Whilst re-arranging my book-shelves, momentarily distracted from the original purpose of dusting, I hauled out Shamanic Wisdomkeepers – Shamanism in the Modern World by Tiomothy Freke. I bought the book on a sale, enchanted by the brilliant colour photos, and intrigued by the contents. The book takes a global perspective, from the highlands of Tibet, to the Amazon jungle. It embraces the American Indians, the bearded Celts, the African ceremonial dancers, the song-lines of the Australian Aborigines. I spent a happy hour reading about sweat lodges, ceremonies, drumming, the spirit world, companion animals, the whole nine yards.
But the title gave me pause: Shamanism in the Modern World. Thinking it over, I’m pretty sure the modern world is no longer interested in Shamanism. It certainly isn’t in sync with their traditional ideas – harmony with nature, communicating with the spirit world, trance dancing and travelling. We live – for the most part – in an urban, technological world, increasingly ruled by the media and electronica. The New Age has espoused some Shamanic ideas and practices, but I’ll bet those adherents are dwarfed by the number of people who use Facebook on a daily basis.
Years ago, I was swept away by the writings of Carlos Casteneda, a Peruvian American anthropologist who wrote about the Mexican shaman Don Juan, (don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico) and his training with the old man in the deserts of the South Western USA.
It was heady stuff: magic mushrooms, vision quests, mysterious winds, evil witchy women, enemies, places of power, long seemingly pointless treks into the desert, night vigils, transcendental experiences …. I spent a lot of money in those years, collecting and devouring Don Juan books. Quite why they exerted such a fascination for me, I’m not sure. Perhaps because they were so different from my life at the time. A doorway into ‘the other’.
At one point I even bought a book which explained how to do a series of Tai Chi-like movements Tensegrity® : positions and movements of body and breath which the early seers of their lineage dreamt and stalked thousands of years ago. Breathing into these dreamt positions and movements allows the practitioner a simple and accessible means to boost his or her well-being by redirecting and restoring the flow of his or her natural energy—bringing the ability to be present to experience, rather than caught in thoughts and emotions—and a breath pattern—of the past. Such a state of presence brings the energy and focus to recapitulate, or review one’s life, and learn from one’s experience, allowing for a new connection with others, oneself, the earth, and the life of the earth (seen and unseen), as well as the planets and stars; and new choices in the way one uses one’s attention and energy in daily life. Carlos Castaneda borrowed the word tensegrity from the architect, scientist, navigator, innovator and visionary, R. Buckminster Fuller.
Not that I ever succeeded: the diagrams were too complicated. I still have Journey to Ixatalan sitting on my shelf. The odd thing is, living in Africa, I have reasonably easy access to traditional healers (i.e. the equivalent of the old Mexican shaman, I suppose) but it has never occurred to me to investigate this local version and maybe experience similar adventures. There’s the language barrier to overcome, the safety aspect to consider, and also the bad reputation some of these men have for indulging in witchcraft and muti murders. So no: I prefer my shamans tidily between book-covers, thanks very much.