Shift Of Ages Click to download pdf. (published in Sacred Hoop Magazine 2012)
Warriors Burial Click to download pdf.(published in Sacred Hoop Magazine 2009)
This is the story of my journey through both dance and shamanism. As a Rhythms and Medicine Teacher for nearly 20 years, I have seen the development of both these paths and have followed their interweaving energies through both light and shade. This is my story.
Where do journeys begin? With birth, adulthood, karmic destiny formed through lifetimes, the awakening of a sense of purpose or from disillusion with what is? For me all this and more is true. In truth I have always had a restless wind blowing through my heart. I felt different to family and peers, an outsider looking for the way back in to the glass castle of normality, an ugly duckling unaware of swanhood. I started to read the Carlos Castaneda when I was 18 and prayed to meet a shaman. I battled and conformed, became married and unmarried, searched libraries and bookshops for truth and information. Closed my heart and lived in my head, lost lonely and arrogant.
By the age of thirty I had lost my joy and creativity, hiding all my anger and frustration behind a smile that hurt. A successful Head of Drama I moved to working with young criminals and kept many from custody, although in reality, I was the one locked up. I spent all my spare time and money searching and researching looking desperately for the thread that would release me, for a teacher to change me. I trained in Transactional Analysis not to be a therapist but to release my frozen creativity. To proud for therapy alone, I managed to trick myself into feeling. After nearly three years the first tear fell and my heart was ready to seek its path.
It started with the birth of my son Merging. A home birth filled with fear and beauty. The midwife handed me my new born babe. I held him and as he opened his eyes for the first time. I fell into the blue, star flecked, universe of his eyes and I too was reborn. The year was 1987 I was 33.
One week after the birth I went to a one day workshop on the Medicine Wheel. It was a home coming and as I listened to the teachings I felt that I was not hearing these for the first time but rather remembering something deep and powerful inside myself. I felt my early prayers awakening within me. I wanted more and several weeks latter found myself in Dorset on a five day experience that changed me forever. I experienced my first sweatlodge and placed a large portion of my pain and suffering, which I had been recycling through therapy, into a fetish doll which I buried and danced into death. The experience and the teachings were profound and represented a true home coming and rebirth. I found my path with heart and started jogging to catch up with my self.
I celebrated the Harmonic Convergence the same year in a beautiful and powerful ceremony that was choreographed by Heather Campbell, who was instrumental in seeding the Medicine Teachings in these Islands and from her I first heard of Gabrielle and the Rhythms. Later that year I met her Shaman Teacher and became an apprentice in a tribe of wild mixed bloods and adventurers who were going to change the world and re-spiritualise the Earth.
I loved the Medicine Teachings with a passion. They woke me up and enlivened me. The connection with the earth and the magic that followed was profound. I became apprenticed to another teacher in order to increase the depth of my knowledge. I was like a sponge absorbing everything that came my way. In September I met and danced with Gabrielle. Falling instantly and deeply in love with the work and its soulful intent. I cut out other activities and focused on the Rhythms and the Medicine. There was a whole band of us who were following both, meeting at Medicine gatherings and on Gabrielle’s visits. I first met Susannah and Ya’Acov in 1988 at a Medicine workshop and Roland soon after. We kept turning up to the same events, they joined the same apprenticeship programme as myself. Susannah, Ya’Acov and myself were all accepted on Gabrielle’s Teacher Training and traveled the Rhythms Road together on that and the following training in Ritual Theatre.
There was no structure and no tribe as it exists today. I just went off and did my own thing. Confident in the skill and empowerment of my training. I continued with my Medicine apprenticeships learning and growing and taking every opportunity to study with Medicine teachers from a variety of traditions. I sold my house in London, packed in my job and moved to Wales. I started to teach the Rhythms and Medicine, became the leader of the Welsh Lodge of my tribe, trained apprentices of my own, taught dance workshops here and in Europe. I did some fantastic dance work with people with Learning Difficulties. Developed a Rites of Passage Programme with a group of young men. I starting with two and ending working with their whole peer group, numbering about 30.
A meeting with Jan and Nick Wood birthed the Sacred Hoop Magazine. I wrote articles, appeared on radio programme and T. V. even sat on the couch with Richard and Judy while a group of my students demonstrated the Rhythms. Life was sweet and full of magic. I returned to work with Gabrielle at a Mirrors workshop in 1995 and was beautifully surprised. Susannah and Ya’Acov had grounded the work and created a dancing tribe here and in Europe. There were loads of new teachers, a structure, workshops and momentum. I was humbled by their creation, in love with the energy of this new dancing tribe.
