I posted a few weeks ago that I planned to get back into my trance studies, but I had to wait until my vacation started and I could get into a routine. I did, however, begin my reading: The Way of the Shaman by Harner and The Trance Workbook:Understanding and Using the Power of Altered States by Hoffman. I have only read the introduction of the later, but I really like the former so far. It’s written by an anthropologist and includes narratives about his own exploration via teachings from practitioners around the world. I’m always a bit cautious of anything Western that includes the word “Shaman” or “Shamanism” out of a concern for cultural appropriation, but, so far, his work seems respectful and insightful. His work bridges a myriad of different traditions, translating them for modern Americans. Rather than attempting to explain away with cold science, he explains how very meaningful they are. The science is important, I think, but we mustn’t overlook the very real cultural implications of such practices in the process. Rather than insisting the reader utilize words, visuals, or gestures from any specific culture, he looks at the commonalities and allows the audience to go from there.
During my weekly ritual on Saturday evening, I announced my purpose to the Kindreds – to once more begin my trance studies and explore the entrance to the Underworld. This exercise was based on the first Harner describes. It’s rather open-ended: think about an opening to the Underworld (he gave some examples), listen to drumming for ten minutes, and allow yourself to visualize. Ok, there was more detail than that, but he did not give a script to follow, which I appreciated it. It allowed me to take what I already know about Underworld mythology from my hearth culture and apply it.
I found a Youtube video that featured basic drumming meant for trance. It lasts just slightly over ten minutes and includes a brief moment of silence to signal that the end is coming. The drumming is not jarring in the slightest. I was able to play this without headphones, at a low but audible volume, while my daughter slept. I decided to visualize the oak tree and the holy well at its roots. This is imagery I’m very used to as it’s how I see my “inner grove” – relics from previous attempts at trance 1 that I still interact with. I called to my spirit guide and I rode him through the waters, swimming downward, arching back up and through the surface of a pool within an underground cavern.
At this point, I realized that I was able to get into this state rather easily. The drumming was just what I needed. All distractions, aside from this single thought, had not come to bother me. I put this thought aside and moved forward, riding my spirit guide through an increasingly visceral, rocky tunnel. Spirals and triskelions covered the walls, and torches lit the way every few feet. There was a greenish, bluish tint to everything. At times I saw golden faces, but I never felt afraid. I was very immersed at this point.
The tunnel widened and there was a massive, underground lake with a large treasure chest in the middle. I left that alone – that wasn’t my purpose today. I decided to explore a little and found a chamber with a long table. Various golden-faced beings were feasting. I saw a kindly, feminine face and thought she could be Brighid – in part because she acknowledged my presence with a quick look after I had asked her to guide and protect me in my workings. She went back to the feast. I didn’t interact with any of the beings, and I had a sense that I was like a fly on a wall to them; here I was, a small, mortal being not worth bothering over unless I troubled them.
I started to think about time around then. Don’t eat the food. Don’t linger, my mind urged. Or was it my spirit guide? Both? A long time seemed to pass, the drumming in the background… I wondered if it really was a ten minute video… was it longer? Would I hear the signal?
Thinking about time and the drumming video started to bring me out of the experience. It was time to turn back. I felt like my spirit guide really picked up speed – we practically flew over the lake and up through the tunnel. Back through the well and up the rabbit hole… I thanked my guide and the Kindreds, promising to continue my work to improve my skills in order to grow as a priestess and better serve my family and community.
It was a really good, visceral first experience after a hiatus. I tried again last night to continue exploring, but it didn’t go as well. Unlike the first night, I did not do it in the context of a formal rite. It was also very humid, and the space between my bed and altar felt too tight. I was too focused on my physical discomfort… I started down the tunnel but had to turn around.
I intend to keep at it. I like the drumming. Perhaps I need to always trance as part of a ritual, with offerings and all the mental keys. Or, perhaps it was merely that I could not get over my own physical discomforts?
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