Volume 5.1 Special Issue # 2: Exploring Shamanic Cosmologies
|IN THIS ISSUE
What's New At CEH
New At CEH
Lots of new things to share, and a special edition of the newsletter.
Crow and I have been discussing new material regarding cosmologies and it has inspired him to research and to write a lovely article. We are putting together a workshop based on this material, but in the meantime we hope you will enjoy the fruits of his labor.
This issue also has information on Upcoming Newsletters and Workshops we are teaching, and a few extra seasonal tidbits you might find interesting. Issue #16 is also on its way soon...
Bekki and Crow
Upcoming Issues of the Newsletter
Issue 16: Transformation and Healing in Our Community Articles and written material by readers regarding recent experiences they have had with personal and earth healing in their lives.
Issue 17: Speaking with the Spirits: Divining through Tarot and other Card Oracles
Issue 18: We're looking for a topic
Issue 19: We're looking for a topic
If you have an idea for a theme for an upcoming newsletter we'd love to hear from you.
|Dear Friends and Readers,
A few months ago I wrote an initial version of this article and Bekki very kindly published it in the CEH Newsletter, as a special edition. As often happens with my work, friends and students will see and comment on it and this inspires further developments.
So, here is Shamanic Cosmologies, Version II. Bekki and I discussed how to best communicate the new material; whether to simply send on the additional writing or to integrate it into a “new, revised” version. A couple of readers found the latter option more effective and here it is. This version includes revisions to the already published material and integrates all the new material as well: I believe you will find it even more interesting and useful than the initial effort.
Once again, feedback directly to firstname.lastname@example.org will be very helpful. I will be making a one day presentation of Shamanic Cosmologies at Teach on the Beach in October 2010 including lots of ceremony and journeywork. A full weekend workshop is also in the works.
SHAMANIC COSMOLOGIES by Crow Swimsaway PhD
Bekki and I have always taught shamanism within the framework of the traditional “layer cake” cosmology; Upper, Middle and Lower worlds with various manifestations of Spirit and reality in each.**** This has been useful, effective and correlated well with our own and students’ experiences during journeying. We also discuss and encourage students to experience the World Tree and World Mountain (sometimes called the Axis Mundi) which often grow and flourish in the midst of the layer cake. Thus, I was a little surprised a few months ago when Bekki initiated a discussion of shamanic cosmologies with me and urged me to look into the literature and write up my findings (see Bibliography below).
It sounded intriguing so I set out. My discoveries have been so exciting that I have mentioned the work at almost every workshop we have taught recently. This work also became quite central to the fall ’09 teaching of our Two Week Intensive Training. There is more out there than the “layer cake cosmology” suggests; and contemporary practitioners, students and healers are missing out when they do not expand their understanding to encompass these more comprehensive perceptions of the cosmos that surrounds us.*
Human experiences of time and space are deeply interwoven and interdependent. There are two consistent themes in tribal shamanic experiences of time: time is cyclical and not the linear progression Western scientific thought perceives it to be, and there is an easy acceptance of simultaneity. The latter I often express to students as the principal of “both/and” as compared with the more common Western insistence on “either/or”. This means that two things and/or two events may occupy the same space and/or the same time simultaneously. It also means that anyone (and a whole culture) may hold contrasting or conflicting ideas on any given subject and be unconcerned about the apparent disjunctures.** In the following paragraphs, please note how often these perceptions are of significance.
The Layer Cake, World Mountain, Tree and River
The three-layered view of shamanic realities is certainly the one most commonly described in the ethnographies dealing with tribal shamanism anywhere, whether in Mongolia/Siberia, Central, South and North America and elsewhere.
The Layer Cake in Siberia
The /Kavlevala Mythology/ (1999) and /The Mythology of All Races/ (1927) present examples of shamans from Finland and all across the north of Europe and Asia acting within a three layered universe; the material is especially interesting in drawing on early mythologies and early travellers’ reports of these areas (which largely agree with later, more scholarly ethnographic works).
Hoppal (2007, 39-47) has a very helpful summary article, Cosmic Symbolism in Siberian Shamanhood, which outlines the constant appearance of the elements of the Siberian cosmos in every aspect of shamans’ costumes. We tend to think of portrayals of, for instance, the World Tree, on a shaman’s drum or robe as being symbolical of the shamans’ beliefs. This is only partly true, because:
“…the shaman’s body was viewed as a reduced replica of the Universe, the shaman’s dress and the making of it were regarded as a symbolic act of the creation or recreation of the Universe. The upper portion of the ritual costume of the shaman, the headgear, is an equivalent of the sky; while the trunk underneath corresponds to the earth, with the feet, the shaman’s boots corresponding to the lower world.” (46)
Three things are important for us here: the three layered cosmos; the human body of the shaman as being essentially the same as the cosmos; and the ability of the shaman, who is the cosmos, to also be able, even required, to create that same cosmos in an earthly, material form. This quotation does not mention the other major element of the Siberian cosmology, the World Tree which is “one of the central organizing principles”. It is the shaman’s pathway connecting the three layers.
