Article from The Spirit of Ma'at with Shiela Baker by Carol Hiltner
If you have difficulty with inner work, mind-travel to the sound of shamanic drumming may turn out to be your method of choice in connecting with inner guidance. There is nothing like the hypnotic, heartbeat rhythm of the drum to get us out of the egoic mind and into alternate realities.
From the Siberian tradition, where shamanism began, to Chi Kung (Qi Gong), Native American practice, and the many flourishing drumming circles that have come out of Michael Harner's teachings — and whether or not drumming is a part of the ceremony — a shaman's contact with spiritual information is achieved by traveling in consciousness into the Other World — the Lower, Middle, and Upper worlds that lie behind and beyond the everyday reality perceived by our physical senses.
For most, shamanic journeys begin with drumming. You "ride" on the sound of the drumbeat, which becomes the heartbeat of the Earth or the Universe. If you can't find a drumming circle, you can purchase a taped shamanic drumming session. It should last no more than 20 or 30 minutes, at least in the beginning. Some tapes have drumming on one side, and a guided journey meditation, also with drumming, on the other.
Most shamans suggest that before we do journeying we first acquire a Power Animal or Guide. If you visit a shaman, he or she may do the journeying for you to identify and retrieve the Power Animal that wants to walk with you at this time, "blowing" it into your body through the heart chakra. But there is no reason you cannot journey on your own to find your Guide.
There are various methods of imagining the route to the Other World. For example, the path to the Lower World, where we would go to find our Power Animals, might be down through the roots of a tree, or through a cave. The path to the Upper World might appear to us as a flying carpet, or a crystalline staircase "to the stars," or a whirlwind that simple picks us up like Dorothy and drops us down in the Other World.
Many shamanic traditions, like the one Shiela Baker uses, begin by envisioning a birchbark canoe for their journeys. (This is reminiscent of the visionary boats that the Ancient Egyptians used for their travels to the Underworld.) If you are working with a shaman, you would simply follow his or her suggestions.
Let the drumming begin.
To learn more about shamanic journeying, our staff writer Carol Hiltner spoke with Shiela Baker, a gifted shaman and teacher of journeying, who explains how we can use shamanic techniques to access and interpret spiritual information from non-ordinary reality.
Carol: How did you come to be a teacher of shamanic journeying?
Shiela: Traditionally, a shaman has some sort of extraordinary event early in life, such as a near-death experience. As a child, I had a near drowning, and after that I saw things differently than other people.
On the way back home from that experience, I could see my brother, who would not be born for another three years, sitting in the carseat between my parents. Later, when I was twelve, my grandmother crossed over, and after that she would sit on my shoulder and talk to me all the time. There were elves and fairies and gnomes around me, too. I could feel them. So I was getting information all the time about what I was supposed to be doing.
I grew up in the woods of Canada. I watched bears a lot, and I ate moose and elk. It was part of what I took into my body. People would ask me for information, and it would just come to me. I would give them this information, and I found that if they acted on what I told them, their lives would change — and that seemed really extraordinary to me.
When I was 21, I conducted a séance, and a Guide came through who said he was a druid from the time of the building of Stonehenge.
I was a hick kid in Calgary, Alberta. I had never even heard of Stonehenge. My friends at the séance asked what was up, and I said, "Oh, he's telling me about some place called Stonehenge."
They said, "Shiela, there is a Stonehenge."
I went to the library and found out that everything my Guide was telling me about was written up in books. So I went with my husband and baby to visit Stonehenge.
After that, I began to be able to see things around people — events, and things going on their bodies. It was a real challenge for me not to take on other people's pain, because I knew about the mind/body connection, which was not accepted at that time.
Carol: How did you get into what we might call "classic" shamanism?
Shiela: I studied astrology, among other things, and the teacher used a monotonous drumbeat to have us journey to the planet being studied (which was fascinating!). Before that, I hadn't known that I needed a drumbeat. I hadn't known that I needed to be in a canoe, with my Ancestors, and protection, and a Guide. All I knew was that I would ask questions and would get information. But the drumbeat focuses me — the physical world becomes less important. So I began to learn the journeying process. That was my "homecoming."
Carol: What shamanic journey process do you teach?
Shiela: First, I have people lie down with mats and pillows and so on. It's important to be warm and comfortable. If you might get cold, you lie under covers.
As the drumming begins, you imagine yourself in a spirit birch-bark canoe. Invite your male Ancestors on your right-hand side, and the female on the left — and watch or feel or just imagine what happens (your Ancestors may include not just humans or two-leggeds, but also four-leggeds, creepy-crawlers, swimmers, winged ones, standing people or trees, and the rock nation). Accept whoever "shows up."
