The shamanic dance over the abyss is a cyclic donning and discarding of archetypal masks, an evocative rendering of otherworldly rapture made worldly. The shaman is a sacred conduit, the impossible bridge between thought and imagination and back. The shaman reveals the power between worlds, unveiling God.
Indeed, stripping God naked in order to disclose “Her” golden ovaries and nurturing womb. Or, equally as powerful, in order to expose “His” greedy-perfect hands and overreaching, aggrandized anthropocentrism. Doctors of the sacred, surgeons of the numinous, shamans are the ones stealing fire from the gods and bringing it back to warm (or burn) our hearts.
The shaman is shatter-happy in his/her ability to walk the tightrope between animal and Overman. Determined to temporarily scramble the self in order to conjure awe. Deeply ineffable while intermittently attempting to make things effable. The shaman is stopgap eloquent, slapdash meticulous, and otherworldly evocative.
The shaman’s cognitive toolkit hacks common awareness, unplugging us by plugging us back in, making us privy to wild visions that transform the way we see the world. Everything is a tool for ecstasy. All things are mechanisms for higher thought and heightened states of awareness. But here are a few of the more common modes of shamanic evocation.
The Coyote Way
Coyote is there at the edge of the desert, eyes burning like peyote buttons, turning boundaries into horizons. Coyote serves to test the boundaries of possibility and order. Trickster-perfect and animal-sincere, Coyote hides between the lines (and between the lies) drawn by culture. Testing boundaries and stretching comfort zones by measuring the awesome flexibility of the cosmos against the inflexibility of humanity.
When a shaman taps into the Coyote’s powers, the soft underbelly of the human conditioned is exposed, revealing the vulnerable insecurity at the heart of what it means to be human. The coyote way is a celebration of fallibility and an exoneration from perfection.
As human beings, we are prone to mistakes, and we’re more often wrong than we are right about the way the universe works. And so the way of the coyote is a powerful way of humorous forgiveness in the face of our own fallibility. It is a way to take back our personal power (search for Truth) from the clutches of the illusion of power (false authority).
A shaman in the throes of Coyote evocation is the personification of what it means to get power over power, a showy and symbolic display of how the power of humor (being okay with being a fallible creature) trumps the power of seriousness (not being okay with being a fallible creature).
A bone-deep sincerity is the medicine gained from such shamanic reengineering. The kind of authenticity that crushes self-serious agenda and aggrandized cultural affiliation. A little amoral humor puts immoral power and moral righteousness on red alert, thereby resolving the power equation. Shaman as Coyote openly declares to the world, “You can have your moral high ground or immoral low; I’ll stick with my amoral middle ground, and astonish you all!”
The Crow Way
“I believe that if I can sit out there long enough those crows, the trees and the wind can teach me something about how to be a better human being. I don’t call that romanticism, I call that Indigenous Realism.” ~ Dr. Daniel Wildcat
Behold! Crow is black & white, perched on a triple-edged sword. He blinks twice and calls himself Megalomaniac. He is between worlds like no other creature. Smart, cunning, and able to fly over all happiness and all melancholy.
His moon-eye sees the light. His sun-eye sees the dark. And his shadow is the grayest thing in the universe. But the Middle Gray is the sacred source of all wisdom. Even the Norse god Odin sought council about the ways of the world through his two crows, Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory).
When a shaman taps into the Crow’s powers, the heavens widen and the abyss cracks further open. The shaman recognizes Crows intelligence, cooperation, deviousness, and sociality, and further sees a reflection of the human condition within them. Through Crow’s powers the shaman transcends human limitation. The crow way is a celebration of wit and cunning in the face of manmade rules and outdated laws. It is a way to steal wisdom from the moon, and fire from the sun, and to gift such creative boons to the people. Shaman as Crow is a mighty spear, piercing the womb of the universe.
Like Ted Hughes poetically penned, “When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white. He decided it glared much too whitely. He decided to attack it and defeat it. He got his strength up flush and in full glitter. He clawed and fluffed his rage up. He aimed his beak direct at the sun’s center. He laughed himself to the center of himself and attacked. At his battle cry trees grew suddenly old, shadows flattened. But the sun brightened -It brightened, and Crow returned charred black. He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black, “Up there,” he managed, “where white is black and black is white, I won.””
The Thunder Way
“No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk
Thunder Shaman is there at the edge of the storm, thunder-bow like a lightning rod in his/her wild hands, the transformative personification of the Thunder Gods. Thunder crashes through, testing the fragility of the human spirit in order to make it more robust.
Lightning-perfect and tempestuous, Thunder pokes holes in all the outdated ideologies and bloated ways built up by culture, and then laughs as the torrential rains sieving through the holes, washing away the old to create more fertile “land” for the new.
When a shaman taps into the power of thunder, the ego is put on notice. The superego is forced over the edge of the fire in order to yield antinomy, the union of opposites. The shaman becomes personified Humility, puncturing certainty with swift circles of signifying. Thunder shaman’s duty is to humiliate the tribe’s certitude, forcing it to recognize that knowledge exists in a fundamental relationship with not-knowing and a background of mystery always remains.
Thunder shaman is Paradox incarnate, revealing how, as Louis G. Herman said, “The mother of all boundaries is that between the human being and the rest of the natural universe.”
The medicine gained through Thunder is a deep understanding of rebirth, a heightened sense of eternal reoccurrence. The thunder way provides a sacred space where high humor and high humility can coalesce into the courage necessary for the tribe to face change with fearlessness and honor. Like Edward Abbey said, “We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go crazy in peace once in a while.”
The thunder shaman provides this place for his/her people. A place where the people are free to bend the rules and laugh at laws in order to improve the cultural functions of both. Shaman as Thunder brings storm and renewal, amorally unknotting human complacency and immorality and then rearranging the energies of this unknotting into what is needed and moral.
The Mirror Way
“Reality, it seems is multiple, and tightly coupled to perception. The conditions of perception can be varied within a broad range by a variety of psychedelic technologies.” ~ Diana Slattery
Anti-Narcissus stands over the edge of Mankind’s Pond in full acceptance. He is headless. His “face” is everywhere and nowhere. Ego surrenders to spirit when the ego-seed is planted into the neck-hole of the Headless Narcissist. The Narcissus flower that blooms is the “face” of the cosmos: sober, reflective, and in full shimmer.
When a shaman taps into the power of the mirror, the infinite interdependent reflection of the cosmos becomes personified. The eye through which the human tribe sees the universe becomes the same eye through which the universe sees the human tribe.
The shaman becomes Mirror Man; Looking Glass Man; Enlightened Echo. The mirror way is a salute to Rumi’s wise words: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” Shaman as Mirror is a sacred ricochet, bouncing macro off micro, ether off cosmos, and finitude off infinity.
The medicine gained through the way of the mirror is a numinous inner-flowering, a sacred resonance with all things. Through the shaman’s mirror dance we see how we are but one tiny blue dot in a mighty universe, but how we are also the entire universe within a tiny blue dot. Our perception of cosmos transforms the cosmos.
Psyche creates cosmos and cosmos creates psyche. Like Chief Seattle wisely said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”