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To Dance Around the Fire: Accounts of Intense Impact in Shamanic Experience
To Dance Around the Fire:
Accounts of Intense Impact in Shamanic Experience
By Dr. Steve Serr, Instructor, Shamanism 101
(More can be found at http://www.shamanism-101.com)
“…it was around the winter solstice. I had mentioned to you I was going to hold a fire ceremony in the mountains during the eclipse and I did that. At 10,000 feet (of elevation) on winter solstice in Colorado the elements can be bitterly adverse. I had set my intent and was prepared for whatever the night would have to offer.”
This sounds like the beginning of a toasty campfire story, does it not? One could imagine a circle of eager, glistening faces gathered around a fire, warming hands and hearts beneath the stars with a band of kindred souls, anticipating the next words of a tale that was to unfold. These, however, are the first words of a personal, and profound account sent to me by one of my students, who had headed off alone into the wilds of Colorado’s wilderness areas, to prepare himself for the personal work that was to come in his new path of shamanic training.
I am Steve Serr, a psychologist by training, though a man who left the clinical confines of the contemporary attempts at human psychological wellness when I began to learn, and then teach, Shamanism. Never-ending accounts of insight and understanding, just like the ones that follow, keep appearing among its practitioners. These are powerful and far-reaching experiences that have profoundly impacted the lives of those who recount them. Here, I bring you two short such accounts, to help pass forward the promise of personal growth and transformation that is positioned to occur when one truly steps onto a shamanic path.
The first of these accounts takes place among the Colorado peaks amidst the darkest, bitter core of winter in December of 2010. We begin this story as this man, alone, reaches one of his favorite corners of wilderness, the destination at which his transformative experience was to unfold.
“I was very pleasantly surprised when I arrived at one of the places I frequent to find only six inches of snow on the ground. Typically it would be four feet at this time of the season. The wind, however, was blowing fiercely. I cleared the snow and built the fire.”
This situation is almost metaphorical and perhaps mythic in structure. In the concrete world of geographical space, a man goes alone into the wilderness to ‘clear snow’ and ‘build fire’. This is shamanism, where the multifold layers of reality between a practitioner and his or her world coexist and intermingle. One might just as well say that this man was clearing the snow from his past and lighting a fire in his heart, for in shamanic work, they can be one and the same.
His night for this experience, chosen among all others, was that of December 21st to the 22nd at the end of 2010, when the Earth would pass through its seasonally darkest time, and yet at a unique moment when the moon that lights our night sky would also pass into a full eclipse behind the complete shadow of the Earth. The Earth could hardly be darker, and one could hardly conceive of a more appropriate setting to tend to the fires in the heart, feed it with the wounds and any regrets or bitterness of the past, and open up, fresh and newly formed, to what is to come. He continues:
“I called the directions and opened sacred space, then proceeded to feed the fire for the next five hours, and I burned it strong.
There was so much that happened that night I could probably turn it into a book. But it was like all the spiritual doors there, were opened to me. I danced my soul and I sang my soul and I don't know how many times I was overwhelmed by tears of joy.
Nearing the end of the eclipse, but (the darkness) was still full, there were two spirit helpers that showed themselves to me. One from the lower world and one from the upper world. Knowing I was to begin working with you, I thanked them and asked them to wait for me until the time was proper for me to engage with them...”
Dancing beneath the eclipsed dark of the moon around a roaring fire, completely removed from civilization, breaking into tears of release and utter joy, letting go of what no longer served him and opening to the spirits who were to accompany him in his next life phase, this man allowed himself to dance into a self-directed initiation. This is the kind of experience that one finds honored in religious texts throughout the world, and is probably more of a reflection of the character and dedication of the person on the spiritual path, than anything having to do with any particular path itself. Experiences like these can impact a person until the end of their days.
Perhaps because it is a reflection of the person rather than the path, this may also help explain why initiatory experiences throughout the world seem somehow to be so very similar: they are doors between states of being – transitions from one thing to the next – rather than the places from or into where such doors lead. He fed the fire, “and I burned it strong”, proceeding forward on his spiritual path in no halfway measure.
It invariably seems to be that the degree to which one pursues shamanic work is reflected in the profundity of its outcome. What follows next is an account of a man’s experience during a shamanic journey into the Lower World. He is a relatively new practitioner, and with wide eyes, he is passionately exploring a world he always knew existed, but had not known how to reach, or as yet been prepared to find.
Now, he had. What follows is his return to the Lower World to meet Badger and another new spirit helper, who he had just met in a previous journey, and he takes his first steps to establish his relationship with them.
His new spirit friend Badger, decides to take him to its home!
”We (he, with his spirit helpers) all return to the lower world but they take me to a different place. This is one of Badger's homes, which is a hole in the ground, and we go into a tunnel that opens to a large comfortable room. There we sit, then dance and sing, seems like for hours.”
Notice the similarity with the previous account: dancing, yet now along with the wild company of spirit helper companions. And, they dance for hours. This is important, not because it is the passing of apparent time per se, but because such a perception is the reflection of the depth of this man’s involvement in his shamanic spiritual path. Practitioners ceaselessly discover that it is the sincerity, commitment, and thus power of their intention – the fervor if you would – of their passion for becoming vehicles for the information and healing they wish to bring back to the world, which catalyzes profound consequences. He continues:
”We leave the den and go back to the surface where they begin to take me on a tour. We travel to the east and then to the south, the areas that were shrouded in a dusty haze are now clear”.
”I am feeling a fresh oneness with all of creation, a sense of belonging with intensity I have not experienced before. This is the power of my soul connecting with the power of all the souls in the universe and I get a glimpse of how all this is interconnected. I am dumbstruck… speechless… totally numb!! How can I possibly hang on to all of this?”
“This power has been missing in my life only in the fact that I have not been aware of it. Then I'm not sure that this is an accurate statement or not, as I have always believed that we are one; interconnected. But, never have I 'seen' it before. This is something I'm sure will be unfolding for the rest of my life. It has been an entire paradigm shift. I don't know how else to put it.”
This is it. Shamanism. It is a path that is not only a paradigm shift from much of the contemporary world, it is also a path leading to innumerable thresholds of paradigm shifts in each practitioner and his or her life.
In the history of spiritual practice, these shifts can be recognized as initiations. The shaman pursues this kind of experience intentionally. In one case, there is a journey into the wilderness of Colorado, and in the other, a journey into the Lower World of non-ordinary reality.
Having had such an initiatory experience is like taking a hike to a lofty peak. You can’t bring the view back with you, but you can bring back its memory. OK, you can take a photo, but that is just a meager representation. What you do bring back is the experience, and its impact is now embedded in your bones and heart. These are profound experiences that then proceed to integrate with the person whom the practitioner is becoming.
In shamanic training, we sometimes consciously, intentionally, and ritually present students with such experiences. These are specifically called initiations, but are in this case, purposeful transitional experiences, ritualized, accelerated and directed under the mentorship of an elder. I have been blessed to have somehow been brought extraordinary students whose heart-fire is strong and who then bring me such stories on their own. Certainly, they will eventually encounter initiations that I will purposefully place in their path, but these, they have discovered on their own.
I share their accounts because such experiences are not special to anyone in particular, for there is nothing that separates such individuals from anyone else in this world, except for the strength of their passion. Becoming a shamanic practitioner is part of our human heritage. Its potential is instilled in our DNA. Such life-changing experiences as those above belong to all of us. You have, since birth, been welcomed to join the rest of the circle who since the dawn of human time, have built a fire in their heart and danced around it, on a path of growth and discovery. Let its blaze warm you, as well.
About the author:
Steve Serr, Ph.D., provides accessible and affordable, high quality shamanic training worldwide. Technological advances in the internet allow an online education in shamanic spirituality with a surprisingly traditional, one-on-one approach. His beginning, intermediate and advanced certification courses in divination and healing are training students residing throughout the world. He holds a master’s of divinity in sacred naturalism, his doctorate is in clinical psychology, and maintains a small private practice in Ben Lomond, California.