Articles

Shamanic Anatomy of the Soul

Shamanic Anatomy of the Soul 


Kenn Day 2013  (Recently published in IndieShaman


Most of us are brought up with the notion that the soul is a nebulous vehicle for our consciousness after physical death. We talk about “having a soul” as apposed to “being a soul”. The idea is that after your body dies, you wake up in this “soul” and are taken inevitably to the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell, based on the judgement of a God who is simultaneously disembodied and an old, white bearded man on a throne in the clouds. Further, both these states are expected to last forever. In other words, this is your one and only chance, so don’t blow it!

In the years before I became deeply engaged and initiated in the practice of shamanism, I was sometimes confused when someone would ask me. “do you believe in life after death?” What confused me is that my answer varied. Sometimes I felt a very clear “no”. At other times the “yes” was just as definite. When I received the teachings about the nature of soul and the afterlife, all this fell into place. 

According to traditional tribal beliefs and the teachings of post-tribal shamanism, we have more than one part to what we call soul. There is the ancestral soul, which is communal in nature, but contains the individual identities of all your blood ancestors. There is the celestial soul, which has lived many lifetimes before and will likely go on to live many in the future. And there is the egoic soul that emerges from the joining of these two souls with your physical body and acts as an interface between the deeper Self/soul and the outer world of the physical senses. 

When I was engaged in my ego and someone asked me “do you believe in an afterlife” i felt that the answer was “no”, because this part of me only existed since the birth of this body and has no sense of a previous or larger existence. However, when I am engaged with the deeper parts of my soul, the answer is a definite “yes” because these are the parts that survive death. 

The teachings we offer about death in post-tribal shamanism differ depending on the situation, goals and experience of the student. What is true and appropriate for one could be damaging for another, so it is important to listen to where the individual is in their life’s journey before passing on any teaching.

For someone who is rapidly approaching death, and who has no background of practice, the focus is on their relationship with their ancestors. Having a strong and active connection with those who come before you helps immensely when going through the experience of physical death. The ancestors are the ones who receive you after death, often assisting in the passage through the process of ego dissolution and the movement into the lower world. Without a good connection with the ancestors, the person can be stuck going through the process on their own, which is quite traumatizing without effective preparation. 

Work with the ancestors is often supplemented with teachings about what happens after death. For most of us, we leave our body and are met by at least one of our ancestors. The egoic soul remains with the body, while the rest of us accompanies our ancestor guides into the lower world, where we are given time to process the lifetime we have just completed. This process eventually leads to the celestial soul disengaging from the ancestral soul and rising up to the upper world, where it is ready to return into the middle world in a new life.  

For someone with more grounding in shamanic work, we can move deeper into the teachings, exploring the process of awakening and maintaining consciousness. In need to define a couple terms to even talk about this clearly. By consciousness, we mean the subject/object, relative, dualistic experience of the egoic soul. By soul awareness, we mean the non-dual experience as boundless soul. Consciousness includes your ordinary waking state as well as most superficial trance states. As long as you have a sense of self separate from other, you are experiencing consciousness. The shift into soul awareness is often associated with an experience of luminous emptiness. There is no longer any identification with self or other. This soul awareness is what we experience at birth and until the ego develops to the point of individuation. Until then, we really can’t discern a difference between self and others. This is directly experiencing the communal nature of the ancestral soul. There is a recognition of “other” first as “not family”, in other words, “not a part of this ancestral soul.” Only after the ego has emerged into self definition do we experience ourselves as separate. 

Soul awareness can be accomplished through meditation practice. Buddhists call this non-dual awareness. The specific practice is a matter of pointing your attention to a series of realization that lead you out of consciousness and into awareness. You begin by developing the ability to release your thoughts until your mind can rest in stillness. Once there, you take the seat of the observer, noting as thoughts, feelings and sensations arise and letting them go. With practice, you can perceive the part of you, what we call the ego or egoic soul, that seems to generate these thoughts and feelings. When you look deeper, you encounter nothing. There is only an emptiness there. Thoughts do not arise in the way they do from the egoic level. And yet, this emptiness is not without awareness. The awareness is here in the emptiness, even as your observer realizes it. This experience can be like gazing into a limitless field of light, feeling your sense of self as a reflection of this light. With practice, you can allow your observer self to dissolve into this field of light, thus entering into soul awareness. 

Soul awareness is the state we emerge from after birth and that we return to after the death of the body. Directly after death, soul awareness retains vestiges of the egoic soul, and thoughts and feeling pertaining to your most recent lifetime will arise as dreamlike experiences. These experiences can easily be confused for reality and can draw you back into the middle world and into another lifetime, reflecting the same patterns as your last one, if they are not realized for what they are and let go of. Much of the role of the ancestral guide or psychopomp is to remind the soul that it is dreaming and that it is no longer embodied. Once the soul is safely in the lower world, there is space for reflection and resolution. This allows the celestial soul to evolve and the ancestral soul to learn and grow and heal. The key is to be able to stay awake during the transition into the lower world and not be pulled into another lifetime without taking the opportunity to reflect and grow from the experiences of the last one.

The more advances post-tribal shamanic teachings about the soul have to do with the process of integrating these diverse elements into a coherent whole, which is capable of passing fully conscious through the experience of death, and taking the physical body with it. This is accomplished by first deconstructing this complex thing we call “self” into its many parts and then reintegrating all these parts consciously into the same identity. 

