Glossary and Other Interesting Things
or Random Thoughts by David
T - U
Go to glossary pages:
Most people think of talismans as good luck charms.
True talismans are more complex than this. A talisman is a physical object that represents a spiritual creation. In shamanic terms the shaman journeys to Spirit with an intention of creating a kind of "spiritual magnet" to bring specific energies to the person (or, in the case of protection work, to repel energies). Some "object" is created in shamanic space that has the function of generating the desired result. Once this is created the shaman returns and creates a physical holder for that spiritual construction.
The physical object is in resonance with the spiritual object and the keeper of the talisman is bathed in these energies by virtue of being in the middle.
The mistake that most people make with talisman construction is that they start on the physical side and try to impregnate the object with spiritual energy. This can be done but it is much harder. If you start on the spiritual side then what the physical object is supposed to be becomes immediately obvious.
Oh no you don't. You can't trick me. I know the saying, "Those who speak of the Tao do not know it. Those who know the Tao do not speak of it." This naturally puts us glossary writers in a bit of a bind. Ok, ok, I will speak of it here, which according to the saying means I have no clue about the Tao.
It is the All that includes the Nothing together and separate, the Infinite, the Trans-inifinite, God/Goddess/Trickster, the One, the... well you get the idea. It really is something you can't talk about. But you can experience it. This is the point of any spiritual system -- to connect with the Divine, to grok the Tao. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu are authors who speak of the Tao by not speaking of it. Now you know where Zen Koans come from.
The classic image that represents the Tao is the Yin/Yang symbol.
Symbolism is the language of Spirit. The information that Spirit is trying to educate us with is too big for language to carry. This is why dreams are so weird. The old saying of "a picture is worth a thousand words" is especially true in working with Spirit.
The more facile that we are in comprehending symbolic imagery, double meanings, puns, etc. the better we can converse with Spirit.
Tarot is a set of 78 highly symbolic cards. An intention is created and the cards are shuffled. Selected cards are laid out in a pattern where each position has meaning such as "helpful people", "the central issue", "what is blocking you", "the lesson", etc. Skill, intuition and spirit guidance then helps with the interpretation of the symbolism as it relates to the question at hand.
There are many beautiful Tarot decks available. Find one the speaks to you. I use the Voyager deck and have recently discovered the Haindl deck.
I also use Debra Koff-Chapin's "Soul Cards". These are not Tarot cards but can be used in a similar but more fluid way.
My closing for any work I do with Spirit is simple. I face each of the directions I used to create sacred space and I say "Thank you". It does not matter what you do, ritually speaking, to thank Spirit for all of the help and guidance. What matters is what is in your heart.
I used to tease people at the end of our shamanic work by telling them that this "Thanking and Releasing Ritual" was the most critical and complex part of our work and we had to do it exactly perfect.
Then I saw the look of sheer panic and fear on their faces. Many people were deeply afraid that they would screw up all the healing work. Even after I did the ritual they still did not laugh.
I don't tease people this way any more.
I believe that Spirit has some wonderfully playful sides. People are too serious and need to play with Spirit more. Spirit will let you know when it is time to be serious. Lighten up.
Shamanic drumming is interesting in that the particular frequency of the drum beat is such that it entrains the brain and causes it to enter into the theta state. This is a particular brain frequency, measurable by those scientist types, that the brain is in during deep dreaming.
The shaman are known as the dream travelers. The realms of dreaming are considered one of the gateways into shamanic space, into the realms of Spirit.
Basically the brain is saying, "Hey, wait a minute, I know this song. I am asleep and dreaming." Then the brain opens the gates to dream realms and the shaman walks consciously into the realms of Spirit.
Tom was my childhood hero. I read that he had a basement laboratory as a child. So, I had a basement laboratory as a child. I spent many an hour down there looking through a I microscope, designing experiments, mixing, probably dangerous, chemicals together. I was a science, inventor kid. I read Tom Swift, I watched Union Carbide's (or was it Dow Chemical?) "The 21st Century" TV show, I was ready to change the world. And Tom Edison had my vote as the kind of person who could do that.
