This post is a continuation of my contribution entitled “Bear” to LindaGHill’s Stream of Consciousness writing prompt a while ago. It involved a beleaguered stranger consulting the Bear Shaman in a time of great upheaval in the Universe. Within the short story lay seeds of a tale that was waiting to be told. If not to anyone else, just to me perhaps. I know my posts can at times veer towards the cryptic and loaded with symbolism; for that I beg your indulgence. When my spirit speaks to me it is imperative that I listen and take note. Hence my writing appearing a little ‘otherworldly’ at times. I like the ‘sound’ words make, their rhythm can be hypnotic and lyrical. Such is the impact of the shaman’s drum in achieving an altered state of consciousness, altering brain waves and perception. The shaman’s drum carries them across the worlds and levels of consciousness. I digress. What was I going to say to you? Oh yes. Traditions of indigenous cultures across the globe have been a great source of fascination since childhood, especially shamanism. Hence my posts on the Jackal Shaman, Anubis. Hence my posts regarding the White Rabbit. It’s a complicated situation, I’m sure you’ll get used to it!
How to define Shamanism? What we mean by the term may have very different connotations for the cultures these traditions were given birth in. Shamanic traditions have taken a strong hold on non-indigenous cultures for a long time. They’ve been practised with genuine respect and also taken advantage of for considerable profit in modern times. It can be a contentious issue, so I shall say no more.
Britannica provides us with the following definition.. I don’t believe it’s a religion but this is only one of many explanations:
“…religious phenomenon centred on the shaman, a person believed to achieve various powers through trance or estatic religious experience. Although shamans’ repertoires vary from one culture to the next, they are typically thought to have the ability to heal the sick, to communicate with the otherworld, and often to escort the souls of the dead to that otherworld.
The term shamanism comes from the Manchu-Tungus word šaman. The noun is formed from the verb ša- ‘to know’; thus, a shaman is literally “one who knows.” The shamans recorded in historical ethnographies have included women, men, and transgender individuals of every age from middle childhood onward. The term applies in the strictest sense only to the religious systems and phenomena of the peoples of northern Asia and the Ural-Altaic”.
In conjunction with shamanism one other subject close to my heart is that relating to bears. It’s an important symbol across numerous cultures worldwide but for purposes of this already expanding post I shall be brief. Bear has many attributes, the following being just a few:
Emergence from its winter hibernation into a new life. Associated with initiation and rites of passage.
Lunar power, associated with the goddess of Berne.
Bravery and strength.
Benevolence, strength, wisdom. Bear is a cultural hero and divine messenger amongst the Ainu people.
Scandinavian and Teutonic
Sacred to the god Thor. The she-bear Atla is considered the feminine principle and the he-bear Atli is the masculine principle.
A messenger from the forest spirits.
What of my story? I feel the need to include my, sorry, the Shaman’s words from the previous story. The words flowed out of me like a waterfall. They spoke not only to me but the unnamed stranger consulting him. This is the point from which I shall proceed:
The light pierces like a knife, searing memory and flesh like nothing before and after. You see your world reflected in my eyes, in the stars, in the depths of the primeval ocean. I am the Great Bear and Walker through the gates of Birth and Death. My feet fled over burning seas to bring knowledge of what was to be, what was not to be. Seeker, you have no understanding of higher laws. Visions that do not suit your desire you discard, yet you insist on seeking my counsel. So be it. The bones shall speak and such foretelling will unfold, whether you listen or not. Why the hesitation? It is too late to retrace your path human child.
We must ask ourselves where this divine messenger originated. They ‘became’ a walker between the worlds in an indeterminate time and place in the memory of this world. They are the template from which all others of their tribe emanated. Here is a tale of their transformation. We see through their eyes and can only marvel at the sights.
The Shaman initiate, for it can be revealed what they really are, undertakes the most dangerous part of the journey now. They have entered the realm of spirits and shadows, a place from which there is no guarantee of return. It is here where the process of dissolution and regeneration begins. It is here where we come face to face with our true selves. Symbolically the Cave is a place of great power, seen by many cultures as being the realm of the dead, and not without reason. Dare we step into its shadowed depths?
We awake as if from a deep sleep. Above us the canopy opens up to reveal brilliant blue skies and the feeling of claustrophobia dissipates. Sunshine bathes us in golden light, energising and life-affirming. The previous reluctance to proceed any further has vanished and insight finally dawns. We must push on, it is imperative that we reach a place of safety before dark. Our destination lies further down the steep-sided valley, but to reach it we have to make our way along the river. The air is warm and comfortable here, the vegetation lush and profuse. Soon we spot the huge cave entrance high up the mountainside. Our steps lead us to the mouth of a cave along a narrow path. The cave is symbolic of the womb and the Void. It is a space in which we come to face our fears and our true selves. The experience may either strengthen or destroy us. Regardless of the reasons for entering this otherworldly place, transformations will be set in motion.
