Ascending to the Upper World to Compare Experiences - Appendix

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

Ascending to the Upper World to Compare Experiences

This is an invitation to readers to ascend to the Upper World themselves, to “go over the rainbow,” following essentially the same instructions that were given to the Westerners in the Celestia Study. (See Appendix C for useful resources to help your ascensions.) This opportunity is part of the spiritual freedom that shamanism offers.

If you are new to shamanic journeying, this is a chance for you to see how your own Upper World experiences compare to those described for the Westerners in these pages. I have found that generally about 90 percent of Westerners can ascend to the Upper World if they seriously follow the instructions. And the other 10 percent? There is no formal study of them, but “left brain” types such as engineers and lawyers often seem to have the most difficulty!

Since you presumably are now familiar with what is in this book, or have done shamanic journeywork before, you cannot be considered a “naïve” journeyer. So I suggest that you find a few friends who: (1) have not read or heard about the contents of Cave and Cosmos, and (2) are willing to experiment. Without telling them about the nature of the Upper World experiences reported in these pages, just give them the methodological instructions for shamanic ascension provided here. Ask them to report what experiences they have after doing some of the exercises. In the spirit of core shamanism, remember to let them interpret their own journeys. Then share the results, discuss them, and arrive at your own conclusions.

If you are already an experienced practitioner of shamanic journeying and have kept a record of your ascensions to the Upper World, you can simply compare the ascension experiences in this book with your own.

Following are the instructions as they were given to students and other Westerners prior to ascensions to the Upper World. They were part of the standard curriculum of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies’ “Basic Workshop, The Way of the Shaman.”® I had originated, researched, and experimented with these instructions prior to furnishing them to Foundation faculty members as part of their training to teach the Basic Workshop. They were requested to adhere to them as closely as possible, so that all students could have the same methodological knowledge when they took more advanced workshops and courses from any faculty member in North America or abroad.

Although the precise words naturally somewhat varied each time, this chapter presents what all Foundation faculty members, starting with myself, have taught for many years regarding the methods of going to, and working in, the Upper World. The faculty members were given strict rules not to tell students anything more about the Upper World than what is in the following instructions.


Although you are being given ways for ascending to get knowledge and help, the actual experiences resulting from using the methods are yours alone. Do not be surprised if these experiences are often awesome and moving, causing you to experience ineffable joy and tears of happiness. It is no accident that some indigenous peoples call this “the crying way.” Such experiences are manifestations of deep shamanic ecstasy.

There is no need to be frightened or worried when journeying “outside of time,” away from the Middle World where we live. You will discover that you are entering realms far more loving and compassionate than the Middle World. In the Middle World, pain and suffering are common. We have long since discovered that pain is not found outside the Middle World.

Often I am asked by beginning students to describe the differences between the Lower and Upper Worlds. This I always decline to do, for if I told them and they believed me, we would be starting a religion, not practicing shamanism. In practicing shamanism, the authority belongs to the individual.

You need to learn the cosmography of the Upper World yourself through experience. No one else can really tell you where the spiritual beings and resources are specifically located in nonordinary reality. This is something you alone must discover through personal practice. My intention is to give you only the minimum of help.

In shamanic cultures, which commonly lacked writing, the accumulation of journey knowledge required great mnemonic discipline, or recall training, as well as constant journey practice. Continual practice is important for us too, but we have the advantage of being able to take notes after our journeys rather than simply depending upon memory alone. Also, we can record accounts during our journeys with the “simultaneous narration” method (described later in this section). Such techniques can enrich and speed your knowledge of the cosmology of nonordinary reality.

If you use this book for learning the methods of shamanic journeying, it is very important that you follow the instructions in the order they are given, and that you achieve success in each exercise, preferably more than once, before going on to the next. I originated the instructions for shamanic journeying based on my decades of research and teaching, and I have used them in personally training many thousands of people in shamanism, including those I trained to become faculty members of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.

Ideally, you should try to do each exercise before reading the examples of the experiences of others doing it. That way you will be able to compare your own experiences to those of others without wondering if you have been influenced by their accounts.

The shamanic journey in most indigenous societies is undertaken with the aid of monotonous percussion sound, especially drumming. Utilizing the sound of drumming for the shamanic journey, either with a live drum or with a shamanic-journey drumming recording, requires a journeyer to be centered and able to maintain concentration and purpose. Persons who are not centered or mentally and emotionally “together” cannot maintain the discipline necessary for journeying with auditory driving. Without centeredness, it is just drumming and nothing more. Accordingly, this method is exceptionally safe.

Most drummed shamanic journeys, including those done by shamans in Siberia, are less than half an hour long, and one can return at any time without waiting for the drumming to stop. Indeed, the continuous drumming also supports a return journey.

Even if you should forget to come back when the drumming signals you to return, you will just drift back anyway, since the drumming will no longer continue to support you in the other reality. In many ways, shamanic journeying is safer than dreaming, for the journeyer can return whenever she or he likes.


You will shortly have your first opportunity to visit the Upper World. Be sure you thoroughly understand the following instructions before you start. To carry out this initial exercise, you can use a shamanic-drumming recording (see “Departing the Middle World,” this page).

Wait until you are calm and relaxed before undertaking this or any other shamanic journey. Avoid consciousness-altering substances, including alcohol, during the preceding twenty-four hours, so that your power of concentration will be good and your mind clear. Be sure you feel rested and awake. Otherwise you might fall asleep to the relaxing sound of the shamanic drumming.

Turn off any telephones, doorbells, pagers, or wristwatch alarms, so that you will not be disturbed. Remove your shoes, loosen your clothing, and lie comfortably on the floor or a bed. If you are a regular practitioner of a meditative discipline such as yoga and accustomed to sitting for such a purpose, you may prefer that position instead. Darken the room as much as possible, and place a bandana or kerchief across your eyes.

The most important thing about your body position is that it should be one that most easily allows you to leave your body behind—in other words, a position that does not require you to divert part of your consciousness to maintaining some posture in ordinary reality. For this reason, persons in our culture, as well as in some indigenous ones, as in parts of Native western North America, prefer the lying position. In Siberia and areas adjacent to it, a sitting or standing position is usually preferred. In the latter case, the standing position may be augmented with body movement that usually includes additional percussion sound from bells and other metal objects worn by the shaman.


If you wish to maximize the effects of journeying to the sound of recorded drumming, you may want to try simultaneous narration, a technique I developed in the early 1980s whereby one talks out loud describing a journey from start to finish, as it occurs. Even when nothing is happening, the journeyer should keep talking, if only to say, “Nothing is happening.” One will soon get tired of repeating this phrase; at that point, things usually do begin to occur. To further increase the value of simultaneous narration, one may wish to talk into a lapel microphone attached to a recording device (a separate unit from the player that is providing the drumming sound).

In this way, your simultaneous narration of the journey is preserved and can subsequently be reviewed by you to make notes of details you might have forgotten. Furthermore, your recordings can be kept in a permanent archive of your experiences. This is useful, because earlier journeys often assume new significance as you progress in your understanding, and you may wish to review them.

Simultaneous narration greatly focuses one’s attention and thereby can result in a journey more vivid than one without it, and often even stronger than one done with live drumming. If you are journeying to a live drum, however, simultaneous narration is not a practical technique, for the sound of the drum will interfere with making a clear voice recording. Whether or not you do simultaneous narration, after any journey, review your experiences and make notes about them for future reference. The above methods are part of the basis for a Foundation course named “Harner Shamanic Counseling Training.”


If a live drum is used, advise the drummer to beat the drum in a monotonous, moderately loud, and rapid tempo. The volume of the drumbeats and the intervals between them should be unvarying. A drumming tempo of approximately 205 to 220 beats per minute is usually optimal for most journeying. The style and speed of the drumming can be best ascertained by listening to a drumming CD or MP3 produced by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.

Lengthy, monotonous, shamanic-journey drumming can be hard work, but the drummer should try to do it for fifteen minutes (ten minutes is usually not quite good enough). At the end of the fifteen minutes, the drummer should strike the drum with four short rolls to signal that it is time for you to get ready to come back. Then the drummer should beat the drum very rapidly (significantly faster than the 205- to 220-beat range) for about half a minute for your return journey, and finally beat four more short rolls to signal that you should now be back in the room. With practice, the drummer should find it easier to provide a fifteen-minute journey without tiring.

With recorded journey drumming on a CD, you do not have to be concerned about your drummer becoming tired, so you can journey for as long as thirty minutes, if you desire. If you want a fifteen-minute journey, simply select the fifteen-minute track on the CD. The drumming CD for journeying, like others I developed starting in 1980, has the proper tempo and drumming call-back signals described above. They also have the advantage of controlling the regularity and volume of the individual drumbeats. These are available from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies website. (For more information, see Appendix C.)


Put on your earphones. Connect them to one of the recommended Shamanic Journeying and Drumming CDs/MP3s (see Appendix C) on a CD player or on a computer, iPod, or other MP3 player.

Cover your eyes with a bandana or kerchief to exclude light. Rest there quietly for a few minutes and consider how you will start your ascent.

Before beginning to journey to the Upper World, it is very important that you, like an indigenous shaman, select as a departure site a place in the Middle World (that is, on the Earth’s surface) where you have seen yourself in ordinary reality at some time in your life. It may be a place you can see today outside your window, or it may be a site you visited years ago. The important thing is that you know its approximate location here in the Middle World and that you can visualize it to some degree.

It is not enough simply to close your eyes and visualize any departure point without knowing from first-hand experience that it is located in the Middle World. Without this discipline, journeyers can be confused about what world and level they are starting from and where they are arriving. Experienced shamans map accurately by having permanent Middle World departure points.

It does not matter how long ago you last saw the Middle World departure site in ordinary reality; nor does it matter whether the place today still looks in ordinary reality as you remember it. In shamanic terms, what you are seeing is the spirit of the place, and that endures regardless of any subsequent ordinary-reality changes.

Once you have selected a departure site, try to keep using it indefinitely for ascension. By repeatedly using the same departure place, you will find it increasingly easy to visualize the start of your visionary journey. The gradual repetition also triggers ever-deeper stages of the shamanic state of consciousness (SSC). In other words, the familiarity of this initial routine in itself is important in changing consciousness and in moving into increasingly vivid experiences. Growing familiarity with these first routes from the departure site permits one to make faster journeys and have more time in the Upper World.

Remember the classic indigenous shamanic departure points described earlier, but do not feel restricted to them. Some contemporary New York City journeyers, for example, do not necessarily have vivid connections with mountains, trees, or even fireplaces. Therefore they may choose to jump up from the top of a skyscraper, such as the Empire State Building, which they can clearly visualize from their everyday experience. While this can be a successful departure place for them, obviously we will not find examples of its use in the literature on Siberian shamanism. The important thing is not whether the departure location is human-made or natural, but that it is a place, not some moving object (such as a bird, airplane, or rocket in flight), and that you have seen it firsthand in ordinary reality.

A departure point, whether a mountain, tree, or something else, does not necessarily have to reach to the sky, but it should be higher than its surroundings. An example comes to mind from a couple of decades ago. A small team from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies was visiting the Caribou Eskimo (Inuit) northwest of Hudson Bay, and one of their young men came to us to learn shamanic methods, since the missionaries had prohibited and essentially wiped out shamanism and shamanic healing in his community. We instructed him in basic journey techniques only so that he could learn all the rest directly from the spirits. There were no trees or mountains there on the tundra, so he chose as his departure point to visit the Upper World a low rounded hill on an island near his village. Although it was not even a high hill, he was successful in using it, since it still was above the surrounding flat terrain.

The important point in selecting a departure place is finding one that works for you. For some, as an illustration, it is a tree.


In a relaxed and unhurried way, consider trees that you have personally seen in ordinary reality. Pick a relatively tall one for which you have felt a special kinship. It could be in your backyard right now, or it may be one you saw years ago elsewhere. Again, you should have seen it firsthand and know the approximate location. It does not matter if the tree has since fallen or been cut down; you are working with the spirit of the tree and that place. As long as you can remember that tree and its location, you can use it as a reliable departure site for the Upper World.

Try to glimpse the tree with your eyes closed or covered. If you do not even get a faint glimpse of the tree, do not be discouraged. You may be more kinesthetic and need to feel yourself climbing rather than seeing the climb. With practice, there is a good chance that you will later start to see it as well.

Then start to climb it. Avoid preconceptions about where the top of the tree will end. The tree may continue all the way into the Upper World, or you may reach its top right away, long before you get out of the Middle World. In the latter case, simply jump up from it.

You may see just the tree as you climb, as you would in ordinary reality; or you may see yourself, as an outside observer, climbing the tree. Both of these types of experiences are valid. The latter I call an “out-of-spirit” experience, for, from a shamanic point of view, one portion of your spirit or soul is climbing the tree while another portion observes it. This experience is one type of the doppelgänger effect known in the shamanic literature; i.e., the experience of being in two places at the same time. Most persons, however, do not start experiencing the doppelgänger until they have done more work.


