By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D 


            Alchemists put various base metals, such as lead, through a series of processes which refine them step by step until they become gold. Sound impossible? It’s been done. My friend, Dennis William Hauck, author of a magnificent book on Alchemy and personal transformation, The Emerald Tablet, is a practicing alchemist and has done it. So have other alchemists through the ages. But the secret is that alchemical processes are merely symbols for the inner process of transforming our “lead” into our true state of being. By embracing the Gold within, we learn of our Soul and its purpose.

            In Alchemy, there are seven basic stages:


Stage I: Calcination

            Calcination is a difficult stage that shocks and disillusions us, while it deflates the ego. We feel as if we were being thrown into an abyss of unknowing, being torn to shreds, and then being burned to ashes.

            Suffice it to say, most people avoid this process.

            Dennis Hauck describes this foundational stage as “beneficial because [it exposes] deeper layers of our essence while rubbing away the false person.” This is certainly what most of us might think we want, but when we’re face-to-face with the process, it is often a frightening thing.

            As Calcination burns away the ego’s influence by deflating it, we are without the ego’s protection from the unknown. We may feel like all we hold dear is being threatened, we may be depressed or angry. It’s a death-like experience. Even though this is painful and distressing, we may realize that we’ve outgrown the need to be protected. Calcination eliminates what is no longer needed, including cherished beliefs which limit us.

            The essential task in Calcination is to surrender to it, learn from it and allow it to burn away the barriers and obstacles to our wholeness.


Stage II: Dissolution

            Just as Calcination represents fire, the second stage, Dissolution, engages the element of water to further the process of releasing unnecessary and outgrown habits and beliefs. Dissolution typically involves crying and feeling lost. After Calcination, the ego’s rigid control is released temporarily, and we may become aware of underlying fears of the unknown, of feeling too much, or of expressing ourselves. We fear that no matter what we do, we will be harmed, rejected, denied, criticized, or annihilated.

            The task in Dissolution is to actively accept and express our emotions so that we may access the essential emotional core within us. In Alchemy, the ashes of Calcination are dissolved in water (emotion) to give us the opportunity to connect to our original feeling state before the ego’s protections began.

            In this stage, we bring back the emotions, while detaching from the experiences that triggered them in the past. Emotion connected to trauma or painful events get translated as just as bad as the event itself. So we repress them in order to protect ourselves from re-experiencing the original event. But our emotions are necessary and essential to the Soul’s well-being. So they must be brought back if we are to grow and mature spiritually.

            In research done on the between-lifetimes states of consciousness (I recommend books by Michael Newton, Ph.D. and Joel L. Whitton, Ph.D.), a majority of subjects reported feelings as essential in the learning experiences between lifetimes. The feelings a Soul has during the after-death “life review” guides that Soul into making changes that support evolvement. The Soul may see that the next lifetime must be dedicated to correcting and rebalancing any wrong that was done against others or itself.

            Rejected and denied, emotions become heavy, dark and sometimes even dangerous. We numb ourselves by believing we don’t have unacceptable feelings. But many people are amazed at how much time, effort, and energy they put into hiding an emotion, only to discover that when re-integrated, it makes them feel whole. The fear of being annihilated by an emotion is the fear of feeling alive.


Stage III: Separation

            Separation is the stage in which we learn to make wise decisions. This is a level of intellectual exploration, symbolized by the element of air. But it is not a hiding place by “going into our heads” when upsetting emotions arise. Rather, it is a place where we deepen our understanding and appreciation of our emotions and integrate them in the process of making decisions for our lives that are more closely aligned with the guidance of our emotions and therefore, with the Soul’s purpose.

            Misusing the intellect by rejecting emotion disconnects us from the Soul because the Soul and emotions are interconnected. Our Souls express through our emotions. Great artists, writers, musicians and other highly creative people could not do what they do if their emotions are shut down. Unfortunately, our society diminishes the value of emotion so those who express themselves passionately are often outcasts. We can perceive this rejection, however, as a confirmation that we are creative, inspired or unique, and we just don’t fit the common mold.

            By being in touch with our feelings and learning to make decisions that support our expression, we avoid blocking that expression. This takes courage. It is far easier to stay in a bad relationship or to keep working for the same abusive boss than it is to leave. Leaving means we’re on our own and we won’t be taken care of. Those beliefs depend upon an immature perception ourselves, built on the idea that we have a helpless little child within us, when the truth is that we are adults. So Separation helps us to update old ideas and make wise decisions that release stands in the way of our growth.


Part IV: Conjunction

            Alchemy’s motto is “As Above, So Below,” meaning that things of the earth are influenced by the heavens - and vice-versa. Alchemists and shamans seek the balance between the two and from that balance, they effect transformations and healings. The symbol of the World Tree, found in many mystical traditions such as the Kabbalah, teaches that to be whole, we must be connected to heavenly things as well as maintaining our roots in the earth, so the “trunk,” or our life as we live it, becomes a highway flowing between the two. 

            The fourth stage of alchemical transformation, Conjunction, is related to the heart and to the earth, another symbol like the World Tree of the place where the spiritual meets the physical and the higher states of consciousness may be integrated.

            Conjunction calls us to create a new attitude toward ourselves and others. If Separation set the stage for us to quit a meaningless job, for instance, we may be inspired to begin doing what we always wanted to do. In the conjunctive state of consciousness, there are fewer fears, so many of the old “shouldn’ts” are absent, or at least diminished.

            We learn to perceive ourselves with more acceptance and love. We see our “mistakes” of the past as “grist for the mill” and necessary for the greater consciousness yet to come. Rather than a value judgment, our previous low self-regard might now be viewed as a self-regulating mechanism that prevented us from manifesting our potential until the time was right.

            A conjuncted consciousness takes us closer to being that person we always sensed we could be. However, the work doesn’t stop there.


Stage V-a: Putrefaction

            Once again, we must face the ego’s attempt at dominance, but in the fiery Putrefaction-Fermentation stage, the quality, intensity, and source of the experience is quite different from that in Calcination. There, we were alone in our battle with the ego. This time we sense another, higher force assisting us. And although Putrefaction can be very disturbing, and we may be thrown once again into a pit of depression or despair, we also feel supported, even encouraged, in the process. Most people in this stage report the ability to observe objectively even while feeling deep despair and fear.

            Putrefaction proceeds until it has “cooked” us enough and we enter Fermentation, whose process is similar to how rotted grapes become fine wine. Putrefaction has leveled the ego so it supports and strengthens us now, rather than sabotaging us.


Stage V-b: Fermentation

            In Fermentation, a new wisdom may arise, founded upon the breaking down of former beliefs. In alchemy, the brew must be transferred to another container (the newly developing self), where a catalyst is added to produce the final stages of fermentation (where a new identity and outlook is formed).

            In this stage, we must maintain a state of egoless surrender so we can be empty and receptive vessels when the catalyst is added. The catalyst in personal transformation may take any form, but it always includes new insight and even an enlightened view of the self. We may suddenly become aware of why we act and feel as we do. Old ideas and habits may fall away, and we see how much of who we thought we were was based upon illusion.


Part VI: Distillation

            “Your feelings and thoughts are the feelings and thoughts of the Whole Universe,” says Dennis William Hauck in The Emerald Tablet. In Distillation, we become far more interested in the greater good than merely in our own. It is the transformational stage where we are spiritually and emotionally mature enough to merge with the collective conscious and unconscious without being overwhelmed. The ego no longer controls us and we can therefore experience and appreciate the mysteries of collective and personal material without the its intrusion.

            Distillation creates authentic spiritual experience that embraces the light as well as the dark. (By dark, I mean the mysterious, unconscious, unexpressed - I am not referring to what we call “evil,” which is actually a misuse of the dark.) Many spiritual and religious philosophies teach that our task is to reject and avoid discomfort and seek only an idealistic realm of experience. These ideas only further the belief that when we experience darker aspects of life that we must be doing something wrong.

            A distilled person has a mature perception of things. S/he does not expect life to meet egoistic expectations, nor does s/he view it as a devastating disappointment just because it doesn’t meet those expectations. A distilled person works with the Soul, rather than the ego, to create her/his life. S/he surrenders to the higher forces while celebrating and honoring the existence of the lower ones.

            A medieval alchemical drawing shows a well from which are emerging the masculine sun and the feminine moon. This depicts the process in distillation of arising from the depths of the lower work into a balanced relationship with both higher and lower aspects of being. Also in the picture is a pelican shown pecking at her breast until she draws blood that she then feeds to her young. This represents the wise choice we are asked to make if we are sincere in our intentions to become spiritually advanced. At some point we are required to make a sacrifice that benefits the greater good. This is not a melodramatic sacrifice for that is no sacrifice at all. It’s just more ego drama. The true sacrifice is one based upon the origin of the word: making an act sacred rather than self-serving.


Stage VII: Coagulation

            In Alchemy, a whole person is one who has traveled through all the lower stages: calcination (burning out the ego’s control), dissolution (redeeming the emotions), separation (deciding what’s important) - many times! - and has then moved into numerous explorations of the stage of conjunction to discover the heart. A whole person welcomes Putrefaction-Fermentation, Distillation, and Coagulation, which is where wholeness is confirmed. But even though Coagulation is the final stage, the end is just the beginning. This is no resting place, for it requires more responsiveness than ever before, more discomfort than when we were at varying degrees of unconsciousness, and more vision of how our moment to moment decisions can affect entire universes. It is also filled with ineffable experience that we may never have imagined possible.

            Few people reach a point of complete Coagulation. Most of us must continue to go through all of the stages again and again, each time further refining the golden essence within us. Just as it takes miners effort, toil, and time to uncover riches within the earth, our struggles to find our inner Gold are ultimately worth it all.


By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.


            Students of spiritual transformation are taught that there is no God “out there,” our relationship partners are not the source of our pain, and our financial struggles aren’t caused by a difficult boss. We learn that all of these challenges are mirrors to us for what lies within. By looking beyond appearances and deeply into our own attitudes, beliefs, habits, and unconscious behaviors, we grow.

            And so it is with the task of discovering the meaning within the terrible events of September, 2001. In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran speaks of “Crime and Punishment”:

            Oftentimes I have heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.

            We are being asked at this time to consider the possibility that those who create evil deeds in the world are actually outpicturing, or acting out for us, just as children tend to mimic their parents’ unconscious behaviors, those dark and unacceptable regions within our human psyches. Every one of us has felt unsettling feelings, either consciously or not, and projected them onto others as judgments based in our unconscious fears. It is far easier to point fingers at others who exhibit nasty traits than take ownership of those traits we have worked so hard to hide within us.

            On a global level, this becomes the World Shadow - whether it takes form as a dictator or an entire culture that we love to hate, it is still our own inner material projected outwardly and collectively on a grand scale. Gibran says:

            ...even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.


            Probably the most unacceptable idea, which is found in all mystical truths, is that we are not unresponsible for the acts of anyone else. The spiritual principle of “We are all one,” does not work only when we are meditating on peace or feeling loving toward someone - it means just what it says. We are ALL ONE. There is no separation between us. Perpetrators and victims, no matter what the situation, are all inexorably entwined with one another in some way. Gibran says:

            The righteous is not innocent of the deeds of the wicked, And the white-handed is not clean in the doings of the felon. Yea, the guilty is oftentimes the victim of the injured, And still more often the condemned is the burden bearer for the guiltless and unblamed.


            This is difficult material to ingest if the ego is weakened by fear-based resistance, old patterns of guilt and shame, unhealthy self-regard, or projection onto others. Whenever I present these kinds of ideas, I know some people will be annoyed or angered. I’ve been involved in this work for so long that I understand that reactions against new or challenging ideas are just as important as receptivity to them. For in the reactivity lies the possibility of transformation. Not to my ideas, but to new ideas that support us in creating our lives the ways our Souls need us to. When our entrenched habits and beliefs are pushed hard enough, they may break and make way for new experiences of wholeness.