Mongolian and Turkish peoples, as reported by Dioszegi (1998, 3, 167-8) and many others, have very complex systems of spirits (numerous gods, the gods’ children, Earth, Fire and other beings) which are tightly tied with their perceptions of the three layered cosmos and the cardinal directions. For comparison with other shamanic cosmologies it is worth noting that spirits are found on all three “worlds” and that each world may include several strata, from 3 to 17. The importance of spirits is often determined by how high up in the layers they are to be found. An amusing expansion of the World Tree concept is that shamans are raised in nests upon the Tree and that, similar to the gradations of spirits by the levels and directions where they live, the higher the shaman’s nest of origin, the greater is the shaman’s power. (5) Also exciting for us is that, “the universe is full of heavenly bodies peopled by spiritual beings.”
An alternative to the World Tree is the River of the Universe or “world stream” which the Evenki (Dioszegi, 166) perceive as connecting the three worlds. (Dioszegi quotes extensively from the original Russian language studies by Anisimov from 1952 and 1959. The references are given in Russian in Cyrillic script; I can not translate or transcribe them.) The Evenki refer to this river as their “clan river”. Shamans do most of their journeywork along this river of Spirit, going to the headwaters to visit unborn souls, the middle course where the present day clan members live and the lower course when shamans do psychopomp work to help deceased souls reach their home in the land of the dead. (It would be fascinating to know if there is an ordinary reality, Middle World, river which corresponds in some way with the River of the Universe.) The shaman’s drum is the boat, the shaman’s stick the oar and so on for the Evenki. While they enjoy a tripartite view of the cosmos it is not clear from the written material whether the parts are arranged in layers or, as the river idea seems to imply, are all on the same plane. Of course, this may be a perfect example of “both/and”, with there being a vertically layered cake, the layers of which are easily connected by a flowing river.
The Setting for the Layer Cake
Those of you who have taken our Fundamentals of Shamanism workshop in recent years know that some time ago it became clear to us that tribal shamans sometimes journey beyond the cake into what might be called its astronomical setting. That is, they go so far “up”, they zoom beyond the Upper World. This happens occasionally by chance and enthusiasm in early journeys when one of our students finds herself on Earth’s Moon, the Sun of our solar system or some other identifiable body in outer space instead of in the Upper World. Their experiences are always credible.
Traditional shamans have known how to visit these destinations for a long time. An example we often share is Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ story of the isolated tribal shaman in Mexico who was very bored with her tales of humankind’s “first moon landing.” The shaman went there all the time and could recount many features of the experience “just discovered” by our men in space suits. Another well known instance of journeys to places beyond the cake is the ancient West African Dogon tradition that Sirius is two stars, not the one it appears to be to the naked eye. This was known by them centuries before Western scientists had a telescope strong enough to see both stars: the Dogon claim ancestry from Sirius and their shamans journey there even today.
Away from the Layer Cake
We also teach an alternative approach to the shamanic realities from the Sami of Norway (taught to us, and used with the permission of, Sami shaman Ailo Gaup). In the Sami walking journey one walks continuously in this Middle World reality until trance takes one ‘sideways’ through the veil into an alternative reality, the Sacred Land, where one may find and make strong connections with powerful landscapes, allies and so on. This entrance into the Sami Sacred Land implies that the realities are side by side rather than piled one on top of another. (Bekki notes: it may mean that we are accessing the upper and lower worlds by a “sideways” door. That is a concept that will mess with your non-shamanic rational head!) (Crow replies: unless you apply the “both/and” principal mentioned above…)
I do not know if this experience correlates with current astrophysical theories of parallel universes but it sounds similar. It is certainly a style of journeying which, again, most students find easy and rewarding. It is an effective way of perceiving shamanic realities and of visiting them.
Within the Layer Cake
One of the first recent expansions of my perceptions of shamanic realities came in reading about the Culina and the Wakeuenai of South America (Langdon 1992). There the shamans do travel both up and down in a layered cosmos. What is new to me and exciting is that within the so called “ordinary reality” of the Middle World, they make powerful connections with Spirit. The connections they make are very like Lower World animal and plant ally connections. They are manifestations of Spirit which become helpers to the shamans. Since this takes place in the Middle World, there is some resemblance to what I identify as experiences with Spirits of Place. However, it is very rare for Spirits of Place to become active helpers to contemporary shamanic practitioners.
