(Ruth Parham, who joins this project from the local modern pagan community (Druidic and goddess-based), offers the following thoughts about our shamanism event series.)
I feel very fortunate to be part of this project. My participation is from the perspective of modern paganism (I am involved with the Bristol Goddess Temple and am following the Bardic Grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), and within that I am interested in how wellbeing and spirituality intersect – or, more often in our mainstream culture, are not permitted to do so, and the repercussions of this for personal and social health. I found the initial workshop fascinating and inspiring in the way it brought together classical Greek myth, ideas about deity, psychotherapy, anthropology, tarot, shamanism and more, all anchored at the centre (in my mind, at least) by the quest for wholeness and the “right” way to live in this world.
Before taking part in Nick’s sessions, my experience of shamanism was minimal. I had mostly seen it as something that belonged to other cultures (Sami, Latin American), so I found Nick’s description of the principles of core shamanism, which (from my memory of his map) have been identified on every continent, enlightening to say the least. His statement that “our birthright is to communicate with everything that is alive” – which, from an animist viewpoint, means everything in the physical and spiritual dimensions – opened up for me the possibility that, even if we have a broken tradition in Britain, I personally could explore shamanism as an authentic practice. The issue of cultural appropriation was not dismissed, but rather was respectfully put into context.
It is also important to note that shamanism is primarily a healing practice, rather than just being a fun way to extend one’s own personal development; we can all ask questions of Spirit, but those who become particularly good at it can become shamans – or, in Mircea Eliade’s phrase, “technicians of the sacred.” Nick also stated that core shamanism does not require a belief system, although I wonder whether a wholly rationalist and materialist mindset would struggle with it.
I have had experience of other types of journeying, and I found the structure involved in the journeys we took with Nick both slightly restrictive and, at the same time, useful: covering the eyes, dropping into the heart centre, stating an intention three times, seeking out an axis mundi from which to start the journey to the lower world, and making the descent by moving purposefully downwards through a tunnel, all became easier to engage with in each of the three journeys I undertook in Nick’s sessions. And the journeys were meaningful; the landscapes and encounters within them were unexpected and new to me, and the answers to the questions I put have shifted things in my everyday life.
Another effect I have noticed since then, when journeying in other contexts, is that instead of a series of separate locations or events, I am now aware of a continuous layer or dimension which I can visit in different ways or for different purposes. Making connections between elements of disparate journeys – which might take place within a variety of spiritual traditions, whether shamanic, druidic or goddess-based – has resulted in a greater sense of wholeness.