When Michael Harner began to read selections from his new book, “Cave and Cosmos” at the most recent Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS) Council meeting, I saw spirits surrounding him, supporting him as he read. You can understand why I was excited to read this book – as if waiting for years for it to come out wasn’t enough! The spirits were here to celebrate the moment, and to continue to support him in his work. Perhaps seeing those supporting spirits so clearly was just a message for me, this was truly someone embraced by the spirits!
Cave and Cosmos was written with everyone in mind, not just experienced practitioners like those of us at that meeting. It offers a generous invitation to all who crack its pages to rediscover the extraordinary spiritual practices shamanism has to offer. Every chapter and paragraph hold nuggets for neophytes as well as experienced practitioners. While its subject is astounding in its breadth and significance, the material always feels comfortably accessible.
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Of course this book would feel this way, because Michael writes as he teaches, from his humanity. That allows him to take transformative experiences, a deep understanding of cultures and their histories, and communicate the relevant lessons directly to our hearts. Doubters be warned – this book is rife with common sense and grounded wisdom!
There is so much to report on in this book for posterities sake – I won’t even bother to try. I think reviews like mine are useful to the extent they are honest and personal. So please consider my notes here within my perspective as a student of Michaels and as a faculty member of the FSS. In short when they served the Kool-Aide, I asked for seconds and thirds (this is metaphor of course, we use Sonic Driving).
I loved getting more of a feeling of Michaels personal journey into shamanic work. He contextualizes not only the loss of shamanism in the West, but the explosive energy of the 60’s that invited it back in (to his life and subsequently the lives of so many of us). For those of us who have sat in circle with Michael, we’ll find the other piece to stories we’ve heard, the puns (if you will) to his notorious jokes. From the mystery of two dimes to almost bumping into Alan Ginsburg while in the Amazon, the personal anecdotes are many and delightful.
Its through these personal notes that we really get a tangible sense of the passion that drives Michael. He sees the extraordinary gifts the spirits have to offer us all regardless of culture or ethnicity, and understands them within the potential of our age. His passion for the gifts of the spirits saturates this book.
While reading, I came to understand that the work of the FSS and of core shamanism has really just begun. Many of us who have trained with the FSS tend to see its work as complete and encompassing so much of what we need in our modern world. Through Michaels eyes I understood his work to be the ignition point of a cultural transformation, a wildfire, that has yet to fully take off.
You can see this in the recorded journeys of various Western students, which are such an integral part of this book. Its so startling to realize that though their experiences, individually are extraordinarily profound, they are only the archival remains of a handful of journeys. Imagine each transformation echoed and reverberating millions of times over. That is our work and that of future, shamanically inspired generations.
When you participate in this work, thats one of the things that never gets old, the joy of witnessing the profound experiences of your fellow travelers. I was struck by the strength of each persons voice, the uniqueness and depth of their experience. Through each recorded journey I was called back to sit in circle, I was called to embody more fully my own practice.
As a full time parent, bread winner, teacher and shamanic practitioner, I rarely have time to read anything longer than the latest kindergarden class bulletin. The stack of books I absolutely HAVE to read is almost taller than me. Yet I know I will read this book again and again. These stories need to soak into my bones, to feed each cell.
I know that each time I read this book, something magical will happen, just like it did this time: my circle will get much bigger. As faculty for the FSS I have the privilege of sitting with teachers from many countries, just as we students often get to train alongside peers from around the world. Yet the circle of people and spirits I’m now connected to has grown exponentially. I am connected across time and space to all those people that fed Michaels work and all of those many thousands of people it has touched. We are reminded of our place in the now, and how it connects us to everything.
I will always cherish the memory of Michael standing there, wrapped in spirits as he (with some obvious excitement) read aloud from a small stack of manuscript pages. It was such an honest, tender moment, yet monumentally historical for many of us. May we all be held so lovingly as we work with the spirits.
I’ll leave you with Michaels invitation from page 218:
“Yet these have only been words. Its up to you, the reader, to enter the hidden reality of spirits and encounter the real thing.”