Sometimes, I get asked about why I became a shamanic healer, or how I became a shaman, and I would like to try to describe something of the process here, albeit that my path towards becoming a shaman began before I was even aware of any kind of process taking place.
So it’s only in looking back that I can see many classic shaman apprentice landmarks along the way. But I wasn’t aware of what they meant at the time.
Here’s what I mean by ‘classic shaman apprentice landmarks.’
The late professor of religion at Harvard, Mircea Eliade, wrote the definitive book on how shamanism was worldwide at the turn of the 19th/20th century. He based it on papers of anthropologists who studied shamans from Siberia and India to Australia and South America to North America and Tibet and China.
The book is called Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and it is just really all these anthropologists’ reports collated in such a way to show — although there were small, superficial cultural differences — how similar these shamans were in their practises and techniques, despite often being half a world away from one another, and having never met. And the initiatory experiences that the apprentice shamans told the anthropologists about were also remarkably similar.
I only read this book for the first time about five years ago. So I could recognise what I had gone through rather than wonder if I had somehow projected it or make it appear to happen. But I only really had confirmation that this was my life’s path when I did an unusual journey about five years ago.
Because these dimensions, which the shaman journeys to, exist outside of place and time, it is possible to get back into the past. In fact, shamans frequently do this to find the cause of an illness or a problem. However, you can get so far back into the past that you can get to the moment of your birth … and then, even further back.
So I journeyed to the point where my soul was just coming into incarnation, just coming into the embryo. The reason I did this was because I knew I would be carrying the essence of my life path, and all the targets and ‘appointments’ I had set for myself … the reason why I was taking on a human body. I wanted to ‘talk’ to myself as I was then, to find out what my destiny was.
When you travel into the heart of this entity – the essence of you – it’s like flying into the heart of a nuclear explosion. It’s enormous and very bright and colourful. Here’s something of what it looked like, as I flew into it. It looks like a huge nebulla explosion, which this is.
Exploding psychedelic egg
I flew into this exploding, multi-coloured psychedelic egg and then, by what shamans called ‘instantaneous transmission’, I was given the purpose of my life and my life’s path. And then I could see that everything I was then doing in my life was part of what I had already planned to do, before I even took a body. So although it may have seemed strange that I was on this path before I even knew that I was, it was only because until about 12 years ago, I hadn’t been in touch with my soul body.
So I didn’t know why certain things were happening to me, and the order in which they were happening. I didn’t know that I’d already organised it before coming into incarnation.
For most of my life, I was really out of touch with this part of me, the real me – I was blinded to it by so many things. It was like the part in Plato’s cave before you actually start to make the “ascent from the cave”, or even know you that can, or even know that you are in a “cave”.
Meaning of life
One of the things that blinded me was that I was very attractive when I was younger, and so there was always a man around who wanted to look after me. I never had to develop my own power because I could always rely on the power of my male partner. So I was very much limping in terms of empowerment, but my destiny had to carry on regardless, as I had planned it that way. So my life unfolded in such a way for me to meet the right people and learn the correct spiritual practises that would eventually get me in touch with my soul body. I had various gurus and tried different forms of yoga and meditation techniques, none of which appeared to be doing much apart from giving me amazingly low blood pressure and people always said how calm they felt around me.
However, I wasn’t after lower blood pressure. I wanted to know the meaning of my life!
Anyway, after what seemed like a long time of struggling and not getting very far, something must have worked because by about my mid-40s, my soul body was really making its presence felt and I felt dissatisfied with my life, to such an extent that I gave up my job as a journalist, and sold my house, and went to India. It was an act of renunciation, I suppose. It was a way of sending out a very loud signal, as if to yell out: “Hey guys, I’m not doing this shit anymore, so can you start bringing on the real stuff please!”. (That moment in my life is better explained in Chapter One of my book about India and Sai Baba, Lord of the Dance).
And that’s when they started bringing it on in wheelbarrows.
But even then, I found (and I’ve noticed that others say this too), that the whole progression towards becoming a shaman doesn’t happen in an ordered way, like you would expect it to. I thought I would study the theory and then gradually be taught the practice. But no, they don’t like to do it that way. They like to do everything upside down and inside out. And also there’s an element of that John Lennon line: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”
So half the time, you’re concentrating on something going on in left field while the real thing, the thing that’s going to impact on you, is happening on the right. Or, other times, you experience it first, but you don’t know what it is that you just experienced until your path develops enough over time for you realise what it was you experienced at that time.
I hope this doesn’t all sound like nonsense. Perhaps an example will help. My first initiation as a shaman was followed by being in total darkness for four days. During this time, I found myself in the Realms of the Dead. I flew over the heads of all my ancestors who were standing, stretched along a river bank for miles upon miles upon miles until I reached some quite archaic looking people. Then I flew back the other way until I ended up in remote viewing my cousin Brenda’s funeral.
But no-one told me, at that time, that I was in the Realms of the Dead and it wasn’t until more than a year later, when our teacher, Simon, was training us to go into the Realms of the Dead, and I ended up there again, that I recognised it.
The shaman needs to be able to travel easily into the Realms of the Dead and back again safely and in one piece, as part of the role of the shaman is to be a psychopomp.
“Many religious belief systems have a particular spirit, angel, or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife. These creatures are called psychopomps, from the Greek word psychopompos, literally meaning the “guide of souls”. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage. Frequently depicted on funerary art, psychopomps have been associated at different times and in different cultures with horses, whippoorwills, ravens, dogs, crows, owls, sparrows, harts, and dolphins.”