From the place that opens in the heart of this integrated self, the shaman is able to experience how the divine essence, as manifested in the ancestors and in the celestial soul, has emerged through the one center as physical body, as life force and as consciousness. Once this is consciously experienced, it can also be withdrawn into the one center – into pure awareness. 

Words do no justice to these teachings. What is important are the practical steps you can take from where you are now. The first such step is to contemplate the nature of your soul. Look at your ancestral and celestial roots and work to honor both equally. A good place to begin is to set up a simple ancestor altar where you live. Begin with a small table with representations for your mother and father, perhaps with a small dish for offerings. If you just take a few moments every day to offer real gratitude to your ancestors through this altar, it will begin to change your life. Your ancestral soul will respond, connecting you with all the others who share your blood. 

Take the first step. The rest will come. 


 1For someone with a strongly Christian background we would talk about “where the ancestors are” or “heaven” rather than the lower world, which has obvious negative connotations for them.

Post-Tribal Shamanism

Post-Tribal Shamanism

by Kenn Day 2008


There is a popular notion among those who dabble in esoteric knowledge that shamanism is the property of indigenous peoples and that for a modern person to take on the mantle of shaman it is to steal that inherited wealth from those folk. This strengthens the assumption that shamans are only found in traditional, tribal settings and that we, as modern humans, have lost the ability or capacity to use the spiritual technology of the shaman in any meaningful way.


I have several problems with this perspective. First, there is a difference between shamanism and the cultural matrix in which it is found. This difference is often missed by the anthropologists eager to explore the mysteries of “primitives.” A clear example of this is the idea that the shaman offers his services only to his own community and does not receive payment for those services. These guidelines are clearly attributable to the tribal context where everyone works in service to their fellow tribesmen and no one receives payment in the modern sense. They do not describe the nature of the shaman, but of the setting in which he is operating. This is simply the competent and responsible way for a shaman to work in a traditional society. It is neither competent nor responsible to work in this way in a society that does not adhere to tribal values. 


Further, someone offering workshops to non-natives on “how to live as a Lakota Sioux” is obviously appropriating their culture for their own gain. However, someone teaching the fundamentals of shamanic practice is passing on knowledge that is universal to the human condition. Most shamanic teachers these days fall somewhere in between, often relying on the wisdom of one or more tribal societies, which they pass on with the blessings of their own teachers. But there is also a growing body of practitioners who teach and use techniques rooted in the life experience of the modern world. I refer to this as Post-Tribal Shamanism. 


The most important element separating Post Tribal Shamanism from its traditional antecedents is one of social evolution. The most important unit of a traditional culture is the tribe itself. This is not only my own experience but has been noted recently in regard to the tribal groups of Iraq. It is more than apparent that the most important unit of our modern culture is the individual, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the United States of America, where the rugged individualist holds iconic status. This shift of social hierarchy necessitates an adaptation of shamanic practice. In the traditional setting, the shaman is expected to operate as one part of a greater whole. He can easily address the needs of members of his tribe even without directly communicating with them. For example, if a member of the tribe is suffering from bad dreams, the shaman may sense this and do what is necessary to eliminate the problem, without consulting the troubled tribesman. The tribesman in turn, recognizes that his dreams have been calmed and may leave a chicken by the shaman’s door in payment for the time and energy expended on his behalf. 

This sort of intervention would be completely inappropriate in our own culture, since it effectively disempowers the individual who receives the work. The Post Tribal shaman must only work in response to requests for his services, and then should include the client as much as is possible in the work to further empower them.


The work of the shaman assumes that there is a deep, supraconscious collective inhabiting each of us, which we call the Soul. The relationship of this Soul to the ego is rather like that of your physical body to your favorite hat. One of the defining factors of the Post Tribal shaman’s role is the level at which he works. As the Psychologist addresses the mind and the Bodyworker addresses the physical body, so the shaman addresses the Soul. As mentioned above, this Soul have more than one part, and so the work of the shaman may look different from one client to the next, and even from one session to the next with the same client. Because the connection is at a soul level, the shaman needs to be in touch with that level of himself as well, speaking and acting from his own soul directly to the soul of the client. Fortunately, our Souls usually have a strong desire for their own healing, growth and awakening, so the shaman acts as an external ally of the Soul’s process of bringing the ego to greater awareness. In fact, one of the first things I do with a new client is work to establish contact with their Soul and to develop a good working relationship. 


A Modern Shamanic Session


A shamanic session begins before the client shows up, because the state of consciousness they are experiencing when they enter my office will determine the quality and depth of the work we can do in that session. I observe them as they enter the office and sit down, watching their breathing, posture, energy, mood, the clarity of their eyes and the quality of their movement. I listen to the tone and resonance of their voice. Finally I settle into my center, opening to my own Soul, and offer a connection to their Soul. 


From this place of open observation, with the intention of healing wounds at a soul level, I ask a few questions about what is on their mind, what they have brought with them today. As they answer, I listen for responses from my Soul. Sometimes, I listen for quite awhile without response, as their story reveals itself. Sometimes I will be moved to interrupt them and ask them to respond differently, or to challenge a statement in a way that triggers a movement to a deeper level. Often I find myself speaking words that had not occurred to me consciously, but to which the client responds strongly. The strength of this response is an additional guide to the areas of the deeper self we are seeking - and reveals the area in which the wound lies. 


