What do we mean by Shamanic Journeying?
Journey…to where? For what purpose? What am I going to find? Is there a destination?
We all know the old cliché, ‘life is a journey, not a destination’…
These are maybe some of the questions that arise when one thinks of Journeying in a shamanic sense…that’s assuming you’ve heard of Journeying in a shamanic sense.
In fact, the shamanic way of living and thinking focuses very much on journeying, all types of journeying. It is an integral tool to the practice of shamanism.
Primarily, the purpose of going on a shamanic journey is to find out information about yourself, your situation, your challenges, and so on. Shamanic Journeying goes very much inwards. It’s a personal process.
You may have past issues that are affecting you now, or you may be facing challenges in the present. In order to heal, these have to be confronted, and one way to do that is to go on an inner journey.
An integral of most kinds of Shamanic Journeying is the inclusion of some kind of rhythm, usually a drumbeat. This helps you to get closer to a trance state.
Different Kinds of Shamanic Journeys
There are a number of different kinds of journeys that one can take to confront ourselves in the inner realm. Some of them are physical, others are spiritual, but the purpose of all of them is to go inside.
Why inside? Glad you asked. Well, this is the only place real change can happen. You can try all you want to change the world, but you will not succeed. The only thing that you can change is the way you respond to the world around you.
The word "journey" is very significant because it signifies movement, change, transformation. It’s movement between the different plains of reality that exist within us.
We all consist of many realities:
our true selves,
the many different selves we choose to show to those at work, our families, our social circle,
the self that was traumatized at age 10 and still hasn’t processed it,
the self that wishes they could’ve done this or that,
the self that tries to please our partner,
the list goes on and on…
In order to find out more information about ourselves and bring this information back to the present to help us heal, we have to journey to these different realities.
For after all, like everything shamanic, Journeying is for healing.
So get your drumming CDs ready and let’s take a look at the different kinds of Shamanic Journeys.
A Medicine Walk is a conscious physical journey where one purposefully goes out and seeks objects that resonate with them.
The one I did with my teacher required us to collect 64 items. Why 64? Well, this is equivalent to the number of lessons and medicines on a Medicine Wheel. The object was to place the items on the medicine wheel and relate them to the lessons.
Medicine wheels are complex and I'll go into that in another article.
Basically, when on a Medicine Walk, one has to find items that we can connect with. If they resonate with us, it means they are vibrating on the same frequency as us, and therefore are our medicine…they have some significant meaning for us.
Medicine Walks were done by many Shamanic cultures at one time and were an integral part of healing, seeking solutions to challenges, and so on.
Sadly, today we have very little connection to and understanding of our environment, and most often don’t have the time to go on Medicine Walks and go within. Subsequently, the meaning of this kind of journey is very much lost in modern society.
This Journey is more on an emotional and spiritual level. It requires one to go within and visualize a different reality by mentally shifting energy from one form to another so that the reality that unfolds is different.
If you want to change your situation, you have to visualize it, believe in it, and show gratitude for it. Similar to the concept of wanting something and focusing all your energy on believing in it and receiving it.
Only in this case it’s a certain type of reality that one is seeking to change, not an object that one is wanting to obtain.
An example could be to change the behavior of a certain person towards you. Maybe a colleague is bullying you and making life unpleasant for you at work.
A very useful visualization journey that my teacher taught me is to visualize this person as a small child, innocent, helpless. and alone.
Then visualize them locked in a small chamber, cold and dark, ugly and unpleasant, all alone, frightened, and desperate. They are beside themselves with fear and abandonment, crying, wailing and hopeless.
Then visualize yourself coming to the chamber, unlocking the door and calling this child. They come running into your arms and hold onto you tightly, sobbing and gasping.
You comfort this child, tell them you are here now, they are safe, and there is no need to worry. Reassure them that they are secure and looked after, loved and cared for, and they don’t need to worry. Spend time comforting them.
Do this visualization journey a few times and watch how the behavior of this person changes.