The Great Mother Bear will welcome her children and prepare them for the journey into the Void. They will be laid to rest within the darkness of her fecund womb until the time of rebirth in the Spring. Before that can happen we must reflect upon our reasons for this undertaking. This is important, otherwise the journey has been of little use. We emerge from our musings to find someone watching us. An androgynous figure, clothed in an animal skin and carrying a thick staff. Two serpents are entwined round the staff which is topped with a pine cone. Their dark eyes survey us humorously. This is our Guide, entrusted with our safety and guardian through the worlds. We are invited into the cave, a simple lamp handed to us to light the way. Now begins the transformation.
This is an immensely ancient place. It has seen the passage of tens of thousands of years, a place of great power and ritual. Deeper and deeper we travel into the earth, it feels like a place set apart from time. There are images of animals painted upon the cave walls, conveying such beauty and grace. Wildlife flow across the walls, rhinos, horses, bison, lions. All executed with such finesse and artistry. A feat never to be equalled by modern humanity. As we travel deeper into the cave these paintings start depicting cave bears etched in red, to be followed by composite creatures, part bear and part human. Curious…We look back at our Guide, who remains silent. This is our journey, so the insights must come from within. Finally we enter the deepest part of the cave, into a broad, circular chamber. In the middle of this chamber is an altar, upon which is placed the skull of a bear. Numerous bear skulls have been placed around this chamber.
The only illumination comes from a fire behind the altar. By now our sense of reality is slightly distorted, something about the air down here is affecting our sense perception. A circle of figures are sitting round the fire, we cannot be sure whether they are human or animal. Each is clothed in a large bearskin. Their eyes glint brightly at us. The fire throws huge shadows on the cavern wall. Our Guide smiles reassuringly and gestures towards the bearskin placed in front of the altar. We lie down on it automatically, hands then wrap the skin around us.
A rhythmic sound snakes its way around each of the figures and when it reaches us it throbs intensely, echoing the beat of our frightened hearts. This seems to go on for some time. We feel our eyelids closing and try to stop falling asleep. The sound ceases suddenly, the quality of the air changing subtly. We feel our breath force itself through our lungs until it stops abruptly. Our hands reach upwards and to our shock they appear to be huge, clawed paws. No human voice issues from our mouths, only a plaintive mewl. A low hum begins drowning out our cries, strangely it seems to soothe our fears. We look up to see a beautiful, luminous face looking down at us, we see Her. She offers her blessings, love and protection to sustain us through the final part of our journey. We are now ready to release our old selves. She turns to our Guide who nods and bestows a blessing upon us. We cross the threshold between this world and the next and the mists close. In our dreams we enter the cave of our ancestors, to seek their counsel and join our essence theirs, this was our tradition from the dawn of time and will continue until time ceases to be.
The journey is not yet over as we will have to face the truth at the centre of the Labyrinth and return totally transformed by its revelatory message. That is the reality of this experience, we must either return or be destroyed by what has been revealed. Make your choice. There is one certainty though, we will leave the cave when the time comes, as to linger in this sacred space would lead to repercussions. Remember that. It is not to be used as an escape from your problems.
We slumber on the ship of death as it flows towards the Great Sea. The world around us does not stand still as the hand of Time changes all that it touches. Our Guide remains steadfast by our side, that much we can rely on throughout this transition. Soon, so soon we feel the hand of Life touch us. The Universe begins to stir, nature awakes from its sleep and unveils her beauty. We feel her kiss upon our brow. Time to return. We take a deep breath and draw in the universal life force. It kick starts our heart, sacred temple and sanctuary of the Soul. Our Guide gently helps us up and leads us through the labyrinth of passageways to the cave entrance. We look down at our hands and feet, reassuringly human now. Words of wisdom are whispered in our ear, simple yet powerfully invigorating.
The Guardian of Souls and Psychopomp watches another initiate leave, for this what we have become. We traverse the valley and forest at great speed. Finally we emerge from the reality that is the Subconscious to the Conscious, the road is crossed and we are home.
The world that was left behind is profoundly changed, the road that has been traversed is closed to us. The past cannot be unravelled, the present must be lived and the future? That is known but cannot be uttered. Yet, a hand is offered to guide through both dark and fair times. Will you take it?
Here ends the tale of the Bear Shaman. They shall return.