Of Spirit and Shamans

Shamanism is a blanket term for a way of perceiving the universe. It is not a religion or a philosophy, and cannot be explained in terms of formalized practices. Shamanism cuts across cultures and centuries, and exists as a relationship between the physical and the spiritual worlds themselves.

Ideally, the physical and spiritual worlds can be perceived as integrated and wholly one, as shamans believe they are. It is the act of this merged interpretation of human experience that sets the shaman apart. When the shaman is most deeply invested in this perception of physical and spiritual reality, he or she can be said to be in an ecstatic state. This state will vary from person to person, perhaps being quietly meditative and trance-like or even full of energy and dancing. It is often referred to simply as an altered state of consciousness, which is a broad enough term to encompass many kinds of practices. A shaman, however he or she practices his or her craft, is one who has mastery over the altered state, and in doing so sees the spirit world with conscious eyes.

A shaman navigates the world of spirit alongside the world of physical experience. But what exactly is spirit?

The concept of spirit is almost beyond definition by its very nature. Spirit defies physical limits, labels, and laws. For instance, spirit can be thought of as energy, but in doing so, one ought not to think merely of energy as it is defined in science texts. Often, explanations of spirit sound puzzling. Spirit is that which exists when all else doesn’t; and spirit is the force behind all forces. Spirit may be described as Being itself. Spirit is, and always has.

Most shamanic beliefs include the existence of individual spirits, as well as archetypal spirits, nature spirits and god-like spirits. A river might have a specific spirit or it may simply embody the Spirit of River – and also both, simultaneously. A spirit might be human, animal, natural (as in vegetable or mineral), otherworldly, or any other concept of being.

A shaman establishes real relationships with spirit and spirits. These relationships empower him or her to better navigate the spiritual world and take action within it. The work of the shaman is to mediate between the spirit world and the physical world for the benefit of others. The benefit provided is broadly defined as healing work. A person who consults a shaman might experience physical healing as a result, but what is really being healed is the balance and relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds relating to that person in some way.

All shamans work differently, thus in practice it is deeply personal. If you consult a shaman for healing, the messages, advice, and healing you may receive will, on the surface, reveal how the shaman interacts with the spiritual world. However, there is no one “right” way of preforming a healing. The one strict rule with regard to shamanism is the necessity for a relationship between the shaman and spirit; how that relationship works or is expressed is freely open.

There has been controversy over the use of the term “shaman”, and also the dangers of appropriating another culture’s beliefs and traditions. However, spirit relationships are open to all.

If you feel drawn to shamanism, you are experiencing first and foremost a side of your humanity, as you are yourself a being of spirit. With effort and humility you will discover whether you are being called to be a spirit-worker yourself. But whatever the calling is, pay attention to spirit as you would to the physical world, and open yourself to the relationship that spirit can offer.

For more on this topic, please visit my shamanic site, Spirit Walking Wild: https://spiritsent.wordpress.com/


Many Lives, Many Names

I have many names.

After I wake my wife in the morning, I tell her what is going on in my head, and I tell her who is out speaking to her. Sometimes it is Story, sometimes Kai, sometimes Angela or Kodiak. Or perhaps it is one of the kids — it might be Bobby, or Kassie, or Woo.

We are all different.

And I believe I have back-lives too, lives-once-lived. I have seen Mongolia, I have been Inuit. I have followed a Mennonite creed. I have been a hunter, a mother, a spirit-talker.

The richness of these lives — these persons, these souls — flows like a river in the Spring floods. I am either everyone, or I am a leaf lost in between the ripples and carried along wildly. There is hardly time to follow this pulling everywhere it wants to go. But I feel best when I attend to the whispered urges and pay them respect.

I grow weak when I do not pay attention. In these times, I am wounded and bleed Spirit from me. But to heal I have only to listen and dream, and honour the dreaming.


My Life, Honouring Wilderness


I dream wilderness,

for I am wild, which then dreams

me into being.




There is something living

under the porch, in a tree stump we brought

from Haliburton, then Toronto, and then here —

so you see, it could be anything.

It is the highlight of our evenings, hearing

the scuttle-gnawing while we smoke.

We go still and silent, straining to hear and see,

wishing only to make its acquaintance,

at least to know its face.

We put down flour to see its footprints.

We found the old video camera. We gave gifts

of peanut butter on bread, and seeds.

We left the light on, and the camera on, and our hopes on,

full of anticipation to see

who this creature is, for no matter what

we will not be disappointed.



Dreams Come True

Willow got us to our favourite place, Algonquin Park, in honour of my birthday. We weren’t planning on going at all and it was a whirlwind of getting ready. The first night there, we were told that moose sightings were low and indeed we only saw fox. But there was magic in the air and the next day didn’t disappoint us.

I had been dreaming and having visions of being up North and seeing wolves. The message “wolf on a hill” kept coming to me, but since this was the big message and experience of our last trip, I didn’t think it would happen again. Wolf sightings are rare. But it did happen. Coming up a hill a wolf ran across the road, and later that night we howled at that spot…and the wolf pack howled back, loud and near. We had a whole conversation with them until they stopped answering.

The milky way was bright in the sky and meteors streaked above us. We saw a mother moose with her itty bitty baby; we called back and forth to a bull and sow somewhere in the woods; we saw beavers and a weasel and a huge bear at the town dump.

The next morning, we were full up and grateful for it all, but the universe kept on giving. Two wolves ran right in front of us in broad daylight on that same hill. Then, we watched a mother bear with her two cubs eating blueberries 50 feet from the road.

Finally, we stopped at Tory Hill on the way home to do some rock hounding, and came out with a bowl full of beautiful green apatite crystals. What a gift!

bear and baby 4

bear and baby

bear ma 2

bear ma 3

bear ma 4

bear ma

bear and baby2

bear and baby3


Spirit as Imagination

Spirit is pure wave, potential, the dream of a child: all of which, I argue, is imagination.

Few who wish to connect with spirit would be comfortable equating it with imagination. I want to make it clear that I am not downplaying the reality of spirit in any way. For it is also true, as Schrodinger might tell us, that all unobserved things exist solely as waves, solely within potential, solely within the imagination. Yet unobserved things are generally maintained to be as real as observed things. Your partner remains real when she is not in view, as does the rest of the world.

All fiction is merely a reality removed from our sight, but alive some world away.

All that is possible in imagination becomes material, somewhere, somehow. My metaphysics of creation speaks of a great love affair between potential and actualization. Nothingness abounds with absolute potential. Nothingness is a cauldron of roiling imagination. Meanwhile Everything roils with being. Everything and nothing are lovers whose passion bears both being and imagination, the world of Something.

We are children of Everything and Nothing. Our five physical senses tell us of the world of Being, and our imagination is our sensory apparatus of Potential. We live with a foot in both worlds, though many choose not to recognize it.

And when your own being passes from this world, rest assured that the imagination of you – your spirit – returns to the womb of potential until it passes into being again, somewhere, somehow.

Of course this is all my own fancy, and my aim is not to convince but to suggest, to spark someone else’s own ideas. Naturally, I believe that spirit lives in all forms we imagine it.

Dreaming the World into Being: Yanantin

All creation owes itself to potential. Possibility, ultimately, brought you into being. I think this is one meaning of the shamanistic belief that we dream the world into being, even as the world likewise dreams us.

Indeed, at the heart of Everything and Nothing lies the real war — a dance of complementary duality between what is possible and impossible. This war-dance is what creates all things. This war-dance is yanantin, the concept of complementary opposites creating each other.

Thus possibility owes itself to the concept of impossibility. The important thing is that the two opposites, or two absolutes, always exist together simultaneously. You cannot really isolate one part of a complementary duality. You cannot show me, for example, “pure white” that is devoid of any defect, shadow, or even edge of darkness. Pure white depends on its edges of darkness, at the very least, to define it.

So I do not mean that some things are possible and some things are not. Everything is simultaneously possible and impossible. Everything is simultaneously light and dark, true and false, good and bad, real and unreal. Thus reality becomes a construct of story, and story a fabrication of reality.

Another key complementary duality is that of consciousness and unconsciousness (or non-consciousness). All the same aspects of yanantin apply here. Everything is simultaneously conscious and unconscious! You cannot isolate “pure consciousness” from “pure unconsciousness”. This explains the shamanistic belief in animism, that all things bear some consciousness or spirit. Consciousness, as a concept, is an absolute — but our instances of human consciousness are not absolutes, but one shade on the spectrum between consciousness and unconsciousness. So are the consciousnesses of trees, animals, rocks and rivers. Absolute unconsciousness does not exist in isolation.

How, then, are we to live, how are we to navigate a reality that is simultaneously a dream? I think the key is not to seek “reality” so hard as some seem to do. The shaman who journeys embraces more than one reality simultaneously — the “outside world,” or ordinary reality, and the “spirit world” or extraordinary reality. I believe that having a foot in both worlds means embracing imagination as an important, even sacred tool.

Ultimately, I believe that imagination is no less sacred or important than reality. So I feel that it is our duty to dream, create, and imagine as intensely as we engage with the everyday world. Nothing is wholly imagination in the sense that it is purely impossible or purely unreal. Nothing is wholly real either. So embrace both with open eyes.