Saturday, October 2, 2010

the Deer Hunt – part I

It is 6:05 AM. I have just forced myself from bed in the still dark hotel room. Stumbling over pillows and comforter knocked to the floor during a night of tossing and turning, I make my way to the lit bathroom and crank on the shower. A few minutes later, much refreshed by the scent blocker bath gel, I pull on my layers of hunting garb and prepare to head out in to the early morning. I stuff my army surplus pockets with sheath knife, binoculars, freezer bag, vinyl gloves, hunting license and permit, tag protector, cell phone (on vibrate) and permission form, signed by the owner of the land I'm headed out to hunt.

I scouted the land again yesterday afternoon, stopping by at the house to pay my respects to Gene. On my walk down the access road, I watched a snake slither across my path just ahead of me. I smiled at the good omen. Everything looked good. Plenty of deer sign, though I didn't spot any actual deer. I did check out the man-made pond, where I saw a yellow spotted frog, and a dried creek-bed, where I saw a chipmunk and lots of deer tracks. I took time to connect in with the land spirit as well as Deer spirit and Grandfather. All signs looked good. After a few hours of practicing my somewhat silent and stealthy stalking, I went off in search of a hotel room for the night.

Arriving at Gene's farm house, I kill my lights before they can shine in his windows and park in front of the open pole barn. I open the back of my car and begin going over my checklist. I seem to have everything I will need. I consider taking the coil of rope with me, just in case I get lucky first thing and need to string up the carcass to do the field dressing, but I don't want to load myself down, so I decide I will come back for it after I tag the deer. I take only one arrow, with the assumption that I probably won't have more than one chance to shoot anything. Knocking the arrow, I head out for the access road. It is still mostly dark as I practically skip down the partially graveled road. I am moving as quietly, but quickly as I can, balancing speed and quiet for what I hope is a happy medium. I see the turnout for the pond and move more slowing in hopes of surprising some deer at their morning drink. No luck. It's just me and a few birds. I take up a position on the far side of a small mound, so that I will be out of sight of any does and bucks that come wondering up from the west.

I've been squatting here for over an hour. The sun is above the horizon. Fish are popping the surface of the pond and a duck flies overhead – but no deer. I move into shamanic body and journey into the Under World to chat with Deer. I assure the Old One that I am here to honor the old contract between humans and the deer. I make offerings of tobacco, corn, salt and beans. I've been making these visits for the past month, leaving offerings and asking for Deer to help me find one of HIr people on this hunt. As usual, I don't get much of an answer. The dew is beginning to dry on my bow where it has settled into the long, sawtoothed grass. It is time to move.

Cutting back across the access road, I decide to try some more stalking. I wade into the waist-high weeds at the tree line, carefully turning to avoid the curving limbs of berry bushes with their hooked thorns. Now I want to be really quiet, so I go to stalking mode and am doing pretty well, until I lose my balance and come down hard on some twigs, snapping them loudly in the stillness beneath the trees. There is nothing I can do about it, but I begin moving even more slowly, carefully threading my way towards a large tree that probably has a clearing around it. As I approach the tree, I see that someone has built a tree stand against the trunk . . . several years ago, and it is now hanging off at an angle. Not something I would want to try to climb. Peering through the undergrowth, I spot another big tree that I think I recognize from my scout yesterday. It has wide undulating branches that make it look a little "spooky." Smiling to myself, I begin working my way through the trees, brambles, berry bushes and assorted unknowns toward this landmark.

Suddenly aware that I could get lost in here, I stop to orient myself. I can make out the open sun-lit space of the access road off to my left. The spooky tree is straight ahead. That puts Gene's house and fields beyond that, which means that I have already strayed out of the proscribed hunting zone (the farm I have a signed permission form for) and into what I've been told "shouldn't be a problem." Forging ahead, I make it to the tree with spreading arms. The undergrowth is more sparse beneath the limbs of the tree, so I can move more freely. I peer off in all directions, wondering where the deer may have bedded down for the day. I touch the ground with my fingers and send a prayer to the land spirit, asking for its help on this hunt.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shamanic Spirituality

One of the often difficult aspects of authentic, shamanic work is that the spirits that one works with generally have their own ideas of what you need to do and they expect you to follow them. If you don't, you run the risk of loosing the alliance with that spirit. I've certainly tested Grandfather, my spirit ally to great lengths in this regard, but he has stuck with me none the less. Eventually he gets through to me. It just takes awhile. For the past ten years or more, he has been "suggesting" that I learn deer medicine by going bow hunting and connecting with the spirit of Deer. I've managed to put it off all this time, but now that I'm finally moving forward with it, I find that Deer medicine is surprisingly powerful and meaningful. This is filling an old blind spot that I had no idea was still present.

All of this leads me to consider more about the sort of spiritual path that shamanism provides.

The foundation of shamanic spirituality is Animism – the awareness of the presence of the divine in all things. Without further definition, this makes for a pretty broad spectrum spiritual practice. I remember realizing just how deeply this goes on our trip to India, where there are places in which pretty much everything is sacred.