Soon after this re-entry I started to doubt the integrity of my principal teacher. I struggled and battled with my instincts about this for several years. Then after meeting the Zero Chief, Hyemeohsts Storm, I knew I could no longer remain part of something that I had devoted 10 years of my life too. I walked away heartbroken. I had so much invested in the Medicine Tribe, my work, status, friends, magic most of what I considered me, was wrapped up in it somewhere. I became lost, desperate and disillusioned. My work started to fall apart. I tried to continue teaching as an independent Medicine Man, I redesigned my alchemy, gave away my pipe and made my own. But, I had lost confidence in my own magic and nothing seemed to work.
After a long process I did a deal with Spirit, I agreed to walk away for 5 years, after which what was left would be mine. I put my Medicine tools away brought a suit and returned to the world of the 35 hour week. I was successful in what I did. But it all felt like a backward step my heart was counting down the clock.
The five years expired and I eagerly joined my Medicine Pipe, to let spirit know I was back and to find whether my destiny still lay in this direction, I was anxious and unsure as to whether I still had what it takes to do the work, especially without the support of a teacher. The initial signs were good. I decided to quit my job and to trust.
Weeks after this decision I received a phone call from a woman who’s partner had been a soldier and who was experiencing problems with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Making no promises I agreed to meet him. I arrived at his house. Steve was very close to the edge, by his own admission a desperate man, a tortured soul, living in a private hell that was so far form any normal experience, it was almost incomprehensible. As he talked I could feel his pain, it both frightened and touched me. He had first experienced the syndrome as a young soldier in Northern Ireland and had gone on to compound this for a further 12 years in the British Forces 8 of which had been as a special forces sniper. Then driven by pain, despair and hopelessness had followed a death wish as a mercenary, through a series of forgotten wars for a further 8 years.
His symptoms were extreme, he suffered from daytime and night time hallucinations and terrifyingly real flashbacks. His nights in particular were filled with dreams of passed conflicts, he was afraid to sleep and had on occasions seriously injured his partner. Whist talking to him he would drift into memories which clearly frightened his partner and began to seriously worry me. But at the same time I knew what he needed and how I might help him. After ten minutes he went outside for a cigarette. His partner told me she was amazed he was talking to me and was even telling me things he had never told her in years.
‘He does not usually like people’. She said.
He came back into the room. Looked me in the eye and said.
‘I have never trusted anyone in my life, no one. But something tells me to trust you, I am desperate and I want you to help me.’
I agreed and arranged for him to come to my house the following week. When he arrived to start working, his story unraveled. It was far, far worse than I could have ever imagined. We spent the day building a sweatlodge and talking. I discovered that he was a true warrior, who since a small child had wanted to be the ‘best of the best’. When barely a teenager he had travel to Asia without his parents and returned with a black belt in a very coveted martial art, the youngest ever to achieve this honour. He had exceeded his own expectations. He was an expert in every aspect of war and death bringing, a man of immense courage and loyalty both to his country and his companions. But the cost had been extreme.
The British Army had been testing for PTSD since 1916. Steve had the highest ever scores on this test. He had killed a vast number of people, lost countless friends and had seen more death, destruction and horror than one could possibly imagine. For 8 years as a mercenary he had been trying to kill himself. Taking on suicidal and dangerous missions, often alone. But he survived and kept returning home. Then he met a young woman and fell deeply in love. He wanted to stop. But his past returned to haunt him with a vengeance. We talked for a long time and went into the dark heat of the sweatlodge. I encouraged him to trust in spirit and to pray. His partner had warned me not to touch him, that it could be very dangerous for me. As he was leaving I asked him for a hug and we embraced.
He phoned me days latter excited. He felt different had had the first un-tortured night’s sleep for years. He wanted to continue the process. The next week he arrived again. He had agreed to do a shamanic burial, he wanted the killer inside him to die. It had to be a long time, we agreed on 36 hours.