Even the Dragon Waters Dragon who lives in or occupies the space in the hill behind our house, who is vastly helpful and supportive to us in our work and who loves to vet new students when they come to study at Dragon Waters, almost never travels to help us elsewhere and has only once come forward to help in the healing of a client at Dragon Waters (a very troubled young man from Japan). The Dragon is the spirit of this place, is very localized in its focus, dislikes travelling elsewhere and is rarely a healing spirit for us or anyone else. The Spirits with whom the Culina and Wakeueni work, while they are known to be accessible at specific Power Spots within the Middle World landscape, become accompanying, helping, healing spirits for the shamans who are strong enough to go and find them. They exist in specific directions as seen from the shamans’ villages and the directional correlates of their locations seem to be an important part of their nature and the shamans’ cosmology.
This cosmology, which has both vertical and horizontal coordinates has other expressions for these peoples. Departed souls need to undergo a healing and empowering transformational journey which must take place horizontally in the Middle World /or a plane which overlaps it/. Once transformed, the souls then move to paradise in an Upper World. Now things get complicated: there are several related axes involving seeming dichotomies between jaguars and peccaries (both significant allies to the shamans), wildness (jungle, water, animals, plants) and social life (the life of the people) and men and women. Jaguars, men and wildness group together as do peccaries, women and social life. All three of these oppositional pairings exist horizontally in the Middle World and, simultaneously vertically between Upper and Lower Worlds. At any given moment, any given individual is aware of his or her own presence along all these axes within a dynamically moving multi-dimensional cosmos. For instance the hunter, the man of the wild who invokes Jaguar energy, is active in the (peccary-influenced) life of the people.
Spirits of Place for Migratory Peoples
Vitebsky, in his study of a contemporary Siberian reindeer people, the Eveny (2005), makes some observations about their relationships with the spirits that fill their Middle World. As with the Dragon Waters Dragon, these spirits do not move about; they are attached /to very specific landscape features and locations/ and don’t wander. Yet they are very powerful connections for these herders and their shamans alike. The annual circuit of migration would not be successful without the help of these spirits at stopping places along the route. These read to me as truly Spirits of Place but with a power and a place in the herder’s perception of their world far more intense than any Spirit of Place has been for our students or for me, except possibly our just mentioned Dragon.
This culture has been active in its landscape for a good long time; perhaps this is how such land-based relationships with Spirit have always been for shamanic peoples. The significance for our reconsideration of shamanic cosmologies is that the Middle World for the Eveny is mapped with powerful points of Spirit; it fairly glows with these Beings whom the herders look forward to being with, living with, working with on a regular and, they hope, predictable basis.
Dogon Land-Based Cosmos
As we look more closely at land-based cosmologies, the Dogon come to mind. Back from the stars but not forgetting them, the Dogon are intensely integrated with the landscape in which their communities exist. For those of you who have not enjoyed the /Millennium/ film about the Dogon and death (Cultural Survival 1992 ), it works something like this: out on the flat lands, the sere plains in front of their villages, live wild animals, wild and dangerous spirits and souls awaiting rebirth; in the villages, which are built at the foot of and part way up the sides of quite steep cliffs, are family, community, vitality, food and all other things of culture which makes life worth living; in natural caves at the top of the cliffs are the dwelling places of the dead and the home of the ancestors. Even higher are the stars, home of the ancient ones and spiritual homeland of the Dogon. The differences and natural boundaries between the three geographical zones are visible and clearly known to all Dogon. This cosmology is partly horizontal, connecting wild and cultured, and partly vertical connecting culture/people with the vital spiritual powers above them. The connections are not metaphorical or solely metaphysical. People go from the villages /out /a little way to raise their crops of millet, then further to hunt and confront other wildness in the bush. They climb strenuously /up/ the steep cliffs above the villages, first to bury the dead at one level, then later to move the bones up to the top to join the ancestors. This is only half the cycle however, for there is a marvellous return, back down and around to the bush, of souls ready to be reborn and return to the safety of the villages.
The primary spirit upon whom Shuar shamans depends lives in neither the Upper nor the Lower World (Perruchon, 2003). ‘ Tsunki’ is to be found at the ever so limnal river bank. The book is a little unclear but apparently Tsunki may be found at any place along any riverbank; there do not seem to be preferred places where she is to be found most easily. She is clearly a spirit with Middle World contact points and a powerful Middle World existence. It is clearly stated by the ethnographers that, “There is only one world, which is shared by all beings, humans, spirits and animals.” (218) Within this one world there are multiple aspects or ways of perceiving reality. By dreaming, having visions and imbibing ayahuasca one gains knowledge, insight and understandings drawn from experiences in a ‘non-ordinary’ aspect of what we would call the Middle World. It is also ayahuasca which makes contact with Tsunki possible. This cosmology seems similar to the parallel worlds of the Sami except for the insistence that the visions, etc., are found within this world, the denial of any movement upward, downward or sideways from this world, and a relatively limited repertory of connections with Spirit.