I would still love to have the resources of a Skunk Works kind of laboratory to turn out my wild and crazy ideas. Inside this shamanic practitioner lives a sharp eyed little boy who wants to understand how it all works. And who is still surprised at what I do for a living.
These folks are often quite fierce and scary. This is on purpose. Their job is to make sure that you don't enter areas that you do not have the knowledge, skill, or power to travel there safely. The most famous threshold guardian is the Greek Sphinx. She had a riddle that if answered correctly would allow you to proceed. Answer it wrongly and you were lunch. So know what you know, and approach them with caution, confidence, and an escape strategy!
Bad for your health but, in some shamanic traditions, good for Spirit. I use tobacco occasionally as a gift to Spirit. I use other herbs and spices too. Sometimes I use chocolate cake.
I believe that we are hardwired to seek altered states of consciousness. It is a call to connect with something other than we are. To be mystical about it, it is a call to connect with the Divine. Children spin in circles and hold their breath, adults meditate or do marathon running or take drugs.
A time honored way of entering altered states of consciousness is through ecstatic dancing. Dancing and dancing and dancing until your sense of self dissolves into a oneness. Mystical Islam, the Sufis, have a kind of ecstatic whirling dancing done by the dervish -- they are referred to, at least in the Western Culture, as Whirling Dervishes. In the Western Culture many, many youth are involved in Raves -- all night dance parties where the music is very rhythmic (often it is Techno music) and tribal. For them it is a wonderful time, great feelings and a connection to some place else.
If this were a different culture it would be directed to making a conscious contact with the Divine for the purpose of transformation. I suspect that the Divine is making contact with some of these people. It remains to be seen what they will do with it.
This is also true of what happened in the 1960's around the use of LSD. For some it was a wonderful time, great feelings and a connection to some place else. For others of us it was an opening to connection with the Divine. Forty years later people are still figuring out what to do with their ecstatic connection with the Divine.
Everything is alive, conscious, and responsive. I have had a long standing relationship with trees. I feel their life force and intelligence in ways that sound like high weirdness if I talk about them. My usual modes of expression for this relationship is through my paintings and poetry. When I practice my shape shifting I often try to be a tree.
I have done journey work to meet with tree spirits. To some of the trees I have met, the wind sounds like orchestral music.
One of the triskele designs looks like a triple Yin/Yang symbol. I find this amazingly accurate for who I am. The classic Yin/Yang is a way of representing duality -- Male/Female, Dark/Light, etc. My personal quest in this life seems to be to locate the third option, the path that moves through some new set of energies outside the polarities. A union, a marriage of these opposite energies (see God / Goddess) generating something brand new. Adding a third leg to the Yin/Yang is very symbolic of my work.
I wonder sometimes how we have connections with some places and not others. I spent some time with my sister in Tucson when my parents went to Africa. Then she moved away and then moved back. At the time of this writing my son is living there too. It is hot there. Very beautiful countryside. The town itself feels to me like it lacks a focal point. The energy just dissipates like water in sand.
Why couldn't my connection be with the French Riviera?
Here is a piece of guilt I have not been able to clear. When I was twelve or so my parents went to Africa for six weeks or so and left me in the care of my sister in Tucson. I was a mini Thomas Edison. My brother-in-law is an electrical engineer. To keep me occupied we came up with a project. I would study electrical circuit design and he and I would build an ultrasonic generator so that I could attempt to generate mutations in plants by "irradiating" them in high frequency sound waves.
Maybe I was a mini Frankenstein.
An essential part of the generator was a high frequency transducer -- a electrical crystal capable of vibrating very fast in response to fast changes in electric voltage -- high frequency oscillating current. All the other parts we had on hand. I wrote to several supply companies telling them, in my twelve year old's script, what my project was, what I needed and did they know where I could find such a thing.
One person at one company was so impressed with my project that he wrote me back and gave me a high frequency transducer for free. He wished me luck and asked me to let him know how the project went.