I never discuss the detail of clients personal ceremony. But, I will say, that for me, it was the most frightening thing I have ever done. As soon as I had sealed Steve in the earth and opened my monitoring of the ceremony. The full impact of what I was doing hit me. The energy of what he was releasing was like nothing I had ever experienced. Also and the most scary part were the visits I made to him every 12 hours. Despite my dreaming in to his space, as I approached his grave I really had no idea as to his psychological state or where he believed himself to be. I was terrified. I have always be able to look after myself and have done loads of work with violent and dangerous people and apart from natural fear and caution I have always been confident in my ability to handle myself. Steve however, was something different and I knew that I was so far out of his league that any pretence in his case was useless. I humoured myself with the phrase “Today is a good day to die”. I faced the fear and the Rambo induced fantasies.
Despite my fears, during the ceremony I experience a profound sense of protection and support from the powers that work with me as well as an incredible heart opening that allowed me to truly pray for his healing.. The Medicine signs were overwhelming and the behaviour of the local buzzards in particular were extraordinary. After the allotted time I released Steve from the earth. I took him straight from the grave into a sweat that I had been preparing for him, before first light. He was considerably weakened by his ordeal.
It is never an easy thing to face one’s self and actions. What this man had to face was indescribable and took immense courage and determination and confirmed his status in my eyes, as a true warrior and greatly increased my growing respect. The results were dramatic. Steve felt much better, his desire to kill himself had gone. He experienced a period of peace after the ceremony and found that the power of some of his nightmares had receded. He became fascinated by the Medicine and hungry for more knowledge. We became firm friends; somehow bonded through trust and the sharing of the ceremony. He comes to me still, after his attendance at Combat Stress, the charity that works with his disorder. We do the sweatlodge ceremony. He finds this helpful to settle the energy and memories that the therapy he undergoes brings up. The therapists found his apparent recovery extraordinary as he is now able to undertake group work and other activities which before were impossible for him.
The effect upon me was also dramatic, because during the process I had rediscovered the power of my Medicine and a growing confidence and trust in my abilities as a healer. I no longer needed the support and backing of a teacher. I felt whole again and empowered in my work. Working with Steve had been a healing for me too. I have spent the last eighteen months consolidating my work and myself. Doing a lot of dance work with Ya’Acov in the role of assistant. I have reviewed everything I know about the Medicine to determine what I shall walk forward with. I have also been doing quite a lot of individual work, I don’t advertise but people have found their way to me. I now feel ready to put myself out there again but in a far more empowered and grounded way. I now offer my services to the Dancing Tribe.
Duncan Wordley 2005. Published in Movement Medicine News Letter
Deep down in side of me There's a fight going on
Part of me Wants to reach For the light
And Part of me
Wants to cry....cry...cry
The above quotation from Gabrielle Roth, for me reaches and states the true paradox of all that calls itself New Age. It illustrates the real balance of the human psyche in our times and intimates the threshold through which all contemporary seekers must pass, on their healing journey back to wholeness. If we wish to heal ourselves, we must first understand the nature of our woundedness. Learn to own our pain and discover why we chose it as a teaching.
The gateway to any real healing is through our own wounds, to be a healer one must start by healing the self. In my work I see and meet a lot of New Age people and I too have done my fair share of cosmic surfing. Out there on the new waves that pass through these Islands with increasing frequency. For the most part its beautiful, fun and sometimes exhilarating and certainly better than video nasties and 10 pints of larger. But, so much tends to be too biased towards the light, up in the clouds, or the astral, or wherever the new buzz word seeks to aspire. What is so often lacking is simple basic grounding. By which I mean, returning to the real, our bodies and this earth upon which we live and breath.
It may seem obvious, but no description of light is possible without its opposite, darkness. The world is made up of duality and we as humans live somewhere in-between. In these times we have lost our understanding of meaning of darkness, reduced it to something evil, to be feared. When we fear something we give it power, we create a forbidden zone, a territory populated by the monsters of our imagination.
When I talk of darkness I am not talking about evil and atrocity, but rather those areas of the self that we do not wish to face. For many of us this would constitute our feelings, fears and our deeper motivations, desires and instincts, those parts of self that we exclude from our everyday reality. Joy, spontaneity and vitality are as much victimised in this way as fear, anger, sadness and pain. When we deny or exclude any part of ourselves, the process of separation begins, we begin arming the different factions of self, in the war for our being. Not an heroic war of valour and splendour. But a guerrilla war of snipping and subtle assassination.
