Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: 'Awakening to the Spirit World'

It's too fruity for crows..Image by law_keven via Flickr

Update 5/30: I'm adding on to my review of "Awakening to the Spirit World" that I found the accompanying shamanic journey CD useful for sessions. The drumming pace was in my favorite range and I often rattle or play some other second percussion instrument while I drum.

I like track three best, with the bermimbau rhythm, probably because I didn't have anything similar already. I have used all the tracks in order, for a longer journey with a intention setting departure, two 15 minute segments to lower and upper realms, and a longer middle-realm mission.

Next I might shuffle the tracks and see how that goes. More often than not I use imaginary or ambient sounds to journey by, but this CD is OK by me.

Original post: Earlier this year, I received a review copy of "Awakening to the Spirit World - The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation" by Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman. Both authors are popular shamanic writers and workshop presenters.

Writing a review of a shamanic book can take me weeks, because experiencing and processing the teachings around my full schedule takes that long. Providing review copies to journalists and bloggers and pitching write-ups is OK by me as a way to promote a shamanic book (or any book). But whoever sent my copy may gave given up on me after this longer-than-usual delay.

About all shamanic books, I advise taking what you read, un-literally, as further suggestions and alternative perspectives about this universal set of practices, not final (or even authoritative) words. The only way to learn shamanic ways is through your own shamanic experiences with spirit, according to your understanding of spirit and spirits. I expect Ingerman and Wesselman would agree.

Shamanic book reading can add wisdom and understanding after the lifelong shamanic journey for knowledge and power has begun.

"Awakening to the Spirit World" is a well-written, engaging introduction to contemporary shamanism. Experienced practitioners are likely to find insights, inspiration and ideas from a read, too.

Step-by-step exercises give readers many opportunities to receive teaching on each topic directly from spirit. The book comes with a drumming CD for entering shamanic trance. Shamanic notables Carol Proudfoot-Edgar, Tom Cowan, Alberto Villoldo and Jose Luis Stevens give follow-up comments.

This book introduces most, if not all, of the spiritual and social roles and functions of shamans around this world's cultures, through prehistory, history and now.

I recommend skimming over the definitions and opinions about history and metaphysics expressed by the authors and guest contributors, taking them in as more experts' points of view and beliefs to consider and file for future reference, before turning almost all attention to the many interesting, re-creative methods and exercises the authors present.

Getting caught up in unproven, possibly unprovable, explanations and speculations (say, about Christian theology or the Druids or new scientific paradigms) is a temptation to dismiss at every turn on the shamanic path, I find. Anyone who relishes debates around theological or historical questions relating to shamanic principles and practices will find much to agree or disagree with in this book, but it wasn't written to generate arguments.

When I flipped open the book for a first look, I noticed an example distraction. Ceremony is described as formal, complicated and restrictive and ritual as simple, free-flowing and spirit-moved. But the etymologies of those words — that jump up and resonate for a "Wordie" like me, who studies ancient languages to learn deeper word meanings — show the terms can be used interchangeably. I have heard and read the ceremony-ritual distinction being taught dogmatically the other way around, plenty of times. Still, making a distinction, somehow, between the two modes of operating is valid and instructive (maybe even necessary).

Anyway, shamanic ways spiral around mystery and paradox, so no one will get far without learning to shamanize amid ordinary contradictions. "Awakening to the Spirit World" shows this truth vividly.

I have met many workshop participants who practice contemporary shamanism as a neo-pagan and/or new-age path towards spiritual liberation (sometimes called self-mastery or self-realization). Others tell me they categorize shamanic healing with alternative and complimentary (also called holistic) medicines. Some visitors to my practice have told me they began studying shamanic ways to become "psychics" or to understand and participate in "paranormal" or "supernatural" happenings.

The authors of "Awakening to the Spirit World" seem to emphasize and blend the first two, liberation and holistic healing (of earth and the planet's ecosystems, as well as community and self). They also attempt to tie contemporary shamanism to indigenous traditions and established religions throughout the book.

I agree with Ingerman and Wesselman that shamanic direct spiritual experience and the methods and techniques of shamans are natural for human beings, having evolved with humankind, and some or all of them can can be activated and developed (to lesser or greater degrees, in individual ways) by people from many backgrounds and circumstances and adapted to any life purpose, within or aside from an established religion.

I recommend "Awakening to the Spirit World," as a helpful, all around introduction to contemporary shamanism, through my take on this gigantic, umbrella topic that is too huge to be an -ism at all (and I'm sure the authors would agree on that), differs.

Letting go of direct ties to traditions or religions, I practice shamanic ways of ongoing revelation to revel on purpose in earthly incarnation and shift physical-material, earthy life towards funner dreams, songs, dances and shapes. I shamanize to transform, not transcend.

My way of the shaman(s) begins and ends (like the authors' versions) in dreaming change, but diverges further into creative and expressive arts, traveling alongside the shaman as innovative, visionary (even "outsider") artist or troubling, prophetic jester or fool. So my favorite sections of "Awakening to the Spirit World," are Chapter 7, about the traditional shaman as artist and Chapter 8, about working with light and sounds.

I am still experiencing this book's companion set of two CDs, "Shamanic Meditations, Six Guided Journeys for Deepening Your Connection to Spirit" and will post a review of it, too, soon.

Note: The Amazon link to the book includes Companions Circle's affiliate code.

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