Lesson 5: Shamanism and Mythology


Shamanism and Mythology

In an attempt to assign a common, contemporary language to the ancient practice of shamanism, one can turn to the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.


Mythology ~ Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung

In my attempt to assign a common language to the experience of journey work I have studied comparative mythology, the thoughts of Carl Jung as well as studying various aspects of archaeology and anthropology, most recently I have begun to delve into the anthropology of consciousness. There is a recent term, the neuropsychology of shamanism which is a term that was not even close to being coined in 1992 when I started on this path.

My intellectual pursuits have been for the purposes of finding a contemporary language for an age old practice.  Over the years I have seen images and symbols appear and reappear with such frequency that I cannot ignore the significance of them.  Images such as the world tree, the world mountain, the elements, primary gods and goddesses.  Being a global practitioner it is important to discover the global meaning behind such symbols.

 Joseph Campbell is an important piece to my puzzle.  The most common reaction I get when I tell people I ready mythology is to be dismissed.  What most of us have forgotten is that myths are the remnants of  the stuff that line the walls of the interior of our systems of belief.   I saw myself much like Campbell in my desire to psychologically understand the journeys we took in the same way he sought to understand myth.  

Contemporary Core shamanism is truly about understanding the self.  Campbell helps us by giving us a language to symbols and global, collective understanding of the richness of symbols.  Carl Jung took the universal language of myth and symbols and applied it to the individual.  In my role as circle leader I have heard literally thousands of journeys. Each one individual, but each one equally universal. 

When we travel through the spirit world we are traveling through our collective unconscious.  When we are travelling through the collective unconscious we are travelling through our ancestors thoughts and ideas.  The collective unconscious to the spiritual seeker is the repository of all that has been called and gleamed as sacred throughout millennia

Archetypes, Gods and Goddesses are very important. One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of spirit.  Shamanic journeys aid a persons pursuit of the inner life.  Journeys teach us that we can turn inward and we can begin to get the message of the symbols. 

In journeys we encounter mythological beings of all shapes and sizes.  The difference is, it is not a myth. When we experience a journey the very first question is “Is that Real”? The experiencor has to ask that question.  Real – reality is a commonly agreed upon set of facts or parameters. 

Shamanism is, aside from being a set of tools, a vehicle with which one can experience a relationship with spirit.  Experiential… it really is a delicious word to me. “Is it real” is a question of a healthy functioning conscious ego self.  Throughout myths and tales of the past the seeker is led deeper and deeper into the forest to find at the very core/centre something which shakes their reality, forcing a change in perceptions.  To Campbell this was experiencing the living myth, to Jung it was experiencing the psyche’s voice.

As an example, in our journeys we experience a guide outside of ourselves, whether that is a teacher, a power animal or a spirit guide that you are already familiar with. We are then entering the realm of experiencing something beyond ourselves – outside of the function of our reality.  I have already discussed the spirit world functions independant of us.  The SW acts independent of us; it is not merely an extension of our imagination. When we journey we cannot help but notice this.  Once we get that we open ourselves to knowledge, wisdom and healing power.  These abilities are beyond our ego conscious selves.  I use the term Beyond as in independent of mine self.

Carl Jung, was a psychiatrist who himself had spirit guides helping him understand the human psyche and its connection to a commonly held view, that of the collective unconscious or the objective psyche.   Which is shamanic language is the spirit world.

The objective psyche is a store house, the ether net of collective experiences, results, interpretations.  It is an interactive place.  It is difficult for us to accept the reality of the spirit world for lots of reasons.  Our present spiritual culture does not

  1. engage the heart
  2. encourage experience
  3. engage the unconscious

Shamanism does

  1. Engage the heart.  Many of us, when we journey as a group, especially for a compassionate purpose, such as psychopomp work, return with open and filled hearts. We engage our hearts when we perform drum healings in the circle; or when we journey for healing of ourselves or for someone else.
  2. We also encourage experience.  Drumming in and of itself is an experience. You experience myths alive and well.  You journey to the Wo rld Tree, you journey to various gods and goddesses to experience their touch, their wisdom and their help.  We experience the Medicine Wheel by building one, journeying to the four directions, journeys aid in your experience of the world around us.
  3. Journeys certainly engage the unconscious, which is the hardest and easiest part of shamanism to accept.  It can also be the hardest part to continue with.  For the average person journeys are a path to the Self – Jung calls the Capital S Self.  Traveling into the spirit world, the objective psyche, leads us into a deeper relationship with ourselves and the spirits around us.

But is it real? Is Shamanism just a myth? Are the relationships with Spirit just the things of legend?  Personally I think it is much easier to dismiss it all as imagination than to accept the changes and perhaps…oh no don’t say it… heal.  Delving deep into ourselves allows us to attach significance to a world that seems to exist outside of ourselves – independent of ourselves.


The Function of Myth

In our ancestral history we have been bathed in our myths.  These collective myths are a part of our collective unconscious.  Myths give order and meaning to life. Our myths, and now our journeys, train us and prepare us for spiritual interaction.

Jung came to believe and teach that the collective unconscious corresponds to the timelessness of the spirit world.  What we encounter there are archetypes, the spirits reflective of a particular quality or essence of ourselves.  We encounter the same teaching spirits as our ancestors did.  Of course some with modifications, times and myths do change and modify to fit out present reality.

The spirit world like our myths – changes and evolve with us.  We won’t know that, or have a hand in changing our predominant myths, archetypes if we don’t actively participate.  We are the dream and the dreamers.  We are the myths and the mythmakers.

Jung postulated that it was incumbent upon modern man to find a way to live a symbolic life. I encourage each of us to find a myth to live by, or a life that is committed to something bigger than oneself.

Since modern man has become disillusioned with a concept of god as up there… or out there – external to ourselves, the only solution is to turn inward, the inner source of order and meaning.

I have spent a long time looking for a language that explains the sacred. Jung has provided that tool, the path to the translation of spiritual reality to western understanding.