As soon as I have some idea of what work needs to be done, I have the client move into a deeper state of relaxation, entering a light trance state. This is done either sitting in the chair or lying down on a massage table, whichever is most effective for the client. I join the client in this altered state, but remain fully capable of interacting in a “normal” fashion as well. This creates a sense of bi-location, as I often have a sense of being elsewhere with the client, even as I’m sitting beside them in my office.


There are many techniques that come into play, from physical touch and toning to shamanic journeying and soul retrieval. The object is to follow the Soul’s direction in moving to where ever the wound is and allow it to heal. This will take whatever form the Soul needs it to take, often completely beyond the grasp of the rational mind. 


Some of the most common wounds of the Soul lie in the relationship between the client and his ancestors. These wounds are addressed at many levels and include homework for the client to bring him into better relations with his ancestors. Other wounds may show up in the physical Soul, appearing as bodily symptoms which do not respond to medical intervention. Still other wounds may be hidden deep in the client’s energy field and only show up after months of work. But the healing of these wounds always has a beneficial impact on all levels of the client’s life. 


The last part of each session focuses on bringing the client back to an ordinary state of consciousness and helping them to integrate the experience. This is especially important considering the way in which the ego likes to ignore or deny the impact of the Soul’s work. 


Payment for each session is another way in which the post tribal shaman diverges from the tribal shaman. Tribal culture generally operates on a barter economy and the use of money is often seen as yet another encroachment upon the traditional values of the tribe. Lacking a coherent tribal community, the Post Tribal Shaman depends on the loosely knit “community” of their clients and/or students to provide for them in much the same way as a traditional shaman, though by the means of money rather than barter. 


The Future of Shamanism


As the role of the shaman regains its rightful and needful place in our post tribal society, those who fulfill this role can expect greater recognition and acceptance, but also greater resistance as related fields begin to see us as competition. It may even be necessary at some point in the future to create a professional organization to protect the interests of shamans practicing in this and other modern countries. This will be difficult, since the nature of shamanic work does not lend itself to rational and logical expression. We will need to function in both worlds, bi-locating in order to meet our own needs as well as those of our clients.


In order for this to happen, there must be a greater awareness of this thing we call the Soul; of the wounds it carries and of the positive impact of having these wounds healed. 

The process of integrating shamans into the greater healing establishment will inevitably change that community for the better. However, we need to be careful not to loose the essence of the work in the process. In traditional cultures, there are efficient means of recognizing a competent shaman; means that are consistent with the cultural setting. One of the greatest challenges faced by the Post Tribal Shaman is that there is no such process available to us - other than word of mouth. Perhaps that is enough - for now.

 John F. Burns, "The Reach of War: The Occupation," The New York Times, October 17, 2004.

A Practical Guide to the Care and Feeding of the Ancestors

A Practical Guide to the Care and Feeding of the Ancestors


© Kenn Day 2011


A daily ritual of honoring and feeding my ancestors: 


I kneel quietly before the ancestor altar. The stone effigies of Mom and Dad stand there, with the cedar plank Dad carved a face into, representing all those who came before them. There is a small candle in a glass holder and a pewter bowl that holds the remains of my last offering. 

Opening my heart and soul to all those upon whose shoulders I stand, both known and unknown, I reach out and pick up the bell, shaking it gently to make a clear high tone. As I return it to the altar, I begin to recite the names of my ancestors…

Woodford R. Day

Florence Heisman

Thomas Jefferson Day

Ada Whitt

Walter Heisman 

Elanore Hazelton . . .

. . . All my grandmothers and grandfathers, I honor you.

I bow deeply to all those named and un-named. Touch my forehead to the floor in gratitude. 

I pour a little whiskey from a flask into the pewter offering bowl on the altar. Sometimes it is water. Sometimes a flower. Whatever seems appropriate. 

Now I sit and listen for awhile. I can feel my ancestors here with me, and sometimes they will speak to me. When I feel I have received enough, I bow again and thank them. 


I am a professional shaman. Since 1989 I've made my living full time by helping people who come to me to heal the wounds of their souls, bodies and energy. During this time, I have observed many wounds that could not be addressed until the client was willing to look at their ancestors and honor them. The purpose of this short article is to lay out the essentials of what you can do, as a "rugged individualist" of the Post-Tribal era, to connect to the souls of your ancestors, and why this would be a good idea.

Let us take a quick look at the nature of our culture. If someone where to ask you who the most important person in your world is, you would most likely answer that it is yourself. This is the healthy response of any well adjusted person in our society. We live in a time and place where the individual is supreme. While we may talk about how important it is to be a part of something larger – family, career, spiritual community – we always approach that experience as individuals. 

In traditional communities, the individual is just not all that important. Not that each and every person isn't valued and appreciated, but it is because they are a part of that larger body – the Tribe – that they have importance. With this sense of being a small part of something larger comes a profound awareness of how many people stand behind you, in the generations of your ancestors, and how their presence continues to impact you in this moment. 

What do we mean by ancestor? In many cultures there are ridged boundaries about who is and is not considered an ancestor. I like to keep it simple. Your ancestors are all those who gave you the gift of life. If they were related to you be blood, and they are no longer alive, then they are an ancestor. This can be problematic for those who are adopted, and certainly the adoptive parents deserve honoring as well, but they are not ancestors in this sense of the word. And they do not belong on your ancestors altar, unless your ancestors invite them and let you know. 

Most of us ignore our ancestors at best. At worst, we show them disrespect. When we speak poorly of our parents, when we repeat negative or degrading stories about our grandparents, we stand in judgement of them, which is not appropriate. This cuts off a powerful source of potential support in our lives. 

In traditional cultures, it is understood that the ancestors remain with us, in some mysterious fashion, long after their physical death. It is understood that we would not be here without the gift of life that we receive from these ancestors, and so we owe them a tremendous debt that we have no way of repaying. Further, it is understood, that if we just pay some attention to them and stay on their good side, our ancestors are happy to provide us with a flow of blessings, energy and advice from where they sit in the underworld. So why don't we do more to keep this connection open and flowing? 

Fortunately there are still ways for us to repair this disconnect and begin to benefit from the blessings they have to offer. Here are some fairly simple and direct steps anyone can take in this direction. 

1) Set up an ancestor altar in your living space. This is a small table or other surface area that is separate from any other use. It should be kept clean and receive regular attention. Place something on the altar to represent both mother and father's sides of your family and also something to symbolize those ancestors whose names have been forgotten over time. Add a small bowl or dish to place offerings in and perhaps a candle. 

2) Make regular offerings. Regular doesn't have to mean daily, though that is best. Offerings can be anything from water to whiskey, raw meat to flowers, incense to tobacco. The idea is to offer something that you believe your ancestors will appreciate and feel honored by. Obviously, don't offer something that would offend them. The offerings should be placed on the altar and should be removed before they become stale or rotten. When they are removed, the offerings should be disposed of in a respectful manner. If possible, they should be released into a natural source of water, burned in a sacred fire, poured out beneath a mature tree, or at the very least returned to the earth. 

3) In addition to offerings, your ancestors appreciate being acknowledged and honored out loud. Spirits in general enjoy being summoned with bells, rattles, drums and such. Calling out the names of those ancestors who are known is always a good move, as is a clear statement of gratitude. 

After making offerings, it's often a good idea to spend a little time just opening – being receptive to any messages the ancestors may offer you. A simple means of divination comes in handy in this as well, something that allows you to check out what you are hearing. If you feel that they are trying to tell you something more complex and you are not getting it, a visit to a good seer would be in order. 

What can our ancestors do for us? Perhaps the idea of being in the flow of life affirming energy and blessings isn't enough of a reason for you to go to all the trouble of setting up an ancestor altar. Once you have established a good relationship with them, you can ask their help for everything from finding your misplaced cellphone to getting a new job. But this doesn't work so well if you only go to them when you need something. 

Consider the natural relationship between generations within a family. The children of the family – barring trauma, distance or other distortions of the natural order – are the treasure of the family. The parents devote most of their resources to supporting, nurturing and providing for them. The grandparents dote on them, as do all the living relatives who have any opportunity to do so. Now, take away the division of death. Look at all those generations of Grandmothers and Grandfathers standing behind the living. These all love and want to add their blessings to the life of the children as well. And to all of those who stand behind you, you are that child. The ancestors who respond to your offerings will treat you in the way ancestors always treat their descendants. They will watch out for you, offering protection, guidance and suggestions where needed. 

The feeling of all these ancestors standing behind you and smiling their love forward to you is powerful, supportive and energizing. You no longer have the feeling that you are having to wage life's battles all on your own. You also know that they are looking over your shoulder should you think about doing something dishonorable. 

Perhaps most important, no matter who you are, no matter what your history, you would not be alive today if not for your ancestors. It is this gift of life that makes them bigger than us. This is a debt we can never repay. No matter how you choose to honor your ancestors, this is the root of what we are honoring. The real shift is not in trying to change how things are, but in acknowledging how things are. 

What you do with this information is up to you. Our culture places little value on how we treat our ancestors. If you choose to "go it alone" you will be in step with most of those around you. If you choose to walk in step with the generations that came before you, your path will be filled with more joy and abundance through this connection. 

I wish you all the blessings and joy – all the gifts your ancestors intended for you. 

The New Tribe


The New Tribe - Working as a Shaman in the Modern Community

© Kenn Day 2002    


It strikes many people as odd that there are actually practicing shamans today - and not just in far away places like Korea, Bali and Australia, but in the bastions of modern western civilization as well.  There are shamans with thriving practices in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, catering to the needs of clients in some of our largest cities.  These modern shamans are filling many of the roles of our ancestral shamans - helping people to rediscover their own personal connections with spirit, Self, earth and ancestors; helping to bridge the gap between the world we are taught is “real” and the larger world in which we all live - however little we know it.  

Consistent with this re-emergence of the shaman as an effective addition - if not alternative - to Doctor, Priest or Therapist, is the gradually spreading awareness that the roots of shamanism lie not in any specific culture, geographic region or ideology, but in the underlying human experience which unites us all.  This realization brings the properties of shamanism much closer to the world of the average person.  Instead of thinking that we can’t touch the shamanic experience, because it somehow “belongs” to the Native Americans or other aboriginal societies, we are recognizing that we have the same capacity for expanded awareness and connection that any other humans have. 

What remains the same and what has changed when comparing the work of a modern shaman with that of the traditional shaman?  In particular, what are the needs the shaman fills today?  What are the roles that call to this new/old practitioner?  Who is called to this work, and what does that mean?

To begin with, we will look at the setting of the shaman’s work - community.

The shaman in any culture works in service to a community.  This is an essential element of the role and work of a shaman, noted by Mirce Elliade and many after him.  Just as we think of a doctor as someone who practices medicine - rather than someone who has a doctoral degree - a shaman is seen as someone who actually practices shamanism with other people.  Without practical service to community, a person studying shamanism is, while they may be on a powerful journey of self exploration and healing, not necessarily a shaman.