All war is costly, it depletes and destroys resources, restricts freedom, free speech and the way we live. Healing is the process of making whole, a return to the sacred unity of ourselves in all aspects body, heart, mind, spirit and soul. It is the unity of these aspects of being that give us vitality, that allows us to be truly alive. Separation and disunity create dis-ease, illness and death, often the living death, that sleepwalking state of lost vitality. Where we, the refugees in the war of being, camp on our own boarders waiting for return. As with any disinherited peoples the first step is to reclaim territory, to go home, return to the land which identifies us as people.
As human individuals this means a return to our physical bodies. All of us have chosen a physical body as the vehicle of our incarnation, we have dreamed ourselves into physical human form, to experience the feeling and sensation of being. The body is spirit made visible by flesh.
It is by freeing the body that we come to experience the power of being. Gabrielle Roth, in her book `Maps to Ecstasy: Teachings of an Urban Shaman', sees this as the first and fundamental task of the shamanic quest, a journey back to the unity of the sacred self. " It is first in that it is both where we must begin and what is most fundamental. Your body is the ground metaphor of your life, the expression of your existence. It is your bible, your encyclopedia, your life story. Everything that happens to you is stored and reflected in your body. The body knows the body tells.
The relationship of your self and your body is indivisible, inescapable, unavoidable. In the marriage of flesh and spirit, divorce is impossible, but that doesn't mean that the marriage is necessarily happy or successful." On the dancing path the journey to wholeness begins with the body. It is only when we are grounded and present in our bodies that we truly connect with those parts of us that need healing.
The body is the departure lounge for the healing journey. Today humans are rarely present in their bodies. I know this from my own experience and I see this reflected in others around me. people living outside themselves in their heads, memories, longings, in the past, the future, bit part actors in someone else's movie. The body has become something to be feared, an enemy with which we fight and struggle, its hungers, instincts and impulses beaten into submission, trained tamed or conquered.
The process starts with the first parental don't! Picking, scratching rubbing and stroking become controlled. We learn to sit, stand and walk in conformity with the norms of others. The body becomes colonial by the thoughts and wishes of parents, teachers and employers.
In gaining independence we have already adopted the imperial constitution of the controlling culture. The body has become the seat of sin, the original sin of self aware nakedness, the shame of being what we truly are.
In order to free the body we need to move, reconnect again with the rhythms of our life force, dance to our own tunes. Learn to dance from the inside out, strip away the external choreography and follow the beat of our own hearts. The key point of the dance work developed by Gabrielle Roth, is the dancing of the five sacred rhythms and their natural progression through the wave.
Everything in the universe is alive vibrating and moving, a simple understanding of modern physics confirms this. Movement has a natural tendency to form waves, we can see this in light waves, sound waves and the oscillation of particles. Life is a dance of vibrant rhythms, interconnected harmonics, interdependent frequencies and patterns. The five rhythms that capture the essence of our own bodily motion are;flowing....staccato....chaos....lyrical.... ...stillness.
It is my experience that these rhythms are a complete map covering the whole range of our actual and potential movement. All of us have a tendency to be and reflect one particular rhythm, one which seems to personify our character and the general mood of our personality.
Humans however, also have the habit of getting stuck in personality and character, in particular ways of expressing and identifying themselves. Thus the thing that serves us best, can also become a trap and a limitation. The easiest and most natural way to learn and move in the different rhythms is to dance them. To truly enter into them and experience them with the whole body and then to take them deeper, through the dance. So that we can experience them with our whole being.
These rhythms are the native language of our bodies, when we only allow ourselves to settle for just one or two of these natural modes of expression, we limit our physical vocabulary. We become partial people, uptight and locked into restrictive patterns.
The body is a metaphor for our lives. It reflects our being, in all senses. Through learning to free the body we can release and effect other parts of ourselves, emotions, minds, spirits and souls. We learn the dance of life and how to participate fully in its all moods and contradictions. The beauty of dance is that it is a universal language, all cultures having their forms and styles, something in which all ages can participate.
Dance is an age old way of celebration with a root running deep into the clouded origins of our human genesis. It touches something primitive and primeval, at the core of our beings and is also contemporary, grabbing the imagination and spirit of all generations.
My first meeting with Gabrielle Roth and my introduction to this work, was profound. It took me out of my head and returned me to my body, a true home coming. Through my subsequent training and the development and practice of this work, I have experienced myself in ways unknown previously. It has taken me through deep emotional catharsis and into ecstatic highs.
Through dancing, I have reopened areas of creativity that I thought were long dead. But most valuable to me, it is a way of escaping my mind and the personality trap, that over indulgence in this area of self, holds for me. It also leads me into a relaxed sense of being where meditation becomes possible. Normally my physical tension and metal activity make this difficult or impossible.