All of which is fascinating and exists along with the presence of Etsa and Nunkui. Etsa is of the sky, is the sun and the hunter. Nunkui is of the earth, is earth spirit and gardener. There does seem to be an active tripartite, even vertically ordered, perception here. Perhaps more important are the elemental correlations: Etsa, sky and sun (fire and/or air?); Nunkui, earth; Tsunki, water. Further, it is felt that Etsa and Nunkui are “stable and good” while Tsunki is “floating and ambiguous.” ( 324). Elemental energies may not have obvious cosmological coordinates according to our usual expectations, however the elements play powerful parts in shamanic work and do appear to be concepts by which the Shuar order their world.
To all of this add the fact that Tsunki appears in human form and is usually the spirit lover of the shaman. In a telling summary (Perruchon 324) says, “She may take shape as a beautiful and attractive woman who gives shamanic power to those who encounter her, but she may also show herself as an anaconda, an animal that is feared and is thought to pull people down to the depths of the whirlpools to devour them. In the same way the shaman has this ‘double face’, is able to cure as well as to kill.” It is not unusual for spirit lovers to be dangerous (powerful, controlling), and manifest and even to mate as animals (Swimsaway 2010). Tsunki empowers the shamans through her love. Her existence establishes the Middle World as the shamans’ realm. Nunkui and Etsa have their places and their elemental powers which are acknowledged by the Shuar but their existence has not generated a working attachment to a tripartite cosmos.
A Contemporary Scientific, Spiritual Re-orientation on Cosmology
One of the joys of Teaching on the Beach in Duck, North Carolina, in October 2009*** was studying with Nybor, renowned artist and elder in the Pagan community. His offering was Theoretical Metaphysics, a most phenomenal look, using contemporary topography and physics, at the universe and how we perceive the universe, especially when we do ritual. I invite you to contact Nybor directly for details of this material. He is brilliant, and he loves to share his wisdom. I bring it up here because of its strong resonance with shamanic cosmologies. Nybor has been able to make a clear, unique and highly original analysis and description of how the alternative realities and ordinary reality (he calls them the astral and the physical) exist, what their form is, how they are related and how we get from one to another. For Pagans the transition occurs when a ritual circle is cast; for shamans the action is in journeying. In Nybor’s analysis, the transition point from one realm to another is a membrane between them.
This makes sense shamanically: how many of you have popped through the membrane, the soap bubble, on your way to the Upper World? And think of the endless repetitions of the notion of shamanism as a limnal, a ‘threshold’ practice in which it is the function of the shaman to bridge the threshold, to travel both ways through the membrane to make regular commerce between Spirit (in the astral or shamanic reality) and humankind (in the physical or ordinary reality).
There may be another correlation too. Nybor indicates that the membrane is in the form of a circle (significant when pagans ‘cast a circle’)/* *and/ a sphere (what many tribal shamans connect with when they work the seven directions to connect with Spirit, call their allies, etc.). There is some tricky sacred geometry involved (difficult for me to describe, contact Nybor) but, with the shamanic understanding of /both/and/, most shamans today can accept the simultaneous presence and significance of the circle/sphere. This relates directly to the present interest in cosmologies because, when the shaman invokes the seven directions she stands at the Centre of her cosmos. The six points around her (cardinal directions plus above and below) do, indeed, delineate a sphere. /If Nybor is correct, this is the very sphere/circle through which she will journey to Spirit.****/
The Cosmology of Tribal Architecture
Now, compare all the above extensions of the good old Layer Cake, including Nybor’s, with the tribal cosmologies that are the structures within which the people live. Part way into my research, Bekki and I were at the ever wonderful Athens County Library in Athens, Ohio, a significant part of my creative cosmology due to the help of beyond-ordinary-reality-librarians there. She found (totally serendipitously; it was lying on a shelf in full view) and plonked down on the table for my attention, /Native American Architecture /( Nabokov 1989). Every few pages throughout this significant work there is a drawing of a native dwelling as cosmology.
We must stretch our Western selves here: this is not symbolism; the buildings do not ‘represent’ a native perception of the cosmos. One does not say, “That is the West side so I am reminded of going within, the dark, the shaman’s journey.” When one goes to the West side, one is there, in the dark. Each building is the cosmos. When one is in the building, be it ritual structure (sweat lodge or kiva) or dwelling (hogan, teepee) one is /in* */and a part of the cosmos. [There are two other sources which speak of the Mongolian Ger (Sarangerel 2000 9) and the Sami Lavvu (Olsen 1993), both dwellings, in the same terms.]
This is not to imply a sharing of an identical cosmology throughout Native North America. There are at least as many experiences of the cosmos as there are styles of building. This book shows many buildings, and the author cosmologically analyses at least ten of them. Yet, all of these cosmological expressions are familiar to those of us practicing shamanism today and all of them go beyond the layer cake.