The old European chimney technique of departure, noted earlier, is often a popular one today, because most of us can visualize some fireplace that we know or remember, often with fond memories. Try to visualize it, whether or not a fire was burning there. When you undertake the journey to the Upper World, enter the fireplace and move up the dark chimney. From the top of the chimney you may find yourself in a cloudlike tunnel, or rising into the open sky, sometimes seeing the Earth below you.


Select a mountain that you have visited firsthand in ordinary reality and whose summit you have seen, even if only at a distance. Visualize yourself at the crest, and jump up from its summit.


To use a rainbow to depart for the Upper World, visualize one you have seen somewhere during your life. It may have been a full arc or a half-rainbow. Either way, visualize the rainbow as you remember it at the place you saw it in ordinary reality. When you journey, start up where the rainbow leaves the earth, climb it, and jump upward from its zenith.


Now state the mission to yourself three times so that you do not forget its purpose. This mission statement is important for successful shamanic journeying. State it to yourself several times before starting. For this first time, I suggest: “My mission is to go to the Upper World to explore it until I am called back by the drum.” If you are using the simultaneous-narration technique with a lapel microphone and tape or other recording device, you can record your mission intention by dictating aloud. Turn on the shamanic drumming.


Now review the earlier discussion of the first barrier or transition zone between OR and NOR, and methods of crossing it (this page). Follow the instructions there, listening for several minutes to recorded or live journey drumming. Then, in a darkened room, with your eyes closed and covered, continue to listen to the drumming, and visualize your pre-selected departure point.

Whatever the departure place, remember how it looked. For example, if the site is a fireplace, enter it and rise on the flames; if there was no fire, just enter the fireplace and go up the dark, empty flue. Now you are making the transition from OR to NOR. This constitutes crossing the first barrier. Keep on ascending the chimney and then beyond. As mentioned earlier, sometimes there is a kind of cloud tunnel that continues beyond the chimney. Other times there is no tunnel and one simply rises, perhaps seeing the landscape of the Earth receding below.

If you choose a tree, mountaintop, or skyscraper as your departure point, simply jump up or rise from the top. You should have no difficulty ascending, for these are journeys of the spirit, and your spirit is not constrained by the gravitational forces of ordinary reality.


Traveling upward is not enough in itself to reach the Upper World. Even if you find yourself high above the Earth, you are still in the Middle World unless you have passed through the barrier between worlds. Without transcending it, you are still in the Middle World, even if you go out of our solar system and to other galaxies, for what astronomers see is still only the Middle World. As you continue ascending, it is very important to pass through the barrier to the Upper World so that you can be completely sure that you have reached it.

Usually one encounters this barrier fairly soon. Normally it is not an obstacle but simply a permeable transition zone, such as a cloud layer or membrane. If a membrane, its thinness often is almost like a sheet of paper, although it is a sheet that extends as far as one can see. Usually the zone is so permeable that you can go through it simply by focusing your will.

Very rarely the barrier will be resistant to your passing. Even then you may find a hole or opening in the barrier zone through which you can pass. Avoid becoming tense if you do not transcend the zone right away. Keep trying in a relaxed but determined manner. Success in journeying depends on a combination of effortless persistence and relaxed concentration. Do not feel discouraged if your first journey is faint; it will change with practice. Also, imagery may occur either in black-and-white or in color.



Once you pass through the barrier or transition zone, you are on the first level of the Upper World. Take this opportunity to begin getting acquainted with it. You can explore in any direction on the first level, or you may prefer to go up to another level and explore there. Each level has its own minor barrier or transition zone, which may manifest as another cloud layer or other permeable divider. Wherever you decide to go, remember the route you are taking and the sequence of things you see. This facilitates your return to the Middle World from which you departed, as well as a return to these same Upper World places in future journeys.

When you are using the simultaneous-narration method, keep describing what is happening throughout your journey. The important thing is to keep on talking, because describing what you see and what you experience strengthens the vividness of your journey, which can appear in black-and-white or in color. As I said before, if you do not see anything, keep saying, “Nothing is happening.” With such boring repetition, things usually start to change and you begin seeing.


If you wish to continue on to the second level of the Upper World, simply journey upward again. This time, since you are already journeying in spirit, it normally is easier to ascend to the next level.

There are more levels above the second one that you can explore if you have drumming time and wish to do so. Each one is reached after passing through another barrier or transition zone. Again, these zones may appear like cloud layers, membranes, tissue paper, or something similar.