            And so it is with the task we face of seeing the events of September 11 as an opportunity to make the changes we, particularly those of us in the spiritual community, have always espoused. Our spiritual ideals are now being tested. Will they stand up? Or will they be, as is shown in the classic Tower card in the Tarot deck, blasted and thrown down because they were based upon naiveté, unreality, arrogance, or misplaced power? I once had a dream in which I was quite comfortable meditating alone in the top floor of a tall tower. It came crashing down, and I thought I was going to die. What I died to was my arrogant isolationism, which was based upon a deep-seated belief that I was somehow inadequate and would never fit into society. In the dream, I emerged from the rubble and found myself with many others, walking in serene gardens amidst beautiful temples and universities of great learning. After the dream, I vowed to embrace my humanity and transform all the ways in which I protected myself from deeply engaging with others.

            To look at our own dark mysteries takes a great deal of courage. Those brave Souls on the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania confronted their darkest fears and by doing so, sacrificed their physical beingness for the sake of others. Who is to say that all those who lost their human lives had not agreed on a Soul level to make this sacred act for the sake of all life on this beautiful planet? And why might they have done this? Perhaps to awaken us to the sleep we had succumbed to. The inner work has just begun and just as in the “Hundredth Monkey” principle, it only takes a few who are willing to face the truth of what we have ignored for so long. The work will be worth it. Gibran says:

            You cannot separate the just from the unjust and the good from the wicked; For they stand together before the face of the sun even as the black thread and the white are woven together. And when the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also.

            I extend my heart to all of you with blessings for your growth, deep understanding, and expansion into all you were meant to be.


THE SOUL IN WINTER: Discovering Gifts in the Dark Night

By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.


            Picture Winter. What images and feelings emerge? Do you think of the holidays, filled with memories of gifts, family, food and fun? Do you see yourself skiing down a powdery slope, your nose freezing but your spirit feeling free? Do you hear the silence Winter as snow gently falls? Can you feel yourself sitting before a toasty fire, wrapped in a blanket, sipping cocoa?

            Or, do you dread the onset of this season, filled with memories of holidays gone wrong, family arguments, financial stresses, physical and mental exhaustion by the time the holidays are over? Are you prone to holiday depressions and feelings of emptiness, loneliness and despair?

            Consider the possibility that both the positive and negative experiences we have during Winter are learned responses based upon cultural and family expectations. Perhaps there is another way to perceive and experience this powerful season.

            Winter gives us the opportunity to explore its darkness and mystery. It is a catalyst for embracing the deeper recesses of our being. If we are willing to surrender to the natural process in Winter of hibernation, where we are still and listen and feel, we discover aspects of ourselves we cannot possibly know while we are running around in panic because we haven’t found the right gift for Billy or Aunt Sue or are drinking too much at a party we didn’t really want to go to in the first place.

            I recently attended a Medieval Revel to celebrate the season. As I drank in the beauty of the meticulously created period clothing, smelled the mead, heard the exquisite authentic music, something moved within me. It was my natural pagan heart and Soul being tweaked to deeply recall my roots. I was transfixed as the Shaman and stag dancers reinacted the centuries-old ritual of the battle for sovereignty. I could relate this to recent inner battles in regard to my own Dark Night of the Soul.

            In the summer of this year, I moved to Nevada City from southern California, where I had lived for fifty-seven years. It was clear that Spirit had moved me here, but what I hadn’t known was how the beauty and power of this place would change my life. I was to discover how it would resonate so completely with my Soul that I would be able to clearly hear its voice and feel its urgings to express itself through my human self.

            And because that human part of me had always had sovereignty over my Soul self, I had developed limited ways of being and relating to my world. This came crashing to a halt when I made the geographical move, which I see now as an inner move toward wholeness because my Soul was in its element here. It would begin pulling me toward its embrace and freeing me from stagnation and inauthentic living.

            The first four months here were classic components of deep and alchemical transformation. The first month after my move was involved with physically organizing and orienting myself. The second month involved business aspects of my life. The third month proved to be emotionally challenging in how it was becoming clearer to me and some of my family who were still living in Los Angeles that I had actually made an irrevocable commitment.

            Then the fourth month came and threw me into feeling true loneliness for the first time in my life. I could feel its old wound acutely. I sensed there was more to this than just missing family and old friends. This had deep roots and I felt drawn to digging down into the most profound but unusual Dark Night of the Soul I’d ever experienced.

            It was different because I was not defended this time against feeling true emotion. Nor was I afraid of what I was feeling. I knew the feelings were not a judgment against me, but rather a revelation of something of great value within me. I went willingly, but not weakly. I found I could take my strength into the darkness and with it, find additional powers that had been lying dormant within me. I felt like both the Shaman, who consciously set the stage for deep and dramatic growth as well as the Deer Dancers, battling for independence from anything that stood in the way of total wholeness of being. I knew this process required sacrifice and I agreed to release my old defenses against authenticity. I was now free to express my needs for companionship and community without shame. As a result, my Soul has responded surprisingly quickly by bringing into my life many beautiful new friends who share my commitment to being fully and Soulfully human.

            As I write this article, I am aware the Dark Night still hovers around and within me and I welcome its shadowy presence because I know what it holds for me. It is the key to my creativity as a spiritual teacher, artist, musician, writer and so many other things. By embracing and allowing the Dark Night within to embrace me, I have confirmed something I’ve always suspected and have taught my students for years: that the Power of the Dark, balanced with the Power of the Light, is the key to inner and outer freedom, creative expression, and most importantly, an authentic relationship with God.

THE GIFT OF THE STONES: A Journey of Enlightenment in Shamanic Reality

By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.


            In 1996, I led a tour to Southwestern England where, near the end of the trip, we visited an ancient stone circle in Cornwall, called Bosca-wen-un.  The day was cloudy and the moor on which we hiked to the circle was misty and hauntingly quiet.  The vegetation was lush.  There were masses of bluebells and yellow broom everywhere.   

            When we entered the copse that surrounded the circle, we silently began exploring each stone, particularly the one in the middle, which was a tall, narrow one, leaning toward the sea.  I sensed it had been placed in its tipped position for a purpose.  I pressed myself up against it and began listening.  I quickly entered a deep state of consciousness and the stone told me of how it served as a symbol of the Whale, which was a sacred being to the ancient people, who revered it as a Shaman.  They were guided by the Spirit of the Whale in their needs for sustenance from the sea, as well as for spiritual inspiration and learning.  The stone told me the people closely watched the Whales’ activities and even followed them to the western hemispheres.

            I was drawn to another stone, which was unusual because it was made of quartz rather than granite.  It was quite beautiful and I began running my hands over it to feel and memorize its energies and physical qualities for future use.  I rested my forehead on it, stimulating the “third eye” or “seer” chakra, and began having extraordinary light experiences.  When I stood up again, everything was bathed in light, even though the physical area was still shrouded in fog.  The lights began taking the forms of Celtic Knots, which I deeply sensed were symbols of how light energy configures through and around everything.  I sensed that the ancient people could naturally see these light patterns and learned much about the natural world.  The knots were representations of the energy patterns and were used in ceremonies as well as in everyday life. Since this experience in 1996, I’ve continued to work with this concept and now believe that Celtic Knots, as well as many other symbols actually hold the energy of the multitudinous forms in nature in order to safeguard them as Divine creations. I now doubt that anything can truly be extinct - just because we can’t see them with our physical eyes doesn’t mean they don’t exist on another plane of reality.

            As the lovely stone revealed important information about my life, I was touched to my core by the profound communion between us.  I began to think of it as my Sister Stone whose energies I could call upon for healing or divination anytime, anywhere. 

            Wiping tears of gratitude, I rose and realized everyone had left me alone to complete my experience in privacy.  I thanked all the stones and left. 

            But outside the circle of bushes around the stones, everything looked completely different from what I remembered on the way in.  I tried two different paths, but nothing was familiar and I returned to the circle entrance, knowing by then I was lost in an entirely new reality.  The lush vegetation was gone and I could see only a vast expanse of flat, plantless moor.  No bluebells, no bushes.  Nothing recognizable except the stones.

            Because of my disorientation, I didn't fully comprehend how dramatic a shift this was until later reflection.  While I was trying to find my way back to my group, I experienced a wide range of feelings, from euphoria to panic.  Thoughts of old movies in which people became lost and died on the moors kept intruding in my mind.  I began to sense this was the first time, after years of Shamanic journey work, that I'd ever traveled physically into an alternate reality.

            I decided to strike out once again, this time to consciously explore this new and unnerving landscape.  A part of me was close to hysteria, but I knew this was an important event and I kept going, even though thoughts that I’d never be found were close at hand. 

            I tried communicating with the nature spirits, my own guiding spirits, and any spirit or elemental that would listen, but everything was eerily silent.  I knew I must fully trust my own inner guidance and the clear fact that I was being initiated into another, deeper reality than I’d ever experienced.

            After wandering for quite a while, I suddenly saw one of the members of the trip just standing several yards away in the mist.  She didn’t say a word, didn’t smile, didn’t wave.  She just stood looking at me.  It shocked me and I felt as if I were in a kind of Carlos Casteneda state of reality.

            I just stood, looking at her. I questioned myself as to whether this was her ordinary self or her energetic double.  I wasn’t sure what I was seeing but something urged me on.  The moment I moved my foot forward, it was a step through what felt like a misty membrane. It felt like a birth experience.  As I moved through it, everything suddenly looked familiar again.  The vivid colors of the flowers, the smells of the musky earth, the sounds of birds awakened me back to ordinary reality.  I looked back from where I’d come and knew the veil had closed the other reality because all I could see now were flowers surrounding me and the flat plain was no longer in sight.

            As I followed my friend back to the van, I began realizing that this was the first time my physical body had traveled to another state of reality. I felt that I had visited an ancient time when the moor actually was bare and sparse, with very little vegetation.  I understood how everything, including my friend, appeared differently because I had been observing from within an alternate reality. I realized that the Celtic Knots of light held stronger patterns and frequencies than in present time.  I knew before leaving for the trip that I would learn something about my ancestors and would be given information that I would use in my work, but I couldn’t have known how powerful it would be.  I felt awed by the gifts I was given by the stones, the moor, and the spirits there.  I sensed I’d never again be the same.

            Upon arriving home, I was surprised that, unlike other extra-ordinary spiritual experiences, this one did not diminish in vibrancy and meaning after time.  In fact, it has continued through the years to become even stronger.  Through regular communion with the Sister Stone and feeling its dynamic energies, my attitude toward people and life itself has been influenced dramatically.  I feel a part of every living being and can appreciate the light patterns in nature as never before.  I have committed to offering people these kinds of opportunities on all my tours to Britain. The expansive energies and spiritual support is available to everyone. It’s merely a matter of being willing to trust and move out of ordinary consciousness and into ones that can transform us!



By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.


         Global warming. Extinction of thousands of plant and animal species. Fracking. Glacial melt and rising seas. Powerful weather events. Harmful chemicals in our food supply. Do you feel overwhelmed by just reading those words? And even though you sincerely hope we can find solutions to these difficult challenges, do you feel powerless to do anything about them?

         You may be surprised if you consider that you actually do have the potential for doing something very significant in healing our planet. This idea is based upon the ages-old metaphysical Truth that our thinking creates our reality. When viewed globally, we can see that for centuries, all of our collective thoughts and fear-based beliefs have led to our current challenging reality. Important events such as the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, 9/11 in 2001, the culmination of the Mayan Prophecy in December of 2012, and more have raised our awareness of our interconnectedness to life. We have become more caring about one another and all forms of life on Earth. Organizations for positive change are multiplying. Activists are no longer seen as malcontents. During the recent two-week Climate Change Conference in Paris, thousands created healing rituals and ceremonies around the various venues for the purpose of envisioning the power of Love and Unity.