Through my work in teaching the rhythms and the wave I see the same process happening to others. I am often surprised by the changes that can occur during workshops, people move and start to explore themselves through movement and through the form of the rhythms and the wave, other things move and transform. I see people opening themselves to themselves, each other and the group. Getting back in touch with areas long ago excluded from their lives, dancing through the blocks and pain and into a more spontaneous experience of self life and others. And perhaps most important the rediscovery of the joy of being.
The body, as I hope I have shown in this article is the entrance point of the weekend dance workshop. The feedback I receive from participants in the workshops also astounds me. Not because I underestimate the power of the work, I do not, but rather at the beautiful simplicity of its nature.
In that when dancing path, delineated by Gabrielle Roth. It is the beginning of a journey into the self. Through the rhythms and the wave one starts to approach the living breathing ocean of being. There are more steps and different spirals of experience to undergo and transform. To those who are interested in pursuing this path I would recommend Gabrielle's book, mentioned in this article. Also a visit to a workshop conducted by someone who has undergone the teacher training programme with Gabrielle and thus who carries the spirit of her work and method.
Duncan Wordley. Published in Chalice Magazine Spring 1992
Smudging is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is use to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space and ceremonial tools and objects. Many differing cultures and peoples have their own methods and herbal mixtures for this purpose. Native American Indians use a variety of smudging mixtures in this way. The principle herbs used are sage, cedar or juniper, lavender and sweet grass. Pure tobacco is also used by some plains tribes and copal in South and Central America.
The herbs are burnt on their own or in mixtures depending on tradition and required effect. Sage (Atemisia Tridentia) which is not the same as the European varieties and is indigenous to the Americas. It is used as a cleansing and purifying agent, the effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies. The powerful cleansing vibration it emits when burnt, is used to purify the subtle energies of ones aura, as well as personal and ceremonial space or healing and ceremonial tools such as pipes and crystals.
Cedar needles are used in a similar way to cleanse and bring balance to the emotions, and to the male/female (yin/yang) elements, to clear one's actions and to promote forgiveness. Lavender flowers can be added to the mixture to bring the quality of spiritual blessing.
Sweet grass which comes from the Northern swamps and is dried and braided into fragrant smelling plats again can be added to mixtures but is often burnt alone after the sage or smudge mixture has been used. Sweet grass brings sweetness and beauty into ones life and surroundings. One can offer a prayer to this effect as the braid is lit.
The process of smudging involves placing the individual herb or mixtures of herbs into a shell or fire proof bowl or dish. The mixture can burn quite hot so it is important that whatever is used can take the heat without cracking. Some traditions will not use shells as they say the water element of the shell nullifies the fire element. But others use the shell to bring in the balance of the elements die. Fire, smoke or air, shell for water and the herbs themselves as the earth element.
The mixture is lit and helped by the use of a feather or fan. Blowing into the mixture is not encouraged as it is seen as blowing ones own negativity into the mixture. The mixture is then wafted around one's self like a smoke bath. There are different ways of doing this and one finds a variety of techniques and explanations depending on tradition and teachings.
The way for someone not attached to a particular tradition is a matter of personal preference and intuition. One way would be to start at the left foot (left being the receiving side of the body) and to move the smoke up the left leg with the use of the fan or feather. Proceed up the central charka line and around the top of the head, back down the centre of the body, moving the smoke outwards to the sides and around the back. Finish off by wafting the smoke down the right leg (right being the giving side of the body) and out and away from the right foot.
Some traditions would do this four times as four is the number of balance and harmony. Feathers and wing fans aid in the cleansing process and have the effect of combing the human aura, therefore adding to the cleansing process. Particular feathers bringing the qualities and medicine of the bird used. Some would insist that the movement of the fan should be in keeping with the movement of the particular birds wings in flight. Cleansing ceremonial or ritual space before and after the event is an essential part of spiritual hygiene.
The initial smudging for the purpose of purifying the space and participants and for banishing any unwanted energies. The final smudge to cleanse any negative vibrations and energies attracted or created during the proceedings. It is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for both oneself and one's living space, to maintain individual and domestic harmony.