It is significant that, “Many Indian narratives tell of a ‘Distant Time’…when a ‘First House’ was bestowed upon a tribe as a container for their emerging culture. Some tribes likened the creation of the world itself to the creation of a house…” (Nabokov 38 ) Most tribes had special ceremonies for the building and completion of a house, marking its significance as a cosmological container.
As with the Culina, mentioned above, the cosmos and the houses were an integral part of everyone’s social world. Every type of building had areas designated for women, for men, sub-groupings such as single men, children, gathering areas for eating, ceremonial areas and so on. Every area existed in the cosmologically appropriated place: east or west, to the left or right of the entry way, near or far from the centre and its fire, etc.
It is my feeling that the integration of the human beings who lived in these remarkable structures into their cosmos extended to their lives outside their buildings. I believe that they felt as integrated and at home in their universe when they moved about the landscape of their native territories as they did in their buildings. Very often the buildings mirror significant aspects of the landscape.
A Different Layer Cake and a Huge Axis Mundi in Ancient Egypt
In /Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, /Jeremy Naydler (2005) has expended impressive energy and scholarship gathering evidence for the shamanic aspects of ancient Egyptian culture. He is working from texts found within the pyramid of Unas (end of the Fifth Dynasty, roughly 4350 BP) and great personal knowledge of Egyptian high culture. While there is archaeological data about the common people throughout Egypt’s long history, I know of no convincing information about what one might call “common” (that is, not associated with religion, courts and kings) shamans during that time. (In most cultures, shamans leave a very light archaeological footprint.) Naydler’s work is very convincing, however, and I find it believable that the rituals of burial and rebirth of early Egyptian Kings (part of the function of the early pyramids) followed the patterns of classical shamanic practice elsewhere in the world.
“Such important shamanic themes as the initiatory death and dismemberment followed by rebirth and renewal, the transformation of the shaman into a power animal, the ecstatic ascent to the sky, and the crossing of the threshold of death in order to commune with the ancestors and gods are all to be found in the pyramid texts…” (15)
Unfortunately, Naydler does not spell out many details of the Egyptian cosmology. We do know that their diurnal sun cycle and the lives of various deities operated within celestial and sub-earthly realms while having an effect upon humans living on the earth between. East and West and the paths between were also of great significance. When the kings underwent their initiatory death experience, the death took place within a sarcophagus in a pyramid on the earthly plane. Then the king ascended into the sky, indeed broke through the “basin” of the sky and penetrated to the supercelestial region “beyond space and time”. It was there, with the gods, that the king received initiation and the power to return to the Middle World and become a more effective ruler. Some kings underwent this process repeatedly. Naydler references Kalweit (1988) who gives several examples of shamans passing upward through holes or windows (sometimes these were stars) in the sky for special spiritual connections. The kings’ ascent was not the same as the journey beyond the layer cake described in the first half of this Cosmologies article. This “supercelestial region” seems instead to be another layer in the cake: either a fourth, superior, layer or an elaboration of the upper third of the cake. I tend to favour the latter possibility because there are several shamanic traditions, including Mongolia and Siberia, where connection with the gods is important and it always occurs on one of the Upper World levels.
When early Egyptians died a physical death on earth, their spirits passed immediately to the Land of the Dead. This place seemed to lie in a Lower World realm with its entry in the West. Sometimes it is also described as “being in the West” and still below the Middle World. The passage of a soul through many strange and challenging adventures in the Lower World leads to eventual judgement: if “bad” one’s heart was eaten by a monster and that seems to have been that; if “good” then one was give an estate in a rich and fertile part of the Land of the Dead. There was also a simultaneous belief in rebirth from the Land of the Dead back into the land of the living. As in other systems, there were deities who were primarily active in each of the three levels. The deities, e.g. those who dealt with the dead in the Land of the Dead but lived in Celestial realms, could visit and work in more than one level.
Of great importance to the Egyptians was the North Celestial Pole as an Axis Mundi. King Unas, in an image in his tomb is shown suckling the breast of Ipys, the hippopotamus goddess, protectress of childbirth. This is of huge significance: this breast was, most likely, at the North Celestial Pole in those days, with Ipys portrayed with her hand resting on the mooring post that stabilized the universe. In other words, the king was about as /centred/ on the power of the Pole as he could get. Naydler notes: “In shamanic cosmology, the North Celestial Pole is both the axis around which the cosmos turns and the opening through which the gods descend to earth.” (263) The Pole, a point in the night sky seen as an opening, is obviously not a tree or pillar-like Axis Mundi. However, one of the ways that Unas rose to heaven was to climb the Sky Ladder, sometimes portrayed as a /djed/ pillar. The ladder took him through the opening so that his interaction with the gods and his transformation could take place. Unas climbed the Axis Mundi ladder to enter the Axis Mundi opening. “In shamanic traditions worldwide, ascent to the spirit world by means of a ladder is commonly reported and indeed ritually enacted.” (Naydler 273) (In Korea the shaman’s ladder is often made of swords with the very sharp edges uppermost where the barefoot shaman must tread on them.)