Add the Soul to this already intoxication mix and you have a very rich spiritual melange.

For myself, this has generated a constantly changing practice of mindfulness, self realization, honoring of my ancestors and other spirits and recognition of the divine everywhere. But the fundamental is a regular sitting practice that seems to create space for the soul to enter more fully. Everything else in the practice is built on this connection with soul.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How the Role of the Shaman has Evolved

In the early hunter-gatherer cultures, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the shaman's role covered a lot of territory. The shaman was the healer, the seer, priest, storyteller, judge and even war leader at times. As society became more settled, moving to agriculture and cities, there was more excess food to support those who didn't directly work at finding or making the food. This lead to specialization. Roles that were originally part of the shaman were taken on my others. Priests, diviners, storytellers and others developed their own niches in the culture, and the role of the shaman become more focused on direct communication with the world of spirit.

This original state developed to what we see today in many traditional cultures. The shaman takes care of healing the wounds of the spirit while the medicine man or woman heals the ills of the body. The two often work in tandem for their patients.

In our post-tribal world, we see that the shaman is re-emerging in response to a need that is not being met by the mainstream religions or modern psychology. This need is the soul's hunger for connection – with the earth, our ancestors, the divine and our own selves.

This is the work of the shaman in our current western culture: To bring the pieces of the whole Self back together, realigning mind, body and spirit into Human Being.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What is "Real"?

All of our perceptions of reality are based upon – or extrapolated from – the product of our five physical senses. The general paradigm is "if I can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it or smell it – it must be real."

The problem with this paradigm in a shamanic context is immediately apparent. So much of what we are working with – the soul, spirit, ancestors, journeying – deals with experiences that are necessarily beyond the realm of our physical senses.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to refute this perspective – as I've done frequently in many workshops and with many students over the past twenty years – through direct experiences that the ego cannot entirely dismiss. To this end, I suggest a definition of reality that allows for a much broader experience: "If the experience leaves a lasting impact on my life – it is real."

THis is not always enough. Many people have an ego that is so strong and fearful, that it doesn't allow them to experience anything that it feels threatened by. Perhaps what I'm looking for is really more a matter of "validity" than "reality", however, because we tend to discount anything that doesn't pass our definition of "real", I need to address that directly.

Another, more subtle, paradigm of reality is "if you experience the same thing I do, then it is probably real." This is also problematic in shamanic work, because to much of what we encounter is filtered through our subjective perspective. When encountering the World Tree, everyone seems to experience "something" that they define as the World Tree, however,t he details vary widely. I do not believe that this is because what they are experiencing is really so different but that we do not have the practice of matching our perceptions to a consensus in the otherworld as we do here.

At the root of all these issues, is one prime cause: That is the struggle between the ego and the soul. It is the nature of the soul to awaken, just as it is the nature of the ego to resist that awakening. The soul is patient, but it will respond to opportunities. The ego wants to hold onto the illusion that it is the Self. Having to recognize that it is merely one part of something much larger is uncomfortable at best and generally terrifying. But it is this recognition that really frees up the Self to experience a larger reality and thus re-set the paradigms of what is real.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Walking Between the Worlds

So – I'm just back from two back-to-back neo-pagan events at Brushwood Folklore Center near Sherman, NY. I have been making this trip every year for perhaps 15 years or more, and it provides me with an annual milestone of sorts – checking in with myself each year to see where I am relative to where I was.

Brushwood has been hosting gatherings of this kind since the early 90's, and has gradually grown into one of the premier sited for the neo-pagan movement to hold large festivals.

Over the eight days there – teaching workshops, attending workshops, chatting with interesting folks, catching up with friends who I only see during Brushwood time, and just hanging out with my dear friends at Camp Sashu – all this served to open my heart and move me into a fairly deep altered state. Leaving that space and driving home has been a kind of movement from one world to another. Over the past few years, I've noticed that there is less of a shift.

The shamanic perspective is that we are living in many different worlds all at once AND that all these worlds are the same world – perceived from slightly different perspectives. The ideal is to – eventually – integrate all the worlds (and all the parts of the Self) into one, unified whole.

Coming home from Brushwood, I stopped for gas and noticed that I was scowling slightly at the people around me. I wondered why, and looked at what was behind this. I realized that I felt vulnerable and disconnected from these "others" because I had spent the previous eight days connecting within a limited community setting. This had created within me a sense of "us and them".

Taking a few slow breaths, I attempted to extend my sense of "us" to include the rest of my fellow humans. I'm not sure how well it worked, but I stopped scowling.

And I'm very happy to be home.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Banging Head Against the Wall (Publishing eBook)

Just a brief update here.

I've spent my spare time over the past month formatting my Dance of Stones manuscript to be published as an eBook – only to have it run into issues in the conversion process. Apparently there are mysterious things that happen when a Pages document is converted to a Word document. In any case, I finally got most of the issues sorted and it is now available through If you would be interested in reviewing the book on the smashwords site, contact me and I will give you a code for 50% off.

Back to life as a papa shaman.