Now, put protection behind you. Again, you have to "see" what suggests itself to you, as protection is different for every person. For some, it's White Light, a shield, or a person or being. For me, it's three crystals. They've been there since my first journey.
The bow of the canoe is for your Guide, but on this first journey I take students to access their Guide, who can help teach them more about the journey process itself. If you have not yet received your Guide, the bow is left open on the first journey.
At this point, you set an intention. In this case, you might say, "I am setting out on this journey in order to find my Guide." Then, again, see or feel what happens. You're not so much affecting what goes on as simply observing. Journeying is one of the places where you get to experience and learn about just being a participant, about being the observer.
If you are going to go to the Lower World to find your Power Animal or Guide, once you are there you will "see" whatever being is your Guide. If you find a Power Animal, it is suggested that you "see" that particular kind of animal four times before you decide to accept it. That makes it more difficult for the ego to get in the way.
Guides come for different reasons: I have a Guide for business, one for relationships. Sometimes they have come for a particular task or event, or for a period of my life.
My first Guide was a moose. Since then, I've had a peacock, a hawk, a giraffe, and a bunny. For some, Guides are people, or beings. Just as each person's protection is personal, the same is true for Guides.
On the actual journey, once again, different things happen for each person. You must use all your senses, because it's not necessarily like a movie. Some people smell things, some people hear things or experience through touch. Some people paddle their canoes, others have someone else doing that. Some people stay in their canoes, and others climb up into a tree. Some people go to be with their Ancestors, or have their Guides with them. Some people just find themselves wandering around. The experiences of different people are incredibly varied.
We simply observe and allow the journey to unfold.
There is a Lower World, which you get to by imagining yourself going down; and an Upper World that you get to by going up — climbing a mountain or perhaps a tree. Typically, people learn how to journey to the Four Directions as well as the Upper, Lower, and Middle worlds.
Carol: How does the drumbeat work?
Shiela: The rhythm of a shamanic drum actually changes the brainwaves. This has been measured scientifically: It takes between seven and twelve minutes for the drumbeat to alter the brainwaves to create a trance-like state. As you practice more, it takes less time.
At the end of the session — usually it's a half-hour — there is a different drumming sound that tells you it's time to come back from your journey.
At that point, I encourage people to immediately write down what they experienced. Our muscles have memory, so writing it down actually entrains the memory in the body.
Then it's good if you can share with others what happened. This is why I like people to journey in a group, and I ask different people to listen from five perspectives: that of the speaker, or visionary; the warrior, present and ready for action on the journey; the teacher — because there is always a lesson in each journey; the healer; and the magician, the one who pays attention to what there is to take action on in this physical plane. Because what happens, what we affect in the Other World, shows up in this realm, and what we do here has an effect on our next intention.
Carol: So, once we have done our first journey, can we go ourselves? Or do we still need someone to help us journey?
Shiela: You can go on your own. But I also encourage people to find others to journey with. You set your intention and you get information, but it is helpful to have other people interpret.
Carol: Are there any risks in journeying?
Shiela: For beginners, not really. But I recommend that people get training, especially if they will be journeying for other people. And once people see that you can journey, and that you can get information for yourself and effect change in your life, they will ask you to journey for them. So there is a responsibility that goes with that.
A journey has a distinct beginning, middle, and end: boundaries. I believe that people who are mentally ill are actually journeying spontaneously without realizing that there is a beginning, middle, and end. They are being transported somewhere else, but they don't understand the information they are being given, and there is no intentionality.
With the structure of the journey, you have intention. You go out asking a question, and everything that happens in that journey is around that question.
Carol: We have noticed at the Spirit of Ma'at that people are really interested in the shamanic or indigenous perspective, perhaps more so than any other spiritual path. How would you explain this?
Shiela: All indigenous cultures have medicine people, of course. But the particular skill of the shaman is to travel to the Other World and bring back healing, including what's known as soul retrieval. Many people have lost portions of their soul due to traumas. It happens often in childhood. Usually, that part of the soul will return spontaneously, but not always. One of the biggest things a shaman can do is to retrieve that lost soul part.
In the past, there have been very few people who have made shamanism a way of life, but that's changing. Shamanism is re-emerging. There are people on every continent, now, who are waking up to the fact that they have these innate skills and abilities. So there are an increasing number of students now who want to deepen their lives in this way, because journeying offers an amazing amount of information. This is really exciting.
Articles and Insight
A retreat from the ordinary! Get lost in these great reads!