From the Night Sky of the Maya
We are truly blessed in studying shamanism among the Maya. We have excellent ethnographies of contemporary shamanic practice. We have exquisite scholarly archaeological reports. These have been brought together in /Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path (Freidel et al 1993). / This is a vast and complex study: I will only mention a few highlights from it here while recommending that anyone interested in shamanic practice seek it out. (Also easily accessible and of value are the reports of contemporary Maya shamanism in /The Woman in the Shaman’s Body/ by Barbara Tedlock, who, with her husband, was trained and initiated as a Maya shaman[ 2005 ].
Today every Maya home has, at its centre, a three-stone hearth; in the homes fires are built in the hearth daily. The central hearth and special recognition of the four cardinal corners are part of a process of centring which contemporary Maya do for themselves daily. They do it for ceremonies, they also do it whenever they begin to cultivate a /milpa/ (cornfield). Three-stone hearths, and the centring practices are found in Maya temples of 3000 years ago and are portrayed in the elaborate artwork on the temple walls. The hearth exists in the sky: it is the three stars, Alnitak, Saiph and Rigel in Orion. It was originally made as the first act of the beginning of the current universe: First Father – One-Maize-Revealed – placed the three stones even before he raised the World Tree and gave circular motion to the sky. Itzamna, the first shaman, and two other paddlers took First Father across the night sky until their canoe upended dropping them at the place of the three stones of Creation. They brought him there so he can be reborn and create the new universe.
It is possible to stand, today, at the navel of the world in many Maya communities. At Momostenango it is called /waqibal,/ Six-Place. The classic Maya called the tree at the centre of their world “Six-Sky” or “Raised-up-Sky” for the creation event when the World Tree was first erected and lifted up the sky.
“I truly did stand at the place of the creation, not only in terms of space as the Momostekans understand it, but in terms of time. The axis of /waqibal /pierced straight back three thousand years to the kings on their stone images at [the archaeological site of] La Venta. /Waqibil/ truly is and was hallowed ground and in my heart I centered the world.” (Freidel 172)
Contemporary Maya shamans make an elaborate outdoor altar structure, a raised table with four (or six) legs under an arbour of vines. During ceremony, when “This altar is the focus of all prayer and ritual attention.” (55), the cardinal corners are marked by four standing men and four seated boys acting as particular Spirits. (This is a structure unique to the Maya. One is clearly shown in a photograph and drawing on page 56 in Friedel’s book.) The altar is entirely integrated into their cosmos, and, like the other major shamanic elements mentioned above, entirely connected with early Maya practices and an understanding of the cosmos 3000 years old. To the back of the altar is a Maya cross, a “First Tree”, the World Tree. The arbour of six vines or four vines is composed of the twisted vines of the sky umbilicus, connected to the navel of One-Maize-Revealed. The vines meet at /u hol gloria/, the North Pole; 3000 years ago not marked by a star but by a dark “opening” in the night sky. Four green corn plants mark the corners thus identifying the altar as a maize-tree place, another version of the Maya World Tree.
These are but three of many examples. I find it impossible to summarize Maya cosmology. It clearly shares many elements with other shamanic cosmologies, especially its focus on the World Navel and World Tree. Seemingly unusual are the intense connection between visible celestial events, shamanic practice and other practical matters (war, politics, crops and planting) on earth. Freidel says (113), “The gods wrote all of these actions in the sky so that every human, commoner and king alike, could read them and affirm the truth of the myth.” The “myth” continues to play itself out in the skies still visible to today’s Maya, as it has for at least 3000 years. The integration of ancient cosmology into current shamanic practice may be unique but I suspect that this was more often the case than not with other shamanic cultures, if we but had adequate history and ethnography to reveal it to us. Shamanism, world-wide, is an ancient practice. I wish that we could be more aware of its roots, trunk and branches in more cultures.
What Does This Tell Us Today?
Our general approach to teaching shamanism involves helping each student establish their own shamanic cosmos, their own cosmological point of view. Part of this is getting a feeling for where you are. The following suggested exercises may help activate and open up this process for you. They are good for those who wish to expand their cosmos and experience what they may have been missing.
Go back and review your Upper and Lower World journeying experiences. Do a little mapping; journey beyond where you usually go in each reality. You may find these places are different, larger and more complex than you now know.
Have a go at a ‘zoom beyond’ journey. Intend a visit to the Moon, for instance. Every one of our students who has accidentally done this has had fun and gained knowledge.
Is there a landscape feature that you have experienced that has particular attraction for you? If so, journey there with the intention of connecting with powerful spirits that live there. Ask whomever you connect with if they will help you as your allies do.
Are you as peripatetic as Bekki and I are? Check out some of the power places along your way by journeying to them. You can do this from home if it is not possible to journey as you travel: stay in the Middle World with the intention to go to the spirit of that beautiful mountain you drive along a couple of times a year. Spirits you find there may help you in your travels.
How about that membrane, that circle, that sphere that Nybor and others perceive. Whenever you journey, especially if you call in the spirits yourself, you are using that as your entry way whether you are aware of it or not. Now journey with this awareness uppermost .
Have you noticed the importance of the directions in the examples above? We ordinarily invoke the energies of the directions when we lead or join in the opening of circle or when we begin a journey by ourselves. Try doing this with new awareness of the powers of each of the seven directions. Try some journeys to/into each of the directions; pay special attention to the centre.
Bekki and I are so impressed with the power and significance of the elements (earth, air, fire, water, and the fifth) that we teach a series of workshops offering intense shamanic, journeying, ceremonial experiences of each. Have a go at journeying to your personal favourite elemental energy.
We may also gain by a stronger attention to the World Navel, World Tree, World Mountain, World Ladder, the central and centring energies connecting us with the North Celestial Pole, whether it is seen as our well known North Star or as a dark and mysterious opening in the sky. Journeys to each of these are enlivening experiences.
Talk to your drumming/journeying circle about this article and do some of the exercises together. You are, all together, in the cosmos whenever anyone “opens the circle”. Do this with everyone’s full awareness and involvement. As the opening is sung, danced, called, know that the space you are in (yes, that very living room) /is the shamanic cosmos/; that the circle/sphere invoked is where you will all cross the threshold into your shamanic journeys. Note how powerful it is when it is done as a group with mutual awareness as well as mutual intention.
Please Let Crow Know
Please let me have feedback, not just to the concepts and observations in this brief article but, more importantly ,about how your own journeys and your own cosmological perceptions expand with the increased awareness suggested here. And don’t forget simultaneity and the both/and principal.
*In the midst of writing this article we had a lovely visit from Daniel Foor, graduate of the Two Week Intensive, December/January 2003. Daniel is presently living in the San Francisco Bay area and has become a practitioner of shamanic ceremony focused on healing the earth and our human connections with it. As he has created the ceremonies focusing on seven mountains around the Bay he has connected with, created, and is using a very tribal cosmos. His intense interactions with that world remind me of the Reindeer People described by Vitebsky (2005).
**I was reminded of the importance of this aspect of tribal cosmologies in discussion with Darwin Mendoza at the Circle of Ancestors Workshop early in 2010. His help has inspired me to emphasize these concepts and include data from the Maya and the ancient Egyptians along with more about Mongolia and Siberia. Alas, this will make more work for Darwin who has been asked to translate Cosmologies into Spanish for his teachers in Honduras.
***Teach on the Beach <email@example.com>
**** The Circle: spiritual perception of and working with the circle is highly developed for some tribal peoples. The Native American Medicine Wheel is one well known example of this. However, there is also the common (actually the most common for shamanic peoples) cosmological perception that the cosmos exists in layers. I call this the "layer cake cosmology" because whether the cake has three or twenty seven layers (Yummy!) it is experienced as one disc (circle) above another.
Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam , ed. 1997 /Shamanic Worlds, Rituals and Lore of Siberia and Central Asia/, North Castle Books, London
Cultural Survival 1992 The Art of Living, Episode 5, /Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World/, New World Vision Media Ltd.
