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Those who have read my unusual books and know of my connection with Hawai'i and with Polynesian kahuna thought will recognize this as one of a series of essays that I have written across the years in order to connect with a growing circle of kindred souls, and most especially with members of an emerging subculture in the Western world--the Transformational Community.
I have come to think of us as a tribe, united by our spiritual values and beliefs, and by our shared humanistic world view.
Let me say at the onset that our tribe is much larger than most of us realize. Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson's book, The Cultural Creatives, reveals that there may be as many as 50 million of us in the US alone, representing more than 25% of the general population, with another 80-90 million in Europe.
These are not small numbers, and they appear to be growing. We are traveling in the company of an enormous number of allies, and this brings me hope for the future.
Over the past three decades, my work as an anthropologist in remote regions of the world has brought me into alignment with many different indigenous cultures, and it was among them that I first encountered shamans.
In the West, when we hear the word "shaman," most of us tend to conjure up an image of a masked and costumed tribal person, dancing around a fire in the dark, involved in some sort of mysterious ritual, accompanied by drum beats. But inside that cultural shell of mask, costume and ritual, there is a woman or a man with a set of very real skills.
All true shamans are able to achieve expanded states of awareness in which they can separate their conscious awareness from their physical body and journey into the inner worlds of the dreamtime. There they encounter spirits--the spirits of nature, the elementals, the ancestors, and the higher, compassionate angelic forces, many of whom serve humanity as spirit helpers and guardians, teachers and guides. It is this extraordinary ability that sets shamans apart from all other religious practitioners and reveals them to be cosmic explorers.
In the West, the rediscovery of shamanism is a major thrust within the Transformational Community. It is part of the spiritual reawakening that has been going on since the late 1960s. Because of my books, I have been brought into close connection with increasing numbers of modern spiritual seekers at conferences and at workshops--about 2000 of you every year now, and I have watched, riveted, as non-tribal Westerners successfully achieve shamanic states of trance, and often on the very first attempt.
This has led me (and others) to suspect that there is a biological-energetic "program" on our DNA, on our genetic "hard drive" so to speak, and it has been my personal experience that when this program is "double-clicked" with the right "mouse," higher functions coded into the personal mind-body matrix may be awakened. Our conscious awareness may expand dramatically in response, allowing us to have that direct, transpersonal connection with the sacred realms that defines the shaman--allowing us to literally "spiritwalk" into the inner worlds.
This is why I have come to think of it as "The Spiritwalker Program."
The inner fieldwork of the eastern mystics suggests that the program is associated with the ductless glands, the brain, and the heart, and that these organs, in turn, are in relationship with those dense concentrations of energy known as chakras located in the core of our personal etheric matrix.
When these physical and energetic mission control centers are activated, the relationship between them can dramatically affect the body and the brain, which may undergo striking changes in response. Needless to say, my own experiencing of this, recorded in my autobiographical Spiritwalker Trilogy, has transformed me utterly.
At this time, humankind has not, as a whole, experienced the triggering of these higher functions, but those of us who have could well be prototypes for a new kind of human. This is a provocative thought, and if true, the experiencing of the shamanic state of consciousness may be directional in nature, encouraging evolution and actually drawing us toward some unknown threshold to become a new species.
This is not fantasy but a real phenomenon known to science as speciation. When it happens rapidly, producing a sudden evolutionary jump, it is called punctuated equilibrium, and we are living in times of great change.
Now, in talking about the shaman's path, the traditional people in indigenous societies have developed families of techniques for altering consciousness in specific ways. They know everything there is to know about their surrounding environments in great detail, and if there are psychotropic plants growing nearby, the ritual use of hallucinogens derived from these "plant teachers" is sometimes utilized for the purpose of expanding awareness and accessing the sacred realms.
Many investigators such as Terence McKenna (who I knew) and Dr Michael Harner (who I know even better) have suggested that the use of plant-derived psychedelics (meaning "mind manifesting") may have been responsible for the beginnings of spiritual awareness in human beings. By implication, hallucinogens may have served as the causation for the genesis of religion. And so an alternate term for these plant teachers is often used, the word entheogen (meaning "releasing the deity within.")
The growing literature on hallucinogens reveals striking cross-cultural similarities in the reported effects of these natural substances on human consciousness. These include the capacity to channel the energy of the universe, to discover the most profound secrets of nature, and to acquire wisdom that may be used for magical, medical, and religious purposes.
But equally powerful and far more widespread are the psychological and physiological methods developed by the shamans of the traditional peoples for altering consciousness and repatterning it in specific ways--techniques such as fasting and sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion and hyperventilation, or the experiencing of temperature extremes during rituals of purification such as the sweat lodge.
It is also generally known that the intensely physical stimulus of monotonous drumming and rattling, combined with culturally-meaningful ritual and ceremony, prayer and chant, singing and dancing, can be equally as powerful in the shifting of consciousness into visionary modes of perception. Not surprisingly, the use of drums and rattles by shamanic practitioners around the world is almost universal.
Until relatively recently, most Westerners have tended to regard the whole issue of altered state experiences as mysterious, paranormal, even pathological, and so some of us, in ignorance, still respond to the idea of expanded awareness and connection with spirits, with fear and rejection.
By contrast, in a traditional indigenous society, each girl and boy grows up in relationship with elder ceremonial leaders and shamans who are able to access expanded states of consciousness intentionally for the benefit of themselves, for others, and even for the entire community. The traditionals know that virtually everyone can learn how to access sacred states of consciousness to some extent. They also know that some of us are real naturals at it.
Today, the shaman's path can be partially understood in scientific terms. It is known, for example, that the nature of the visionary experience can be determined by our focused intentionality, by our belief systems, and by the setting in which we find ourselves. These serve as "patterning forces" that can shape the visionary experience once the initial state of consciousness has been destabilized by the drum, the rattle--or the hallucinogen, if one was used.
Based on 25 years of apprenticeship and 15 years of teaching shamanic training workshops, I have learned that the ability to achieve the shamanic state of consciousness is a learned skill that improves with practice. It can give the seeker access many varieties of experience, including connection with the spirit world if that is their intention. I also know with absolute certainty that the spiritwalker program, once activated, allows us to ascend toward the luminous horizon of our personal and collective destiny in a completely new way.
The traditional people would agree with this statement because they know a great secret: Any human activity or endeavor can be enormously enhanced through utilizing and eventually mastering this sacred technology.
Another secret: If we go back far enough, we are all descended from indigenous tribal ancestors, Westerners and non-Westerners alike, and they all had great shamans.
This fact reveals that the shaman's path is part of the cultural heritage of all people, everywhere, although it was largely lost in the West due to suppression by our organized, state-level religions. Interestingly, shamanism is not a religion, nor does it conflict with any religious tradition. It's a method.
By utilizing the shaman's time-tested method, we can awaken from the consensus slumber of culture at large, and our life experiences can begin to manifest as a true hero's journey, as an upward quest that leads us into the direct experience of spirit--a journey that becomes possible for us through the doorway of the heart.
It is through this gateless gate that we can personally experience reunion with unlimited power and a mysterious, god-like mind... and once in connection, we know with certainty that no holy words or books, no secret ceremonies or rituals, no spiritual leaders or gurus or faiths can do this for us.
The paths that each of us takes through life are the vehicles through which we awaken. Once the higher evolutionary functions are triggered within us, some mysterious predetermined schedule is set into motion, activating a program that cannot be given to us by any outside agency.
This is because each of us already has it.
Those who would like to know more about the closely-held spiritual beliefs and values of the transformationals might have a look at a short essay called The Modern Mystical Movement posted on my web site
In closing, I would like to invoke the spirit of my great Hawaiian friend, Kahu Hale Kealohalani Makua, and extend to each of you the light and the love of the ancestors, The Source of Life, rejoicing in the Power and the Peace, braided with the cords of patience, revealing the tapestry of aloha.
--with warm thoughts--Dr Hank
About the author:
Anthropologist Hank Wesselman PhD., author of the Spiritwalker Trilogy (Spiritwalker, Medicinemaker, and Visionseeker) as well as The Journey to the Sacred Garden and Spirit Medicine (with Jill Kuykendall). Visit his site at