know what was on the unread pages of this book. Ideally future Western shamanic presentations of the Heavenly Book will occur and shed light on its contents.


For readers who might still wonder whether the Westerners were “preprogrammed” to find what their culture had taught them to expect when they ascended to the Upper World, it is instructive to provide some instances of what they found in the Lower World. In other words, did they find a hell or hells?

First, in their descents, Westerners encountered much more in the Lower World than meetings with power animals, as described in Chapter 6. Despite the fact that we have not yet been able to make a diligent Netheria Study of the Lower World, for decades I have known that: (1) the Lower World tends to be denser and less ethereal for Westerners; and (2) statistically speaking, animal forms are more abundant in the Lower World, while human forms are more abundant in the Upper, although both can be found in either world.

As a preview of a planned Netheria Study, in the following pages one can see some important similarities between the Upper and Lower Worlds. In just the few following examples, the Westerners found, among other things, a heavenlike environment (a “Garden of Eden”), a teacher who is a Christian saint, a possible Heavenly Book, and the sound of music, as in the next report.


I started out moving rather rapidly, not really through a tunnel, but I came to a man with a seal [membrane] right at first. I couldn’t figure it out so I simply bled through the seal. I found myself traveling in darkness and then suddenly many arches and ridges and underground streams. I just sort of moved around in those for a while.

I found myself in a molten place. Suddenly there came a tremendous sound of music. It was not vocal but tonal, rather like beams, like a harmony. It was a tremendous harmony of vibration, of atomic structure. It went from minute to incredibly huge, massive.

In the molten place, the only way I could travel on through was on the tone, a single tone, to get into a greater harmony. I seemed to come to a central sun or core that became a heartbeat and a harmonic sound that stretched outward in all directions. It was almost as if I became the Earth, the sun, and the stars and the moon. It was almost as if there was an inner sound that I was connected to—a cosmic sound, and they speak to one another. It was both beyond and in my heartbeat.

I returned very rapidly. A couple of times I was flying through vapor and then found myself standing on the other side of the seal. I had some time in the tunnel. I was back.24


 … I am in an empty field. A hole in the ground opens up, and I “fall” into it. I fall down into a place I feel I have been before … only this time, instead of there being only skeletons and rocks and a river of fire … it is as if everything is “on” … it is lush; the animals and the people walking around are stunningly beautiful … and very diverse, all different types of animals, all different races of peoples. Everyone is perfect … I realize I am in the Garden of Eden. And this time, while I know I am a “foreigner” here, I do not feel like I am standing out … people are talking to me, and nodding, and smiling. The air is fragrant, with clove and ginger spices, and warm. I feel very, very comfortable.

An incredibly beautiful woman, with long auburn hair flowing past her waist, brings me an incredible golden-ish elixir to drink. I take it eagerly and drink it. It is the most wonderful thing I have ever tasted … warm, thick, like honey-sweetish, and nourishing. I feel stronger as I drink it, and incredibly sensual. It is very, very powerful … it almost feels like a drug.

Next, this same woman leads me to sofa-chair made from plant boughs and asks me to sit. As I sink into the softness of the chair, it envelops my body perfectly and I feel as if I am in a cocoon.

I am instantly dreaming I am a white horse, large, powerful, strong, and I am running very fast through time/space … everything is a blur. I feel incredibly powerful, as if I could run forever. After some time running, I come to a beach with bleached white sand and azure blue water. I drink the water, for I am thirsty and know it is okay to drink. The water tastes like a milder version of the earlier drink I was given, just less thick.

I fall into a deep sleep. When I awake, my animal is sitting next to me, licking me all over, washing me gently with her roughish tongue … over and over. She leads me back to my pool of water, and I bathe further, cleansing myself. Then I know it is time to return.25


Teachers were sometimes encountered in the Lower World. The following is from a taped interview with a man whose mother—a Latina Catholic—was dying. He wished, with her approval, to introduce her to nonordinary reality as preparation for her passing. He told his mother to look for an animal, the standard beginning exercise into the Lower World. Instead she met Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals! His account is supplemented by information I obtained through a subsequent interview.

My mom became terminally ill with cancer. Towards the last four to five months she realized that she was going to die. She was under a great deal of pain, and none of the painkillers were working.

My brother made an offer to teach her how to take journeys. She accepted it very readily. She was psychic as a child but began to lose her powers as she got older. At this time she was in so much pain, she welcomed anything to get out of it.