Some Native Teachers of my acquaintance have been very surprised to find that many healers, masseurs, therapists and others involved in similar occupations do not use this or similar cleansing techniques in their working space and for themselves, both before and after healing or consultations. One commented that she had visited a so called healing room that was more like a psychic sewer, due the lack of any such cleansing. Good practice for the use of smudge when healing is to smudge the space, the people in the space including oneself, the patient and any tools such as crystals etc. When the healing is completed, smudge self any assistants, tools, patient and finish with the space. In this way one deals with negative energies and vibrations in much the same way as antiseptic and disinfectant deals with germs.
Smudging mixtures of several varieties are available on the British market, both in shops and from mail order. Some are sold in the form of smudge sticks which can be easier to use, although they have a tendency to loose their vibration after being used a few times. The smell of the mixtures is wonderful and the effects are almost instantly noticeable. Happy smudging.
Duncan Wordley. 1993 Published in the first addition a Sacred Hoop Magazine.
Much progress has been made by the Green Movement over the last ten years. It was not so long ago, that even the most conservative statements on the environment were attacked by many as outrageous and foolhardy. The past few years have seen a radical shift from this, to a genuine and growing environmental awareness and even the establishment of green advertising. This has not solved the many problems we face, but it is a healthy sign and hopefully the beginning of real change.
Recently many Green pundits have started to talk of Spiritual Ecology. This in a general sense, meaning that we need to acknowledge the environment and the living systems that it consists of as something sacred, and demanding of a sacred respect. The logic being that unless we create, or more correctly recreate, this form of ethical thinking, we face becoming an endangered species. It is ironic that in pursuit of this ideal, that many are now turning to those peoples, who in the past were persecuted by the so called civilized world in the name of progress.
Indeed if answers are to be found in this area it is the native and indigenous people that hold the keys to our salvation. My particular interest in this area, is with the Native peoples of the Americas. Not only were these peoples true ecologists in a living sense, they are also the holders of the most profound systems of thought and human psychology. One that is based upon and reflects a natural ecology.
The Native teachings are held in the form of Medicine Wheels, circles of truth, which are are both simple and practical to use, yet allow for complex and dynamic understanding. Of the many shamanic tools now finding their way to these Islands, the medicine wheels are perhaps the most accessible to the western mind and reflect similar patterns used by our own distant ancestors. The Native Americans see themselves as the holders of the wheels and keys which can unlock all knowledge. Indeed through their prophecies they talk of both their near extinction and of a time when their wisdom will contribute to the building a new world and way of living in harmony with the natural world.
The choice of the Rainbow Warrior images and philosophy by Greenpeace being taken from these prophesies. One of the most important teachings held within this system is that the world is a reflection of our own internal psychological process. Or that the world is a mirror, of and for the people. Given the present ecological climate and the level of social unrest and disorder in the world, we can perhaps gain important clues to the causes of our present situation.
We have many different aspects to our being, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and sexual. In a healthy human these are in a state of balance and form the basis of our own natural ecology. However, for most of us this balance is lacking, we spend our time fixated and locked into one or two of these areas, often excluding the other areas from our lives. This then becomes a process of separation, the differing aspects forming separate entities that fight and war with each other for domination. The mind wars with the heart, the body with the spirit, our sexuality with everything. Thus creating an imbalance in ourselves, that is then reflected in our lives, our social interaction and ultimately the world.
The word ecology, comes from the Greek work oikos, meaning house. It would seem appropriate if we wish to survive into the the 21st century, that we pay particular attention to our own house in this respect. Learning to bring ourselves back into balance with both self and the world. For me the medicine wheel teachings of the Native American Indians offer a practical way of self exploration and can provide one with the necessary maps and directions needed to undertake this journey.
Duncan Wordley. 1992, published in SE Connections Magazine
If ecology was the catch word of the eighties, shamanism is rapidly becoming the contender for that honour in the nineties. In this article I will explore their connection and relevance to us, as we approach the dawning of the 21st Century. Ecology is the study of natural systems, it deals with the interconnection, interrelation and interdependence of all forms of life within individual systems and ultimately this planet and beyond. In essence it is a holistic science.
The word ecology has its origin in the Greek word oikos, which means house. If we have learned anything over the past decade, it is that this particular house needs putting in order and quickly. Shamanism is a pre-political religion, characterised by an autonomous quest for spiritual and personal development, in which the emphasis is on personal experience and connection with the differing realities of existence. It is by nature earth centred and seeks spiritual identification, through the self with all forms of all things within the everything. By overcoming the separation of the self from the universe, the shaman is able to merge with, travel and seek knowledge in other realms of existence; thus enabling him/her to heal, resolve community conflict and balance the aspirations of the tribe with those of the spirit world.