Does it change?
If you are doing the journey like a true Shaman as I have taught you, setting clear intentions, using your intuition and imagination and doing it with full integrity, then there will be a change.
Will you have changed them. Yes, but its not magic…the change will be in you and the way they respond to you, and that will change their behavior towards you.
Visualization Journeys, done in conjunction with meditation, are a very powerful means of change.
This kind of journey, also done by shamanic cultures mainly in the Americas, is a journey that turns one inwards towards their own reality, their own truth.
It’s about seeking the space in life that feels congruent with you – your purpose, or vocation, if you like.
The individual will ‘cry out for their vision’ through prayer and seeking advice from elders, guardian spirits of the community and so on.
They would interact with the plants and animals etc that they found in the physical but also during meditation and consultation with the Shaman.
The qualities of each of these would then apply to the lessons they have to learn, for example, patience, intuition, mastering anger and aggression.
It was very much about experiencing one’s inner landscape and populating it with the spirit guides and animals that would lead them on their life path.
Thus would their purpose and ‘vision’ be realized.
In all kinds of Shamanic Journeying, it is important for one to develop their inner landscape. This can be shaped how you choose and populated with all your guides, angels, animals, and anything else that you find precious.
My inner landscape is a hidden world that one enters through a cave, but when you come through the cave you enter a world of tropical rain forests, rivers and waterfalls, beautiful hills and a shining sun. It is a landscape that is rich in life and color.
There I find all the precious people who have passed on, and all the possibilities that I wish to create. It is a place of peace, beauty and happiness.
Its very easy to go to this place, sometimes as a refuge, other times to start a journey and sometimes to talk to guides, totems etc. Meditation is the key to entering this inner landscape.
We all understand so far that Shamanic Journeying is a tool that allows us to process things from our different realities – the past traumas, the present challenges and so on.
There are three levels that one can journey to, depending on what needs to be found, confronted and challenged. These three levels are the Middle World, the Lower World and the Upper World.
Firstly let's take a look at the Lower World.
The Lower World
When I want to go into the lower world, I go to one of my waterfalls and behind it is a hidden cave. This cave takes me deep underground. It’s beautiful, glittering with gems and rock formations that are out of this world. Here is where I find my Lower World.
The Lower World is the place where your totem animals, angels and spirit guides reside. Here you can go and speak to them and seek advice from them.
Also, and very importantly, you can ask them to go on a journey with you. When we journey to the Middle and Upper Worlds, we need to take our animals and guides with us, for these are challenging and often dangerous places.
The Upper World
Now the Upper World is nothing like the Lower World. It’s not happy and peaceful, because it’s a place of fear, anger, disappointment, frustrations, helplessness, trauma, hopelessness and despair. The Upper World is where we find all of these past and present challenges.
When I go to my Upper World, I take my guides and animals and go above the clouds into the realm of nothingness. Here I let me mind wander free, and soon enough, the fears start coming in, the anger and so on, because this is what the mind does if we let it wander free with no purpose.
It’s a challenging place to be and can often be overwhelming. Very often its necessary to leave before anything can be done.
But if you have the strength, and the support of your guides and animals, you can choose something to focus on, a certain disappointment or frustration, something that makes you angry, a trauma from the past.
Asking your guides for strength and direction, use your intuition to guide you how to confront this ‘monster’ that resides in your upper world. Often wisdom will come through reflection, understanding, and analysis of the situation.
However, often external help is needed and sometimes the Upper World is good enough just for identifying the ‘monsters’ so they can be dealt with, with the help of a professional, in the consensual reality.
An interesting story shared with us by my teacher Lionel Berman, is that the simple story Jack and the Beanstalk, is in a fact a powerfully shamanic tale about an Upper World Journey.
Upon hearing it, certain shamans pointed out this fact.
The cow that Jack takes to the market represents abundance. It does so in many shamanic cultures from Native Americans to the Vikings.