The first time she made a journey she went through the tunnel and she described the tunnel very vividly. She described the elements of the tunnel going out into this beautiful landscape. She had a little seat there where she would sit down and wait for an animal to come. No one came the first time, the first journey, or in the second journey.

On the third journey, a figure finally showed. Instead of an animal, it was Saint Francis. It wasn’t her favorite saint, although (being Catholic) she knew about him. Apparently this was her helper. He never talked to her in words; he talked to her through the mind. She just knew what he was saying. She made more journeys, and she knew the moment she got out of the tunnel she would have to sit down in this little seat and wait for him.

She wrote down very distinctly everything that she experienced. Saint Francis came many times and just touched her, and she would also touch his vestments … Other saints came whose names I didn’t know. She kept going on these journeys, and I think in one of the journeys there were two other saints that were also going to be her helpers. They started to say that it might be time for her to go and look (at what was beyond?).

She kept saying, “When?”

Saint Francis kept telling her, “It isn’t time yet.”

On one of the later journeys, Saint Francis came and finally decided to take her farther on through that beautiful, beautiful landscape. But every time she went, she cried because she didn’t want to come back. He took her and they both floated toward this beautiful landscape and she wound up on the edge of a ravine. She saw all these figures in vestments lined up, standing on the other side of this ravine. This was a sanca [Spanish for large ravine], so they could not meet. It was so wide at first that she didn’t distinguish anyone.

Any time [in ordinary reality] that her illness got very painful, Saint Francis asked her to go back [to where she journeyed]. She got so used to this, she could make it through the tunnel in a split second and out into the other side. She knew she would have to sit there and wait.

Sometimes she waited and Saint Francis didn’t come. But most of the time he did come and take her to the ravine again. Each time the ravine was narrower and narrower, and finally she could distinguish individuals on the other side. She saw my little brother who was deceased; he was poisoned when he was two years of age. He was waiting there, and she saw my grandfather and my father and some other relatives whom she couldn’t distinguish. She had been very close to this child (my little brother) and my grandfather.

They were just stretching their hands out, wanting her to cross. My mother had a strong desire to go close to the child, and my grandfather was smiling at her. This went on for many, many journeys until she noticed that the sanca kept getting smaller and smaller, although at times it got larger. Toward the very end, a month before she died, the chasm was almost not there. She could almost walk through it, cross it.

After that she didn’t want to journey anymore; she didn’t have the energy. She went into a coma for a month (before she passed away). She wrote in great detail all these experiences.26


While the old Babylonian and Iranian writings refer only to ascending to the Heavenly Book, the ancient Egyptians wrote of descending to the book and finding it in an underground chamber.27 The following Westerner had a variety of adventures in the Lower World until finally she encountered an indecipherable book, quite similar to those discovered in the Upper.

I went to the Lower World … When I got there, my power animal met me—it is Buffalo [Bison] … He had me ride upon his back. I was sitting on his back and we were walking out over the prairies and I realized I was wearing the clothing and headdress of a Native American chief. Although I was riding on the back of Buffalo, I was carrying a long staff that I was placing upon the ground with each step he took.

We came to an overlook and there we took in the entirety of the plains that lay below us. He took a leap and we were soaring through the air and out into space. We were dancing among the stars and then returned to the edge of the prairie. We were once again walking upon the ground and going up into a heavily wooded area. I loved and admired Buffalo very much and was so proud to be on his back. At a clearing in the woods, I dismounted.

Then I had the alarming understanding that I was meant to kill my good friend the Buffalo. I was very resistant. My mind kept saying, “No, no, I cannot do this,” but at the same time I knew I must. It was a deep knowing. I was very cognizant of both ordinary reality and nonordinary reality—it was like I was conscious in both. I was crying in OR, but experiencing NOR.

I dismounted from Buffalo and stood looking him in the eye. I stroked his head and apologized. He seemed to understand. I took my staff, which had a blade on the end of it, and I plunged it into Buffalo. As he lay dead, I cut him open and removed his heart and liver. I knew I must eat them but I was fighting it. I kept saying, “No, no, I cannot do this.” But I had a deeper knowing that I must. I ate the organs raw.

Then I put his head on over mine and I donned his skin. We merged. I became Buffalo, but I had my own mind. I was walking and could feel all four of my feet stepping on the ground. I could feel the deep, deep, powerful wisdom that I knew was Buffalo’s. It was a very powerful and emotionally moving feeling. As I walked along, I wondered if this was the next form of life in our universe—the merging of human and animal.

