During my first ayahuasca retreat I made everyone laugh when I came out of mareado and declared, I have awoken with strange devotion to Shiva! I didn’t understand why ayahuasca was repeatedly taking me to Shiva, as I had no real affinity with, or knowledge of this deity. Now I see more clearly. Shiva wears an animal skin, he dances, he has a drum, he has an entheogen in his hair, he is a super-shaman!
In Buryat shamanic tradition the principle spirit of the shaman is called the udha. The udha bonds with the shaman and is responsible for the acquisition of power animals and the initial calling of the shaman. Within Buryat cosmology, there is the World River, in which all times and consciousnesses merge. A tributary of this river is the sunsii mur, the ‘trail of spirit’, which is the collective memory of all the shamans, the udha has ever bonded with and will bond with in the future. I had been feeling some confusion as shaman spirits were coming to me from various different cultures, none of which were my own. Sarangerel explained however, that the udha can actually seem like a collection of spirits, even though in reality it is only one. This made perfect sense to me and explained the many different shamans I was encountering. I am however not Mongolian and don’t feel comfortable with the word udha, I just think of it as my personal shamanic spirit, in many guises.
One of the first shamans to come to me was an elephant. I saw him in the garden of my old house in Ireland. He sat down in front of me, he wore a covering of leaves all over his body, I just ‘knew’ he was a shaman. In another dream I stood next to an African shaman. He handed me an egg, it was vibrating with possibility. This period concluded with a terrifying initiation. A giant African shaman came, my head barely reached his waist, he was solid as stone, immovable. He showed me a row of skulls with rotting flesh and hair hanging from them. He held my head in a vice like grip, I fought but it was futile, I was powerless in his grip. He forced me to eat blood, bone, hair and flesh from these skulls.
Later, my dreams took a turn towards Native -American spirituality and medicine men began to come. In one dream I was sitting by the banks of a river playing my pipes. A medicine man came and sat by me and said he wanted to play music with me but first I had to go with him. He then took me to a special place and said, from here you can access all the directions. This was a direct shamanic teaching concerning the four directions, the point from which they can all be accessed being the gol, the centre, which is within you, wherever you are. Another time a medicine woman came and gave me a mushroom to chew and within the dream I began to hallucinate. Then a medicine man came and took my hands. He placed his fingers and thumbs on pressure points and sang me a beautiful healing song. I woke up full of joy.
One dream felt like it was almost a review of my spiritual progress. One minute I was walking along with a medicine man and rolling my drum along in front of me. Then I found myself in a circular room. I decided to get up and pull the curtains but when I got to the wall I realised that I was actually inside my drum. I turned to find that the medicine man and an old female Siberian shaman were sitting on the floor. The woman was in trance. I sat down with them and we talked. I can’t remember much, only that the medicine man said, we can come back here again if we need to.
In a very beautiful dream I saw a door in a rock with the head of a medicine man carved above it. I went through it into a cave, with my drum. In the darkness a Native-American healing song came from inside my drum vibrating through me in the cave. I walked outside again and many crows flew by, someone said it was a great blessing. I realised that I was on a reservation, I heard beautiful music, everyone was singing in praise of creation.
Finally, shamans from the far north, from Siberia and from the Sami began to make their presence felt. They guided me in the making of two more drums, which I talk about in detail later on. They told me, you are here to make drums, not the kind that make noise, but those that take you to the centre of the universe. In other words, drums that can take you to the gol, the true source of all shamanic power. Sometimes, at the start of a shamanic journey, a shaman will hold a drum in front of me. With a magical gesture from his hand a spiral tunnel will open in the face of the drum, and I go through.
Eliade observed that in many cases the spirits would make modifications to the shaman by placing objects such as crystals inside them. At this stage this began happening to me and many times spirit shamans would throw or pour things into me.
I see a shaman with a drum and hear it sounding like a heartbeat. I go down a tunnel and meet with a huge snake. A being of light comes, it is floating, holding a sphere of light in its hands like a planet, it places the sphere in my heart.
I find myself on the couch with an anaconda nuzzling me. I am given ayahuasca and we go to a dark ascent. I go up steep stairs, it’s very hard to move my legs. Fractal patterns appear. When I reach the top a spirit is there. He draws a circle of light on my forehead with his finger and opens my third eye. I then come fully conscious. He holds up a tiny circular object between thumb and forefinger. It’s like a pearl; he throws it into my third eye.
It is normal sometimes to have doubts about our spiritual process and experience; to ask ourselves is it important, how does it impact the world in a positive way. My sense of impotence in the face of the corruption of our governments, of the horrors inflicted on the environment and the appalling way we treat our fellow Earthlings was addressed in the following dream by a shaman child.
I find myself in a house with a child with feathers in his hair, a child shaman. We go upstairs to a room full of world leaders, Michèle Obama is head of the table, and George Bush is slumped drunk, asleep in a corner. The agenda is to kill all the wolves. I’m angry and stand up, I try to appeal to Michèle Obama but she can’t hear me. There is a creepy old woman behind her sucking her finger and this gives her complete control of Michèle, I understand her to represent the dark spiritual presence controlling many of those in power. All the time the shaman child, invisible to all but me, just keeps dancing sunwise around the table, as if to say ‘don’t worry, all you can do is keep on doing the shaman dance’.
The deep ecologist Carlita Shaw, in her book, The Silent Ecocide, says that,
‘There are about 13000 Grey Wolves left remaining in the wild, wolves are killed systematically each year in the USA, with no acknowledgement of what they can do for the ecology of wildlife reserves…their very presence increases the quality of the ecosystems as well as twenty vertebrate species thriving from their presence, they are a part of the ecosystem and when they are removed, the ecosystem suffers and biodiversity is lost. These are not subtle differences; they are vital changes when the wolf is removed from the ecology of a landscape.’21
I sensed in my dream that the ‘wolves’ were also actually the shamans and the agenda was really about the extermination of indigenous systems of knowledge and ways of being. In recent years, at least fourteen shamans from the Shawi people have been murdered. Indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, president of the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) holds responsible both legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.
“This work, I would say, is done in a very subtle way by the extractive industries,” Pizango said, naming the timber and oil industries as well as those involved in
producing illegal drugs.
Deep ecology recognizes the importance of the inner ecosystem in relation to the outer and that change must come from within ourselves in order to effect meaningful change in the world.
‘…the environmental crisis is a crisis of human consciousness and understanding. Our environment mirrors our state of consciousness, resulting in all current deformations and beauty…Maintaining responsibility over our internal ecology ensures a sustainable healthy external ecology.’ 22
In a way, shamans are like the wolves, their presence allows for balance and enriches the spiritual ecosystem, they are in a sense the spiritual ecologists par excellence.