In many cultures, reality is said to contain three levels, one on top of the other. To a shaman, we live on the earth, while beneath us is the Lower world and above us is the Upper world. Our world is the Middle world, but shaman’s say it also has a kind of through-the-looking glass other dimension that they are aware of too. The Upper and Lower worlds are not physical places, but they are, nonetheless, real places in a spiritual dimension. The shaman will travel to these other worlds with their spirit while in a trance state and experience them as real places.
The Lower world is generally a place of landscape, light and animals. Here the shaman travels to find their spirit animals and totems, and asks them for advice and help. The middle world is a parallel world to this one, and the shaman will travel in it to find answers to questions about this world. If a tribe needs to hunt, the shaman may travel here to find the spirit of the animals and ask them to come so that the tribe can be fed. If someone is lost, the shaman may travel in the Middle world to find them, and then when they had returned from their shamanic trance they would be able to tell the people around them where the lost person was and have a search party sent out. In the upper world, the shaman travels to gain knowledge and receive teachings from Angelic forces and Star beings etc.
There are many ways that the shaman loosens the connection between their soul and their body. Many cultures use the drum, which is often called the ‘shaman’s horse,’ others use rattles, some just use song.
An archetypal shamanic trance may be something like as follows. The shaman will smudge themselves (wash in the smoke of sweet smelling herbs), and then wash people around them and their physical space. They will set up some sort of ritual altar of magical objects, and may put on special clothes hung with objects, or a hood over their head. These items of clothing will be a mixture of things traditionally worn in their culture for shamanic work as well as things they will have been specifically told to wear by their spirit helpers. They will then generally start to sing songs to call to the spirits who help them, and play their drum. They may have other human helpers who also sing and play drums for them. The drum beat will become steady and quite fast, its driving momentum preparing the soul of the shaman to journey.
If the shaman is going to travel to the lower world, they will generally have some place in the physical world that they will use to start their journeys from. This may be a hole in the ground or the roots of a sacred tree. They will, in their minds eye, go to this place and at the right moment ‘step into the void’. They will fall down the hole, getting faster, beginning to fly, until they reach the Lower world.
Although the journey began in their minds eye, the spirits quickly take over, and the journey gets more and more real as the sound of the drum fades. The shaman will not know what will happen to them on their journey before they travel, they will not know what spirits they will meet on the way. They will have an internal map of the spiritworlds in their mind, they will have travelled and explored them on their previous journeys, but each adventure there will be new.
If the shaman travels to the Upper world, they will probably not use a hole to start from, but may instead climb a sacred mountain, or tree or step into a fire in their minds eye and rise up in the smoke. Some shamans specialise only in Lower world journeys, while others undertake only Upper or Middle world journeys.
Western culture is just beginning to regain some of these techniques, there is remarkable consistency in the ways journeys are undertaken and the resulting experiences the shamanic practitioners have while upon them.
The drumming on this recording is designed to recreate the shaman’s drumming and can be used to undertake your own journeys. Each length of drumming starts with a short slow preparation section which leads into a faster ‘descent’ section during which traditionally the shaman would enter the other world. This is followed by the main long steady drumming section which is designed for you to explore the other world. After a slight break in the drumming the fast ‘accent’ section will be heard during which you should return to this reality. The drumming ends with the drum being hit four times as a mark of respect to the Powers of the Four Directions.
Use this recording by lying or sitting down while wearing headphones to hear the drums. Do not play it while driving or operating machinery which requires your focused attention. The attendance at an introductory workshop on shamanic journeying techniques run by a reputable teacher will enhance your ability to use this recording.
released January 24, 2000
Nicholas Breeze Wood: twenty inch diameter deer skinned single-sided shamanic frame drum • antique Nepalese double-sided shaman’s frame drum • fifteen inch diameter water buffalo calf skinned single-sided shamanic frame drum.
Faith Nolton: sixteen inch diameter Remo Buffalo frame drum.
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