         On deeper, inner levels of consciousness, our hearts are opening. There is far less room for selfishness, greed, self-serving competition, isolation, fear about what others think of us, and doubts about ourselves. The old pattern was to reject the power of Love all the while deeply longing for it, even if unconsciously. Wars are begun by this very concept. Political or religious leaders who fear loss of their power attempt to control others by misusing that power through violence, misinformation, or threat. But they are not immune to the very real need to be loved. So based on our evolving willingness to love one another, we can transform criticism and complaints about these people into compassion. We can send healing thoughts and energies to them, their organizations, their families, and co-workers. We can gaze into their faces in photos, imagining the children they once were, and the potential for good they hide behind their business faces. We can envision them being truly loved and opened to new possibilities. We really do have more power than we think in creating appreciable shifts in global awareness and change. The key here is knowing that by doing an activity such as this one, we are actually working to change ourselves. Outer action is always a reflection of what is within. We have unconsciously agreed to allow others to abuse life. Inner work develops awareness of how we as individuals have contributed to the abuse and can then contribute to a more conscious way of life on Earth.

         A powerful way to transform our Inner Environment and the climate of our lives is by employing some typical environmental issues, such as water and air pollution, as metaphors.


Air Pollution & Thought Pollution

         Most of us know the basic causes of air pollution. Now, people are helping to restore clean air by driving environmentally friendly cars, cutting down power usage, or supporting businesses that practice wise use of resources.

         Metaphysically, the element of air is associated with the mind, our thoughts, and our beliefs. Transforming air pollution might begin with internalizing the idea that our thoughts have become polluted and manifest outwardly as unhealthy air.

         Imagine a typical smoggy day. Feel how difficult it is to breathe this polluted air, think of how unhealthy it is for your body, recall what you know about what contributed to this problem (too many automobiles, unregulated industry, etc.). Be aware of how you feel as you observe this image.

         Now, shift your attention from smoggy air to how you may have polluted your mind and emotions with negative thinking. Think of something that you think about yourself, such as "I'm just not (smart/good-looking/rich, etc.) enough." Or, "I'll never get what I really want out of life." If you have never asked yourself these kinds of questions, it may surprise you to become aware of the thoughts and beliefs that you've allowed to affect you deeply. Just one strongly held and persistent belief that you're not good enough can affect your physical and emotional health for a lifetime. You might create a list of each negative belief about yourself each time you think of one. To see these beliefs on the page impacts your subconscious and inspires you to change them.

         Transforming beliefs in our inner environment takes more than mere affirmations. Restoring your natural loving nature toward yourself takes time and patience…and lots of willingness to observe yourself when the old nagging negatives arise. Conscious awareness is required for change to happen. As you witness the old thoughts and beliefs, they begin to change their behavior and make the space for you to create what you choose to believe about yourself.


Water Pollution & Honoring Our Feelings

         Availability of pure water for personal use and for growing our food is of great concern. Many of us use recyclable water containers, buy organic produce grown with non-toxic water, and help to clean up our rivers and lakes.

         Metaphysically, the element of water is associated with emotions, spirituality, and intuition. The idea that we have contributed to water pollution by allowing ourselves to shut down our true feelings is a key to solving our challenges for clean water resources. Lack of flow of water and emotions always causes stagnation of Nature's intention.

         Imagine a lovely, pristine stream in beautiful surroundings. Create a canoe or raft and hop on. Close your eyes as you float downstream. Be aware of how you feel emotionally as you dangle your hand in the water and rest gently. Now, switch the scene. You are now on a wreck of a raft which is falling apart and leaking water as you float downstream. You are aware of many obstacles in the water like sharp rocks and jagged tree limbs. The water is sluggish and dark, and scum is floating on the surface. How do you feel about this watery environment? Would you want to swim in it? Drink it? Of course not! You know it's toxic and stagnant.

         Now, shift the picture of the polluted water to how you have allowed your emotions and connection to spirit to become stagnant and toxic. Have you given permission to your emotions to run your life by inappropriate, childish behavior and expression? Have you denied and rejected your feelings for fear of what others might think? Do you hide your true feelings and manufacture "socially acceptable" ones? How might you change this the next time you have the opportunity to respond to someone from your true feeling nature?  


Disrespect for the Earth & Opening the Heart

         The Earth as our Mother is now the most important concern in all societies around the globe. People are awakening to how the majority have allowed a very small, selfish minority to steal and ruin so much of what our Earth gives us. Now we are working together as one global society, to rectify and heal the Earth's many systems, bringing love and respect into the equation for restoration.

         Spiritually, respect for our Earth requires the heart to be actively involved in the healing process. But we can only do that if we love ourselves unconditionally. We cannot love others or our Earth truly if our love depends upon conditions.

         Try witnessing yourself in a mirror. Just observe. After a few minutes you will most likely begin to think or feel things about yourself that are not unconditional: "Well, I'd like myself a lot better if…", "How can I love myself with all my  issues?", "I don't even know who that is in the mirror!" Look at each thought or feeling about yourself as they come up. What conditions must be met before you could accept yourself fully? Keep in mind that much of our unacceptability was founded upon others' attitudes, beliefs, dogma, or rules. The freedom gained by releasing the old rules is worth any discomfort.


         By resolving your inner pollution by deepened awareness, you automatically contribute greatly to the healing of our planet. As you restore who you truly are, no longer colored by learned, fear-based beliefs and inauthentic emotions, you restore our planet. Love radiates through you to all forms of life everywhere. There is an old saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings, it creates a wind on the other side of the Earth. Through the power of learning to love and accept ourselves unconditionally, we show others the way.


Key Points in Healing the Earth by Healing Ourselves

         • Send Love to anyone or any form of life needing it.

         • Cleanse your polluted thoughts and beliefs.

         • Develop a new relationship with your emotions and honor your feeling nature.

         • Learn to love unconditionally.


By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.

Article published in Shaman’s Drum Magazine, Fall 1988


A Shaman is a death midwife. She helps Souls cross over to the next experience, and finds lost Souls on the other side as well as in this reality. The Soul connects us to the Spirit. It guides us, and when we lose it, we know we've lost it. We feel "out of it,” off balance or unfocused, "not all here." This indicates that part of the Soul has left the body. Some Shamans see the degree that the Soul is out of the body, perhaps caught by a thread, or half in and half out. The eyes either look dead and dull if a part of the Soul has left or alive and vibrant if it is present. We can nurture the Soul by kindness to ourselves, and try to convince it to return. Or, we can visit a Shaman, whose skill lies in the area of Soul retrieval.

The Soul may reveal that the body is not healthy enough or the ego is not yet strong enough for it to reside within it. It cannot function properly while the body is polluted by eating junk food every day, or while we are denying important aspects of beingness, such as our shadow. When contact is made with the Soul by creating a sacred temple within the body in which it can reside, it becomes a teacher and a grounding force.

Once in meditation I asked one of my inner guides about a physical problem I was having. He asked why I was always so concerned about these things. I said it was because I didn't want to die before I was ready. He laughed and said, "You're always ready," meaning that I bring death close by my concern about it. He said I will eventually understand that death is merely another aspect of life and it is actually an ally because it ends suffering.

In a dream, I see our cat trying to cross a street. She has signal lights in her ears that show what she's about to do. She walks out into the crosswalk where there are two speeding cars approaching. I am paralyzed at first because it doesn't seem like something she would do, but I run out and grab her, just in time to save her from being hit. I sensed upon awakening that it was a signal to us that she was getting ready to "cross over" (die).

Soon after this dream, I learned of my father's immanent death, and I began to have a series of dreams which prepared me for the deep, difficult work that lay ahead of me. In one dreams I found myself learning how to move between ordinary and non-ordinary realities. This knowledge would help me later in assisting my father to make his transition. The skills learned in the dream helped me to be courageous and contributed greatly to the ease with which he died.

On the day of my father's death, I drove to the hospice and began ministering to both of my parents and my sister. Something amazing had happened to my family. Everyone was wide open. There was a refreshing absence of the emotional avoidance games usually played by my family. One of the first things I did was to ask my father if he knew the influence he was having on the family. He said he did.

My father had always been emotionally repressed, and in rare moments he would tell me of his great frustration and pain in not being able to express his feelings. I had, however, always sensed an "otherworldly" quality about him and had attributed his emotional handicap to his discomfort in being human. He once told me that the only dreams he ever remembered were recurring ones in which he flew flying saucers by using crystals as guidance tools. (In ordinary reality, he was an aeronautical engineer who designed vehicles for air and space travel.)

In retrospect, it's hard to explain how I knew what to do in this, my first midwifing experience with death. It was an unique opportunity to trust in forces seen and unseen, and in the hidden power within me and around me. These forces guided me, step-by-step, in exactly what to do and when.

I spent much of my time that day with my father, encouraging him to go to the light that is reported as a guiding beacon by those who have had near-death experiences. I urged him to look for relatives and friends who had dies, and to trust that he would be guided and protected. I also kept reassuring him that we, his family, would be all right and that we were giving him permission to go. That was incredibly difficult because there was a part of me that, quite naturally, did not want him to leave, that wanted him to miraculously recover and jump out of bed and start anew. I sensed with each passing moment, however, that he had chosen death and that I must honor his choice

As I held his hand, memorizing it for the future, I watched his face change and contort and I was mystified and awed. What could have been horrible and grotesque became fascinating. I knew I was watching transformation before my eyes. I knew through the expressions of struggle and pain on my father's face that I had never really known who he was until those moments of incredible and sweet richness. I could experience all of this because I had made a choice to move into a different mode of perceiving and responding. Had I chosen the more typically human and spent my time crying and feeling the pangs of loss, I might have missed this opportunity to serve him and thus to enhance my spiritual growth and awareness.

I remembered that somewhere I had read about a breathing technique one can do with others when they are in stress or trauma. I began breathing along with my father, letting him set the pace. After a short while, his breathing became less labored, although I heard what I assumed was the well-known "death rattle.” I sensed that he had gone into coma to tune out distractions and focus his full attention on the transition. The rattling sound was like that of an engine revving up...or like sounds made by mother and child during the birthing process.

The last few minutes of my father's life were most dramatic. I had taken a break and gone outside. I lay, exhausted, under a tree in order to replenish myself with earth energy. I heard what I thought was a call from a bird in the branches above me. It was not a typical bird call, however. It was the whistle my father used when he wanted to get our attention. I realized later that the whistle was a signal that he was leaving very soon. I got up immediately and went to his room.

The absence in me of terror, repulsion or inability to act was due to the strong intention that I kept. I was determined to be of service to him and to maintain my strength and courage. Even as my father's physical form began deteriorating before my eyes, I saw great beauty and mystery in that process and I took care to memorize how he looked -- his hands typically well-manicured, his day's growth of beard, his right eye partially open, his slacked jaw.

I learned that death, like birth, takes tremendous energy and concentration. The death midwife assists the dying by focusing energies with which the person can leave the body completely, just as a booster rocket helps a missile get clear of the earth's gravitational pull. This gives energy to the dying for "liftoff."  The departing Soul then has power and direction to deliver it to the light. As I "midwifed" and directed energy through my hands into my father's body in his last moments, I noticed that it was icy cold at the feet and progressively became hotter nearer the heart. I wondered if the heart was a generator from which the "liftoff" could be facilitated. I became aware of a smoky swirl above his head and sensed it to be the Soul on its exit from the body. As I saw it rise and then detach, I knew the body was dead and my father had gone on to the next dimension. I knew from my readings in near-death experiences that he would be floating above, perhaps not realizing what had happened. I looked up, waved and said, "Good-by, Daddy, go to the light."  I raised both my arms heavenward and said prayers which asked that his journey be a good one.

The next morning, stressed to the limit, I meditated with the intention of energizing myself for the duties that confronted me that day. Startled, I heard the words, "Listen to this message!"  I sense that presence of a man dressed in white, who informed me that my father was with him and others and was being taken care of. The man explained that while my father was still not quite aware of what had happened, he was not in any distress. The being said that my father would be taken through an indoctrination, which would teach him about his new environment as soon as he was healed of the effect that death has on the energy field. Then I was informed that my father would be contacting me to teach me things I needed to know in my work as a Shamanic teacher. This excited and comforted me. I then became aware of a shadowy, filmy presence -- it was my father trying to put something round, like a coin, into my hand. The guide said he wasn't at full energy so it was difficult to make a physical contact yet. About a year and a half later, I realized the coin was a symbolic gesture for the value that I would come to gain from the experience.

Two days later, I had a dream in which I was shown a beautiful and celestial, snowy-white university building. I was given time to get a vivid picture and was then "flown" rapidly down a side corridor. I knew this was where my father was. One of his greatest disappointments in life was that he never had time to attend a university. I was moved that now he had achieved this goal. The importance of this dream would not become apparent until a year later, when I attended a Shamanic Death and Dying workshop presented by Michael Harner where I learned that the after-death experience of attending some sort of school is a common one.

On the morning of the funeral, I envisioned the proceedings from my father's perspective. I was high above, and saw a casket with a body in it. The accompanying feelings were ones of curiosity and mild perplexity. The body looked slightly familiar. I imagined that my father might be asking something like, "How can I be in two places at once?"

I observed that death polarizes people into two basic camps -- in the first, friends and acquaintances would either avoid me or they would make self-conscious remarks of condolence. In the second were those who had dealt with death consciously and they were able to nurture me unconditionally. They helped me tremendously due to their ease and acceptance of death -- they were even able to joke with me about it and this was welcome and appreciated. The polarization phenomenon is much like the grade school experiment where pepper is shaken into a bowl of water and then, when a drop of detergent is added, the pepper particles all race to the edges of the bowl. There are very few people who, at the mention of death, don't race away.

Before the funeral, I experienced exhaustion. I also felt somber, angry and irritated at everything and everyone. I remembered that I had found solace in the past by singing Native American chants, so I sang and my energy returned. I was enabled then to recognize, thanks to the quick view I had of my father's embalmed hands in the viewing room of the mortuary, that the body was only a container. The waxen effigy was not my father, particularly in the way the mortician had molded him to look. This also reminded me of the importance of remembering my father as he was in life and in dying so I would not turn him into a saint. To do so would be a denial that his meaningful death had ever occurred...that he had never grimaced in pain and exhaustion, that he had never made mistakes in life, that he had never been human.

Days later, benumbed and not able to accept totally the fact that I'd never see him again in this lifetime, I began to talk with him in meditation about my feelings. I told him I missed him and had always missed him because of our mutual inability to bridge the gap of emotion shared but not expressed. I soon felt his presence around me and knew his death was a gift to me and that I eventually would come to understand why and how. I sensed that, although he couldn't give me the closeness I needed in life, he could now communicate with me without the earthly constraints. He indicated that what the being in white told me the day after his death was true -- that he would begin to teach and influence me in ways that would enhance my work as a Shamanic counselor. I began to understand why many creative people dedicate their works of art to deceased loved ones -- not because they are clinging to some unreal memory, but because they are using the effect that death has on them to create new and regenerative life. When I cried and patted my father's crypt stone after the funeral, I made a vow not to let his death be in vain. I took the challenge to move past limitations and to ingest life in huge gulps. Death had ripped me open so I could accept life passionately and with a hunger, no longer needing to know reasons before I could do so.

Feelings of guilt are common after the death of a loved one and I also had to deal with these feelings. I wondered whether a ritual I performed months before my father's death had caused him to die. The ritual's purpose was to help me disconnect from parental ties -- a particularly difficult piece of work. Since I have used ritual quite significantly and successfully in the past, I wanted to create one that would help me to become more independent and self-identified. Now, the question was whether my ritual could have been so powerfully literal that it disconnected me from one of my parents through death. This was a devastating possibility and I began to ask for guidance. My answer came through a loving friends, who posed the possibility that perhaps my ritual not only helped me to effect the desired changes, but that it had also assisted my father in making the final detachment from life that began with the onset of his cancer, and enable him to die easier and more freely, knowing that I had already released him.

Not long after he died, I received a phone call in the middle of the night, and a voice which sounded as if it were coming through a long, hollow tube said, "Noosh?  Noosh?  Noosh?" and then the line was disconnected. In my groggy state, I thought it was a wrong number, but in the morning I awoke with the startling realization that the voice was my father's and he was using his Polish nickname for me -- Nanoosh.

The phone call was the beginning of many communications I've had with my father since he died. Most of them have come through dreams, but I have also heard his voice counseling me and I have been aware of his presence in meditation.

For the first few weeks, the purpose of his presence in dreams was clearly to establish contact. He would appear and merely say "Hi" or would be checking up on my mother and sister, telling me things to tell them.

After these "practice" contacts, my experiences in non-ordinary realms increased with frequency and quality. They have assisted me in becoming more open and able to receive information from a variety of sources. Since he died, I have learned much from my father, but also from others from other realities as well. They have taught me that experience is created merely by our setting an intention or believing in something strongly enough to give it the energy needed for manifestation. My father has taken me into his world and demonstrated the way things look and feel to the touch. He told me that he experiences things there as similar to the earth reality -- but better. As he guided me to touch various things, I realized that the memory of touch creates an experience in the otherworld that seems similar or the same as touch on earth. However, things in other realities have different densities. Therefore, when I touched the objects, they were much "lighter" than what I am used to -- as if I could put my hand through them. He has encouraged me to keep going, to never give up. And he has shown me, through successive interactions in which I could see his physical form becoming healthier and younger and his emotions flowing freely and uninhibited, how death is a healing force.

Just before awakening one morning, I was aware of my father's presence over my shoulder. He seemed excited and whispered in my ear several times, "What is it you've always wanted to do?"  Before I had time to reply , his presence dissolved but left with me the distinct impression that he was going to assist me in whatever it was I had always wanted to do in life. After several weeks of pondering the answer to his question, I realized that there was no single answer because I had always been interested in several things: psychology, Shamanism, death and dying, art, ethnic music, anthropology, and writing. I wondered at the time how he could assist me in all these seemingly diverse areas. As my professional work became more alive and active, however, I began to integrate all of them. I began to realize that the common bond within all areas was my lifelong interest in the mysterious, the unseen and the non-ordinary. Not surprising then, is the assistance I now receive from other realities. And since I now believe that life is created in response to my perceptions and attitudes, by letting go of cherished beliefs -- even for just a moment in time -- I can experience a greater reality than I ever thought imaginable.

During the year after his death I was almost constantly and intensely aware of my father's presence and sensed strongly he was there to support me and tell me he was pleased with my work and my life. I thanked him for being so influential in my writing. I got the sense he had evolved and asked him why he chose to be so unconscious in this lifetime. He said it was for several reasons: one, he was as passive as he was to show me gentleness and to help me become strong, and two, he couldn't display evolved behavior around my mother because she would "drift away."  He couldn't explain this but implied it was something I couldn't understand until later. He corrected a lifelong, erroneous belief I had held, based on my mother's having told me I was her child and my sister was my father's. My father told me it was just the opposite: I was his daughter and my sister was my mother's. He said he knew I had a difficult childhood and it was necessary not to intervene and rescue me else I would not have had the motivation to do what I am now doing.

For the first six months after his death, I felt at peace, although I wondered why I wasn't grieving in the typical fashion. I was to wonder about this, until I experienced a delayed mourning reaction, also known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. I became drained and ill, though not with any illness anyone could clinically diagnose. My eyes had no life in them and I feared for my mental stability. My dreams during this period swung from plunges into nightmarish battles with entities who tore my body and belief systems apart to ecstatic experiences of rushing energy and splendorous visions. I became concerned about where my Soul had gone. How could I continue to live if it had exited. My father's death had thrown me into my own death state -- only this was actually a death of old ways and attitudes that kept me from being myself and from doing what I was born to do. All of my defenses were torn away as well as my reasons for not living my life to the fullest and in integrity.

"There is a crack between the two worlds, the world of the diableros and the world of living men. There is a place where the two worlds overlap. The crack is there. It opens and closes like a door in the wind. To get there a man must exercise his will....The man by himself must ponder and wish up to a moment in which his body is ready to undergo the journey. That moment is announced by prolonged shaking of the limbs and violent vomiting. The man usually cannot sleep or eat, and wanes away. When the convulsions do not stop the man is ready to go, and the crack between the worlds appears right in front of his eyes, like a monumental door, a crack that goes up and down. When the crack opens the man has to slide through it. It is hard to see on the other side of the boundary. It is windy, like a sandstorm. The wind whirls around....A strong-willed man journeys shortly. An undecided, weak man journeys long and precariously. After this journey the man arrives at a sort of plateau....On top of that plateau is the entrance to that other world. And there stands a skin that separates the two worlds; dead men go through it without a noise, but we have to break it with an outcry. The wind gathers strength, the same unruly wind that blows on the plateau. When the wind has gathered enough force, the man has to be inflexible, too, so that he can fight the wind. All he needs is a gentle shove; he does not need to be blown to the ends of the other world. Once on the other side, the man will have to wander around. His good fortune would be to find a helper nearby -- not too far from the entrance. The man has to ask him for help. In his own words he has to ask the helper to teach him and make him a diablero. When the helper agrees, he kills the man on the spot, and while he is dead he teaches him."  Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, Pocket Books, New York, 1974, p. 185-186.

When a person is in the process of dying, the senses begin to fade and all energies focus in the mind. Similarly, during the period of physical life, if a person denies and turns off the senses in favor of what seems to be the mind, and in fact, is merely a combination of intellect and ego, that person begins to die. She may even appear as one of the living dead because the senses are repressed to a degree that matches the death process.

Probably one of the most profound catalysts for growth and personal evolution is the challenge that death presents us. We hold the fear of death within us all of our lives and rarely in this Western society are we taught how to deal with it in ways that help us to live well. Other societies have, through their ages-old death rituals and ceremonies, engendered attitudes of acceptance, reverence and respect for the experience of death. But we avoid it in conversation, in thought, in dreams, and even at the moment it presents itself in waking reality. When someone we know dies, we are faced with our own mortality. And, generally, this fills us with fear.

And we are afraid of death because we have very little understanding of what potentials it holds for growth and wholeness. When we glean understanding, such as in an experience like the one described, we are lead from the fear-avoidance pattern to one of an enlightened acceptance of death as another, and profound, stage of life. I, like many others, had always avoided the subject of death but, by walking into the face of it, my life has been radically, dramatically and positively changed for the better.  The research that has been done by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Steven Levine and others in recent years regarding death and the near-death experience has served to educate those of us who desire to understand what death holds and to be prepared for it. In this article, I share my personal experience of assisting a loved one through the process of dying in the hope that it will uniquely prepare the reader for the death of others as well as her/his own.

Interestingly, the October 1, 1987 Los Angeles earthquake occurred during the same period of time that I was experiencing the belated grief reaction. When the earthquake began shaking my home, my emotional state was amplified and I was terrified of dying. I thought my whole world was coming to an end. What I didn't know then was that my world as I had always know it was indeed ending. My life would never be the same again.

Where an initiate's Soul goes during this intense and wracking experience, I cannot say, except I sense that, in my case at least, it led me into and later, out of my fear of death. As I sought my Soul, I blindly groped in the dark and fell into the pit that held that fear. In panic, I looked too anything that might help me get my bearings. The feelings of disorientation were great and I feared I would never come back to any kind of balance. I consulted the Tarot, which had reliably shown me the meaning of many situations in the past, and I drew one card: the Hanged Man. In this case, this card represents a surrendering to death and resurrection as the Soul leaves the body and then returns. The personality is torn away and a higher power takes over. In the card, the man is pictured hanging upside down, attached to the tree by a snake, a symbol of wisdom, and energy rushes to his head, stimulating greater awareness. In his limited and precarious position, his only task is that of fighting for his life. In his struggle, all of his old realities drop away and he moves into a state of non-ordinary reality where anything is possible and freedom and enlightenment reside. The lines between life and death blur and, if the initiation is successful, the initiate realizes that death is a part of life. He then realizes the importance of living life fully and with passion. Admiral Kirk, in the film, Star Trek III, explains why he risked his life and reputation to repopulate the earth with the then extinct whales: "Had I not tried, the cost would have been my Soul."  And whether we resonate to inspiration from modern-day myth or from ancient sources of wisdom such as the Tarot, the Grail myths or the Bhagavad-Gita, the challenge to face death as a vehicle for enlightened living is implicit. I now believe that the fears of death that we carry are far more related to the fear of the death of aspects of ourselves that we fiercely hang onto. These fears are exactly like the fear of death because facing a new way of being without the old to buoy us up feels like annihilation.

In Shamanic philosophy, the experience of being ripped apart and put back together again is essential in the Shaman's development as a compassionate and insightful healer-caregiver. For those who are not drawn toward the healing professions, such an experience offers the opportunity to let go of old ways and transform consciousness. The person is healed emotionally, physically and spiritual because it thrown her into defenselessness and acute openness for the changes that will occur. She cannot direct what happens. Perhaps for the first time in life, forces other than the ego are in full control and direct an initiation into expanded awareness. Oriental philosophy for instance, counsels that the best defense is none at all. By facing the greatest enemy without sword or shield, the victory is won. The initiate cannot direct what happens. Perhaps for the first time in life, forces other than the ego are in full control and direct an initiation into expanded awareness.

During this hellish few weeks, my father's presence continued to visit me in meditation and dreams, sometimes merely to check up on me, and other times to show me what the other side is like. He showed me similarities and differences in life and the afterlife and how perception and attitude affect experience.

As my initiation eased and I moved back into ordinary reality, I realized that I had been permanently changed since my experience of  being "hung upside down" and turned inside out. As I look back on it now, I am grateful. And I have become fascinated with the relationship of life and death.

I have made meditative journeys to the realms that exist after death and have learned that those who die either with an understanding of the death process or with the assistance of a midwife do not get "stuck" in what has been referred to as the "middleworld," "purgatory," or by some as the "astral" level of awareness. Perhaps those who are not prepared or guided drift for years after dying, lost in that middle realm, and unable to move on in their Soul's progression. The Shaman-midwife may move into this world to find the lost Soul and guide it into the light.

In explorations of the "upperworld," the higher realms of awareness to which departed Souls may go in their evolutionary progression, it becomes difficult for my human mind and ego to understand and accept experiences there. Energies work in unfamiliar ways, things look different, sound is strange, the physical is diffuse and disorienting to the mind. There is nothingness. There is light yet no light, sound but no sound. I feel insignificant and am moved to review values and priorities. My ego is afraid of not existing. Simultaneously, inner wisdom laughs at such concerns. I know from these experiences that death is not what I previously feared and I am open to new perceptions about life.

The young hero in Karate Kid II tells his master teacher that he always doubted the value of his contribution to his father's life until he helped him die. By offering me the same opportunity, my father gave me a gift, too. He gave me the gift of life.


Shamanic Retrieval in the Middleworld

A close friend of mine died over twenty years ago, and I recently journeyed to the middle world to see if he was there. (Generally, a Shamanic journey includes some kind of sonic driving, such as constant drumming or rattling. This sound allows the person journeying to release ordinary awareness and move into non-ordinary reality. This non-ordinary reality is referred to as either the "lowerworld," the "middleworld," or the "upperworld," depending upon the purpose of the journey.)  In this particular journey, I was dismayed to find that my friend was "stuck" in the middleworld. After all the time that had transpired since his death, I expected to discover him in realms other than this. On this journey, I took my power animal (an archetypal symbol for power and protection), Coyote, with me since I have a healthy respect for what can happen to someone who goes unprotected into this middle realm. I have been "bitten" and grabbed at while traveling unprotected there and didn't care to repeat the experience, nor bring anything harmful or bothersome back with me. My friend was disoriented and not coherent, zombie-like. So Coyote and I told him about his death. He still seemed not to understand. I sensed that he needed to see the event of his car crash and death. So we took him to the location and replayed the entire scene for him several times until he began to understand. He became more visibly solid. I asked him where he'd like to go, if there was someone who was deceased and who he'd like to be with. He said he'd like to be with "Mimi," a pet name for his beloved grandmother. (I had forgotten this nickname for over 30 years and I was moved to tears when I heard it because I knew how much she meant to my friend. This was also the proof my intellect would need to accept the experience as significant and real.)  Coyote and I took him to the upperworld and were satisfied when he was welcomed by Mimi as well as a being in white. Although my purpose was to help a friend, I realized it was healing for me as well. Twenty-four years ago, he had phoned me in an emotional state, asking for my help with a serious problem. I was irritable and refused to assist him. A few weeks later, I saw his photo in a newspaper obituary listing. I carried the guilt of my refusal to help for this long time. The guilt was lifted at the moment I saw him enfolded in Mimi's arms.

I feel strongly that the ones who have been prepared for death or assisted in crossing over from the earth plane to the next reality are ones who do not get "stuck" in what has been referred to as the "middleworld," "purgatory," or by some as the "astral" level of awareness. With someone to guide us through the dying process, we gain the needed confidence and energy to make the transition. Perhaps those not prepared or guided may drift for years after death, lost in the level mentioned above. This is where the Shaman-midwife moves into this middle world to find the lost Soul and guide it to the light. In that realm, I've experienced the atmosphere as sticky and heavy, and filled with energies and entities that pull and suck energy, and who are clearly "lost."  These are those who "haunt" houses where they previously lived because they believe they still live there. This realm also seems to contain a great deal of emotion due to feelings of disorientation and despair. Souls here generally do not know they are dead. They may attach themselves to living relatives and physical structures. They are no different than most of us. In an emotional state it is hard to let go an anything that provides security. Additionally, they tend to grab onto anything or anyone who comes their way and who is not aware of the necessity to be protected while traveling through this realm. (An interesting description of this phenomenon can be found in Robert Monroe's book, Journeys Out of the Body.[1] )  Therefore, it is essential for anyone doing Shamanic journeying in or through this realm to go prepared. I have found the best preparation to be strong intention-setting about the purpose of the journey. Additionally, I use a Shamanic technique which employs an imaged ally, called a "power animal," who has great strength and therefore can do things that the journeyer may believe herself incapable of doing alone. This power animal can also serve as a guide into realms, ideas, and perceptions ordinarily unknown to the journeyer. Thus, the problem at hand may be resolved by the journeyer's being presented with new insights.

As I have explored various regions of the upperworld, as higher realms are called in Shamanic tradition, it has become more difficult for my human mind and ego to understand and accept my experiences there. Energies work in unfamiliar ways, things look different, sound is strange, the physical is diffuse and disorienting to the mind. In these realities, I've experienced nothingness, where there is light yet no light, sound but no sound. I feel quite insignificant and have been move to review my values and priorities. My ego is afraid of not existing. At the same time, an inner wisdom seems to laugh at such concerns and look forward to future encounters there. Even if it means encountering my own death. Aside from my ego's fears of annihilation, I no longer think of dying as a horrible and traumatic event to be avoided as long as possible. It's what we're most afraid of that will heal us. This absence of my previous ideas and prejudices regarding death has opened me to new perceptions about life.


Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.  ©1996


            Were Women the original Shamans?  Are Shamans now generally thought of as men because of patriarchal influence in this area as well as others? (My definition of patriarchy is a political-economic-religious system, dominated by certain males and cultures who fear the power of the feminine-spiritual-ecstatic-lifeforce in themselves, and therefore attempt to control it in Women.)  I believe Shamanic states of consciousness are natural to Women and Shamans because they share the visceral ability to access states of consciousness otherwise unavailable to most others.  Shamans do this with altered state journeying and Women do it with their emotions.  Emotion is our contact point with our instinctual nature, sensuality, creativity, dreaming, sensitivity, and compassion. It is also the feeling nature of the Soul made manifest, and therefore the essential ingredient in accessing expanded, Divine states of consciousness and experience.  Expanded state work, in journeying and in ritual, is the bridge through which feeling can be channeled into healing, transformational growth, and a personal experience of Spirit. 

            Women and Shamans share powers of intuition, dreaming, and prophecy, and these gifts have been discarded by the patriarchy (not implying that all men are part of the patriarchy, nor that the patriarchy is supported only by men) as silly, emotional and even dangerous to a male-dominated political-economic-religious system.  History and myth tell us of cataclysmic events when "female emotionalism" was ignored and prophetic warnings by Shamans went unheeded.  Cassandra, the ancient Prophetess, for instance, forewarned of the ruin of the city of Troy but was ignored and the city fell. 

            As a result of centuries of rejection, we act as we are expected to, and may even believe as the patriarchal collective believes.  We learn to reject ourselves for not being Madison Avenue stereotypes.  We are expected to be “good,” to obey authority, to be both mothering and sexy, to not be too smart or outspoken, and to be polite by eating everything on our plates while trying to maintain impossibly and unnaturally thin bodies.  We don't show our anger, we care for others to the extent that it jeopardizes our own physical or emotional health, or we become macho or mean and destructive, which eventually becomes destructive to our souls, emotions, and bodies.  We repress our emotions, and then experience dysfunctional lives when the repression keeps us from being free.  Patriarchal society gives us reason to fear and reject our own feelings, and the most tragic part of the rejection of emotion is that we lose our connection to the Goddess Spirit.

            A common practice in New Age philosophy is to surround oneself with white light and affirm that "all is whole, perfect and complete" to the exclusion of our darker (meaning feeling states or experiences which are difficult or challenging to socially accepted beliefs.  Note: I’m not speaking here of what people call “evil” and equate with the dark - my definition of evil is a misuse of both the dark aspects, such as using our power to manipulate or harm ourselves or others, and the light aspects, such as what we find in the oppressiveness and hypocrisy of most organized religions.), instinctual, and feminine, aspects of Spirit.  I sense this is just another kind of patriarchal control, this time in a metaphysical package, because the light is generally equated with the masculine aspects of Spirit, and therefore thought of as superior.  All is whole, perfect and complete but only when the light is combined with the dark as an integrated part of the wholeness of Spirit.  The light is creation made manifest, but it originates in the formless, fecund richness of the dark, feminine nature.  By reintegrating and nurturing a conscious union with the feminine, we become whole because we are no longer rejecting our instinctive nature. 

            We might think of the light as an intriguing lure needed to pull us toward the total experience of Spirit, both light and dark, feminine and masculine.  And we can imagine the dark as a sacred place within the earth body of the Great Mother Goddess that we can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see - as well as sense deeply within our Souls - that holds the potential for all life to become everything it was meant to be.  Listed below are just a few things we can do to alter and heal the negative effects of the patriarchy on our lives and Souls:

            • Question the source of supposed authority.  Use intuitive guidance in decision-making, rather than automatically responding in a socially-acceptable way - a way that may be dangerous to your Soul.

            • Listen to your body.  It speaks clearly about its needs, imbalances, and disorders well before they become diseases.

            • Find your own unique way of putting a stop to abuse of self, others, and the earth.  Just learning to say no to anything that doesn’t feel right to you can be incredibly empowering.  You might also begin by embodying the Great Mother Goddess within you - my life has changed dramatically since I did this, especially in the way I am now influencing other Women to become free.

            •  Check out the attitudes, philosophies, and actions of the companies with which you do business, the stores where you buy food and other products, firms where you invest your money, schools and daycare centers to which you trust your children, churches or spiritual groups you attend, medical practitioners and therapists to which you surrender your health and well-being, and even friends and family members.  The purpose of this is to detect any overt or subtle destructive, negative, individuality-oppressing energies that affect you and your loved ones.  This may seem like a lot of trouble to go to, but that is one of the attitudes we have been hypnotized into taking on as “children of the patriarchy.”  Try breaking free by considering yourself a grownup, a true adult, who is responsible for your own life.  That may make a real difference in how you view your world, your place in it, and how you respond to it.

            As Women, we are now being called back home to the Mother, not only for ourselves, but for all Her Creations.  We have a responsibility to accept the call and venture forth bravely, kindly, strongly, passionately, lovingly, powerfully, and with a determination that clearly speaks of the rightness and profound magic of the Sacred Life She has gifted us with.  She calls us to put an end to imbalance and suffering wherever we find it - She calls us to be Her in human form.  Since Women are natural Shamans, it is natural for us to “shapeshift” into the worldly manifestation of the Great Blessed Mother.  What a joyous and incredible gift we have been given!





By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.  ©1996

What is a Shaman?

Shamans are found in all cultures--there are urban shamans in Los Angeles, for instance, and not necessarily those who come only from Native American culture.  There is a new, so-called "neo-shamanic" movement--people from other than Native American culture who are gathering information and experience and practicing a shamanic way of life.  They drawing from their own backgrounds and cultures--northern European, Celtic, Asiatic, Hispanic, Aboriginal, Eskimo, Lapp, etc. 

Mircea Eliade says that a shaman is a "healed madman."  Many people have been classified as "crazy," or rejected by society or family because we have exhibited out-of-the-ordinary experiences, outrageous behaviors, and thinking or beliefs.  There's a sense of abandonment, certainly.  Those of us from dysfunctional families--and I don't know anyone who isn't from one in one way or another--certainly can relate to this.  That kind of background is unsupportive of our particular sensitivities, but, as painful as it is, it may be a shamanic initiation into eventual empowerment.  Shamanic initiation is a process of dismemberment, having beliefs torn apart, and then being put back together again, but in a different configuration.  The film, Never Cry Wolf depicts this clearly and well.  Those of us who are in the process of healing our madness--or what society would call our madness--that process of shamanic initiation is the road to health and sanity.  And sanity, shamanically speaking, is absolutely not what society describes as such.  Society says it is adhering to the rules and not shaking the tree and making waves.  Shamanic health is very, very different.  As we develop our power and become healthy, we view challenge as an ally, rather than life-threatening--it is part of the initiation.  When we complete that challenge we understand its purpose and we can then heal people who are wrestling with the same challenge.  It's very clear in shamanic tradition that whatever it is that you deal with, you get to share with others later. 

Additionally, part of the rejection and being an outcast is created within our soul self for us to be able to stand apart so we can watch and observe and collect information about what's really going on.  Shamans have the ability to see things that others can't see because they are in the middle of a limited or rigid belief system.  Whereas, the lonely shaman, standing to the side, can observe and then go back, if invited into the group, and share what was observed as well as the resolution.  

It is important to keep in mind while moving through a trauma, the shamanic attitude is that the physical, emotional or etheric body goes through such an opening process that it is possible for us to see a different reality.  When we're in pain, it's very hard to remember this in mind.  Nevertheless, you can be writing down your dreams and experiences, even if you are experiencing confusion or pain.  You can go back later, put all the experiences together and see the value.  Crises offer opportunities for us to move more directly into shamanic initiation and transformation.

Not everyone may want to become a shaman, though shamanism is applicable to all aspects of living.  Your ability to affect others positively after shamanic initiation may be used in your workplace, no matter what your profession, or in your personal life.  Your presence or energy will be transforming and people will seek you out

It's important here to differentiate between people who are mentally and emotionally unbalanced.  There's a thin line between recognizable or pathological insanity and shamanic states of consciousness.  The difference is that a shaman is in control at all times, although s/he may, during ritual, for instance, act totally mad.  However, s/he is always in control, even then.  Someone who is pathological or schizophrenic is not.  When I speak of shamanic madness, I'm talking about controlled madness--the kind that empowers, the kind that brings us to health and does not separate us into pieces but brings us together into wholeness.

Stanley Krippner says that a shaman is "a technician of the sacred."  In other words, the shaman collects enough tools to be able to induct people into altered states of consciousness, an experience of the divine or a sacred experience of the numinous--the holy within. 

A shaman is a creator-director of ritual.  Ritual begins with intentionality.  There is nothing in life that exludes intention.  Every situation we experience relates to our original intention.  If we get ourselves into a mess or into an experience of great joy, it all has to do with intention-setting.  Whatever it is that we intend consciously or subconsciously, that's what we experience.  Ritual is the framework for intention and a shaman assists others in identifying clearly what the intention should be and then inducts them into ceremony to manifest that intention.  Manifestation occurs only as a result of this.  Becoming a shaman or powerful person means that we consciously set our intentions with responsibility.  Being a shaman is letting go of victimization through setting intention.

A shaman is a death midwife.  S/he helps souls cross over to the next experience, and finds lost souls on the other side as well as in this reality.  Your soul is your connection to the divine, it is guidance--and when you lose it, you know you've lost it.  Days that you feel out of it, off balance or unfocused, part of your soul has left your body.  If a psychic were watching you at that time, s/he would see the degree that your soul was out of your body, perhaps caught by a thread, or half in and half out.  You can tell whether your soul is in or out of your body by looking in the mirror at your eyes--if they look dead or dull, the soul is probably not totally present.  You can nurture your soul, you can relate to it, by talking to it and trying to convince it back.  Your soul may tell you, however, that your body is not healthy enough for it to reside within it.  It cannot communicate to you while your body is polluted by eating junk food every day.  When you begin to relate to your soul, it will teach you things and you can choose to create a sacred temple within your body in which your soul can then reside.  When you're physically ill, looking in the mirror is a good thing to do because when we're ill, our souls are not all the way in the body.  And if you look in your eyes at this time, you'll have a reference point for what it looks like. 

A shaman heals by changing perceptions.  What that means is if you go to a shaman for a healing, the shaman will take you into a non-ordinary state of reality, where perceptions are very different.  All of us here have had many experiences, whether we knew it or not, of non-ordinary realities.  And during that kind of expanded state, we can change things because the perceptions allow for greater perceptions of choice.  What we tend to do during experiences of the non-ordinary, is classify them as strange or weird and we shut ourselves off from them.  We're afraid of ostracism, of the dark, of fear itself, etc.--and that cuts us off from the possibility of learning and changing during expanded perception.

A shaman is a teacher and a dream interpreter because s/he can go into the dream state very easily to experience it with the person and help to interpret the dream.  A shaman holds higher energies by balancing the higher with the lower, the dark with the light, the positive with the negative, the feminine with the masculine, and ordinary and non-ordinary realities.  A shaman is an explorer within these realities for the purpose of bringing back information for the purpose of healing the shaman, an individual, the society in which they live, or the planet.  The purpose of inducing non-ordinary states is not for personal gain, but rather for personal growth. 

A shaman is an initiator into the higher realms--and higher does not mean better--just different.  So when a shaman initiates people into those realms, it means a broadening of perspectives, rather than a narrow upward movement.  During an initiatory experience, a shaman often takes a person to the brink of madness, insanity, deviance, but knows that arena so well that s/he can modulate and guide the person's experience.  The shaman keeps the person on the path although the person may believe she or he has totally lost it.  The purpose of totally losing it is just that--to lose the ego's hold over experience, to loosen the state-bound consciousness--that limited, boxed-in perception of what life is all about and which imprisons us within it.  The experience may feel like being knocked off a cliff into insanity--and certainly in some shamanic traditions, this is done with sacred substances, sacred plants, but this is not always necessary.  It depends on the culture, the shaman's training, the person who is working with the shaman, and the appropriateness.  In some circumstances, ritual alone, without substances, and with strong enough intention, becomes just as profound as the greatest of psychotropic experiences.  It all depends on the shaman's ability to induct people into these states.

A shaman guides one into and through the spirit world, perhaps in a of depossession where the person feels possessed or not together.  So the shaman goes into the spirit world to find out whether there is an entity or a belief system within the person that is causing an energy-power drain.  The shaman also trains people to strengthen themselves in order to handle negative influences.  Once one finds power within and learns how to strengthen all of the bodies--physical, mental, emotional, etheric, and celestial--then one is protected.  White light alone is not going to do it.  I encourage you not to believe that just by saying once a day that you surround yourself with white light and "all is whole, perfect and complete" you're going to be protected from outer and inner influences.  This doesn't work because there is no balance between the dark forces as well as the light.  I'm not talking about a relationship with misused dark forces--I'm talking about a healthy relationship with dark forces.  For instance, there is a difference between a clear, black piece of obsidian and a mud clod.  The obsidian is like the pure dark force--the mud clod is not.  People who misuse the dark, people who do satanic worship, etc., tend to misuse that force, generally trying to acquire power over others.  That is not spiritually legal--trying to have power over someone else or manipulating someone--to get that man or that job--and I'm not talking about praying for manifestation, I'm talking about misusing that sense of power we get when we begin this kind of practice.  Once you begin feeling the power, you have to work even harder to maintain your integrity, otherwise the misuse will always come back against you.  The "muddy dark" doesn't mean fears, necessarily, because fear is what catalyzes us into growth.  The fears that are created from your own muddy darkness are the ones that are repetitive fears--ones that happen over and over and over again.  If you're not clearing them, not resolving them, you're creating muddy darkness.  Whereas if you go to the Grand Canyon and start to slip off the side, that fear is a very clear fear--it's survival and it is helping you as an ally.  The healthy respect for that kind of fear helps us gain power, so the idea is not to eliminate all fear--it's to heal and resolve that fear that keeps coming up, playing like a broken record.  And it's to honor and respect as an ally the clear kind of dark force within us--it's that lower chakra material, particularly the first chakra that involves primality, survival, roots to the earth, and the rhythms of nature.

I moved into shamanic work because of the dark.  Several years ago, I had a relationship with a man who Lynn Andrews would describe as a "Red Dog."  (In her books, Medicine Woman,  Flight of the Seventh Moon,  Jaguar Woman, and Crystal Woman, she tells of men who are adversaries and who, by being such, are her teachers about darkness and power.)  The man I was involved with had black hair, loved the color black, drove a black car and whose last name was Black.  He was fascinated by me because at that time, I was flying around promoting only the light.  We were mutually attracted because we held the dark-light polarity for one another.  The relationship ended, I was devastated, and I moved into seven months of severe depression.  I couldn't work, I couldn't function as a mother, and had to camp out on a friend's dining room floor.  I would close the drapes, sit in a beanbag chair and stare at the wall.  I spent all of that time in the dark, frightened, and reading only one book, St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul.  At the time, I didn't know it, but what I was going through was the shamanic initiation of tearing and dismembering of my old beliefs and ideas.  At the end of that period, a friend encouraged me to do an anger release to enable me to come out of the depression.  What that exercise did for me was to lead me spontaneously into a ritual which freed me and lead me into a wonderful new job, and into balancing my emotions and my life in the world.  What I later discovered was that the ritual I did--and thought I had made up--was an almost exact replication of an ancient one which was done in the women's temples for women who were grieving or in depression.  This intrigued me and served as the catalyst for several years of research about the basis of that which I had experienced.  I discovered that I could move into my fears instead of denying them, and thereby empower myself, and that by using only the light, I had been creating tremendous imbalance.  I learned what projection was in terms of seeing the disowned parts of my darkness in another person and thereby being attracted to him instead of dealing directly with it within myself.  I also discovered that others, thoughout history, have done the same--and in many cultures, this is the basis of shamanism.  Shamanism holds resolution of the balance of dark and light forces.  We all know the symbol for the Tao, where there is a little light in the dark area and a little dark in the light area.  That's the proper use of light and dark.  It's not an overemphasis on either--it's a balance.  Read the Tao Te King, which teaches this balance through observing nature, which is what shamanism is all about.  Each time we go on a shamanic journey or do ritual, we incorporate natural forces to do so.

Shamans are multitalented--they are musicians, artists, dancers, poets, storytellers.  It's important to nurture and express creatively because it helps to balance dark and light, masculine and feminine, heaven and earth, intuition and logic.  Painting, dancing, singing, chanting--anything that's creative--involves the creative life force and the expression of that life force as a balance.  Every time we create something of beauty or that expresses who we are, it's an act of power.  Every time we go to a symphony or to a gallery, we experience directly those acts of power.  Actors who rivet the audience with their charismatic performances are presenting their acts of power. 

Because of their deep respect for and connection with nature, shamans can alter the forces of nature--weather, for instance, can be changed by shamans so the society will have abundant crops, etc. 

It's also important to keep in mind that shamanism is not a religion.  Shamans do not believe in one divine force.  Shamanism is a way of living in which everything in the universe is a part of the whole, therefore there is nothing that is greater than the other.  Everything that is is a part of creation and everything that is is the creator at the same time.

How Shamanism Differs from Other Systems

I've selected a few other traditions merely to give you a broader perspective of what shamanism is.  Traditions like yoga, for instance, that teach transcendence through control of the physical body in order to transcend various aspects and eventually to transcend in the ultimate way--samadhi, nirvana, etc.  Shamanism differs from that--and I'm not implying that shamanism is right and yoga is wrong--they're different, that's all.  Shamanism teaches the integration of everything and it teaches from an animistic standpoint that the connection of body to earth is essential for living and wholeness and health.  Transcendence is not the ultimate goal of shamanism.  When a shaman journeys into the upperworld, for instance, the purpose is not to transcend, but merely to get information and then to bring it back down again.  I generally encourage people who are working with the chakra system to work downwards toward the earth, rather than what is usually taught in terms of moving upward.  This downward connection brings in balance--while we're in physical bodies, we need the earth to keep us from being top-heavy.

Shamanism differs from psychotherapy because it is more holistic.  Any individual psychotherapy has its own goal--which may be, again, transcendence or focusing on one area.  For the most part, unless it's a transformational type of therapy, it's working with only one aspect.  Most therapies do not include and emphasize the sacred.  Shamanism always brings in the sacred through ritual, journeying and the way of life it teaches.

Shamanism differs from mediumship or trancing because one who is a medium generally are passive in that they allow the spirits to come to them, whereas a shaman goes out and finds the spirits.  S/he creates the atmosphere for the spirits to come in and then calls and romances the spirits to actively participate.   A shaman is in active relationship with them.  It's a yin-yang type of relationship.

Shamanism differs from the ministry or priesthood in any tradition in that shamans deal with non-ordinary realities.  One might think that the clergyperson uses this, but generally they are praying from ordinary reality and do not go into altered states.  They stay within fairly narrow states of awareness.

A shaman differs from ordinary people because they have the gift of vision--they can see the beginning as well as the ending.

Shamanic Inititation

There are three basic types--I emphasize that this is general information and is certainly not all-inclusive.  Inititation is a disruption of your ordinary consciousness.  There's a great book on this by Leadbeader called Ancient Mystery Rites that goes into this in detail.  Initiation takes one out of the ordinary and catapaults her or him into non-ordinary reality.  So it's a disruption, a schism, and during that process of falling from the cliff that the shaman has pushed the initiate from, that's the initiation process.  From that point on, it's up to the initiate to either learn to fly or find footholds to climb back up or to go down the river. 

The first type is when someone goes to a shaman and asks to be initiated.  There is no guarantee that the seeker will become a shaman.  The second type is a spontaneous awakening.  If you've read Bucke's book, Cosmic Consciousness, he talks about this in terms of light experiences and suddenly something happening that changes your whole life.  If you've seen Never Cry Wolf, it depicts major awakenings that the hero goes through.  He doesn't necessarily goes out and ask to be initiated, but he follows the shaman, so it's a sort of passive asking and receiving.  The third kind of shamanic initiation is either under the tutelage of a master shaman or by oneself, moving out into a sort of sensory deprivation arena like a vision quest.  Vision quest is when you go out into the wilderness with only a blanket and a sacred object such as a pipe for three days and three nights.  During this time, you cry for a vision of what your life is about.  Because of the self-induced stress on the body and psyche, you may have a vision, during which, you are instructed about your purpose in life.

I encourage you to look at various life experiences you've had that may possibly have been spontaneous initiations as crisis or trauma in which you've come out better than when you went in--surgeries, relationship problems or breakups, deaths, etc.  If you do this, and become aware of how many you've experienced, you are prepared for the next one and can move into it consciously.  This holds the opportunity move into change with less pain and certainly to come out empowered.  During initiation, there are three basic stages.  Read Joseph Campbell's works, particulary Hero With A Thousand Faces on stages of initation. 

The first stage is that of separation or severance.  The crisis creates your separation from something, a person through death, breakup or arguement, a belief system--this is subtle, we generally don't catch this one, but it leaves our belief so shaken that we can't go back to it.  The second stage after separation is the leap into the abyss--dealing with the unknown.  It throws you into the void, that place where you think you've lost your mind or life.  This is where the healing begins, as well as the acquisition of power.  The last stage is the integration or rebirth.  It is the integration of everything you learned while in the void--whether consciously or unconsciously.  The problem with this stage is that you really have to apply it and it's not easy.  Rebirth does not hold the guarantee of comfort or pleasant times from that time on.  It may seem defeating to go through a major trauma, learn much and then come out and look at the world and see it pretty much the same.  It still has wars, disease and other problems.  During the process of acquiring power, you begin to accept your responsbility in relation to the world, your problems and challenges and you begin to learn how to use your power to resolve things.  In essence, you grow up in terms of knowing that this is the way that life is.  Life throws challenges out to everyone.  The only thing we can really learn from transformation is how to deal with these challenges, not to avoid them, but to really go straight into them.  In terms of dealing with the dark, and with fears, that's the toughest part, yet the most crucial.  Becoming whole requires that we recognize the fear and then walk right into it.  The first thing that generally comes up when anyone looks at that is that what is required is to go jump off a building if the fear is of heights.  That is not it.  It is looking at the fear of heights and moving into the fear, not necessarily the manifestation of that fear.  All of us have these strange quirks within us, like wanting to strangle or murder someone who annoys us.  But when we address that desire seriously, we get scared of the thought that we're not "nice" and could be capable of murder.  When I say move into your fear, it doesn't mean go ahead and kill that person, it means to move into why that person pushes your buttons, what you're afraid of when in that situation.  You move into the body responses when around that person and how you feel emotionally.  It's important to use a journal to write this process out--there is something about taking emotional material through your arm and hand into the pen and onto the paper that creates a balance of left and right brain.  You're working with both your intuitive and emotional, flowing side as well as your linear side in the process of writing.

Once more, I emphasize that after enlightenment, one does not lead a storybook life.  Life goes on.  But what is different is that you acquire the capability of bringing light into darkness.  I'm not implying that darkness is bad, but because we avoid the dark, therefore we're off balance.  When we go through initiation, we create our own light from within, and we then know how to integrate this light in the darkness.  When we do shamanic journeying, it's best to do it in a dark room or with eye covering because in the darkness is where answers and visions appear.  What we're doing in the dark is finding the light in it and then creating with both light and dark.  We use the dark as substance.  Chanting is a good way of doing this too.  By doing this, our voices explore all the different shades of darkness within sound.  The eventual outcome of this is a harmonic between dark and light.  Maybe some of you have heard the Tibetan monks do overtoning, in which one person chants and it sounds like two or three people.  It's a combination of light sounds with dark sounds.  There are people in the Ozarks and Appalachians who do this too.

When a shaman deals with this, s/he uses drums and rattles.  You can experiment with these to see which works best for you--drums tend to stimulate the lower chakras and rattles the upper--rattles also tend to shake up the energy so they're good for release work.  When a shaman uses sound, s/he is entraining the initiate through the use of sound.

Shamanic Tools

Basic tools used by shamans are the following: medicine objects, which are things that have meaning to the shaman regarding her experiences with power--these objects remind the shaman of the relationship to power--within that object lies the memory of a powerful experience.  All of us have medicine objects whether we know it or not--those things that have meaning to us.  Medicine objects may be crystals, things found in nature like shells or rocks or plants--even parts of dead animals.  They're very individual, very personal. 

Other tools include dreamwork, also what I call waterwork--in Christian tradition it's called baptism--but waterwork is aligning oneself with that element.  You can do this in the shower with a candle instead of electric light, perhaps using some nice oil before, saying prayers out loud as you shower, allowing all the stuff you don't want in your life to go down the drain.  You can take ritual baths, using epsom salts to draw out that which you don't want, candles and incense to bring in the fire and the light.  You can burn various woods such as cedar shavings or chips to send your prayers heavenward on the smoke.  You can do giveaways as a sacrifice--which means to do a sacred act--and in Native American tradition is taking someone of value to you and giving it to someone else in a sacred ritual. 

During ceremony, various tools include whistles and whistling, drumming, rattling, dancing, chanting to draw in the spirits.  What drumming does, or anything that has repetitive sound, is that it activates all of your brain--it involves all of the neurotransmitter processes in the brain and it focuses one's attention through the rhythmic nature of the sound.  Because of the effect on the biochemistry in the brain, healing can take place because of the property of narrowing focus--in other words, dispelling all extraneous material so the focus can intensify.  Drumming stimulates natural seratonin, which assists in this healing process.  Also people are using drumming with depressed persons with good results.  Michael Harner has some journeying tapes that are very good--Drumming for the Shamanic Journey and two others.  Drumming and rattling keeps you moving so you don't get stuck in ego-based reality.

Shamanic tools also include journeying, which we'll be doing later; and healing--shamans either put something lacking in or pull something destructive out.  Prayer is another tool, which is done during the daytime to bring something desired in and during the evening to release whatever is not needed.  Also prayer is the best way I know to set powerful intention--it helps to discover what our intention is.  The worst kind of praying is the prayer of petition, where we are begging for something--it doesn't work--or at least doesn't work to you ultimate advantage--because it disempowers rather than empowers.  In prayer, you're conversing with your soul, the elements, the spirits, and whatever you sense as a greater intelligence.  Ritual differs from prayer in that it includes sacred objects and preparation ahead of time.  Prayer is simpler and is intended to manifest or release or to answer questions.  The way that I use prayer is to call in the powerful spirits that have meaning to me, then to make my intention clear--what it is that I want, then to recognize the powers within me, to give thanks and then to complete the prayer.  And example might be something like: "Great Spirit, Great Mother, all my guides and angels, I ask for (more spiritual awareness, radiant physical or emotional health, realization of my role in the world, etc.) in the name of heaven, earth, the masculine, the feminine, and the sacred marriage of them all within my heart...I give thanks, (Amen, Ho, etc.).  What I discovered is that bringing my physical body into play during prayer by touching the forehead (heaven), the lower abdomen (earth), the right shoulder (masculine), the left shoulder (feminine), and the heart (the sacred marriage) created a more profound and real experience during prayer.  

The most important tool in shamanism is the belief in non-ordinary realities.  The more you practice journeying, study your dreams, and observe the magic all around you, the more those things become realities to the eventual goal of integration.

Journeying Within Shamanic Worlds

I'd like to hand out this chart to show you, based on my experience, what may be found in the various worlds in which a shaman travels--the upperworld, the middleworld, and the lowerworld.




5 & higher: Ineffable, light, nothing recognizable in terms of color of light, absolute, no ego/personality, difficult for ego to relate

4: Egoless, no individuality as if all egos have been dissolved and then combined together

3: Nothingness

2: Education/learning, purpose to learn that we create our own experience

1: Rest and recuperation/healing center

Middle World

Astral, purgatory, place of poltergeists, ghosts, hauntings, etc.  Souls reside here who have not been assisted in dying--they are confused, disoriented

Lower World


1: Repository for psychological tools to be collected on way down

2: Transportation center after tools have been collected for work in lower levels

3 & lower: Inspiration/teaching/experiential; healing to bring back up

The overlay drawing represents the cosmic tree, world tree, or axis mundi--the center of the world where all creation begins.  And it is on and within this tree that the shaman travels from world to world.  The roots go into the lower world, the trunk is in the middle world, and the branches and leaves in the upperworld.  I always take beginning students into the lowerworld because it teaches groundedness, which is essential for wholeness.  We're already too top-heavy and heady in this society, particularly in spiritual groups that emphasize the heavenly aspects to the exclusion of the earthly ones.  Also, the middleworld is not just a non-ordinary place, it also includes ordinary experience, the astral, the physical, etc.   A shaman is a master at recognizing those worlds, traveling between them, and guiding people in them.

This chart may assist you when you do the journeying process--a sort of roadmap.  It is important to find a way into the lowerworld through a hole in the earth and then to make sure you come back through the same entrance.  This way, you will not tend to be disoriented upon your return.

The first step in journeying is to create a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed for 30-60 minutes--the journey may only take 20 minutes, but you will need time to integrate the experience and write it down.  Then either use a drumming tape, have a friend drum for you, or you can even do it yourself, but I don't recommend this for beginners because it may be distracting. 

Close your eyes, imagine an entrance into the earth, and begin to descend, bringing all of your senses into play--smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste, intuition.  This helps you develop a belief in the reality of such experience plus it assists in the healing or manifestation process.

An important thing to keep in mind while journeying is that whatever fears might be experienced, they are part of the journey.  So when they occur, the task is to see if they can be walked into and through.  This is where the assistance of an ally, such as a power animal, comes into play. 

When you have completed your descent, imagine a large opening, grotto, or room within the earth.  Sit down and become receptive.  Watch for animals and particularly any one which appears to you repeatedly.  It is your power animal.  Michael Harner recommends not allowing any animal who bears fangs, claws or other signs of danger, to be your power animal.  I believe this is sound advice for beginners.  It is also a good experience in exercising one's power in the process of telling a ferocious beast to go sit in a corner and not bother you.  When an animal has chosen you by appearing several times--and keep in mind that this animal may not be one which your conscious mind may have chosen--allow it to become your teacher.  Ask it to show you the answer to a question in your life and be willing to go where it takes you and to do what it bids you to do.  A power animal is our connection to our earthy, animal natures as well as to our power.  Researchers have found that people who easily use animals images in their lives are ones who have greater self images.

Spend as much time as you need in following your animal and learning what it has to teach you.  When you are complete with the journey, come back up the same way you entered the earth--and not too quickly, else dizziness may occur.  Come back into your ordinary awareness and spend some quiet time processing and writing your experience.

An important thing to keep in mind is that whatever is experienced during the journey--even what we think is nothing--is a teaching.  We are taught to discount anything that doesn't have palpable value, so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we did the journey wrong or we failed, when in truth, we got exactly what we needed to learn.  Shamanism leads us to health in the very fact that it leads us out of ordinary thinking.  It challenges us to become much more than we have ever imagined.


By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.

"What's wrong with my child? She acts like a delinquent!" "Why does my four-year-old lie?" "What have done to make my children hate me?" "Why does my son cause problems at school?" "Why won't my child act like a human being?" "My daughter never listens to me - she insists on doing things her way!"

            Does any of this sound familiar? Are you a parent or someone who works with youngsters who finds yourself unable to understand their behavior? If so, you may not have looked deeply enough at the spiritual meaning of what looks like disturbing behavior or unhealthy patterns. (I use the word, "spiritual", here referring to any religious ideology, but rather as the essence of beingness, that ineffable part of all of us that connects us to the mystery of life.)

            As a parent of two adult daughters, I've been through it all. And as a counselor, I've heard it all. I've discovered the key to a successful relationship with children is simply to respect  them as spiritual beings and not make any judgements about  them or what appears to be happening.  In other words, it is wiser to not respond to the behavior but rather to the child's Soul. (I refer to "Soul" as the personal manifestation of the mystery of life.) Certainly it's our responsibility as caregivers to guide children away from dangers, to teach them what we can from our own experience, and to apply firm but kind discipline in order to help them develop confidence and boundaries. But I believe we do great harm to a child's essence when we insist they be just like us, that they follow our models of success (or failure), and that they don't question us when we decide their future. As Kahlil Gibran says in his famous work, The Prophet, our children merely come through us - they do not belong to us.

            That may be a stretch for most of us because it is easy to want our children to be our safety net, our protegés, guarantees that we will live forever. But the most important thing a parent or teacher can give a child is her/his Soul's freedom. This means we must first develop a strong and healthy relationship to ourselves, so old fears and unresolved inner conflicts don't intrude in our role as our children's guides. In addition to keeping our children safe and healthy in body, mind, and spirit, we need to transform our role from one in which we've learned to perceive "parent" to one of mentor and caregiver. There's a vast difference between wisely mentoring a child and trying to make her/him behave according to rules and beliefs that generally never worked for us, yet we apply them to our children anyway.

            In my role as a counselor, I've discovered much of what cause adults great pain is that they are not doing what their Souls want and need them to do. This is especially true in regards to our professions. I've found that what we used to play and fantasize about as children is generally what we are practicing to become as adults. We deny the wisdom of this when we work in a job that kills our Souls, many times because our parents chose it for us or at least implied we should do this work rather than what we longed to do. We may have been taught that our dreams are merely unreal and impractical fantasies that we should ignore and override. But the truth is, our dreams are exactly what we should be working toward manifesting creatively. Those are what our health and happiness are built upon, not the pained limitations of others.

            We show our deep inner fears and doubts about ourselves when we accuse children of not doing something right, calling them stupid, spank them out of our own frustration and fear of loss of power, or keep them from expressing themselves in unique ways. One of my daughters used to insist upon dressing in bizarre color combinations when she was young. People would comment or even criticize me for letting her dress that way. I ignored the comments and let her go on selecting her own clothing because I knew she loved colors and had a distinct artistic eye. Even when she was in her teen years and wore only black, I knew her Soul was that of an artist. She is now a very successful makeup artist for film and television. She still has an unique sense of style and I am pleased I never tried to squelch it.

            In the first step of releasing our own demands and fears onto our children and working on ourselves, we need to do so non-judgementally. For too long an underlying attitude in our society has been that we should discount ourselves because there is something ineffably wrong with us, that we don't count. Many of us learn early in life that we powerless to make changes in our lives or be uniquely creative because of this belief. We are taught to make concessions and unholy sacrifices in order to get along or support the status quo. Even in the most loving of homes, it is common to expect the children to succeed for  the parents and even as the parents. I can personally attest to the difficulties in overcoming and healing such restrictions to my Soul, but to the rewards of doing so as well. As I learned to love myself unconditionally and non-judgementally, it became easier to love others that way too. My relationship with my daughters improved dramatically and I now take great pleasure in helping to raise my grandson in this way.

            Another important step is to become truly honest with ourselves as well as with our children. We need to learn how to express our feelings openly and appropriately with youngsters so that they learn by example, not by threat. Of course, this must be tempered with wisdom so that we don't end up dumping our feelings on our children. I'm afraid I did this with my eldest daughter when she was a young child to the extent that she shut down emotionally because I shared too much with her. At that time, I was immature and didn't know the wise boundaries between truthtelling and inappropriately using my daughter as a therapist.

            Another step involves what my four-year-old grandson might call "Stop, Look and Listen." Before making a decision that might affect your child, or jumping to conclusions about the reasons for upsetting behavior, you can take a moment to look deeper into the situation. Really listen to your child, particularly when there is great emotion behind what s/he is telling you. For instance, if your child is yelling at you about why you won't let her/him take fencing lessons, instead of yelling back or making a disciplinary decision based on the yelling alone, stop and look at your child's expression of feeling. It may be more than merely the fencing lesson. It might be your fears about the possible dangers of fencing. For example, I tended to hold my young daughters back from physical activities because, as a child, I had been timid and fearful about getting hurt. (Although it never influenced my younger daughter - she was a natural at sports and physical challenges. She was on a baseball team at seven and a strong and talented modern dancer by twelve.) It may be an assertion of independence and need for stretching personal boundaries on your child's part. If you sense this is the case, respond accordingly by listening to the underlying Soul message. Your child's Soul may be telling you it's time to back off a little, that your child may be ready for more challenges in order to successfully grow toward uniqueness. This may be an opportunity for both you and your child to grow. And, if you truly feel your child is not yet ready for fencing lessons, you can work together to find an activity that will support the quest for independence. Your child will love you for it because the Soul's needs will have been respected.

            Boundary-setting is of utmost importance especially during the challenging years of adolescence, but it doesn't have to be accompanied by trauma and drama! By applying a sincere, honest respect for your teen's Soul needs, accompanied by loving firmness, you will find ways to iron out difficulties you never imagined possible. One of the scariest things for parents of teenagers is knowing when it's time to let them make their own decisions. And I believe we err when we think we know best and thereby contribute to the fights that ensue because of it. It's a thin tightrope we walk upon when we decide to allow our teens to make important decisions involving their lives. But the important foundation we have built upon honesty and respect for their Souls' urgings can mean the difference between mutual agreement and disaster. After several years of battling it out, my then teenaged older daughter brought our family into a serious and frightening crisis. We were all in shock, she to the point of dropping her sullen attitude, looking deeply into my eyes, and telling me she did what she did merely to get my attention. I was incredulous and knew I had an important choice to make. I could become angry and defensive with her, insisting I had given her lots of attention, or I could respect what her Soul was communicating with me and work to discover what I should do about it. I chose the latter and have never regretted it. It was by far the harder of the two routes to take, but it was the key to healing many unresolved problems in our family. I began to see that her Soul's wisdom had led her to the crisis in order to break her - and all of us - free from the bonds of limitation, misunderstanding and pain. She and I were able to develop a real relationship, one based on truth and mutual respect. Now thirty years old, she is no longer my therapist as in her childhood, but her deep wisdom enriches my life.

            It is possible to change your perspective on the children in your life and your relationship to them. You can learn how to sense into deeper levels of your child’s beingness than the ordinary, surface realities, wherein lies the belief in the troublesome behavior, health problems, or poor social interaction. You can discover how to “read” and honor your child’s Soul and Its purpose, as well as Its patterns, if you are willing to perceive her/his actions in an entirely different way. Your relationship will be strengthened, healed and transformed. And don't forget - this process can be fun, enlightening, and freeing to your Soul as well as your child’s.