Each level is, in a sense, almost a world in itself, with much for you to discover in all directions, so do not feel you have to rush your travels. You can always make additional journeys to a particular level whenever you desire.

In core shamanism, there is no “official” number of levels in the Upper World. Cross-cultural reports on the number of levels vary considerably, and therefore the number is not a core aspect of shamanism. In tribes among whom I lived in the Amazon, people rarely needed to count beyond the five fingers on their hand, since money, tribute, and taxes had not yet become part of their lives. Any number beyond five was usually just “many.” Accordingly, among the shamans there, only a few levels were usually counted. In contrast, shamans in the Central Asian regions of Tuva and Mongolia reported the greatest number of levels when they lived close to major civilizations where extensive counting had long since been part of the cultures.

Statements about the number of levels and their characteristics are thus not part of core shamanic methods but rather conclusions that shamanic journeyers gradually draw as they progress in their firsthand investigations. The landscapes and levels you are shown in journeys are your working cosmography, a cosmography that is perfect for you. That is what matters to the shamanic journeyer.

In your journeys, keep track not only of your departure point, but also the number of levels through which you pass. There is a membrane or cloud layer separating each level. With practice you will gradually become acquainted with the sequences of levels, what is to be found on them, and under what circumstances. Also, on any level there are “veils” that may be drawn aside, depending on your mission and what the spirits feel should be revealed to you at that time.

It may seem that I have told you too little about what to expect on the various levels. That is intentional, for I am attempting only to teach you a method. The actual discoveries of what is there are yours. That is the nature of the autonomy of shamanic work. In fact, once while I was teaching some Russians, an outstanding Siberian shaman who was present told me that I was “telling too much” about journeying, even though he agreed with the accuracy of what I had said.


When it is time to descend from the Upper World, the drum on the recording will sound four rolls to alert you. The rolls will be followed by a fast return beat. With the help of the beat, immediately come back the way you went up. Do this rapidly, as the return beat is usually only about half a minute long. At the end you should be at your Middle World departure place. If drumming is provided by an assistant rather than a CD, the same procedure is followed. Then, in silence, allow yourself about ten minutes to write down your experiences so that you can remember what you learned and be prepared to compare them with future journeys.

Try to remember the place on the first level from which you departed upward, so that you can use it again in future journeys. The repeated use of the same departure or “takeoff” sites in Upper World levels will help you travel more rapidly and more vividly in your future ascents.


If you wish, make one or two additional exploration journeys in the Upper World to increase your knowledge before proceeding to the next exercise. By using a drumming CD or other Foundation for Shamanic Studies recording, you can choose to have a preset fifteen-minute or half-hour journey. If live drumming is being done by an assistant, then probably fifteen minutes would be more practical, as noted before. It is usually distracting to attempt to drum for yourself simultaneously while journeying, although some shamans may do it.

During one’s first journeys, often the experience is faint and fleeting, and lacks the vividness of what people normally call “reality.” This is to be expected, for when one is just starting to see shamanically, it often takes time to begin to perceive nonordinary reality clearly. Be patient, and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Thus, at first you may find it hard to maintain your concentration at times, for your immersion in the shamanic state of consciousness is not yet well developed. You may find your mind wandering and returning to ordinary-reality preoccupations. Again, be patient and continue practicing. Any spiritual discipline requires time, though one of the remarkable things about shamanic journeying is how rapidly most people succeed in doing it.

Not everyone is a natural visualizer, although most are. Other persons may be more kinesthetic and journey primarily through feeling their way. Others, such as many attorneys and mathematicians, report that they seem to “think” their way through their early journeys. Whatever mode of perception you start with, build on it, and in time the other modes of perception can be developed. The most important thing is not to give up. After all, if you did not achieve nirvana in your first few Buddhist meditation sessions, would that mean that you were doomed to failure on that spiritual path?


As you make more ascensions, review your accumulating notes, for the different journeys will begin to fall into place like pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle. You will gradually become not just an explorer but also a cosmographer of the Upper World. Careful note-taking and mapping will help your work and expedite your future journeys. If you keep taking notes over the weeks and months, you will have a record of incredible adventures in nonordinary reality. Furthermore, they will be nonfictional, because they really happened to you!

In some shamanic populations, such as the Sami and Siberian peoples, maps of what shamans had discovered were painted on the skin surfaces of their drums (see Plates 6 and 7). In our culture, we can also make maps in our notebooks and on large sheets of paper, adding to them as our knowledge increases (see Plates 8 and 9).

