Shamans and Their Inner Journeys
The shaman is the knower of hidden truths. He gains his knowledge by excursions into sacred space and time. He is an adventurer in the realm of the spirit. He undertakes his journeys outside of ordinary reality initially in an effort to heal and integrate himself. He may not be conscious of this as a motivation. In fact, he may refuse this interpretation. But anthropologists have often noted that the budding shaman is called into the spirit’s realm by physical and/or psychological distress. The sacred spaces shamans describe are clearly the healing structures of the psyche.
Once within the imaginal realm the shaman learns its sacred geography. He comes to know the strange inhabitants intimately, and can see and speak to them, where “normal” people can only, at best, intuit them. Once the shaman has become familiar with these inner spaces, he can enter, traverse, and exit these imaginal worlds at will. Through ecstatic flights of the spirit, he ascends his “central mountain,” or his “world tree,” and can travel either upward to the heavens or downward, into the underworld, along the axis mundi.
He learns to draw power from the undifferentiated realm for his own psychic system. He is one of death’s intimates, and can stare into the abyss of darkness without escape into denial. He learns to balance inner forces, and thus becomes adept at accepting and transcending the opposites of the profane world—death and life, darkness and light, activity and receptiveness. He can find the axis mundi in his psyche, and so can serve as the manifest center for others. His animal, instinctual nature and his spiritual strivings are brought into a delicate harmony, with neither voice subordinate to the other.
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