I knew I should have sent him a thank you note. But I was a lazy 12 year old boy. I never wrote that thank you letter and I have felt guilty ever since! My mom was right! Be sure to send thank you letters for those gifts. Do it now!
We never did get the thing to work right so no plants were harmed in the making of that summer. I wish I had sent him the thank you note.
If by chance the person who sent me that transducer is reading this page -- Thank you. You helped to make that summer fun and exciting.
In setting up sacred space some people call the four sacred directions to hold and be guarded by Spirit. From my earliest training in this work I always felt exposed. Sure North, South, East and West are protected and guided by Spirit but what is keeping an eye overhead and underneath my feet?
I quickly adopted the notion of 7 directions with Up, Down and Within completing the sacred sphere where I conduct my work. I often refer to Up as the Great Father to balance the fact that Down is associated with the Great Mother, our Earth.
In calling the directions what matters is your intention and the meaning you give to it from your heart. "Up" could be the Great Mother and "Down" the Great Father if such designations have more meaning for you. Spirit probably does not pay attention to such distinctions. Spirit is interested in the content of your heart.
"Up" is also the name of another fun and silly movie from the genius of Pixar -- probably the best storytelling and animation company since Disney. Something to lift your heart in these dark times.
Powerful beings live in these realms, beings that the shaman can request and receive help, teaching, protection, healing, guidance, etc. These worlds and the beings you meet are just as real as Portland, or your living room.
Typically the Upper Worlds are where you find teachers, and guides, the Lower Worlds are where you find power animals, and the Middle Worlds are where you go to deal with the things of this world like lost cats, or information about which job to take.
My experiences in the Upper Worlds have been beautiful, awe inspiring and sometimes a little strange. There is a Middle Eastern style city of white marble and beautiful temples and palaces that I have visited a number of times. On the other hand there is a 20 story tall statue of an in-line skater that I have to pass by on my way to a group gathering place that I call the Meeting Meadow.
The realms are all linked, if you travel infinitely up it eventually loops around to the Lower Worlds. Traveling infinitely out into the Middle realms brings you back to the center.
One of the very cool things about shamanic journeying is that you really can travel "To infinity and beyond!"
This is language that we all want to know. However we need to be very, very good in our pronunciations! And we need to be very, very careful about what we say.
The Ur text is believed to be the primordial language that, when said correctly, physically manifests what is said. You say "gold" and gold appears out of thin air, or quantum foam. If you say "shit"... well you get it all.
You may recall from Sunday school (if you have a traditional Christian upbringing), that a fairly famous religious text starts out with "In the beginning was the Word." (John 1)
That is the Ur text.
Shamanism is, in my experience, a living, evolving spiritual system -- a set of spiritual tools to be in personal, daily communication with Spirit. Spirit is up to something and has kept this channel open for eons and has facilitated a reawakening of shamanic awareness in the Western culture.
I call my approach to shamanism 'Urban Shamanism' for several reasons:
1. I am part of a "tribe" of people who are urban -- we live in dense cities and communities. And our community is becoming more and more global by the hour.
2. Shamanism is about healing and if any places in our world are in desperate need of healing energy and reconnection with Spirit it is our urban centers -- it is our urban lifestyle.
3. The word "urban" connotes a sense of modernity. Traditional shamanic practices are deeply land based, deeply nature based. The Western culture needs to reconnect with that energy and it needs to transform and work within the cultural context which is technological and scientific. This is who (speaking as a White, Western person) we are. Going "back to Nature" is not the answer. We need to find the appropriate balance between the natural and the technological. Spirit is evolving and growing and changing. It is moving "forward" into new territory. It is not trying to return to the past.
To say this in a different way -- at one time it was essential to the survival of the tribe that the shaman could locate the elk herd. I do not need this skill, I know where Safeway is. I do need, however, to know how to bring in a healing for someone who was deeply abused as a child, or someone who is suddenly opening up to cosmic consciousness but who has no spiritual architecture to house and make sense of their experiences. Every time I do shamanic work I learn something new for this world, in this culture, in this time.
Urban shamanism is about connecting the ancient knowledge and the new knowledge.