Recovering from my heart surgery last year , I often hallucinated with whatever drugs they were pumping into me. I had no idea that’s what I was doing. It did seem a little odd that at night my ward was being run by a Chinese matron instructing men in loincloths to pose whilst Chinese nurses painted them in beautiful watercolours.. I just thought it was all part of an Arts Therapy programme. It was comforting when one of those nurses sat next to me to read some poetry, and hung strips of coloured ribbons around my bed and over me. The next night, when a sacked caretaker shouted abuse and broke a window by throwing a brick at it, was more unsettling. By the third night, when the Irish nurses were creating sculptures of animals on the ward, I was still convinced that all of this was true. I don;t know when my imaginations stopped and common reality took place. It was only several months after it all that my family told me the Chinese nurses didn’t exist. I don’t know what else was and wasn’t true.
The shaman is a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself. Once he has achieved this he can help others.
Mircea Eliade Shamanism, Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton University Press, 1972)
So it’s not surprising that I’m drawn to the idea of ‘non-ordinary reality ‘ in shamanic healing. I’ve recently spent some days learning a little more about the sacred ritual of ‘soul retrieval’, a healing journey facilitated by ‘smudging’ through prayer and burning of cedar, sage, sweet grass and using a drum and a rattle. I’ve worked with forms of trauma before, and welcome the opportunity to understand it from a different, and more intuitive, perspective. As a counsellor, we use ‘talking therapies’. Sometimes, there can be too much talking.
I’d read a while ago about the role of the ‘berdache’ in Native American culture and was intrigued/drawn to it.
a berdache can be defined as a morphological male who does not fill a society’s standard man’s role, who has a nonmasculine character… Berdaches have special ceremonial roles in many Native American religions..They serve a mediating function between women and men, precisely because their character is seen as distinct from either sex.’
…Shamans are not necessarily berdaches, but because of their spiritual connection, berdaches in many cultures are often considered to be powerful shamans.
Walter L Williams, The Spirit And The Flesh (Beacon Press, 1986)
So I trolled along to a Shamanic Healing training. I ‘received’ a soul retrieval first – a very relaxing, calming and entrancing experience. No great revelations, and when my healer old me his power animal had been in a yellow kitchen to retrieve part of me , it didn’t ring any bells (or beat any drums!) Afterwards, however, I recalled overhearing my B&B owner disparaging gay marriage as they prepared breakfast in the kitchen, and how wounding it was to overhear their comments in the public arena of the breakfast room. I looked the next morning, and their kitchen wasn’t yellow. But the feeling of having part of myself returned, or taken care of, did feel important.
When it was my turn to give the healing, I was nervous – all fingers and thumbs with drums and rattles, chants and focussing on journeying. I was disappointed not imagine a dramatic power animal like a bear – I was met with a raven, which insisted that the trees it was flying over were cedar. They returned with something, but it was unclear to me and of no use to my ‘client’. Later, I found that the raven is a symbol for creativity and magic – raven is the guardian of ceremonial magic and in absentia healing. ‘You have earned the right to see and experience a little more of life’s magic.’ It seems the raven may have appeared to help me more than my poor client, and I will probably use cedar for smudging rather desert or white sage in the future.
Our second practice, and my healer talked of seeing a boy with a blue ball at the seaside. I love the sea, and hate balls, and again there was no strong resonance for me. My second giving of healing , I saw a beaver this time. Again, I was disappointed, but later learned the beaver is ‘the doe-er, the builder’, and took away a sense of urgency, both to continue this unknown journey, and also feeling more energised and active.
I did order a drum, and a rattle, and I’m insured to practice ‘shamanic healing’. as a student. I’m holding back on that a little to see what will happen – part two of the course is in September, and if I successfully complete 12 case studies I attain a certificate. Drop me a line if you might be interested. All of which is a long way from my counselling training, and still feels a little ‘weird’ and ‘out there’. But it’s all about healing, and making some form of connection.
Yet, that night, I had the strangest, but most comforting dream. I discovered a ‘rooftop garden’ at my place of work. It’s very beautiful, full of pot plants, and statues, and water features and pools, with the most glorious food, and lots of light, warmth , and the sound of children’s laughter. It’s inhabited by lots and lots of people, some of whom have left the organisation but enjoy spending some time up there, and there’s room for many more. It’s accessed by a special lift at reception – the glass one with a curved side. I met a couple of friends there in the dream, who were already knew of its existence. Now, when I feel pressured or stressed at work, I make a decision to ‘visit the rooftop garden’ to get a little peace and inspiration, and have told supervisees to do the same. It’s not rational, but it is helpful. That’s the beauty of non ordinary reality. It allows you to see things differently, beyond a common or imposed reality, and to work intuitively, creatively – and magically. One translation of ‘shaman’ is ‘one who sees in the dark’. Sometimes we all need to see in the dark.
So I leave you with an open invitation to occasionally wander through non ordinary reality, and perhaps join me in the Rooftop Garden.
May the warm winds of heaven blow softly upon your house
May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there
May your moccasins make happy tracks on the path
and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder