What is the shamanic journey or soul flight?
In shamanic practice it is believed that part of the soul is free to leave the body. There are various times the soul might leave the body, during dreaming or to protect the soul from trauma, see soul retrieval. When a shaman is initiated onto the shamanic path, they usually learn how to send their soul forth intentionally, on the soul flight which is commonly called a journey or the shamanic journey. In early shamanic societies, many shamans were initiated because of having a near death experience. Death being an experience when all of your soul leaves the body, the near death experience is thought to teach an individual to travel with the soul.
When a person journeys the soul leaves the body, and may travel to a spiritual aspect of places on the earth, or may go within the earth, or above it. In certain societies there are destinations that are peculiar to the culture. There are also destinations, that appear to be the same for many different cultures despite the separation of these cultures by nature and geographic location. The map of these common destinations is referred to as a cosmology. Terms such as upper, lower and middle world are used to divide the cosmology, but there are a wide variety of destinations.
How Does one Journey?
The shamanic journey occurs by shifting awareness or consciousness in order to allow part of your soul to leave the body. The drum or rattle is frequently used. The slow repetitive rhythm shifts the individuals “rhythm” so that he or she can journey. Just the way a soothing song can help an somone achieve a calmer state. The rhythm of the drum puts you in the right state to journey. The drum beat used is very close to the frequency that is measured from the earth, and has proved effective for the majority of people.
The journey is then achieved by a person’s intent. The person intends to leave and so she does. How you get the soul to leave is tough to describe. Try to describe walking and it is difficult to put into words how you get your legs to move. The same is true with journeying.
What is the Journey For?
Journeying like meditation is a tool for spiritual growth. It is also a tool that can be used for healing, to obtaining information, and in working through psychological issues.
When someone goes on a journey they are able to communicate on a spiritual level. So journeyers can go and visit guardian spirits, they can go and visit spirits of the land. During a journey an individual can also examine the health of their body or another’s body. The journey can also be used discover things about the physical world.
For instance, a journeyer might have an experience of being a fish in a stream, or running like a deer over the land. The journey differs from a dream because the individual is able to direct the journey and because he or she learns unexpected things. For instance in a dream, running like a deer you may experience speed. But in a journey you will feel how the muscles of the deer’s legs feel as it runs. Running as a zebra you may realize with surprise how much of the animals power is coming from the it’s back legs. In the real world an experience brings unexpected things, you learn something you didn’t know before. Journeying is much like experiences in the real world because of these types of unexpected discoveries.
Psychologically some people use the journey to work through emotional issues. They may confront a deceased or living relative about past abuse. The journey provides a safe environment to express anger, or to work through grief.
The shamanic journey provides a tool for spiritual growth because the individual can seek out evolved spiritual teachers. The messages given often have an unexpected depth of meaning. Journeyers often report that their journeys “add up” to a deeper spiritual teaching because one journey has built on another. Sometimes, going back to read a journal of your journeys you see that your were walking a path of deep learning. Journey messages will often come in the form of symbols, which have a depth that only becomes clear over time.
Destination and Purpose
The places one will journey to will vary. Some will be much like the geography seen on earth with mountain, trees, valleys… Some places are airy like the sky, or feel very energetic, or peaceful. A journey destination can be anything because the geography is not bound by rules of gravity but rather the rules of energy. The purposes, and tasks of the shaman or shamanic journeyer will sometimes determine what places will be visited. Purposes can include healing oneself or another, spiritual growth, enjoyment, connection with guardian spirits, learning, religious growth and many other things because journeying is a diverse tool.
Some people may journey into smaller dimensions such as between the molecules of water or into the cells of the body. Some explore very little of the cosmology only going to one or two specific places. Another journeyer may visit many different places, or travel very large distances. When the journeyer becomes skilled and starts taking very long journeys there can be a risk of not returning. This risk is mitigated by doing such lengthy or long distance journeys with a partner, who knows a key word which will call the journeyer back. This is not usually an issue for the beginning journeyer, and generally comes with certain advanced work.
What does the Journeyer experience?
The way each journeyer experiences the places they visit is different. One journeyer may see really well on a journey or another may not see but hear.
The journeyer will often experience both the room that they are in, and the place they visiting in the journey. Their soul is in two places at once. The degree to which the journeyer will experience what is happening in the room depends on the person. Journeyers will often minimize this by placing a scarf over their eyes. Although some people have no problem phasing out their awareness of the room, or have very little awareness of it.
Some people will experience leaving their body, and the places that their soul goes and visits in full blown technicolor with sounds, smells and the sense of touch. Some people will not experience a journey with all their senses. In cases where the journeyer experiences nothing visual they may have more of a knowing of where they are and the people and the animals they encounter on the way. This type of sense can be compared to how it feels when you know someone has entered the room behind you, before you turn to look at them. If touch predominates the individual may feel the grass on her feet, the wind on his cheek.
The senses that are predominant in an individual’s daily life may not be those which are strongest when journeying. In some cases it can be difficult for the journeyer to accept what they are experiencing is real or valid because it does not have a visual component, or because it is different to the sensory way they experience their daily life. In all cases with shamanism, the effectiveness of any journeyer or shaman is measured by results.
After observing the effect and effectiveness of the information they receive, a journeyer will often see unexpectedly powerful results over time, and in some cases immediately. A shaman healer is not considered a healer unless her or his healing brings results. Also, the way she or he experiences his or her journeys is not normally related to ability as a healer. Some very powerful healers may only experience sound for instance, that does not mean they are less powerful than someone who has “technicolor” journeys. Nor is the information the non-shaman receives on a journey less powerful because it was received through sound or touch.
Trust and the Critical Mind
It is usually the person who cannot shut off their critical mind that has the most trouble journeying. This is because it grounds you in your body and makes it difficult to allow the soul to leave. It is usually most effective to suspend the critical voice while on the journey. Wait and let your mind criticize and analyze after returning from the journey. The initial senses of the new journeyer can sometimes be delicate, and only become strong over time if they are allowed in/are not crushed by the critical mind. From modern shamanic writing, a surprising percentage shamanic authors seem to have started out critical and skeptical, Carlos Castenada first book and books of John Perkins show examples of this. A skeptical mind is not a problem, as long as it doesn’t interfere with you ability to free the soul for journeying.
In all shamanic work the mind must be open to the possibility. There is no reason to toss skepticism to the wind, but no shamanic activity can occur without your permission. Closing your mind to the possibility, is like closing a door. You deny yourself permission to have the experience. You also effectively deny permission for the shaman to perform healing work, and no ethical shaman can violate that barrier. It is one of most primary things that a shaman is taught, that he or she cannot impose his will over that of another.
Can I Journey?
Amazingly enough, journeying seems to be a skill that people posses innately. As if it is something we already know how to do, but just need reminding of. When teaching there is not much to say in terms of directions or how to’s. Sometimes the less said the better, so that the directions don’t interfere with your inner knowing of how to do it.
Some people struggle with journeying, but teaching organizations report that the majority of first time participants can journey in their first workshop. You don’t have to be a shaman to journey. Many people within the United States, and other countries learn to journey because it is a spiritual and exploration tool which can help them with personal and spiritual growth. They don’t use it to heal, or do any of the tasks of the shaman. It may not be a tool for everyone, but its important to note that it can be used by anyone who feels it would be helpful.
For those who may be interested in learning to journey, a workshop is a good way to learn. There are specific things that should be taught to a journeyer and it is best to be taught by a reputable teaching organization who knows to cover the basics. It also seems to be easier to learn the technique with a group of people. The effectiveness of shamanic work, and apparently journeying seems to be magnified when performed in community. Shaman Links has a list of teachers by location, many teachers offer introductory journey classes. Sandra Ingerman wrote a good introductory book about Shamanic Journeying through use of the drum. There is also the Shaman Links Book Directory List of Books on Journeying.
Next up: What about Modern Shamans?