Some of my students have even made dramatic three-dimensional or sculptural “maps” of their journey discoveries. But even the best maps cannot remotely do justice to the incredible experiences and cosmology awaiting the shamanic journeyer.

Do not avoid using your will to journey. The shamanic use of will is analogous to that which one exerts when driving an automobile on new roads in a strange country. As with automobile drivers, shamans use will and intention to travel in a general direction for a particular goal, not knowing in advance what they will specifically see along the way or what incidents will occur.

Those who seriously pursue shamanic journeying will discover that there is far more to nonordinary reality than what contemporary Westerners normally call “imagination.” Every journey is in a sense an experiment. Through continued personal experiments, you can eventually conclude for yourself whether your nonordinary experiences are real and capable of providing extraordinary information and help.



Where does one go to find a teacher in heaven? You will have to discover for yourself the exact level on which you discover your teacher or teachers (for you may have more than one) in the Upper World. The teacher may live on the very first level, the second, or higher. This will be your own discovery, part of your accumulation of personal knowledge.

Wherever you discover a teacher, remember the level, since that is the surest place to find him or her in future journeys. Shamans know exactly what level their teachers are on and can go back to them there.

With discovering the identity and abode of your own spirit teachers, you are getting ready to acquire some of the incredible knowledge and wisdom they possess and are willing to share with you in response to your questions.

A common query from people who have not done this divination work is: How can I trust the answers I get? The standards for trust are the same as in ordinary reality to conclude whether a doctor, lawyer, psychotherapist, or any other person is trustworthy; in other words, on the basis of their track records with you. One of the best ways to learn whether your teacher, power animal, or any other spirit is trustworthy is to ignore their advice (although I do not recommend it)! Subsequently you will have ample opportunity to decide whether you made a mistake in not trusting the advice, or in misinterpreting it. You often have a metaphorical answer, in part or in whole, and you must keep in mind that you might not have understood it accurately.

A direct way is simply to utilize the answer in your life and see if it is accurate and practical. That is the real test. At the same time, you must remember that the spirits are not giving you orders, only their advice. You must combine their apparent advice with your ordinary-reality “street smarts.” Finally, you have to take responsibility for your actions. When I hear a person justify their actions by saying, “The spirits told me to do it,” I know that he/she does not yet know shamanism, for the helping spirits are our partners, not our bosses.

After you have met a spirit teacher and started working with him or her, you may sometimes find the teacher “not at home” in a journey. Do not be discouraged. Teachers are somewhat like full professors who do not always keep their office hours. When the teacher is not at the usual place, it usually means that you are being given permission to seek a second teacher, not as a substitute but as an additional resource for your development. Therefore, if the teacher is not in the usual location, reframe your journey purpose to discover an additional teacher, and continue your journey to find one and ask him or her your question.

On other occasions your teacher may be home but refers you to another teacher who is a specialist in addressing the kind of question or problem you pose. Your original teacher may take you to the other teacher or simply indicate where to find him or her. If you are given no specific help on how to find the other teacher, simply set off on your own.

Give the teacher a chance. Do not assume that you know better than the Upper World spirits who should be your teacher. Finding a teacher is not like shopping. Work with the teacher on a number of journeys and see what the results are. Then, if you still feel dissatisfied, simply do not go back to that teacher. I must say, however, that I have never heard of a case where a person who works seriously with the teacher is dissatisfied with the results.

If your teacher turns out to be a deceased relative who was close to you in ordinary reality, do not be surprised if you feel considerable emotion. You may even find yourself crying. Treasure the experience: you are having an opportunity to renew your connection with a person you never expected to see again.

Often these are opportunities for mutual sharing of unfinished business and for discussing things that were not possible before the person died. Shamans in tribal cultures routinely transcend the perceived barrier that separates the living and the dead. For the shaman, there is no finality to what we call death; everything is accessible outside of time.

Emotion, whether represented by tears or by joy, is a good sign when one has ascended, for it indicates that one is taking the journey seriously. Beyond this, it may mean that the visitor to the Upper World is experiencing ecstatic spiritual happiness, an almost indescribable state in which one cries and is joyful at the same time.

Do not be afraid to occasionally experience fear, for it too is a sign of taking the other reality seriously. Through temporarily experiencing fear, and then discovering there was really nothing to fear, one learns to trust heaven.

