Guest Post Transpersonal Psychology

Charmaine Sonnex is a Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at Northampton University. Some of her previous research has involved pagan healing magic, so I thought it would be great if she could join us. She generously wrote up these thoughts after joining us for a shamanic activity.

“I was excited when Kurt offered me the opportunity to take part in the most recent Shamanic journeying workshop. My background is in Transpersonal psychology: a school of Psychology that explores the mystical/spiritual/religious aspects of human experience and altered states of consciousness, and the transformative potential of these experiences. There is an emphasis in Transpersonal psychology on phenomenology, it is accepted in Transpersonal psychology that in-depth understanding of such phenomena benefits from direct experience.  Academic research in Transpersonal psychology often occurs in combination with experiential elements. This means that I have previously had the opportunity to take part in Shamanic journeying in a similar part-scholarly, part-experiential environment, albeit only a couple of times.

Nick is a wonderful guide through this experience. He is clearly very practised and knowledgeable, and had a knack for making one feel at ease. He discussed with us the importance of journeying with an aim, that the most rewarding journeys are those done with a purpose.

Our first journey was 10 minutes long with the aim of either meeting an ally or exploring the other realm. This first journey for me was challenging. I encountered something that I found frightening, which resulted in me ending my journey early. During the plenary type session after the journey I asked Nick what we should do in such situations. He was very reassuring and suggested either removing ourselves from the journey or the area, (and in my case to find another portal) or to ask it to reveal its true form. He went on to explain that figures that present themselves in a frightening way are often something else in disguise. Although I was hesitant to journey again I felt reassured by what Nick had said and decided to try again and see what happened.

The second journey was a little longer, 15 minutes. The aim this time was either to journey for someone else, to try and find an answer to a question that they had (without knowing what that question was) or to journey for ourselves and to again either try to meet an ally or to find out “what do I need to know now?”.  The majority of attendees, myself included, didn’t really feel experienced enough to journey on someone else’s behalf although a couple of more adventurous people tried it.  This second journey was more successful, I tried a different entry point to the other realm and was able to journey down. I did encounter the same figure as before, however this time it presented itself to me in a different, more familiar form and I was able to understand and process the meaning behind the experience.

For the final part of the workshop Kurt gave a brief talk about Empedocles and the mystical/shamanic aspects of his teachings and the mythology around him. This was fascinating and complemented some of the things Nick had talked about earlier regarding core shamanism.

I would recommend these workshops to anyone interested in shamanic journeying, whether it is from an experiential or academic perspective. Such phenomena have an ineffable quality that means full understanding can only come from direct experience, these workshops provide a safe and welcoming environment for these experiences.”

Guest Post: Another Pagan Perspective

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.