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Travelling to the ’spirit world’ — Part 1

Is deep Christian meditation any different from a shamanic journey?

By Carolyn Pogue

What's a United Church woman doing on a shamanic weekend in a yurt? Satisfying her curiosity? Answering her own question about how to re-view the world? Listening for echoes of her own Indigenous European ancestry?

Once, after wanting to shred the Globe and Mail for all the bad news it contained, I thought to myself, “there must be other ways to view the world.” I thought about what I had learned through my own and other religions, and realized my spirit wanted something more. But what? Well, I sat with that a while.

I remembered a Cree Metis friend once saying, "Everyone is indigenous from somewhere." I thought about how, over decades, Cree teachers generously shared teachings, stories, ceremonies and love with me. Eventually, I felt nudged to find my own ancestors' teachings. How did they ritualize and speak about their relationship with the land and Creator? Is there something before Christianity that I could or should retrieve? 

In a conversation with Marie, my Reiki-trained sister, I wondered aloud about shamanism. She sent an email link to www.shamanism.org. where I found that an Introduction to Core Shamanism workshop would be offered in Calgary. My husband, Bill, and I signed up, not knowing whether or not it would be hokey — or too far out for us. It was neither. 

Shaman, a Siberian word, means one who has access to the spirit world. Shamans intentionally alter their consciousness to enter the spirit realms and are viewed as healers. They work from the heart and only engage compassionate acts. That weekend, our workshop was conducted by Wade Prpich, who has an honours degree in psychology and a Masters in Environmental Science, and Marcia Rich, who is a licensed psychologist. They’re both graduates of California’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies, founded by American anthropologist Michael Harner, and they both use the term, shamanic practitioner, rather than shaman. Immediately, they established an easy, safe and beautiful circle of learning for about 10 of us. And their workshop left us wanting more.

Shamanic practitioner Wade Prpich
Shamanic practitioner Wade Prpich

Wade and Marcia told us that cultural shamanism has been practiced over millennia by traditional cultural groups around the world. Core shamanism, on the other hand, draws from the common experiences and methods of cultural shamans so that its teachings become available to students. In the same way that American mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell travelled the world, seeking to find common threads present in religions, Harner has drawm on the common wisdom of shamanic practices.

"Shamanism," Wade says, "is an ancient healing practice that focusses on the spiritual aspect of illness.” He continues: “With the aid of compassionate spirit allies, shamans work to diagnose and heal as well as gain wisdom and knowledge. The intention is to restore health."

So is this different from a minister, priest or group praying to restore wellbeing? Yes and no. I've never heard mention of a power animal from the pulpit although spirit helpers, such as angels, saints and the mysterious Holy Trinity, have a place. Is deep Christian meditation different from a shamanic journey into other realities? Well, I find similarities.

My husband says: “I’m drawn to the wisdom aspect of shamanism. We use it as a complement to meditation and to our regular religious practice, not as a substitute. Shamanism deepens my spiritual sources."

And so, the journey continues. 

Part 2 will be posted on Feb. 18.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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