In a traditional culture, the community is generally made up of those people who share a tribal or village affiliation with the shaman.  They are, in a very real way, the shaman’s people.  They share a common history, culture, language and cosmic map.  They have a common sense of where they came from, and why they are here.  Perhaps even more importantly, they have an appreciation of the shaman’s role in their community.  Most of this is not true for the modern shaman.  Rather, our communities today are generally made up of those who seek us out for our work, with nothing more in common than the fact that they share our services and speak the same language.  

Because of the different nature of these communities from those of our predecessors in traditional societies, the nature of our challenges in serving our communities has changed as well. We are no longer needed so much to proved for the day to day cohesion of the tribes mythology; rarely do we preside at initiations or coming of age ceremonies, and yet the underlying needs remain, and it is to these deeper necessities that we are drawn.  

Perhaps more than ever before, the people in our communities need a sense of connection; a sense that they are a part of a greater whole.  In my own practice, much of my work is concerned with deepening my client’s awareness of the connections that do exist between the individual and the earth; between the human and the divine; between we who live now and our ancestors.  With the strengthening of these bonds comes a renewed sense of efficacy; of “power” in its most positive sense.  This is the power we have to live our lives in balance and beauty; to speak and act our truth; and, to meet the world around us a living being of which we are an integral part.  From these empowered individuals arises the possibility of a stronger community, which may answer more of our needs in a more healthy way.  So, by meeting the needs of these apparently disconnected individuals, we also serve community in a deeper way.

One of the important ways in which the tribal shaman serves his community is through maintaining the cohesion of the community itself; through stories, visions and rituals that show the individuals how they are bound together and share the same place and history.  

Our modern society lacks this sort of internal cohesion to begin with, and the consequences of this lack can be seen everywhere.  The challenge for the shaman working in this culture becomes one of bringing the individual into a sense of connectedness and belonging, in spite of the lack of real community.  This may be done through weaving ties with the person’s ancestors and/or the earth itself; reminding the body and spirit that they are part of a greater whole.  

None the less, while this is important work, it does not address the community itself.  Because of the lack of cohesion in our modern culture, it becomes almost impossible to work with the community as a whole.  We can address small groups of people through seminars, or larger groups through ceremony at festivals or pow wows, touching the unconscious needs of the human gestalt for those moments; drawing together a few threads into the tapestry.  However, the traditional idea of community arising from geographic proximity has been replaced by communities arising from ideological proximity - defined by common interest and visions rather than the same neighborhood.

The communities arising from this sort of proximity fulfill the human need to connect to others only to a very limited extent.  Because the members of these groups see their primary reason for joining to be that of a shared interest, they are often confused by the lack of satisfaction they often encounter.  Many feel that they still do not “belong”, even after paying their membership dues and having their names on a database.  This is because belonging is a deeper thing.  It doesn’t dwell at the level of information, paper, ideas and computers.  It rests at the level of the human soul. It draws us out of our solitude and compels us to commune with each other; to engage in relationships; to make bonds; to make and fulfill commitments; and, to create community.  When we do not understand this natural hunger, we have no idea how to feed it - and yet its presence compels us to seek blindly after something to fulfill its emptiness.

As shamans, it is especially necessary that we understand this inherent drive to community.  As shamans, we are responsible for seeing what is unseen by those who do not walk this path.  As such, it is the shaman who is also responsible for guiding - to whatever extent possible - the healthy and effective feeding of these hungers through the manifestation of effective community.

We may begin by helping others to recognize some simple facts.  For instance, that it is a natural and appropriate need that we all share to some extent, just as we all share the need for touch, for nourishment and for sleep.  It is part of what makes us human.  If the need for community is not met through our family and friends, we will either search further afield or we will become shut down and withdrawn.

It also helps to let people know what community is not.  It is not the same as a group of friends.  Rather, it is more like family.  You don’t have to like the other members of your family, but they are still family.   Being in community with someone means that you share a common bond of proximity, whether of place or of spirit, which makes you each part of the same thing.  It does not mean that you have to like each other.  It does mean that if that other person dies or leaves the community, you will feel a sense of loss - no matter how you may have felt about them.

A tribal shaman working in a traditional society shares a coherent cosmology - a sense of where we all came from and why we are here - with the others of his community.  In fact, it is often a part of the shaman’s role to establish and reinforce this shared map in the minds and bodies and spirits of the rest of the tribe.  This shared map makes it possible to understand the dreams and visions of the people - and to speak to the depth of their consciousness in a meaningful way.  This is one resource we are lacking in our work with modern communities.

A post-tribal shaman has little to work with in the way of a shared cosmology.  Instead, we must determine what myths, images and forces appear in each person’s inner landscape, and what each of these mean to that individual.  Also, the meaning of a common image can differ from one person to the next, based on cultural conditioning, childhood experience or any other sort of influence.  For instance, while to a devout catholic, a snake might be manifesting a deep shadow of unconscious rebellion or repressed sexuality, for a person with a more eastern outlook, it might be a positive manifestation of their own inner forces.  

Another way we can approach this challenge is by teaching those clients that are receptive to it some basics of our own maps and the skills to navigate the map.  How to enter into shamanic consciousness; how to journey in the three worlds; the nature of the three worlds; the qualities of different colors, animals, plants and other spirits....  In doing so, we are in effect, giving them a language in which to communicate the experiences of their deeper selves.

Seminars or weekend workshops are a great means of introducing groups to shamanic cosmology and technology.  Only those with at least some interest show up and it gives us the opportunity to work with community.  In a small way and for a short time, but it’s good practice for dealing with larger and more stabile groups.

With all the changes in the world over the past few thousand years, we might expect that the basic needs of humankind have changed as well.  Instead we find that much remains the same.  Thought the individual is much more important in our world today, we still have the need to come together, to identify with others and to share their stories, songs and destinies.  It is this need which continues to compel us to form community.  It is this need which we as shamans, must address as best we can, seeking the answers as we always have, in the realms of the spirits and the ancestors - and in all three worlds.


Healing the Invisible Wound

by Kenn Day 1996                

 

The Invisible Wound

Our western society has taught us that if you can’t see it, touch it, weigh it and 

measure it - it’s not real.  Is it any wonder that we seem to have such difficulty in 

validating the worth, or even the existence of the less material aspects of our being, 

namely our spirit, our vital forces, our very soul?

Many of us would argue that these are the most essential parts of our Self; the 

wellspring from which our life experience arises, and that in denying their 

“realness”, we cut ourselves off from the very source of our Being.  What greater, 

more damaging and limiting wound can there be?  

This wound - this Invisible Wound of disconnection and dis-integration - appears 

not only in each of us as individuals, but in our society as a whole.  It is the wound 

of separation, of alienation from our essential and primordial Self.  It constantly 

reminds us, at a level so deep that we can rarely hear its voice in our conscious 

thoughts, that we are alone.  This aloneness permeates our life, and drives us to 

seek the solace of momentary and often unhealthy blurring of our sense of 

separation.  We seek a sense of illusory completeness, through casual sex, 

recreational drugs or empty religion.  But none of these attempts even begins to heal 

the wound.  They are merely bandages for the soul.  The wound remains.

The signs of this wound are everywhere.  The symptoms run from existential 

malaise to superficial frivolity; from chronic depression to manic addictions.  All 

these arise from the disenfranchised self running toward an ever receding mirage 

on the horizon, seeking to fill the sense of emptiness within.  This vast emptiness 

comes in turn from the lack of real connection to anything or anyone, including our 

own true Self.

I know that I have lived with this wound all my life, and I believe that all of us 

experience it to some degree.  My own life work has been about healing this wound, 

and about helping others to heal as well.  I can think of no better term for this work 

than shamanism, or perhaps Post-Tribal Shamanism.  

The work of the Shaman of old was to remind HIr people of their connections - 

with each other; with their ancestors; with the earth; and, with their own spirit.  

This is the work we so badly need today as well.


Finding New Roots

If you examine the pretechnological  societies in which the traditional shaman 

continues to work today, you will find a culture rich in its own connectedness with 

the universe as it knows it.  They have a wealth of mythic content that expresses the 

world to them in a way that makes them an integral part of all that is.  

How many of us go through life feeling as if we are missing a rule book to tell us 

what to expect, what to do and how to do it?  In a very real sense, these other 

cultures have their own rule books.  They have rituals, stories, traditions and 

expectations that clearly delineate what life is all about and how they fit into it, both 

as individuals and as a people.  

Granted, much of the beauty and harmony of these cultures has been destroyed 

through the inevitable contact with modern “civilization”, but enough remains to 

give us a picture of what could be.

It is a mistake to believe that we, as acculturated members of modern society, can 

ever return to the way of being that we can still see glimpses of in these 

pretechnological remnants.  We do not have the necessary roots of feeling and 

knowledge, the web of belonging, into which they are born.  

However, we do have something that they lack. We have minds trained to work in 

a rational manner, processing and interpreting information.  We have access to an 

incredible abundance of knowledge, culture and life experience.  And, as a whole, 

we have a greater sense of individual freedom and personal sovereignty than ever 

before in human history.  In short, we live in a world that is, in some ways, much 

larger than the myth.  

These blessings of modern civilization withhold from us the bliss of sinking into a 

sense of oneness with our ancestors, but they can also propel us forward to discover 

a new way of connecting; a way to heal the Invisible Wound.  

Now we need to be able to create a new web, woven from the substance of our lives, 

that welcomes us back into a balanced relationship with our Self and our universe.  

For this task, I believe we need to rediscover, or perhaps even recreate, the role of 

the shaman.  No other word seems to speak so clearly of the work of healing and 

integration that awaits us.  This work is beyond psychotherapy.  It is more than a 

sorting out of our neurotic reactions to our spiritual wounds.  Likewise, if we are to 

be true to our evolutionary course, there is no religion which can adequately honor 

our separateness while offering us a union that goes beyond the loss of self into Self.

The shaman can, through discovering for HIrself the root of HIr own being, help us 

to explore these roots in each of us.  However, because we have come so far, it is 

ultimately up to each of us to heal ourselves.  This is perhaps the defining factor of 

the Post-Tribal Shaman:  The healer who helps us to heal ourselves.


Weaving a New Web

How can we, today, heal this wound, giving ourselves back the freedom to explore 

what it means to be human?  What are the needs that we are trying to address?  

They are much the same needs that humankind has experienced for all time.  The 

need for belonging to something greater than the limited self, a connection with the 

wholeness of creation.

The process begins with finding our center; discovering the innermost core of Self 

upon which all the rest of the ego has been built.  This can be done through the 

practice of Stillness or meditation.  Once the mental clutter of the ego is cleared 

away, the stillness of center is revealed.  This still center is the doorway through 

which we may rediscover our connectedness with the rest of our world.  

