Thursday, 13 September 2012

Introduction To Shamanism Seminar 3 Spirit Helpers And Power Animals

Introduction To Shamanism Seminar 3 Spirit Helpers And Power Animals

A shaman is a man who has immediate, concrete experiences with gods and spirits; he sees them face-to-face, he talks with them, prays to them, implores them... the majority of these familiar and helping spirits have animal forms. Mircea Eliade

Although shamanism exists around the world in many different cultural forms, three things are the same in shamanic experience everywhere: the journey, or soul-flight, that the shaman makes, the role of power, and the essentiality of spirit helpers. On one level, who a shaman is and what she does cannot be separated, the shaman is only a shaman because, when she heals the sick, casts out intrusions or asks for information, she is working with and through the power of the spirits, usually, but not exclusively, the power of her own spirit helpers. No shaman works alone; anyone working alone is by definition using their own power and is therefore not a shaman.

When teaching or working with clients I am often asked "what is a spirit helper?", or "what is a power animal?". These seemingly straightforward questions, if answered in depth, touch on the sophisticated and paradoxical nature of shamanism itself. My understanding of spirit help is that it is a part of the universal energy that animates everything, including myself. When, during a journey, I ask for help of any kind, I am making an approach to that energy. The response that comes back will be directly related to what was asked for, and for whom. It is in this space, between the universal and the personal, that the true wonder and excitement of shamanism lies for me; this is the place where archetypes are born and where time, in the linear sense, ceases to have meaning. I ask, and I am answered but because my understanding and spiritual perception of the essence of universal energy is limited by my own nature as a human animal, I perceive the response in a form that is recognisable, acceptable and contains a teaching about the help requested - in other words, as a spirit helper. The helper may be in human form, a wise teacher, an ancestor or even a mythological figure such as a Green Man; it may be a rock or a tree, or Gaia herself. As Eliade points out above, many spirit helpers take animal form - a reminder of our own nature and genetic past. Spirit helpers in the form of animals are commonly referred to as 'power animals'.

Space is a way of expressing difference and separation, but the shaman's journey expresses the possibility of coming together again. Piers Vitebsky, The Shaman

When I make a journey to find a helper for another person I travel, most often to the Lower World, the place of creative power and fertile nurturing, find the spirit, most often in the form of an animal, bring it to the person and blow it into their upper chest and head through my hollow fist. This is the straightforward part. The more complex and paradoxical part is comprehending that whilst the spirit help is now within the person who has received it, it is also outside them and indeed everywhere. This is something that can be explained to a client in words, but which I believe can only be truly comprehended through shamanic experience. Perhaps the spirit I have just blown into the person is a leopard. It is at once an individual leopard, 'Leopard' - in the sense of being the embodiment of all leopards everywhere - and an aspect of universal energy that offers help to the person I am working with in the form of an leopard - as opposed to a lion, a rat or a fish - because the nature of Leopard has a teaching for the person at this time in their life.

I currently have a young woman client from Eastern Europe who has limited English and finds being here in London working as an au pair very difficult. She feels trapped by circumstance and unable to take an objective view of her situation in order to change it. When I journeyed to the Lower World - the place of power, something the client clearly lacked - to find her a spirit helper, the 'power animal', that appeared was an eagle. When we reviewed my journey the young woman was quickly able to grasp that the attributes of an eagle were things she needed to learn for herself: the ability to rise above a situation and view it objectively, to float before committing to an action. In the journey the eagle fed the young woman gobbets of raw bloody meat in the same way an adult eagle would feed a chick. This could have a number of implications one of which being that she should eat red meat - she later told me that she had been diagnosed with anaemia in the past. Most significantly for her present situation, the eagle indicated that she must learn to be the hunter not the hunted, the eagle not the rabbit, and this she understood immediately and clearly. The young woman is now learning to journey for herself. She will meet her eagle face-to-face and be able to ask for help to make the changes that will allow her to develop her Eagle nature. She is excited about this. I have no idea how she herself perceives the eagle that is now inside and outside her, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that she feels she is no longer alone and has access to help and the means to help herself.

In the next Introduction to Shamanism seminar at The Open Centre, London EC1 on Monday, April 20th, we will be further exploring spirit helpers and power animals and where and how they can be found, returned and integrated into a person's daily life, thereby enabling greater confidence, energy and self-awareness. For more information about this and other seminars take a look at Upcoming Events in the sidebar above.