Stepping Over The Edge: Into The River

Authors Note: I wish I could tell you all of the wonderful experiences I had in The FSS Three-Year Program in Advanced Initiations in Shamanism and Shamanic Healing but ethical considerations prevent me from being too specific. Still…enjoy!

I want to gather each story from the river and share it with you; slowly, gently – like drinking warm honey. So many experiences were common and of course none are the same. Its amazing to see how the force of shamanism can shape such radically different lives.
Rivers, like families are always unfolding – never to be captured or paused. Telling the story of the FSS Three-Year begins to tell the story of a great river. Its an impossible task, trying to describe every fish and current that passes here. We met at the edge of the river, rich and poor, white collar and blue, old and young. We joined hands and stepped into the ancient fast moving waters of shamanism together. Bonds made in its currents are unique in many ways.
We met at Westerbeke, the same place I first studied Shamanic Counseling with Michael’s wife Sandra Harner years before. The oaks had grown only a little since I last visited. For the first several meetings I bunked with the other bachelors. We were a small band, often women outnumber men 2 to 1 in these waters. It was here I learned who my wife would be, though I’d met her before at the Two Week intensive. As forty-five of us danced together to the drum beat on one of the first days of the Three-Year a spirit shouted in my ear: “Wife! Wife! Wife!” whenever I looked at her. It was so loud I was amazed everyone in the room didn’t turn and stare.
In these currents I learned directly from Michael Harner. For one week, twice a year for three years, we sat together in circle and invested ourselves body and soul in the techniques and traditions of shamanism he has spent a lifetime honing. He was supported by Alicia Gates and Amanda Folger, two extraordinary Shamanic Practitioners and teachers in their own rights. It was not hard to trust the currents we were immersed in with hearts like these to guide us.
Every culture has its own way of breaching this rivers edge, every person has their own entry point. Though most of us were disconnected from our ancestral shamanic pasts, we also had the advantage of a myriad of detailed historical accounts from the world’s shamanic cultures. Once you have made the re-discovery of shamanism, particularly the essential threads that are so fundamentally human, it becomes a decoder lense enabling you to understand stories and rituals in a new way. Childhood tales like “Jack and the Bean Stalk” reveal themselves to be maps to new NOR terrains. Tribal ritual accounts of mythic combat, death and rebirth become practical healing techniques that can address fatal modern problems. There are ancient currents to be re-discovered, connecting us to all people.
When I started the Three Year program I didn’t know what to expect. That feeling never really left me. Its crux was the way it took me up to my edge and then beyond. In each initiatory experience I was delivered into a moment where I didn’t know who I was and where I was going – there I was given an opportunity to die and be reborn. The spirits used this opening, beyond even the work of the facilitators, interceding in our lives to remake us. Baptized I emerged from the river depths a new creature. One after the other, again and again our worlds were transformed.
Our guides helped us unearth the remains of the forgotten shaman within: the shaman healer, the shaman diviner, the shaman warrior, the shaman dancer, the river dweller. If you believe as I do, that shamanism is as instinctual to us as music and dance, then the loss of shamanism in our culture must be seen as a devastating wound with extraordinary repercussions. Shamanism is a fundamental language of life, to spend centuries without it results in profound suffering. Its absence can be seen not only in unnecessary physical illness, but in mental illness and general dispiritedness. Lives have been wasted and ended due to a lack of effective shamanic healing. Of course there are the wages due from a whole civilization living out of balance with nature. Shamanism provides practical tools and inescapable incentives for relating to nature as sacred and deserving of our deepest respect. It may also hold the final key to healing the toxic devestation we have unleashed on the earth.
The return of shamanism is at least as equally profound as the results of its loss. After most journeys and rituals we were given an opportunity to share details of what we experienced, sometimes with an individual member of the circle and often with the whole group. It’s possible to see sharing as only personal revelation, healing and empowerment. After all we come to the waters edge of our own accord, for our own individual goals. There was the inescapable delight of swimming in this river, but being witnessed and understood by others also generates an integrated presence of shamanism. It moves our practice from the realm of our personal experience out into the world. Our circle was carefully suturing wounds all of us are impacted by every day.
Of course at the time of the Three-Year we were submerged in the river re-membering how to be amphibious. Like Selkie we shed our human skin to return to an essential aquatic self native to these waters. No time to think about the repercussions of what we were doing.
It was here that I reached back through time and learned to hold the hand of one of my ancient ancestors. I sat with her at her hearth while she scryed. I agonized with her over the suffering of her people. I walked with her through the veils when she died. She helps me with my practice today, teaching me ways to heal others.
These waters brought forth miraculous healings. Cancer was cured, the pain of death was eased, love was kindled. Our circle was newly formed when 9/11 came. We were able to respond with our training to help ease some of the suffering that was wrought on that day. These waters led me to the gates of death itself, and carried me safely into that terrain and back again. I journeyed in ways I never knew possible. I met spirits I never knew existed. Always there was the drum to call us back to our circle, back to sharing, back to sewing our world together again.
Three years pass quickly in this river. When I was away from the circle it seemed like it all might have been a dream, when I returned it was as if I never left. Then one day the time came to leave. Terry and I were engaged and honored with a room of our own. Michael and Sandra approached us during one of our last lunches. They had a wedding gift for us – two matching medicine bags bought by them many years ago. A welcoming gesture from one couple who had shared their lives and shamanism for many years, to a young couple just discovering this river. Our wedding was just days after the last meeting of our Three-Year.
Like all rivers this one has a beginning and an end, but it may not be for the living to know where either of those places are. I suppose you could journey on it, ask the spirits to take you to the source of shamanism, or to its ultimate purpose. I’m content to spend my time exploring its waters, swimming with my wife, sharing with others who spend time here. I still have to wear my old skin sometimes, it feels less and less familiar each time I put it on.
– back to introduction
– previous chapter: The Way A Snake Sheds Its Skin
– next chapter: Yage Is Only A Vine

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