First Exercise: Asking a Question

The quality of your results in seeking knowledge depends primarily upon the spirits and whether you approach them successfully. To prepare for this work, you need to go again to the Upper World. You should use the same departure site to leave the Middle World, ascend, and pass through the barrier or transition zone to arrive in the Upper World. The only thing new is your objective or mission. This new mission must be clear in your mind before your ascent as well as during it.

In this first visit to a teacher, I suggest that you plan to ask for information to help solve a problem in your own life. Later, as you gain knowledge for yourself through the divination journeys, you will be in a better position to ask cosmological questions and to help others if they should request it of you.

Try to select a question that is personally important. Only you, and you alone, are qualified to decide what is an important question. Likewise, if you are later doing divination journeying for someone else, only that person is qualified to decide what is an important question for him or her. Do not carry out divination journeys about other persons without their permission. This is one of the ethics in shamanism.

For a question to be important does not necessarily mean that it has to have cosmic significance. It can be as simple as a question about how to organize your work week. The main issue is whether the question is important to you or, if you are seeking an answer at the request of someone else, important to him or her. Do not judge for others whether their questions are significant.

Emphasizing your own important questions when beginning this work focuses your mind and encourages you to keep focused in your journeys. In other words, you are highly motivated to get an answer. Later, when you have done more journey work, you will usually find it easy to get an answer to an almost infinite range of questions.

Compose your question unambiguously, for properly framing the question is half the secret of success in divination. Avoid using the words “and” or “or” because you thereby create two parts to the question. If the teacher then answers, you may not know if the first or second part of your question is being addressed. This is especially true if the teacher gives you symbolic answers.

Each question should be simple and clear, and normally only one question should be used in each visit to a teacher. An important reason for keeping to your single question is to allow you time to receive additional details during your journey. The teacher may disappear, as has been explained before, but this should not be construed as indicating that the answer is terminated. Whether the teacher remains present or not, he or she has the power (and normally uses it) to manage or direct the events of the rest of your journey. They may be literal or metaphoric aspects of the answer.

Nothing is simple, for the teacher may engage in a lengthy dialogue that may cause you to ask more questions as part of the exchange. Furthermore, after answering your initial question or request, sometimes the teacher takes the opportunity of your visit to give you some unrelated information the teacher apparently thinks you should know. Benefit by studying all the events closely. Nothing after meeting the teacher is unimportant.

Now please review what you have already learned about how to ascend to the Upper World, including the use of a departure place that you have known in ordinary reality here in our Middle World, having a specific mission in mind before departing, and knowing how to ascend and return.

Prepare yourself to seek a teacher. If this is your first attempt, avoid preconceptions about who it will be. Before you depart, repeat your primary mission silently or aloud to yourself: “I want to meet my teacher.” Second, repeat to yourself three times a question that you will ask your teacher. This will be a divination mission, so the question should be important to you. Write it down beforehand in a notebook, if possible; otherwise, repeat it to yourself three times so that you do not forget it.

If you are using recorded drumming, then you can choose to employ the simultaneous-narration technique (see this page). If you wish, you can also use a lapel microphone to dictate a running account of your experiences into a recorder.

Next, journey up to the first level of the Upper World in the manner you have already learned. This time, when you get there, look around and see if there is anyone who looks human.

If you do meet someone in human form, immediately ask him or her, “Are you my teacher?” It is essential to do this in order to be sure that you are talking with your teacher and not just anyone. The being may answer affirmatively or negatively telepathically, in spoken words, by nodding or shaking the head, or by ignoring you.

If the person does not indicate that he or she is your teacher, then simply travel on, either on the same level or by going up to the next. Usually it is easy to go up to the second level, since you are already traveling as spirit. Sometimes on the first level one encounters a large white bird that is available to carry travelers up to the second level. This is only a temporary guide, assisting you for this particular purpose. If you do not meet anyone who admits to being your teacher on the second level, then proceed up to the third level, and so on.

When someone in human form admits to being your teacher, then ask your question without delay. Pay close attention to what immediately occurs. Generally the first thing the teacher says or does is the core of the answer to the question, even if you do not understand it at the time.

Various things can happen next. If the teacher has spoken to you through thoughts or words, you may find yourself in a dialogue. In such a dialogue, stay with the subject of your question rather than trying to bring up unrelated questions. Otherwise you may not know which question the teacher is answering.

Remember that you can make another ascension whenever you like in order to ask another question. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece. Even with that oracle, the same rule would probably have been appropriate; otherwise you could not be sure to which question the oracle’s answer applies.