Jack trades the cow for a handful of beans. These beans represent mescaline, a mind-altering leguminous plant, hence the beginning of the Upper World Journey. Jack gets into deep trouble and has to face this challenge.
His mother throws the beans out the window, where they sprout, and being very fertile, grow all the way up as a massive beanstalk into the clouds.
Jack then takes the Upper World Journey, climbing up the beanstalk into the clouds, and meets his fear and challenge, the Giant, the guardian of the goose that lays the golden eggs.
The Giant wants to eat him, however Jack escapes with the goose and climbs down the beanstalk, cutting it down, bringing an end to the Giant.
So, in a nutshell, Jack takes an Upper World Journey, defeats his fears and challenges, and is rewarded with abundance again.
The Middle World
Now the Middle World can be a bit confusing, because it looks pretty much like the reality that we are living in.
The Middle World is where we go if we want to alter our reality. Its very much linked to Visualization Journeys. If something is not working in our reality, we can visualize another reality where that thing is fixed.
The difference between reality and the Middle World is that the normal laws of physics and so on do not apply. One can go backwards in time to a traumatic experience in the middle world, and comfort yourself much like I described in the story about the bullying colleague.
What I’ve done before is taken a particular guide who is strong and caring back to an orphanage in Durban where I know I was sexually abused as a small child in a previous life in the 1970’s.
In the one meditation I had I picked up this past trauma and knew I had to do something to try and heal it. I felt it would help heal some issue I was dealing with in the present.
In the Journey, that strong and caring guide went to the individual who was abusing me and told him that the behavior was now over. There was a full-time protector and he’d better not try anything.
The guide and I went and sat on the child’s (my past self) bed and kept him company and told him he was safe and no harm would come to him.
Sadly, I picked up that I didn’t live very long in that life, but I like to believe that I healed that past trauma and in turn healed something for myself in this life…I’m still trying to work out what it is though.
Another example of a Middle World Journey could be if you wanted to try and improve a relationship. Let’s say, for instance, your partner has become distant, unloving and your relationship is not what it used to be.
They throw themselves into their work everyday as an escape and the two of you are drifting further and further apart.
What you can do is take a Middle World Journey to try and fix this. Start in your inner landscape and begin to notice the beauty that you’ve created. Find a comfortable spot in your inner landscape and sit down and start a meditation (you’re obviously meditating in reality).
As you meditate, journey to your partner’s Middle World. See it for what it is. It’s chaos… maybe their office is covered in papers, the windows are broken and everything is blowing out, there are small fires all around, the air is smoky, people are shouting...
This is your partner’s inner landscape, what they are dealing with on a daily basis. Go into that office and hug your partner, hold them tight and tell them you understand what they are dealing with. Tell them they are safe now and secure and the chaos doesn’t matter because you are with them and you will fix it all.
Take this Journey over and over again, like a true Shaman, and start to notice the change in them.
They will open up and your relationship will improve. Again, it’s not magic…you are altering your energy so that they feel safer to respond and engage with you.
It will also allow you to get to the bottom of what’s really bothering them and then start to treat that.
As with everything, Journeying takes practice. Start with some Meditation and Visualization Journeys, and when you feel ready move on to Lower Worlds Journeys.
These are nice because you get to spend more time in your own inner landscape and go underground to meet your totems, animals, guides, angels etc.
Once you have the courage, start to look at things that are not working for you in your life, like an abusive colleague, a relationship you’d like to improve, or a suffering friend.
From your inner landscape, take some Middle World Journeys and comfort that friend in his/her traumatized state, improve that relationship and tone down that bully that is giving you grief.
I hope that you have found this article interesting and informative. Please be careful when taking Shamanic Journeys, if you do it properly it can take you to some deep, dark and scary places.
However, doing it with integrity means you are going on that Journey armed only with love, empathy and compassion…and of course your spirit guides, animal totems and angels.
For an expanded perspective on Shamanic Journeying, have a look at Sandra Ingerman’s book, Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide.