The Journey State
Journeying and the Journey State
The most basic aspect of core shamanism is journeying and the shamanic journey state. The journey state is referred to as an altered state. The monotonous rhythm of the drum affects the Theta wave. By altering the Theta wave your perception of reality changes. It is within this state that the practitioner (you or I) moves into the spirit world. The journey state can be experienced physically, visually, auditory, clairaudience, etc. It may be one of these, many, all at once or one at a time.
In my experience people focus on whether or not their experience is “real”. It is often questioned if it is simply their imagination playing with them. Imagination is a very important tool in any spiritual practice. Our imagination is often much maligned and yet without imagination many of the modern conveniences we take for granted now would not have been invented. Imagination is what makes our journeys possible. Imagination makes it possible to experience the spirit world, with little question and lots of enthusiasm. Our imaginations aren’t limited to just visual things. They can also include sounds, smells and other sensations. Everything is an interpretation based on experience. Shamanic journey experience can have very little to do with the outside world. Each person’s experience is individual, and each experience is quite real.
The journey is referred to as a trance state. You train your mind to respond in accordance with your will in order to produce the ability to develop a deep trance. This is best done by daily practice. It may take some time and effort to establish that ability, but once you have it you will be able to maintain it by practicing only once or twice per week. If you stop practicing entirely your ability will gradually lesson. When you go into any trance you gradually progress from ordinary consciousness into deeper levels.
I found it important for me to understand that both the left and right side of the brain have different wave patterns emanating from them – most of the time these brain waves are not synchronized. Generally one hemisphere is dominant for anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours and then it shifts over to the other hemisphere of the brain. Under the influence of an auditory driving mechanism (i.e. rhythmic drumming), both hemispheres of the brain can start resonating to the same rhythm. This is where most people experience paranormal capacities. Under this influence most people experience the oracular state described above. A mystical experience is not uncommon. This is called an awakened brain state. I think this is why people have drummed for thousands and thousands of years.
The Shamanic Drum
The shamanic drum is the Shaman’s foremost vehicle for engaging on’es attention and sparking the awakened brain state. I can understand how the drum is commonly referred to as the Horse, because it carries our awareness in such a way that we once again can communicate with Spirit. I find when explaining the drumming to a western thinking mind it is important to stress that the phenomena occurs because of an integration between the physiological and transcendent parts of ourselves. I tend to describe the monotonous beat of the drum as candy for the conscious mind. Shamanic drumming is monotonous becasues we are not interested in engaging the conscious mind, rather we are interested in placating the conscious mind. By awaking the brain’s theta state, we are inducing a dream like state of being. This is the shamanic journey (or trance) state. It is important to note that this state of being does not engage the conscious mind, perhaps we could also refer to it as the constant critic or emotional meter. The awakening of the theta state brings us into a state of being that does not rely on an emotional content, freeing us from our rational brain.
The journey is not always what we expect, rather it is good when what we expect is the furthest thing from what we experience. If there is an uncertainty with our experience we can then be more confident that what we are experiencing is real and more complex than simply controlling our daydreams. The journey is often referred to as an ecstatic state. In the ecstatic state the journeyor can communicate with the unseen world to gain information that can affect the seen world. The ecstatic trance is an individual journey into non-ordinary reality; therefore, experiences vary from person to person and from journey to journey. Once you enter a trance state, the rhythm or sound of the drum tends to change. The drumbeat may appear to speed up or slow down, while the sound may grow louder, softer, or disappear. You may experience a change in body temperature, feel energy flowing through your body, or find yourself twitching, swaying, or rocking. It is not uncommon to hear sounds or voices. You may even smell specific aromas. You may see colorful patterns, symbolic images, or dreamlike visions. Some people may find that they have a highly developed inner vision while others may rely more on instinct, intuition, or intent.
Prevalent among the descriptions given of shamanic journeys is that of a tunnel or tube to which the shaman is transported. The tunnel sometimes appears ribbed and may bend or spiral around. This tunnel-like imagery is associated with the central axis that unites the three inner planes of consciousness. The shaman is conveyed up or down the tunnel to an exit that opens out upon mystical worlds. In these worlds, the shaman experiences sensations and communications that go beyond the usual senses. Conversing with plants, animals, and the guiding forces of nature becomes possible. The shaman accesses knowledge, power, and healing. Upon finishing the explorations, he or she returns via the tunnel to ordinary reality. It is interesting to note that such tunnel imagery is prevalent among descriptions given of the near-death experience. During the spirit journey, one’s awareness transcends ordinary reality. In journeys to the Lower World, one may experience the sensation of falling, sliding, or spiraling downward into or under the Earth. In Upper World journeys, one may experience the sensation of rising, floating, flying, or spiraling upward through the air or sky. Journeys to the Lower World involve the movement of awareness to a level beneath ordinary reality and Celestial journeys involve movement to a level above ordinary reality. Lower levels are denser, lower in frequency, and more involved with the physical body, the earthly plane, and material reality. Higher levels are higher in frequency, less dense, and subtler,
Interpreting your journeys can be a challenge as well. Our own spirit world is different from anyone else’s. We learn our own spiritual language, thankfully our ancestors have gone before us and left us clues. One clue to the colors you perceive during journeys can be important, for they can indicate what level of awareness you are experiencing or which center of consciousness you are activating. The chromatic hues may correspond to the seven chakra centers and are from bottom to top: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. For example, if you enter a world of violet mountains, sky, or sun, you have most likely achieve some of the highest levels of awareness. If you perceive more red, orange, or yellow, you are probably activating lower centers of consciousness.
