Religions tend to come from the head, the thinking function, they have rationale and make sense. They may also appeal to the emotions, thus setting off the production of endorphins, the pleasure giving chemicals our bodies produce. Shamanism, from whatever tradition, did not begin in this way it began from the grounding and practicality of living with the Earth. From what people have observed of the few hunter-gatherer peoples we’ve allowed to continue to exist in the modern world we can glimpse how they connect with the Earth very differently from most modern humans. They don’t think about their path, their way, their life, they live it and live with it. Often they may not make sense to our modern brains … because they don’t speak to brains! They speak to far deeper and more ancient parts of ourselves with which we all used to be in touch until about say 10,000 years ago.
Nowadays we know our thinking selves very well and believe we know our emotional selves well too, it’s an ambition of many people to be emotionally literate and most believe themselves to be rational, thinking beings. Intuition is often thought of as a fey thing discarded as imagination, while instinct is a low form of animal stuff and something to be overridden by our mind! This is very far away from shamanism. It’s also very far away from the reality of all life on Earth, all life not just human life. It’s also what makes most modern humans disconnected from the Earth.
Yesterday, as part of our Imbolc celebration, we talked about and experienced lots of everyday magic. We each brought our experiences of this to share and there were some lovely examples. I’d begun the idea with snowdrops, the wonderful way that delicate green stem pushes up several inches through the hard, cold, often frozen soil of winter, often indeed coming up through the snow itself and hence their name. Someone else in the group told how becoming pregnant had shown her the shaman’s path, through the practical, everyday magic of the body so beautifully organises everything through the whole birthing process. Another of us had brought a blackbird’s feather that her daughter had found on the doorstep and said, ‘It’s magic!’ the child’s knowing, instinct, shining through clear as a bell. And there were several more. One of our number put her finger right on the nub when she said, ‘I’ve been noticing’. That’s something we don’t do anything like enough of in the modern world, or perhaps I should say we allow our thinking-selves to moderate and expurgate what we notice!
The shaman notices. The shaman works directly with her or his instincts and learns to know her or his intuition. S/he uses their mind and works with their emotions too but the whole balance is the other way up to most people. This changes your perspective of Life, the Universe and Everything, including yourself and your place in the world alongside all our elder brethren, the plants and animals who have been her for millions, billions, of years longer than us.
Everything, except most of us, learns to work with the Earth. Humans, modern humans, seem to struggle against this. They see life as a battle. They even see nature as a battle! That’s a really bad case of anthropomorphising … although I know that idea will be slashed to shreds by those whose buttons it presses! We’re imposing our own ideas, mind-sets, on the Earth.
Once upon a time, not all that long ago in archaeological and geological time, we knew how to be with the Earth. We knew the wonderful process of life and death and how they are two sides of one coin. This knowing doesn’t come from the mind, it comes from those despised animal instincts! It enables us to know truth and reality rather than having to find some rational proof that fits with our current mind-set. It’s not something much appreciated even amongst people who purport to be spiritual or new age thinkers … of course … so don’t expect to be approved of if you decide to walk this path. It is the path of the shaman though. It’s the path that notices, notices the everyday magic that happens every minute of every day all around us. That path does not expect to understand it rationally, nor does it expect to be able to find proof for the thinkers who will require it. That path walks, it just walks, and notices, and immerses itself what is all around, learning by osmosis from the plants and animals, from the weather, from the feel of the soil, from birdsong and the flight of birds, from the waves and the flow of the rivers, from the rocks and the weathering of mountains and the shrugging of volcanoes. It’s connected, deeply and intimately with the natural world … it’s part of the natural world and knows this in its bones, not in its head!
This, this knowing in your bones, is what we lost. Even in this hectic and selfish modern world we can get it back … if we wish to. It’s much harder than it was for our wonderful and creative hunter-gatherer ancestors but the path is still there and you can find it, walk it, follow it. As many of you may well know, I call this following the deer trods because of the ancestral path I come from, but it’s there everywhere, everywhere on our beautiful Earth and you can find it wherever you live. It all begins with noticing the everyday magic that surrounds you and holds you, enables your life wherever you live.