Through and intimate understanding of symbol, the psychological health of the people was maintained and developed by the orchestration of ritual and rights of passage. The shaman has recently been described by Joan Halifax, as the wounded healer, and often the shaman would arrive at her or his vocation by overcoming illness or aberration. This journey through separation, to a new psychological or physical wholeness, provided the shaman with the inner power and resources to carry out healing and spiritual negotiation. Thus the holy work of the shaman might be seen as the creation of wholeness within the self and the community served.
What then, you may ask, has shamanism to do with the nineties and the ecological crisis the world is facing? Contemporary shamans, those wise ones who have so far survived the onslaught of the 20th Century. See the worlds of Grandmother Earth; the mineral, plant, animal, human and spirit worlds as a unity. For them modern man's disconnection and separation from these worlds has lead us to the brink of extinction. Through our lack of feeling for and relationship to these other realms, we have created an industrial monster that is now destroying the very fabric of our existence.
In Europe, its birth was preceded by the destruction of the last remnants of native shamanism. Over nine million people were put to death at the hands of the Inquisition. Thus driving a wedge of fear between people and the spirituality of the land, creating the conditions for the mass exploitation of the Earth Herself.
The continuing process of industrialisation has torn men apart from women, fathers from sons. Its systems of education have separated mind from body. Its science, the perceiver from the things perceived; and its architecture has succeeded in shielding us from the sun, the seasons and the earth. Not only have we dismembered the natural order of the world, but in doing so we have dismembered ourselves. We have lost that ecological balance within ourselves, within our own being.
The Medicine Wheel teachings of the Native American Indians, is an accessible part of the shamanic paradigm and a useful entry point for Westerners. It teaches that there are five separate, yet integrated aspects of the self. These are the physical body, the emotions, the mind, the spirit and our sexuality.
Many of us, in these times, suffer from imbalance within these aspects, leading to the domination of one or two aspects over the rest. Any form of imbalance in natural ecological systems can have serious consequences for the system as a whole. This is as true for humans as it is for the rain forest. In our case, the repercussions are stress, anxiety, unhappiness, frustration and disorientation. All of which disrupt the subtle energy systems of the body and inevitably lead to illness and disease.
When these aspects of ourselves are not in balance and harmony and working in co-operation with each other, there is a tendency for them to separate into individual entities, which then war with each other. We literally become a battle field, split, fractured and dismembered. When we carry our warring selves out into relationships and the social world, the problems become magnified. We are torn internally, externally, separated from ourselves each other and the world.
The world is a mirror reflection of our own internal chaos, our personal dis-ease with life, self and each other. In this light, is it not interesting that AIDS, which attacks the immune system of the human, should appear at a time when the immune system of the planet itself is being ravaged, choked and torn down? AIDS is but one of many such mirrors. A desperate situation one might believe and of course it is. But desperation is the mother of invention and from this crisis the seeds of hope are apparent. The starting point of the shamanic journey is the recognition of a state of imbalance within the self. For many shamans it is the internal pressure of this separation that prompt the quest for wholeness. It would seem that many of us today have reached or are reaching this point.
The rise in popularity of psychotherapy and counseling and the expansion of massage, reflexology and other remedial therapies are indicative of this general trend, reflecting both our discomfort and our desire to transform it. The same trend is visible in relation to ecological issues, who five years ago would have predicted green advertising? The tide of destruction, is perhaps turning. We have a long way to go, but initial steps are being taken and awareness is growing.
For me the two are inseparable. When we start to find and develop an internal balance and become more content within our own being, we are less likely to look outside ourselves for relief. We loose our compulsion to validate ourselves by consuming status enhancing goods. When we create peace in ourselves, we do not war so much with each other and the world. We can become effective in our social lives, doing justice to the causes we support. Instead of recreating our internal disunity within the groups that most need collective strength and union.
When we connect deeply with the source of our own life force, we connect to the source of life itself and come into balance and alignment with the natural world. In effect, it is only when we find a balance within ourselves, within our own being, that we are able to align with and reflect this balance in our environment. Only then can we take a responsible position as part of the planetary ecology.