Your First Journey
To experience your first journey, you will want to make use of a solitary, monotonous musical beat. If you do not have someone to drum for you, you can find recorded music for this purpose in our library. It is important to introduce yourself to the spirit world, and one way to do that is with methodical first introduction experiences. It is like going to a new friends house, you want to make a good impression so you follow the social of your host. I f you are not aware of the social cues than, certain courtesies maybe expected. First introduce yourself to your power animals. They are important allies in the Lower World as well as the Middle World. It is usually customary to travel to the upper worlds to meet your guides and teachers. The Middle world journeys are similar to the world you are currently aware of, but they can often have a bit of a twist. A shaman is an explorer of doorways – doorways from ordinary reality into nonordinary reality, portals leading from the physical world into the spirit world. In Celtic spirituality these are considered “thin places” where the two worlds are in closer contact with each other, where the spirit world flows into the physical world, where spirits and mortals can pass with relative ease. Also known as “power spots,” these places are found all over the world, some secret and personal, others world-famous, such as Stonehenge in England, the Black Hills in South Dakota, the Skellig Islands off the Irish coast, the Serpent Mound in southern Ohio. In the history of the human spirit ordinary people, whether ancient or modem, are lured to places where they perceive a greater power, energy, or spiritual force. And when we have felt the transformative and invigorating presence of the invisible powers, we long to experience them again and again, to be back in those realms where eternity meets the temporal world, where we know that there is more to the universe than we can perceive with our physical senses.
What makes a shaman different from other mystics and visionaries is the intentional journey – or soul flight – into the spirit world. In other words, unlike the common perception that mortals must wait for spirits of nature or the dead to make contact – an occurrence that happens more frequently than most people realize – the shaman initiates contact by going directly into the spirits’ world. Rather than waiting for the spirits to visit us, the shaman becomes the visitor into their invisible realms. Because they know the entry points, shamans can cross the borders of ordinary and nonordinary reality at will, enter the spirits’ reality, and develop the skills, understanding, and competence for functioning in that dreamlike world. Entries into the Otherworld are of two types: portals that “open into the earth” for lower-world journeys and portals that “lead to the other side of the sky” for upper-world journeys.
Experiences of entering these portals, finding animal guides and learning the geography of nonordinary reality are at the heart of core shamanic practices. If you are not a visualizer, you may wonder if you can journey. You can. Many excellent shamanic practitioners claim they very seldom, if at all “see” things on their shamanic joumeys. But they sense them; they intuitively “know” what is there, where they are, what they are doing. Some report that they see colors or atmospheric shapes and textures, but nothing distinct, and yet they too “know” that within these sensations they are with their power animals and spirit teachers. So although we tend to use the words see, visualize, and image for the sake of convenience, keep in mind that in terms of your own experience, the sensations may be nonvisual.
Some people hear their journeys rather than see them. They hear the voices of spirits, or the “hear” the gist of what their spirits tell them, almost like instantaneous thought transmission. As you reflect upon the experience of your journey, you will probably be aware that your made yourself do this. You may even have the sensation that you made it up. This is all right because “making the journey begin” means making yourself see or sense things that lead from ordinary reality into nonordinary reality. You are making it happen. There is a difference between making it happen and making it up. You will come to understand this distinction better as you
This is an important phenomenon to consider: the shamanic journey is a combination of intentional and nonintentional experiences and sensations. You can make things happen without making everything up. The shamanic journey is different in this way from a guided meditation or what are called “pathworkings,” in which you are instructed what to see and do. The most common question people ask when they are learning to journey is whether the are “just making it up” or “is it really happening?” as if there must be a contradiction between the two. There need be no contradiction. Because you are in control of the journey, you can make things happen; your intention determines much that occurs in the journey. But because you have entered another reality, the spirit world, you are not totally in control and cannot determine everything that occurs. The spirits are autonomous; the nonordinary places and events of the shamanic journey exist in a dimension where we are only visitors, not rulers.
So be prepared for your first journey or your thousandth journey to “feel” less spontaneous than you wish. On the other hand, your first or thousandth journey may be the most spontaneous you will ever have. The point here is simply that because we are walking in two worlds at once, we can never predict which world – that is, which state of consciousness – will dominate. But fortunately the spirits can work with us in any state of consciousness, so they can give us the relevant information or instruction regardless of how we feel about the authenticity of any given journey.