Dioszegi, Vilmos 1998 /Shamanism, Selected Writings of Vilmos Dioszegi, /edited by Mihaly Hoppal, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest
Freidel, David, Linda Schele and Joy Parker 1993/ Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path, /William Morrow and Company, New York/ /
Hoppal, Mihaly 2007 /Shamans and Traditions, /Akademiai Kiado, Budapest
Ions, Veronica 1990 /Egyptian Mythology, /Peter Bedrick Books, New York
Kalweit, Holger 1988 /Dream Time and Inner Space: The World of the Shaman, /Shambhala, Boston
Langdon, E. Jean Matteson and Gerhard Baer, eds. 1992 /Portals of Power, Shamanism in South America/, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque
Mac Culloch, Canon John Arnott 1927 /The Mythology of All Races, V. IV, Finno-Ugric, Siberian/, Archaeological Institute of America, Marshall Jones Company, Boston
Nabokov, Peter and Robert Easton 1989 /Native American Architecture/, Oxford University Press US
Naydler, Jeremy 2005 /Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, /Inner Traditions, Rochester VT
Olsen, Mel 1993 The Drum, /Baiki Newsletter/, Issue 8, Summer 1993, Duluth MN
Pentikainen, Juha Y. 1999 /Kalevala Mythology/, Indiana University Press, Bloomington
Perruchon, Marie 2003 /I Am Tsunki, Gender and Shamanism among the Shuar of Western Amazonia, /Uppsala University, Uppsala
Sarangerel 2000 /Riding Windhorses, A Journey into the Heart of Mongolian Shamanism/, Destiny Books, Rochester
Swimsaway, Crow 2010 /Adventures with the Shaman’s Daughter: An Introduction to the Shamanic Phenomena of the Spirit Lover,/ Seventh Direction Publishers, New Marshfield OH
Tedlock, Barbara 2005 /The Woman in the Shaman’s Body/, Bantam, NY
Vitebsky, Piers 2005 /The Reindeer People, Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia,/ Houghton Mifflin, Boston
On-Line There are, of course, endless numbers of on-line resources with bits and pieces of information about tribal shamanic cosmologies. The printed material, especially those with deep ethnographic experiences and/or references always seem more satisfactory to me. However, I have looked at the following and found them accurate and useful enough:
_www.shamansshadow.com/info.html <http://www.shamansshadow.com/info.html>_ and firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>_
|Do you know someone who might be interested in Shamanism, healing or metaphysics in general, or our work in particular? Please do forward this Newsletter to friends that would be interested... You'll find the Church of Earth Healing on line HERE.|
Chrysalis Online Courses , First Steps in Astrology, is now
live. This is the first
segment of a two-part course that fully covers all aspects of natal
chart reading, and Bekki will be the primary tutor for the course.
Bekki did exhaustive research, writing and editing to make this course
one of the best of its kind available.
You can also find Crow's introductory shamanic course also at Chrysalis Online Courses.
Workshops and Trainings
January 23-24 Athens OH area Circle of the Ancestors
(Febuary 5-6 Athens OH area SNOW DATE for Circle of the Ancestors (just in case)
February 13-14 Huntsville AL Love Medicine (with new and additional materials, and ceremonial work)
March 7-8 Beavercreek OH Get A Life: Shamanic Perspectives on Past-Life Work in the process of re-scheduling for a later weekend, check our website for details...
April (Date TBA) Warminster PA Tattoo Rituals Bekki and Crow will be doing ceremonial tattooing in Sacred Space
May 22-23 Huntsville AL Mugwort and Friends
June 19 Dragon Waters Two Week Shamanic Healing Intensive
August 6-8 Huntsville AL Shamanic Rattle- and Tool-Making
August 16-31 Dragon Waters Two-Week Shamanic Healing Intensive (one space left)
October 9-16 Duck NC Magical Teach on the Beach- we're putting together a whole new program...
October 23-24 Huntsville AL Animal Spirits
We are in the process of scheduling other workshops for 2010. Please check our Schedule for updates.
We expect to schedule another Opening the Shamanic Voice class for the Spring. If you are interested in our 2-Week Advanced Healing Intensive, this is a pre-req for that training.
And if there is a class you've been waiting to take, let us know so we can schedule it, here or at your location.
cold temperatures that we've been having this January, the
birds have been visiting the herb garden in droves. We often watch them
from our front windows.
We have been filling the feeders with sunflower seeds daily, and have found that our local feedstore carries it in 50 pound bags for a better price than we've seen anywhere. So check with the locals-- you may find that the best deals are not necessarily at Wal-Mart... and you'll be supporting the local economy...
And if you think herbs are for the birds... you may be right. One of the best side effects of growing echinacea, St.John's wort, elecampane and other medicinals is that the birds love the seeds. So if you've been cutting back the tops of your herbs in the fall, let the seedheads dry on the plant instead. Come the winter snows, you will find bits of seed fluff on top of the snow, or see the finches and other songbirds perched on the dried flower stalks as they feed on the seeds. And they will spread the seed around in the process, giving you more plants to harvest next year, or to gift to friends.
Our newsletter is a monthly publication which includes articles, book reviews, workshop profiles and reviews, news of current and upcoming events and stuff that is really hot that we feel you need to know about. We focus on alternative healing and other work of the church and ourselves, though we cast our net widely.
We love to write and have lots of good material to share. We also value your outlook, talents, and opinions so we welcome contributions. These may include specific material we request from you, our readers. We welcome all kinds of material, preferably on our monthly topic. If you are submitting something on the topic, we must receive it before the deadline. If it is of general interest we will fit it in as soon as we can. Articles on topic receive first priority.
We work in Microsoft Word; that is the most convenient electronic form to receive material in. If you need to use another form please ask first. Format is quite open. Please place the title, author (in exactly the form you want your name to appear - including degrees, professional designations, etc.) and a very brief bio at the beginning of your offering. Please keep it fairly short and snappy, since we have limited space. We will read everything we receive before publishing it. We would prefer not to have to edit for intelligibility or length.
All contents copyright The Church of Earth Healing 2010