We as human beings, are the determiners life on this planet and our impact on he world is a reflection of how balanced and mature we are within ourselves and as a species. Humanity has reached a turning point. It has traveled to the outer limits of its world and has asserted domination over its external environment. This outward quest is reaching its fulfillment and we are discovering in the process that we have lost touch with our essence.
The main thrust, of what might loosely be termed the New Age, is an inner exploration. A movement towards the rediscovery of our inner nature and each other. In order to heal the dismembered self we need to re-member who and what we are. In doing so we must fulfil the first maxim of every spiritual path, "Know thy self".
Shamanism offers a practical way to self knowledge and self healing, one that is rooted in the spiritual ecology of the natural world; a way through which one can approach the ecology of being. Although its roots stretch back into the distant past it is has many applications in the contemporary world. Gabrielle Roth has redefined the meaning of the shaman, as one who can transform individual and collective neurosis into art. In this sense we all need to become shaman, for ourselves, each other and the world.
Duncan Wordley. Published in Cahoots Magazine Autunm 1994
Shamanism is the root religion of humanity, it is the primal experience of and mediation with, the force of the source of everything. In this sense the shaman was God's first eye, the first living being to comprehend creation as unity, a living continuity beyond form. Through the shaman the Great Mystery first perceived itself and through the shaman humanity discovered its connection with the sacred, in all forms of all things. It was the shaman who created the first sacred image, translated the unknowable into the known. The originator of myth, ritual, ceremony and celebration.
Shamanism was the midwife of human culture and its triple threads of Art, Science and the Sacred. The shaman comes from the realm of prehistory, from the aboriginal continuity, as modern anthropology now calls the period before civilisation and history, captured the psyche of humanity.
From a time when the peoples of the earth understood that life was sacred and everything was alive, interrelated, interconnected and interdependent. This aboriginal continuity did not not disappear with the invention of history, or the global colonisation of arrogance and the domestication of nature. The experience of primal reality became instead hidden (occult), suppressed, unexpressed or feared. It is ironic that the civilising impulse that has almost destroyed this planet and the tribal peoples that once populated its surface, is beginning to seek its own salvation from the survivors.
Like scientists anthropologists have realised that they are not impartial witnesses of their research. Indeed they became profoundly affected by it and as a consequence our culture as a whole has been penetrated exposed by the shamanic insight. This shamanic insight knows that all culture and society is an invention. A symbolic representation of reality in the face of reality itself. A functional system of organised symbols in which we live and participate. It understands the individual as a creative force, within a humanly created cosmology.
In this respect, shamanism is a pre-political way of being, in which each individual is responsible for their own sacred connection with the universe. The shaman a technician of the sacred and the ecstasy of divine union, rather than a mediator between theology and life.
It is only perhaps now, in the face of its own annihilation that humanity must return to its self and seek its true connection, with life and the universe. It is our individual and collective responsibility, the survival of both may depend upon it. Shaman are often described as wounded healers, their initiation and training as the healing and rebirth of the self, a journey of disintegration into sacred unity. Through the process of self healing, the shaman gains the power to enable others to heal themselves.
With the approaching millennium, humanity can now see itself as separated from life, wounded within and without. Individually and collectively dismembered There is hope in this understanding, for if we can undertake the shamanic journey we are able to initiate ourselves back into our sacred unity and become healers of self, life and others. Shamanism is not a religion or a belief system, it does not contain dogmatic solutions to the human condition. It is a journey back to wholeness and reconnection with the sacred source of all things. It does however have its methods and techniques, its ways of doing and perceiving.
There are many differing cultural forms and practices, each with its own merits and drawbacks. For myself, as a westerner, the Native American Indian perspective has proved to be the most useful. Indeed this tradition has perhaps, in recent times been the most influential midwife of our own Celtic Shamanic rebirth. It still holds many advantages for the contemporary explorer.
The major reason for this has been its translation through what the natives term as the metis or mixed bloods. Those individuals born of both Native and European parents and thus having access and understanding of both cultures. People such as Hyemeyohsts Storm and Harley SwiftDeer, who have done much to translate these time honoured teachings, without loosing their original power or essence. Both they and their teachers who authorised this cross cultural fertilisation did so in order to fulfil the Native prophecy, that tells of future generations of white people walking and honouring this sacred path. And in the knowledge that spiritual truth is not owned by any one culture or group but is rather the birth right of all humanity. The rapid introduction and growth of the Medicine Wheel Teachings in western culture is a testament to their insight and tenacity. Carlos Castaneda being an opening gambit in this remarkable strategy.