One of my largest critiques of the “modern” shamanic movement is that it has stripped away any form of actual spirit interaction. It has, in its own way, stripped away the “spirits” from spiritual work.
If you read modern shamanic books, you will come away with the thought that spiritual work is about the law of attraction, changing your thoughts, ascending to another dimension, or ecospirituality, such as the trend towards permaculture.
If the subject of “spirits” is broached, it is done in an antagonistic or polarizing way. Spirits are “bad”; they are to be cleared, they are to be feared. The idea of purity or cleansing is often used, as if any one of us could be “clear”. I do find cleansing practices quite important (I teach a course in this, as it is the first step anyone should immerse themselves in if they intend to authentically work with spirit) but we live in a world immersed in spirit, in spirits. They are all around us, a part of our lives, a part of our bodies, a part of our world.
The spiritual is not separate from us. Spirits are not separate from us. They are a part of the house we moved into, the history of the land we are on. Spirits and beings are in our yard, our woods, the park. There is a spirit in the lake near you, spirits on your nearest train or on the bus you ride each day.
The idea that all these spirits need to be “cleared”, or even that they could be… that we are intended to be in a world without spirits, signifies our deep disconnect and fear of the spiritual. It is an unhealed ideology, based on a false illusion of separation from the spiritual, and from spirit itself.
We come from a lineage of spirits. Our ancestors are a part of our blood, they are a part of our spiritual power (which is why I suggest working with ancestors as your first spirit contact. I also have a course in this) Elementals and beings of all varieties, including “former humans” are all around us, populating a world that overlays and integrates with our own.
It is a question of if we notice more than the crass physicality of our world or not. If we notice and have ventured beyond the safety of human conditioning to do so.
There are many reasons why the “spirits” have been stripped away from modern shamanism.
The first reason is fear.
We deeply fear what we cannot see, that which we cannot firmly touch and claim as our own. That which is beyond our rules, beyond our human constructs and mind that grasps to know and rule.
The thought that we are a part of a world in which even the most highly psychic of us can only see a certain percentage of is truly terrifying to those who fear such things, who try to contain such things to a specific thought.
When we fear something, we create rules. This allows us to feel as if spirit follows the rules that we have concocted to ensure our personal needs for feeling safe and in control. The biggest “rule” that modern shamanism has created is the belief that spirits are singularly “compassionate” or not. Generally if someone says to me that spirits can only be compassionate or non-compassionate I know that they do not have the sight to know that the world is literally teeming with spirits and beings of all types, and that they have never authentically interacted with a spirit.
It is no longer shocking or in any way surprising to me that modern shamanism doesn’t believe in spirits, that there are even many practitioners that have no faith or belief in the spiritual who call themselves spiritual practitioners.
People generally find what they are looking for, and I realized at a certain point that what I was offering was the equivalent of broccoli to people who have been fed a steady diet of cotton candy. I am not the only one to offer said broccoli stalk (of course), but the “cotton candy” ideas allow for one to remain in a zone of safety. They do not require any kind of sight or spiritual capacity and focus on psychological self-help.
This is what most people want, as most people do not have spiritual sight or capacity, and simply wish to feel a bit less shitty about themselves. The difficulty, of course, is when someone who has no sight or capacity for spiritual work becomes a spiritual worker. Sight is a part of the job requirements, and it is hard to untangle some of the messes that are created by folks who lack it. I generally do my best to be compassionate these days, but as this is a field that has no outward, technical requirements for entry, and there is a trend away from actually having an authentic, physical teacher that might gently (or not so gently, if you are ready to hear it) tell someone that they should work on themselves first, or that they might want to consider if their spirit guides are mental creations or not… or that they should perhaps pick another career, or that maybe they shouldn’t be teaching shamanism with six months of “shamanic” experience, or that perhaps their creation of a “new paradigm” of shamanism and recreation of a wheel without capacity or study/understanding of the wheel before it isn’t needed, and moreover, may be quite silly…I see a lot that makes me shake my head, upsets me, or occasionally makes me want to go take one of those fake Facebook post jobs where you can move to Italy and be a caretaker for a random place somewhere.