I walked to the edge of a rock overlook and began striking my feet upon the rocks. This action sent sparks leaping out each time I struck my feet. I was looking out in the distance where the sparks were going and I wondered why I was doing this. I wondered if the sparks would land and a new life form would spring up.

As I was watching intently to see the purpose of the sparks, one opened up a wormhole in space, and I was traveling through it at a very fast speed. It was colored with hues of orange, yellow, and white.

It was a very long tube and when I finally came out at the other end, I was standing in front of a pedestal with a very, very large leather-bound book upon it. The book was open and there was writing on the pages. I was looking very intently at the book to see what was written upon the parchment pages.

Although there was writing on the pages, it was of such a style that my mind could not focus on it—it was totally unrecognizable. I did understand that it was extremely important and also that I was not supposed to be able to read it. I was just to know that it was there. [Emphasis supplied.]

At that moment I was sucked back into the wormhole. On the way back, the drumming call-back occurred. When I returned to ordinary reality, I had tears running down my face.28

While it is impossible to know if this was the Heavenly Book, it certainly fits the description of the indecipherable books and scrolls of the Upper World and the one that displayed the word “Island.”

That the Lower World shares much with the Upper has long been found in my work with Westerners, and the few Lower World examples given here and in Chapter 6 are consistent with that observation. Still, the two worlds tentatively appear distinct in certain respects, and a thorough Netheria Study is needed in this regard.


The Westerners in our study, following the instructions (reproduced in Appendix B) for accessing the Lower World, sometimes encountered quite heavenly realms below. Contrary to cultural expectations, they did not find the Lower World to resemble the Christian hell, but rather the opposite. Many later said that upon dying they would prefer to go down rather than up, based upon the knowledge they had gained for themselves through core shamanic journeying. Their reports cast additional doubt on any argument that the Westerners’ experiences in the Upper and Lower Worlds were merely products of cultural projection.

As noted earlier, in some traditional Native North American cosmologies, the Lower World is seen as a heavenly place where one would like to go after death—contrary to the declared view of many of the world’s Great Religions. Due to the widespread influence of such religious teachings, many of the remaining indigenous shamans, such as in those Mongolia, have become reluctant even to try to descend to the Lower World.29

Possibly the closest thing to hell is in our own world, the Middle World, with all its pain and suffering. Those who journey to the Upper and Lower Worlds virtually never report finding pain there, even if they undergo dismemberments. Pain is not found in heavens.

Among some indigenous peoples of the South American tropical forest, there is a myth about a time long ago when heaven and earth were connected by a vine that they could climb and descend at will. Due to various unfortunate circumstances, the vine became severed, and only the shamans were still able to visit heaven. Then the people lost their last shaman. They lament that it is impossible to visit heaven anymore.

Now in our daily lives, the methods of core shamanism give us the freedom to go to both the Upper and Lower Worlds and learn for ourselves what is there. In doing so, individuals discover for themselves that there are heavens beyond this Middle World. Heavens are real, but they are real in another reality, the reality accessed by shamans to help and heal others.


Shamanism, including shamanic ascension, is a path of independence leading toward spiritual freedom. By spiritual freedom, I mean freedom to know, not just to believe. No longer will it be possible to stop that personal independence by confiscating shamans’ drums. Their sound is now available electronically almost everywhere in the world, and the shaman’s drum is the ballot box of spiritual freedom.

The sound of that drum can again carry us back and forth through the barriers to the heavens, barriers that we hope will never impede us again. Today in core shamanism, we have the tools to seek help from another reality. Awaiting us in those heavens are the teachers, wise and caring spirits forever ready to heal and share their knowledge, wisdom, and compassion to help us solve the problems of our lives and the world, and to prepare for a better destiny.

To solve these problems may seem to many an impossible enterprise. Yet there now is immeasurable help available to address difficulties that “could only be solved by a miracle.” The time is coming for shamanism to enter the human center stage, for miracles are needed, and miracles are the work of shamans.

The miracle of the unbound shaman is a worthy lesson. Just as the spirits can miraculously unbind the shaman, so can they liberate humanity from its limiting bindings of belief and disbelief. By freeing ourselves from those bindings, we can avail ourselves of the knowledge, wisdom, and help of the teachers and other compassionate spirits.

We no longer are restricted to the teachings of Heavenly Books brought to us by the ancient few, for now the many can travel to the sacred origins of the teachings themselves. Like a spiritual Liberty Bell, the shaman’s drum declares the start of a spiritual revolution, however long it may take. The severed vine to the heavens has been restored. Also restored is the way below, down the metaphoric roots of the vine to realms long denied.