Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘shamanism’


Water Contains Universal Knowledge

From the shaman’s point of view, water contains universal knowledge because its journey takes it to every corner of the physical universe; rain from the sky soaks deep into underground wells and springs, eventually feeding rivers and lakes, finally leaving the earth as mist and fog and rising to the sky, completing the circle. The fountain expresses this wholeness and completeness for its water is continually recycled. The circular dynamic of fountains (and all springs or rivers) symbolizes the reconciliation of opposites; since water flows through all arcs of the circle, it unites all polarities.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 127

Shaman as Master of Fire

As ‘masters of fire’, shamans and sorcerers swallow burning coal, handle red-hot iron and walk on fire. On the other hand, they have great resistance to cold; shamans in the Arctic regions as well as the ascetics in the Himalayas, thanks to their magic heat, show an incredible resistance. The true significance of this magic heat and of the ‘mastery over fire’ is not difficult to divine. These powers indicate access to a certain ecstatic state or, on another cultural plane (in India, for example), to an unconditioned state of perfect spiritual freedom. The mastery over fire and insensibility both to extreme cold and to the temperature of burning coals, translated into ordinary terms, signify that the shaman or yogi have gone beyond the human condition and have achieved the level of spirits.

Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, p. 81

Alchemist as Master of Fire

The alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a ‘master of fire’. It is with fire that he controls the passage of matter from one state to another. The first potter who, with the aid of live embers, was successful in hardening those shapes which he had given to his clay, must have felt the intoxication of the demiurge: he had discovered a transmuting agent. That which natural heat—from the sun or the bowels of the earth—took so long to ripen, was transformed by fire at a speed hitherto undreamed of. This demiurgic enthusiasm springs from that obscure presentiment that the great secret lay in discovering how to ‘perform’ faster than Nature, in other words (since it is always necessary to talk in terms of the spiritual experience of primitive man) how, without peril, to interfere in the processes of the cosmic forces. Fire turned out to be the means by which man could ‘execute’ faster, but it could also do something other than what already existed in Nature. It was therefore the manifestation of a magico-religious power which could modify the world and which, consequently, did not belong to this world. This is why the most primitive cultures look upon the specialist in the sacred—the shaman, the medicine-man, the magician—as a ‘master of fire’….

Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible, pp. 79-80

Nature Takes Life As Well As Gives It

The forest, like nature herself, was changeable. Sometimes it was a safe retreat from society, a place for visions and communion with the gods and goddesses; at other times it was a frightening place, dangerous and life-threatening. But however ambivalent, the Celt always found the forest inherently spiritual and, for that reason, exciting. For as the shaman knows only too well, initiation into the mysteries of the spirit can be both comforting and frightful. Like the Green Man of the Forest, the Lord of the Animals, or the Witch of the Woods, nature takes life as well as gives it, for nature is the source of life and death. Like the goddess of the wells, nature is the lovely maiden ready to bestow kingdoms and palaces, but she is also the miserable hag with foul breath.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 133

The Perilous Journeys of the Shaman

Wherever it may lead, the perilous journey is always, of course, perilous. The hero, traditionally a young man, must defend himself against beast and foe. In Celtic folktales and faery tales he often risks physical danger, bodily harm, even death, as he quests for a marvelous object that he believes will bring luck, health, or a richer life: a magical sword, a cauldron of wisdom, a cup of knowledge, or a faery lover. On the shaman’s initiation journey the danger is psychic—the disintegration and reintegration of personality. The object of the quest is a “new soul,” a shamanic soul with its disorienting and upsetting vision of reality. On subsequent journeys, the shaman’s quest may still be for nothing less than the human soul of a patient who is sick, of someone severely depressed, or of a person recently deceased. As psychologists and symbologists note, the archetypal journey is always one of initiation and self-discovery. The physical objects sought on the quest are symbols of psychic wholeness, health, and the integrated soul, or in Jungian terms, the Self.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 161

Shamanic Initiation is a Journey Into Chaos

[The] plunge into the twilight of the psyche obliterates the normal categories of perception, replacing them with a vision that is unique and personal. The shamanic candidate, led by elders, encounters spirits that are part animal and part human, men dressed as women and vice versa, and monstrous shapes and forms that represent the ambiguous forces of the universe that are frightening to the human ego. From that moment on, the universe will be wider and grander, more mysterious, and yet (and this is the point of being a shaman) more manageable. The old social boundaries and mental constructs that the new shaman formerly accepted as immovable and inviolable are revealed to be socially conditioned, arbitrary structures. Like a mask, the everyday world of family and clan conceals amorphous realms of spirit, nature, beauty, and terror that defy categorization. And during the perils of initiation, the new shaman learns how to remove this mask.

The shaman develops a fluid, malleable worldview that is not as brittle as most people’s. Shamans know that the real and the unreal are merely opposite ends of a continuum on which reality can be stretched to include what is normally considered unreal. Even better, the continuum, like a flexible rod, can be bent, curved, and shaped into a circle where the end points of reality and unreality meet and become the same point. To the shaman, the universe is truly the Uroborous, the serpent holding its own tail in its mouth, uniting what appears to be the beginning and end. Depending on your point of view, the serpent is either devouring or disgorging the universe of its own body. To the shaman, it may appear to be doing both at once; and the shaman is not confused by this.

The shamanic initiation is a journey into chaos, a plunge into the primal realm where things are not what they seem, where rules and guidelines governing conduct and belief fail and are no longer appropriate. The shaman-to-be is initially terrified of what appear to be hostile spirits, even while being conducted safely through the ordeal by friendly spirits who may appear as ancestors or animal powers. In the process, shamans acquire a new self. Their mental universe is unraveled and rewoven, their physical bodies are dismembered and reintegrated or replaced with spiritual bodies. Finally the shaman re-enters ordinary reality as a “wise woman” or a “man of knowledge,” an interpreter of the spirit world, one who has seen reality demolished and reconstructed. The shaman begins to understand the ambiguous nature of the universe and the unending law of change by which it operates.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, pp. 51-52

Emphasis mine.

Trickery is Part of the Shaman’s Craft

The Trickster or Foolish God teaches us that we often deceive ourselves. Beneath the ego and its mask of order and reason lies an untamed, wilder, lawless self as genuine as the masks of respectability we present to society. By embarrassing us, the Trickster teaches us deeper truths about ourselves. Not only does the Trickster confront us with the multiple nature of the universe, he shows us the multiple nature of ourselves, a truth the shaman learns through the tricks and deceptions of his initiating spirits. Indeed, trickery is part of the shaman’s craft, for he or she understands that often the mind has to be tricked for the body to heal. Some shamans relied so heavily on trickery and sleight-of-hand that Western observers misunderstood their motives and dismissed them as mere charlatans. They failed to appreciate the purpose of trickery and illusion as a means of “performing” in ordinary reality the transformations that were occurring on the psychic or spiritual plane.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 60

Emphasis mine.