Initially this stillness can lead to an even greater sense of isolation as the structure of 

the ego cries out in fear of its own annihilation.  Often one experiences strong 

resistance, coupled with an intense fear of immanent death or doom.  This is the 

ego struggling for survival.  Let it go.

The ego tells us that the only way to find what we need is to look for it outside; to 

find the ‘right’ person and merge into a blissful symbiosis, just like it was with 

mom.  

It‘s not that the ego is lying to us.  It truly believes that it is alone, for it doesn't 

realize that it is merely a mask worn by the Self as it looks into this world.  Our egos 

are patterned after the world they see, and our world has been a place of separation 

and disintegration.  Is it any wonder that the ego fears that this is its ultimate fate?

But, however authentic the ego’s fears might be, the assumptions it draws are 

patently wrong.  This is NOT what we need to do in order to be happy.  Our life 

experience has already taught most of us this by now.  What DOES work is going 

inside and discovering the place where we are all One.

This is where we can begin to explore real connectedness.  On the inner planes, this 

is done by connecting with non-ordinary entities.  On the outer planes, by practicing 

stillness with like-minded people.  Both these avenues, when worked together, help 

to provide us with a sense that the universe is a place which welcomes us and 

celebrates our presence within it.  Through this work, we can also develop our own 

“reality map”; the mythic grasp of a cosmos which we can comprehend through 

realizing its mysteries.  Most importantly, we can heal the wound that separates us 

from Self and community.  

This article only brushes the surface of this issue.  My hope is that there are many 

others who share a similar vision of healing; and an appreciation of some of the 

deepest roots of human healing, through a rediscovery of the work of the shaman.  

This work awakens within us the ability to heal, both ourselves and others.  And 

with this healing comes a deeper understanding of what it means to be fully 

human. 

Getting There and Back Again

A Post-Tribal Shaman’s Guide to the Underworld Experience

by Kenn Day Circa 1994


Is It Real?


One of the most frequently asked questions about all this “Traveling” about in “other realms” in altered states of consciousness – loosely referred to as Shamanic Journeying – is also the most useless:  “Is it real?”  Imagine that you live and work in Cincinnati, and you take a month’s vacation to Tibet.  While there you see all sorts of marvelous things that you never imagined existed, as well as some relatively familiar things that you might have seen “back home”.  Now imagine that upon returning from your incredible journey all your friends want to know is not how wonderful it was, not how strange and unusual the people and the scenery were, but “was it Ohio?”

While it’s obvious that this question is absurd, most people don’t realize that the question of “is it real’ is equally so.  What you are asking is – in effect – does it conform to my ordinary experience, which obviously it does not.  But you are also asking, is it an experience of valid, irreducible phenomena whose effects have a real and lasting impact on your life – and the answer to that is a resounding “yes!”

The experience of the Underworld is real, if for no other reason than that it has a very real effect on every person who has an authentic experience within its realms.

Is it a place?  Not in the way we think of “place”.  Rather it is in between places, and beyond the Inner World you know.  If you begin to think of different states of consciousness as “places”, you begin to get the picture.  If you’ve ever done a creative visualization, or been hypnotized in order to look into your own mind, this is the doorway to the Underworld.  Keep on going from there and that’s where you will end up...but don’t start just yet.  It’s better to have a very clear idea of what you’re in for.  

In terms of a Shamanic map, the Underworld is one of the three realms that make up the whole of the multiverse.  These three are the Upper World, usually associated with celestial vistas and the realms beyond the merely human; the Middle World, which is sort of a mirror image of our own earth; and, the Lower World or Underworld, which is associated with everything from spirits of the departed ancestors to chthonic creatures of the Deep.  

In a very real way, you are your own doorway into the Underworld.  It is your state of consciousness which allows you access to the Deep; your own mind, body and spirit which create the shamanic body that moves into that other world.


Getting There


Okay.  It’s not really as easy as it sounds.  And that’s good, because it is a lot more dangerous than it sounds.  While the basic theory is quite simple, it takes a lot of work to be able to master the necessary focus to effectively move yourself from one state of consciousness to another at will, while remaining completely aware.  Most people lose awareness as they move into shamanic state, and end up going to sleep.  Probably just as well.  The reason they do this is that their consciousness is unstable in these other places.  It’s like being a disembodied ghost.  So what do you do?  Why, you build yourself a body.

To create your Shamanic form or body, you begin with your intention. Your intention is to create a spiritual double that will journey into the Underworld, while your physical body remains in its accustomed locale.   It is easiest to have it look as much as possible like your physical body, simply because that’s what you are used to identifying with, and you will want to be able to identify with this body even under stressful circumstances.  You create the foundation of this body through the use of your imagination; clearly visualizing what it will look like; then you feed the body on energy drawn from whatever source you find appropriate, and then sent through your own nervous system.  If you don’t know how to raise energy and move it through your own body, then you’ve no business messing about in the Underworld, so I won’t go into greater detail here.

Granted, there are some people who seem to have a ready–made Shamanic double already formed.  This may be due to the rigors of their life, or perhaps to work done in some previous existence.  Still, I recommend creating your Traveling Form from scratch, if only to know it better.  

Once you have developed your Shamanic Body, you will want to be able to move into and out of it at will.  You can practice this by entering Stillness; imagining your double as an image in a mirror, your heart centers connected by a strand of light.  Then allow yourself to move along the strand to enter the double.  Feel yourself as completely IN that other body as possible.  Turn your attention back into the “mirror” and see your physical body there.  Now move back through the mirror again.  Once you have become adept at the transfer, spend some time getting used to feeling sensations through this new form.  These senses may be indistinct at first, and it is doubtful that you will lose all sensation of your physical body, but with practice you should be able to get a clear sense of what your double is experiencing.  Now get up and move around in the body.  Practice moving, stretching, dancing, running, even flying.  When you feel completely comfortable in your Shamanic Body, then you are ready to move on.  

As I mentioned earlier, your first step on the path to the Underworld is through your own self – and something called Stillness.  Enter Stillness first.  Move into Shamanic Form, then continue in Stillness IN that other body.  Find the portal that lies at the epicenter of your Shamanic Body, and move through that door.  You will find yourself in the same inner world that you visit in creative visualizations.  Move through this place, seeking the boundary between what is you, and what lies beyond.  You will recognize it when you find it.  Then, go ahead.  Jump!   


Things to Consider

Allow me to interject – right here in the midst of everything – that the techniques and practices that I am suggesting are NOT the only ones used for this type of work, and might very well not even be the most suitable or the most effective for every Shamanic Traveler.  However, you will find that all effective measures respond to the Underworld Experience as a coherent phenomenon.  It is your responsibility to explore the options and thus discover what works for you.  

For the sake of brevity, there are many things that I am not addressing here, but which are important to consider.  For example: Effective preparation for your journey; various tools that you will need; and, a more detailed discussion of the liminal states of consciousness that allow you access to the Underworld.  It is not my intention to offer a guide for beginners in a brief article, but to address some of the essential elements of the Shaman’s journey, in a way that speaks to those who are ready to take the leap.  

If you think you are such a person, ask yourself these questions.  Do I know myself well enough to trust my responses in any given situation?  How would I react in a life or death situation?   Can I count on myself to act reliably under stress?  Am I intuitive enough to be able to judge my surroundings clearly?  Am I experienced enough with functioning in altered states of consciousness that I can do so effectively and reliably? 

If you cannot answer each of these questions with an honest yes, then you are probably not ready to go Underworld diving.  If you are...


Finding Your Way Around

What will the Underworld look like?  Well that depends entirely on you.  Unlike the more dense realms of earthly existence, the Underworld tends to be even more reflective of the viewer’s own nature.  In other words:  What you see is who you are.  So, needless to say, it’s a very good idea to know just exactly who you are.  

Upon entering the Underworld, you may find yourself in a gigantic room, or on an open desert plain; in a primordial forest, or in a dank cellar.  Go with it.  Everything you’re seeing is coming from your own experience of what is actually there, interpreted through your beliefs, values and past experience.  It’s not that there is not an authentic “otherness” present, but our sense of self paints the scenery – so to speak – in the colors that it knows.

Appearances aside, there are some common sites you will probably run into.  There will most likely be something, perhaps a river, that you will need to cross.  There will be portals, maybe even a whole series of gates, each with a distinct guardian.  There will be whole areas which appear to be sealed off.  Best let them remain so for the time being.  

The key to all of this is to pay attention, both to what’s happening around you and to your own intuitive sense of what it means.  If you are crossing a river and you feel that it’s a good idea not to let the water get onto your skin – pay attention to it.  The rules are somewhat different for everyone.    

Underworld navigation is like flying by the seat of your pants.  It is being able to FEEL where you are coming from and where you are headed.  There is no way to accurately describe the sensation.  If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.  If not...well, it’s a little like being able to sense the energy moving through another person’s body.  If you can feel it, you know what it’s doing.  If you can’t feel it, you have no way to tell.

Though your own perceptions of the Underworld are unique, they do tend to be persistent, so mapping is a very good idea.  Pay attention to shortcuts especially.  They can save a lot of energy moving from one place to another.


Getting Back Again

One of the easiest ways to return from the Underworld is to have an “umbilical cord” connecting you all the way back up through your center and into your ordinary state of awareness.  Remember to create this connecting link before going on any journeys, and you will have a sure–fire method for coming back in a hurry.  If not, well, you can get lost down there.  Getting lost in the Underworld is a very bad idea.  So make sure you know how you intend to get back before you start your journey.

It is best to keep your first journeys as short as possible, with clearly defined goals.  At the beginning it will be enough to make the trip down, turn around and come back.  Once you are confident of your ability to go and return safely, you can start to explore the Underworld landscape – your own unique experience of it.  When you are able to find your way around in that landscape with relative ease, you can begin working with it for healing, transformation and growth – but that‘s another article.


Final Cautions

Although you can find ways to heal yourself through this type of journey, you can be damaged as well.  Don’t make changes “down there” until you have a clear perception of what it is that you are changing.  You are the one who will have to live with the outcome.  

Know yourself very well before attempting this work.  Know your strengths, and especially know your weaknesses.  Know when to be quiet and listen.  Know when to duck.  Know when to run.  

There are monsters in the Deep.  In modern terms, they are reflections of those parts of yourself you do not yet know; shadows of your unrealized self.  They are the children of your pain, your fear and your rage.  And they will try to destroy you in order to survive.  To calm them, to gentle them, to come to know them – that is a large part of this work.  

But the monsters are there – and they are real – and they can bite.  So pay attention, and be careful.


Afterward

This article was written over 20 years ago and I have since developed safer and more effective means of creating and working in your Shamanic Body. I would encourage anyone with a real interest in exploring these realms to consider taking my workshop series. 

 © Kenn Day 2017