Stepping Over The Edge: Outlaws

shamanism Stepping over the edge

It was about noon on a sunny day – and I was not happy. Sarah was just a friend but we were fighting like an old married couple. Sitting back on my bed I asked the spirits to help me understand why we argued so much, and then I was standing in a giant cave. It happened that quickly, completely without warning. I don’t even recall closing my eyes.

I was not dreaming that I was standing in a cave – I had left my room and was now in a cave so large I couldn’t see the walls. The coolness of air trapped for centuries underground moved slowly around me emphasizing the vast cavernous silence. I experienced that place as real as any place I’d been before in my life. All was dark except for a hill in the center of the cave. Sarah was there, walking up a path on the hill, occasionally stopping to examine small religious statues she came upon. I understood this was literally the path she was on right now.

Then the ground beneath my feet moved and suddenly became a pillar shooting upward. I was zooming into the darkness of the cave, the hill disappearing beneath me. As I rose higher my body dissolved until I was nothing but awareness floating the darkness. A brilliant golden light exploded before me and spoke.

Exactly what the light said to me is something I hold close to my heart. It was clearly meant for me. Interpretation of visions is a lost shamanic art in our culture. And of course, there’s always the fear that I’ll be dragged off to the loony bin.

We seem to be most comfortable when the people receiving visions or prophetic dreams are indigenous or saints lost in our own distant past. Publicly acknowledging visions in a modern society makes us mental health outlaws, political outlaws, religious outlaws or all of the above. Perhaps part of this state of affairs has to do with our belief that visions must be epic in their impact. The truth is likely that many more people than we realize receive visions. Perhaps some visions are dismissed, some deemed inconsequential and the remaining are not spoken of to save us from being committed – the metaphorical modern equivalent of being burned at the stake.

Its not hard to find larger than life figures in history who have received visions that in some way turned the tide of history. Joan of Arc is perhaps the most famous in European culture. I’ve always wondered if Martin Luther King’s last speech was informed by such a vision. Ultimately suffering a similar fate as Joan of Arc he foretold his own assassination: “I have been to the Mountain Top… I just want to do Gods will. He has allowed me to go up to the Mountain, and I have looked over and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you…”

Experiencing visions are part of being human. Spontaneous journeys of spirit are not limited to great leaders of one culture or another. I suspect visions may come to us when the terrain of this reality is especially chaotic for us. It may be that the spirits are always reaching out to us. Michael Harner once told me that the spirits are “opportunistic.” They want to reach us whenever they can. When we lose our rigid grip on what we understand to be reality we become more open to them. Perhaps “Holy” people are those who were born without a solid sense of reality, and consequently are always available to ecstatic gifts.

Visions may transform our dreams as well. Dreams can be so filled with rich experiences of other-worldly beings and magical places they have the same impact as waking visions. Once a dream crosses the line into this kind of transformative power it enters the realm of “Big Dreams” as some call them. Typically we modern people think of dreams as being the way our psyche works things out. For some, dreams can function in many different ways – even as gateways to the transcendent.

During the time of shamanic activity in my twenties my dreams were often Big Dreams and I received several waking visions. Many of these spontaneous journeys were not really significant to anybody but me. One of my favorite Big Dreams involved receiving a healing from a skunk.

I awoke from my normal dreaming state to find myself on the front lawn of my childhood home. It was not uncommon for me to slip from one dream into darkness and then arrive in a new dream already in progress. The quality of the dream and my degree of autonomy changed as I moved from one dream reality to another.
Standing there felt in every way physically real. It was a balmy summers night, with a light breeze just cool enough to make the warmth bearable. I felt a presence behind me and turned to see a skunk not ten feet away. Thinking I was sure to be sprayed I tried to run – I wasn’t fast enough. It got me dead center on my back.

This was no ordinary skunk spray, when it hit it knocked me to the ground. Its spray sunk through my skin, into the muscles of my back and then deep into my body before I lost consciousness. I awoke the same night still in dreams, but I was sitting in the back seat of a VW bug driving down the coast road by Big Sur. A pale young man in his twenties sat beside me.

We were deep in discussion, he was intent on teaching me about how to work with my new energy. It was then that I realized the young man was actually the same skunk who sprayed me earlier. He had become human so I could speak with him. He was pale white with jet black hair and a gentle but serious look. It was clear that he was in charge but had an affectionate patience.

He had transferred some special medicine to me in the dream, I was being taught how I could embody it in daily life. I believe that dream changed me to the core of my being – both spiritually and physically. I still have not fully embodied the gift of the skunk, perhaps sharing this story will bring me closer to that work. Eventually I drifted off to the sound of our conversation, awakening in this reality.

There are often events in daily life that function as a kind of continuance to visions and Big Dreams. Many years later, while integrating numerous soul retrievals, skunks followed me to my home. During that time a family of skunks lived in the small cottage where I worked and lived. In various stages of demolition this temporary home had a dirt floor for several months. Sleeping in a loft I’d awake to their nocturnal comings and goings, their smell burning my eyes and pushing me to the edge of vomiting. They awakened me from dreams in which fanged rats were crawling through my veins. I believe the skunk musk was clearing poisons from my body – leaching toxic energy from all of my cells, in essence driving out the harmful spirits.

We are often left mid-process when we receive visions in our culture. For those of use who do not get caught up in the mental healthcare system because of such experiences, the follow up work tends to consist of a shrugging of the shoulders before moving on. These things don’t go away though, they continue to simmer.

We need to share our experiences in some way if they are to completely fulfill their purpose. Whether its writing about them or simply sharing them with members of our communities, experiences like these require a greater witnessing if we are to fully integrate them. The weight of the Outlaw designation is burdensome to this process. Our visions are precious to us and potentially valuable to our communities. Sending them out into the world should not result in our being ostracized or pathologized.

Years after my my vision of the cave and rising pillar a Shamanic Practitioner journeyed to find out its meaning to me. She gave me some helpful insight, but I have not found the final meaning of it. Experiences like these can unfold over many many years. Like the energy the skunk gave me, how we are able to embody these gifts throughout our lives ultimately tells the story of the meaning. Its not so much what it means, as what we do with it. I’ll likely not fully understand its value until my life is over. If our culture can learn to be more welcoming of visions we may find our Outlaws are our greatest assets.
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