In some forms of witchcraft, there is the idea of the “hedge”– it really best illustrates this fear, and what is problematic about modern shamanism.
In this concept, the “hedge” separates the contained world. What is contained (between the hedges) is the world of rules, of appropriate societal conduct, of the mind creating illusion and separation. It is our community, what we have constructed as community, and what we consider as “reality”.
To switch up systems, I operate from a quasi-theosophy based system in which I consider there to be our physical body, our emotional body, our mental body, and then our spiritual body. Each of these are “containers” (no, I didn’t put the “etheric” body in there, as it correlates with the physical body in this simplistic example).
Each of these “bodies” has a specific container. This means that if we are at the “densest” or most constrictive container, we only focus on our physical body. If we move outward, we are operating from a place solely based on our emotions– our unhealed ones, at that. Much of modern shamanism is in a firm, mental container.
This is still part of the “hedge”, within the boundaries of polite and disciplined society. This is the level that we create rules out, it is the level that allows for a “top-down” or more expanded look at our emotions (as each container contains the previous ones).
What it does not do is allow for a moving beyond the containers, a moving beyond the hedge, and into actual spiritual experience.
We deeply fear the spiritual because we recognize its wildness, its otherness. We deeply fear these aspects of ourselves– we prefer to contain them, to push them aside, to stay in the “light” of not only what we deem acceptable about ourselves, but what society has taught us is acceptable.
Without traversing our own depths, we cannot traverse the hedge– we cannot make it out of the maze of our own mental creations, our own projected unmet psychological needs, and the rules we have created to ensure our safety and feelings of being in control.
Shamanic work was brought to the West by people who lacked sight. To psychologists, the work was psychological. To anthropologists, the shaman represented the proverbial “other”.
The combination of these two is devastating to real spirit contact, and to having authentic spiritual experiences. This is because the word “shaman” has turned into something that provides a tidy explanation for “othering” in our culture. What this means is that we now have a culture in which people who have experienced severe fracturing as a form of early childhood abuse now believe that they are “shamans”. When we experience trauma, we formulate beliefs from those traumas… and the belief of a child that has experienced severe abuse will always be that they are that proverbial “other”: that they dislike or hate people, that the world is out to get them, and that they are separate and disconnected from anyone and everything in this world.
The modern shamanic movement feeds into this dissociative and trauma-based fracturing by providing an outlet for people to feed the unmet needs and daydreams of a child that is frozen in time and locked within. This means that people do not receive the care that they need… and their delusions and dissociative tendencies are perpetuated, instead of healed.
If we have created our spiritual reality out of wounds, out of pain, we not only are not immersing in greater spiritual reality but our experiences of the spiritual realm will mimic the abuse– at the far end of this people will believe that they are being constantly attacked. This belief or understanding that one is a “shaman” then allows the person to hang on to their pain, to their beliefs, and to create a spiritual reality out of that unhealed pain and feelings of separation and disconnection. I have seen this for so long and on a daily basis, and as it is rare that people who have created realities like this for themselves are open to questioning it, even if it means that their lives would vastly improve if they healed whatever is causing them to feel “other”, or whatever that pain is that caused them to fracture or separate from feeling human, loved, or appropriately nurtured by the world and the people in it.
Having shamanic capacity is fairly rare. I have met perhaps a dozen or so people who have it. There is something that happens when you hop over that hedge, when you truly are in concert with spirit, with that “other”– with the wild, vast terrain that is beyond human thought. It marks you, and is easily spotted. The path of the shaman, mystic, root worker, witch, magician, occultist, and other spiritual paths can allow one to come into contact with it. There are many more in the other categories, and I won’t go over definitions here, but if you have traversed that hedge you will notice others who have done so as well, no matter what their spiritual path or label to get there has been.
Trauma of varying types cracks us open. It allows us to examine our deeper parts, to know more than just the crassly physical.If we do not have a reason to look beyond the superficial, the physical container, we tend to remain on the surface of reality. We all know people like this, and those of us on a significant spiritual path may have been jealous at one point of those who can live on the surface, who can play-act the spiritual, and who have not had to be immersed in it. This requires healing, as those who have authentically leaped over the “hedge” can receive the deep connection and nurturing, as well as alliances, to come into a source of flow with what lies beyond that hedge.
So what is beyond the hedge?
It is much easier in a lot of ways to describe what shamanism is “not”– it is not simplistic dualities. It is not a bunch of rules intended to keep the fears of the spirit world, and spirits, at bay. It is not a way to disappear or disassociate due to unhealed trauma. It is not an idea that anything spiritual has nothing to do with this world, and that we should all be clear or free from any sort of spirit contact.
In many ways what is beyond that hedge is what we truly fear. Unknowable, vast, and in many ways uncaring. It is easy to tell when someone has a degree of spirit contact, because not only do they go beyond the “compassionate/non-compassionate” thing, but they realize that there is an entire spirit world out there that not only has little to do with them, that not only is not centered around them, but is just fine without them.
One of the funnier things that I find about the “fear and clear” mentality is that this idea perpetuates a myth not only that spirits are not intended to be a part of our world, but that if we notice them we must declare “sovereignty” and clear them out of our space. The fact that you may be clearing out a kindly grandmother or grandfather who built the house that you are living in from his own two hands and simply might want a bit of peace in his/her favorite place after eighty years of human form based suffering never enters into the equation for those who have this deep fear of the spiritual.
I have worked so many times with spirits who were showed the door or people in their “shamanic wisdom” tried to shove away who were protectors of a land or place, who were fulfilling duties after death that they agreed to, who were protecting occupants from more dangerous spirits and beings (and then those come out after the “clearing”), or who simply wanted a bit of rest before moving on.
When spirit contact is established, the concept of “right relationship” develops.
This is not a “humans are on top of the food chain and must dominate and everything they say, goes” sort of mentality. This mentality is incredibly destructive, and quite frankly, obnoxious to many spirits and beings who often rightly believe that humans are little more than kindergarteners running around with scissors.
In right relationship with the spirit world, there is a realization that develops that is notable in pretty much anyone who develops an authentic connection to the spirit world, and who interacts with the many being there.
This realization is that archangels and angels can be complete assholes. They can be fierce, don’t care about human thought, and often think that humans are incredibly stupid. Deities can be jealous and don’t really care about you making your car payment on time. Elementals don’t think like humans do and don’t share our ethics or even speech patterns. “Dark spirits” can be direct and straightforward as well as simple to work with (much simpler than living humans, for example). Former humans can be “elevated”, as in healed and willing to be of assistance, but most of them are typically similar to the way they were when they were alive… which is why they are in need of healing and still populating our world.
The realization of complexity of spirits and the spirit world develops, to be simple.
If you go beyond the physical and emotional and mental layers and constructs of this world, you find yourself in the Void. The empty, freefall space… the place that leads to the vast terrains of the spiritual, to the truly seeing and experiencing beyond the capacity of human thought.
What is beyond that place is our own primal nature, our wild, everything we have tried so hard to contain. Everything we tell ourselves is wrong about ourselves. It is beyond our own needs, our own puritanical constructs (even if we do not believe that we are immersed in christianized religion, this is where much of the modern-day ideology of “spirits are evil and must be cleared” comes from). It is freeing, and beautiful. It is endlessly fascinating, and endlessly interesting.
It will change the life and the mentality of someone to realizing how one can traverse immeasurable depths, and once down the proverbial rabbit hole that immenseness just keeps on expanding and expanding to experiences and depths that are simply not talked about, and in many cases are rightly not talked about, or lack words to express.
It moves someone beyond “their” need for rituals and spirit contact. It moves someone from placing pretty flowers on a cloth to bring to the ocean because that is what someone thinks the ocean would like… to actually speaking to the spirit of the ocean, to the elementals who populate in and around the ocean, the beings who inhabit the depths of that ocean, and asking not only if they would like a ritual, but what that ritual should be and what offerings they would like. This is a big difference, and I cannot stress how important this difference in approaches is.
It is like a beautiful, messy freefall to be in a place to explore this “other”. It means continually and constantly learning, constantly expanding, constantly spelunking and discovering what is beyond what you currently know to be true. This world is full of magic, full of spirit, and people, even people on a spiritual path, rarely notice it. They rarely honor it.
To see, and to be willing to see, that our physical world is but a mere glimpse of what lies beneath and beyond it, is beyond the scope of our minds to process, to control, and to allow ourselves to experience.
It is sad to me how watered down and lacking of spirit much of modern day spiritual work is. Many of the spirits and beings that I connect with would love to be interacted with appropriately. Greater spirit would love to be honored. How to honor it is not controlling, not by fearing, and not by thinking that you are commander. It is by truly honoring, listening, and understanding that you are in a vast network, a vastly infinite universe in which you are not the center but simply a participant, that spirit contact can be made.
It is by breaking outside of your mind, the mind that creates so much of your world, and by questioning what lies beyond your own needs for the Universe, that such contact can be created.
This contact is life-changing. It is healing. It allows one to not only realize that they are not separate, but that they are truly and deeply connected, that the world is full with wonder, and that with an understanding and belief that the world is filled with magic, beauty, and spirit (and spirits) that the world changes from just a materialist self-centered existence to being unique, dangerous, blissful, safe, and everything else all at once.
In many ways, it is a conscious choice to open our eyes. To move beyond what we have been taught. To let go of the control and the fear. To realize that if we go from noticing one percent of the universe to two percent, that not only will we be okay, but we may discover some things about ourselves and the universe that will directly impact our lives and allow for us to expand beyond our conceptions of ourselves.
The difficulty is that this either requires natural sight, something like the physical evocation and manifestation of a being (which forms of magic do, to get people out of the materialist mentality), or something else to “crack’ the person open enough to be willing to move beyond the physically based universe and into the seeing of what is around them.
While this capacity does not require a huge amount of personal stability, it also requires discernment as to what is self-created vs. what is not, and people rarely like to do this as the first “spirits” we meet are typically our own sub-personalities and what we have shoved aside, especially if we are of the “love and light” variety, or the mental creation of a “guide” who will tell someone how wonderful they are and who will perpetuate the psychological wounds and illusory material created by those wounds of the spiritual seeker.
Moving away from this sort of stuff takes time, and willingness. If we have created an entire universe for ourselves based off of an inner wounded child, it is unlikely that we will destroy it, even if it is creating pain for us.
Even if our rules, our pain, and our needs for the spirit world to be a certain way are separating us from spirit, from the spirit world, it is a question of whether we are able and willing to move beyond that. Those that are can move from feeling disconnected, fragmented and isolated in a physically based world in which they don’t really believe in spirit (despite secretly hungering for it) and on to healing the parts of themselves that seek such separation, that believe themselves to be “other”, and into truly being connected to something, for perhaps the first time.
It sometimes saddens me that people are so far removed from spirit, especially when they consider themselves “shamans” or “spiritual workers” (or any other form of title). Our world desperately needs a return to honoring spirit, to working on our inner shadow so we can move beyond the fear and dissociative trauma-based projections of spirit and needs for control of spirit.
Greeting the spirits of your home, of your yard, and of your neighborhood is a good way to start. Do this without expectation that they will be your “helper” or that they will tell you wonderful things focused on your needs. Do so without asking in return for anything. Although this is simple, it will begin to not only take someone beyond the idea that the spirit world is there just for the taking, and centered around the needs and illusions of the Self, but it will begin to allow the spirit world to see that humans are not just looking to take, and that they are actually listening.
Spirit, and spirits, are always there. It is a two-way street, in which we develop a relationship. What we give, how much we are willing to connect, how far we are willing to move beyond our own fear, to traverse our own depths, is always reflected in how much we can expand, what universes we can traverse, and if and when we can move beyond the confines of the hedge and into spirit, and spiritual, contact.