The teacher may respond not by speaking or by thought communication, but instead by simply motioning in a certain direction, indicating where you should go. Follow the indication and see what you encounter. At this point the teacher sometimes disappears and is not seen again during the entire journey, but do not think that you are not being given an answer. As indigenous shamans know, the teachers (which they may consider deities or sacred ancestors) have incredible powers there, and they usually orchestrate your journey experiences so that you have to learn to “read” them as parts of the answer to your question.

If the teacher already has communicated the answer in thoughts or words, then metaphoric or literal scenes that are subsequently shown usually provide details elaborating the answer. Therefore keep traveling and pay close attention to whatever happens, even if the teacher is nowhere to be seen. The teacher knows when the drumming will end, so just keep journeying until you hear the call-back drumming signal. When you are thus called back, thank the teacher, even if you cannot see him or her, and return down to the Middle World and your body, retracing your route very quickly.

After you have returned to the ordinary reality of our world, sit up and review your experience carefully. Note where you met your teacher, because you want to know how to find him or her again. Especially review everything that happened after you asked your question, remembering the first thing that the teacher said or did, and how that might be the core answer. Then review all that happened afterward.

In this review, note and think about the details you were shown or experienced. Attempt to understand how they are supplementary answers to the initial core answer. You should have a notebook in which to record all this information afterward.

Siberian and other tribal shamans considered it disrespectful of the spirits they visited in the other worlds not to honor all the information they received. Since the shamans did not have writing, and thus no notebooks, they made great efforts to remember everything they could, including later painting the surfaces of their drums as mnemonic devices to remind themselves of their discoveries. By paying attention and remembering what we are told or given, we show our respect for helping spirits and thereby invite even greater success in our future ascensions.

Second Exercise: Requesting Health Advice or a Healing

When you ascend to the Upper World for health advice, you are only asking for information. The teachers there are so powerful, however, that they may choose to help through direct action. They may decide not only to provide you with health advice, but also to heal your condition.

These spirits can heal without bothering to show you anything. But by revealing to you particular treatments, they teach you how to continue the healing work later. These direct demonstrations by the teachers are a major way that shamans acquire healing methods that they later use on their patients and themselves. These techniques vary according to the immediate case at hand. This is why shamans, through many visits to the teachers, can gradually ascertain the appropriate treatment for each condition, though details vary with each patient.

Healing techniques demonstrated by a teacher may include showing you methods of treatment for you to continue back in ordinary reality. For example, a teacher may give you a potion, identify the plant(s) from which it is made, and tell you how to prepare it. A teacher may also refer you to specific physicians you have not yet heard of.

Now prepare to make another ascent to a level in the Upper World where you previously found a teacher. This time, ask a health-related question. You can also journey to a teacher to ask directly for a healing—and not just for yourself, but also for others, if they have requested it. You should start practicing on your own health first, however, to prepare for the day you may be ready to help others. Do not feel selfish, for this is an opportunity to gain experience. Also, you should become as healthy as possible in order to be able to benefit others. Continue such practice so that you will be better prepared to serve others spiritually if they should ask.

Decide what specific healing you desire. Consider your personal health: is there any condition that you would like alleviated or cured that has been bothering you? Most of us, particularly as we get older, have no trouble targeting some pain, discomfort, or health problem we would like to have cured. The pain or illness can be either physical or mental/emotional. Pick one such problem and make a clear sentence of the request: for example, “Please cure my backache.”

When you seek a healing, do not ask a question of your teacher; just request the specific healing desired. Sometimes the teacher may not demonstrate the healing and may even disappear, but normally, during the rest of your journey, the teacher will be working to alleviate your illness or pain.

Remember, as I noted, that when you seek health advice from a teacher, you may also be given a healing. Conversely, when you journey for healing, you may also be given advice or information instead or together with the healing. So remember and learn everything you can.

If you receive a healing or advice, thank the teacher or the helping spirit before you leave. If you receive a healing, go back for repeated treatments until you are completely well. For this I recommend ascending no less than once a week. A last note: out of respect for the sanctity of your teacher or helping spirits, unless it is for a high purpose (such as the way some have shared their experiences in this book, or in a training workshop), I recommend keeping their exact identities to yourself.

Keep in mind that shamanism is part of a holistic approach to health. In doing this work, do not give up regular medical or other ordinary-reality treatments, but add a missing spiritual dimension to such treatments by visiting your teacher to ask that he or she heal the troubling condition.