One of the most significant occurrences that begins and occurs throughout a Shamanic Awakening or Calling is the dismemberment dream. These dreams can be terrifying, especially for someone who has no idea what is going on. As discussed in prior blogs, a shaman is called onto the path by a near-death experience or severe childhood illness that gives them the ability to see beyond “ordinary” reality. Although the child has had the experience of the shamanic sickness or near-death state they may not be initiated or called until they are are much older. So a child at the age of two may have a severe illness that gives them the ability to see, feel, and work “beyond” but may not be called or begin initiations to become a Shaman until their teenage or early adult years.
In modern society this call of becoming a Shaman may not be answered until much later as we lack the proper spiritual understandings, teachers and mentors, and often deny what we are being called to do in this world. We are taught that we must be accountants (for example, no slam to accountants) because we must make money, hold a regular job, have a family, etc. Answering the call of becoming a Shaman is a severe and life-changing path and many of us deny answering the call because we subconsciously know how difficult it will be. For these reasons in modern society it is not unusual for people to be years or even decades beyond their early adulthood and finally answering the call to become a Shaman.
One of the first initiations into becoming a Shaman is a dismemberment dream, or series of dismemberment and then rememberment dreams. At first these will likely come in dream form during sleep. Nightmares and dreams about being torn apart by wild animals, eaten by snakes, bugs, and other creatures, buried alive and disintegrating in dirt, dissolving into the elements, being chopped into bits by various implements… these are all dismemberment dreams that signify that a Shamanic Calling or Awakening is occurring.
It is of course possible for people to have nightmares and dreams of dismemberment without the calling, in which case a dream analyst is helpful because these dreams for “regular” folks signify deep themes of emotional turmoil, losing of self concept, trauma from early childhood resurfacing, and large changes in life that may be uncomfortable.
But for the Shaman who has a background of childhood illness or near-death, someone who develops an interest and calling to spiritual healing or interests, who has the ability in some small or large way to see, feel, touch, or work “beyond” normal reality and has an animalistic, primal and rather strange quality to them that makes them understand that they are different in some way than those around them, the dismemberment dream is the first initiation into becoming a Shaman.
In later stages the Shaman may have reoccurring dismemberment visions during waking life, meditation, and dream states during important changes in their life and initiation into higher and deeper levels of knowing. The dismemberment is important for the Shaman to be able to fully work in different layers of reality and with different energies and beings. It is an opening, an initiation in which the Shaman loses identification with the physical body and gains a more open cosmology- a deeper understanding that there is a vital force, a current of energy that flows through the world, and that animals, people, plants, minerals, and all of the life on this planet has a voice. The dismemberment allows for the Shaman to begin to have the direct experience that the world is vitally alive and that there is more out there than self-created energies, illusions, and spirits. The ability to have the physical self dismembered in a seemingly violent fashion allows for us to get over our fears of death and see beyond the material world and the physical container.
After a dismemberment there comes a remembering- a re-identification with the physical body. This can happen quite quickly or can take months or even years. Some Shamans who have no idea what they are going through require going to spiritual healers that can help them re-identify with their physical bodies. When the physical body is remembered it is with the understandings gained through the dismemberment. Each dismemberment going forward is a marker of a new phase, a new initiation, new understandings, new healing abilities, and a furthering of going down the proverbial rabbit hole. Frequently dismemberments allow for the Shaman to gain new non-physical spiritual teachers and be initiated into greater power and capabilities.
If carried forward it is typical for the shaman who answers the call to find the appropriate teacher, mentor, or other materials to guide them on their next step. If not resisted and properly understood, the Shaman will find both physical and non-physical teachers who can guide them to become a full-fledged Shaman or to help them understand their experiences and provide the appropriate context for them.
However, many people have a great deal of fear about this process, do not understand what is going on, or are resisting becoming a Shaman. The dreams of being dismembered are understandably scary, even for those of us who know what they are and what they signify. Some people simply consider them nightmares and do not have familiarity with anything spiritual or shamanic and so will not investigate in spite of extraordinary happenings. Others know full well, consciously or subconsciously, what is going on and are resisting the path because they know what being a Shaman entails. Many people get stuck after a dismemberment, losing their sense of self and not becoming remembered and cannot find the proper resources to help them through the initiation.
Other people will have these dreams and know they are being called but are confused and lack the proper guidance to help them. Due to the popularity of shamanism and the advent of “core” shamanic principles that merge modern psychology and new-age culture with shamanism for people who aspire to be shamans without actually having a calling most of the guidance and materials out there are for aspirational shamans rather than those who have actually been called. Those who actually are being called face a lot of confusion because they are faced with resources and guidance intended for those who want to be shamans, and not for those who actually are shamans and are going through a spirit-led initiation process such as dismemberment dreams. There is little truthful or helpful resources for those who are actual Shamans because the vast majority of people are aspirational shamans, and actual direct experiences and spirit-led callings are difficult to discuss due to lack of cultural identification with the spiritual, personal feelings of craziness or uniqueness and separation that these experiences create, and the simple difficulty of putting deep, direct spiritual experiences into common-day language.
Whatever the reason, know that shamanic dismemberment dreams signify an important awakening, the start of a process. Generally the next step in the path is to find a teacher or guide. I always suggest both a physical, in-person teacher as well as learning how to work with non-physical guides and ancestors.