As you can see, people now think that psychopomps were supernatural creatures of mythology and therefore, didn’t really exist, like in Greek mythology we have Charon rowing the souls of the dead across the river Styx.
But this, in fact, used to be one of the roles of the shaman of the tribe ~ and it still is.
Realms of the Dead
In order to get into the Realms of the Dead, you have to go down through many levels that are overseen by gatekeepers – this is the true meaning of the Sumerian story of the Descent of Ishtar. Princess Ishtar has to go through seven gatekeepers in her descent into the Underworld and at each gate, she has to discard an article of clothing or jewellery. This eventually became the Dance of the Seven Veils.
When I came back from India, I decided to be celibate, in order to build up my power. Not everyone needs to do this by any means, and shamans are more in favour of (and more understanding about the true nature and value of) sex and fertility than any prim-faced religionists. But I needed to be celibate, because ever since I had been about 14, all I knew was how to give my power away to a man.
My mother had lived her whole life that way, and taught her three daughters to do the same thing, thinking that that would be best for us. That’s why I had never developed any kind of technique not to give my power to my male partner. So I had to stay by myself and start working on that, and build up some power of my own.
Well anyway, I’ve had several initiations by now, including a death-rebirth one almost exactly a year ago. I really enjoyed that first one, though, being in the dark for four days, and would like to do it again. I learned more about life in those four days than in the rest of my life. I read in Eliade’s book that in Siberia, the apprentices would be kept in the dark of a cave for nine months. I would really like to do that, if only I could find a nice, warm cave and someone to bring me my meals!
At another of my initiations, I had to dig my own ‘grave’ and then lie buried in it overnight. I can’t say I enjoyed that initiation very much, but not because I didn’t feel safe. I did feel safe. I had an air hole and my teacher stayed awake all night and I could him hear him walking around and drumming, and I hear the fire crackling comfortingly on the surface. I was just scared that some worm would slither across me or a rat might jump at my face. By the way, this initiation of being buried alive is not just to be horrible to you, to test you. That’s not the reason for it. It’s purpose is to be completely surrounded by Mother Earth, to feel enclosed within her womb.
This was an important initiation and I did slip into a very deep trance and when they dug me out, the next day, I cried like a baby, coming out of the womb.
Another typical process the apprentice shaman goes through is dismemberment. This is done entirely during the journey to the other dimensions which are places of no pain, which is just as well as you are torn limb from limb and then all your body parts are usually placed in a huge cauldron and they boil it up … and then they put you back together with a new body.
Sometimes, though, in this ordinary reality, the apprentice shaman experiences shamanic illnesses which occur when bodily changes are taking place to ‘build the new shaman’. At the beginning of 2008, I was flat on my back for about four weeks. I barely had any energy to move and spent a lot of each day lying on my sofa in a trance state.
I still do get hit with that occasionally, although for much shorter periods, like half-a-day. And sometimes the spirits do disable me briefly, because they’ve got a message they want to get through to me, and they just need me to stop and lie down for an hour or so.
So how do you know when you’ve become a full-blown shaman? Well, I don’t know if you ever do. It is gratifying, though, when you gradually begin to realise that the stuff you’re doing is working – that you ask for something, and you get it. I don’t mean like the winning Lottery numbers… that’s not what we’re given these gifts for. But I ask for ‘outcomes’ shall we say, that are to put things back into balance – whether it’s a person or something to do with the state of the Earth — and I get those outcomes almost instantaneously.
But it has taken me a long time to realise that I have to remember to ask. We have free will and the spirits won’t intervene unless asked. And so because the spirits are often creating situations around me for healing to occur, this can be tricky.
It’s like if you imagine a situation is like a room. So when I go into a room, my presence in the room, metaphorically-speaking, automatically shines a light into dark and filthy corners that have remained undisturbed to moulder and rot away for centuries. This means that I do sometimes find myself in some god-awful situations and spend an unnecessary amount of time thinking that I’ve caused it and therefore I’ve got to sort it out, and then wracking my brains for a solution until I practically end up with a migraine, before finally remembering, “Oh, but this is just an alchemical situation. I can get help.” As soon as I ask for help, the perfect solution always arrives. Thankfully, that painful process is getting shorter and shorter as I realise more and more that I am a shaman and these seemingly intractable situations have been solely brought to light for me to heal them.
It is an alchemical process, which means that there is often a sort of ‘darkness before the dawn’ scenario in which something can often be at its worse, and sometimes almost terrifyingly so, just before it breaks and heals.
This means that when I’m dealing with a person, and this process is happening, that person can often get very angry with me just before the situation breaks and resolves itself. It’s almost as if they have to throw up their bile before they can be filled with new, good stuff. So I am given a lot of protection, because of that. I wouldn’t say I’m Teflon-coated because it’s softer and more flexible than that.
I do have a sort of force field around me, which is put there by the spirits. And they also power me up with a lot of energy that gives me some force and ability to endure. But it doesn’t make me completely immune… I still feel sad when I see the stuff that people throw at one another and I always prefer Love, every time. I love to see two people in love with each other, even if it’s not going to last very long, because it makes my heart grow big and soft and makes me smile….and it is the reason for life, after all. What else is there?
This article was by Ishtar Babilu Dingir, author of The Sacred Sex Rites of Ishtar:Shamanic sexual healing and sex magic and Lord of the Dance: Life in an Indian ashram with Sathya Sai Baba. To find out more, just click on the books below.