Stumbling and Soaring - My Path
As a child, I always had a spiritual awareness, even in the literal sense of seeing spirits from time to time. This was unusual, perhaps, in the sense that I was never frightened by their appearance, except on one occasion. One night, with a friend I had crept into a Priory, used then as a social centre, and started to play snooker. We heard footsteps and hid under the table. The footsteps came closer, and then the snooker balls were sent clicking across the table, time and time again. From under the table we saw – no legs! Though wobbly, our own legs took us out of there – fast.
For the most part I enjoyed feeling as if I was among spirits – I had joined the church choir and loved to sit alone in the graveyard or church. At that time, I was living in Bath and came across the Theosophical Society, which even as a child whetted my appetite to explore all things spiritual. At the time I remember that I was also exploring horror stories, sport and the strange mysterious beings known as girls.
I went from school to be a student in Swansea, at that time a wonderful place full of stories and characters who had known Dylan Thomas, and abounding with poetic and bardic energy. I studied English Literature (partly Anglo-Welsh) for 4 years and as a tangent became fascinated with Arthur Machen, Yeats, Crowley and others from the Golden Dawn, again linking into the Theosophical Society. In particular, I was immersed in a sea of what seemed to be very exotic mysticism with Huxley’s ‘Island’, Evans-Wentz’s Tibetan Book of the Dead, Yeats, Blake, and discovered wonders as diverse as Ley Lines and the Upanishads. My friends called me a ‘mystic’ – or was that ‘mistake’?
This was balanced by an overwhelmingly powerful attraction – to the elements, and what Dylan Thomas called ‘The Force’, that life energy which pours itself from each tree, each flower, into your very soul – and beams its way out in rainbow light.
During all of this time, I had visions and dreams of an eagle-like bird – sometimes seeing the bird, other times hearing it calling. More of that later.
Pagans and Buddhists
In working life, I had a successful career in education and was fortunate to meet and marry a woman whose soul and mine have not separated in the last 36 years, and with whom I have two wonderful daughters.
I have mainly lived in and around Bath and Wiltshire, with an incredible richness of ancient sites and traditions. To this day, I am energised by visiting such sites, and live close to one small and relatively unknown ancient stone circle, which I find myself drawn to again and again. I found an inspiring friend close by, who still amazes me with her art and writing on Pagan spirituality, wildlife and conservation, and who opened my eyes to my life walking with spirits. A little later I found and joined a ‘Buddhist’ group which had a focus on the Vajrayana, the Tibetan Buddhism I had already absorbed a little some years before. The two intertwined, powerfully indicating to me a path I should follow. A dowser divined for me that I had previous lives as a shaman in Mongolia, and also as a Sioux. At the time, I admit that I took little notice.
India and Tantra
Through my work, I had the opportunity to visit India many times, meeting and mixing with Jains, Hindus, Sadhus and others who all fed my spirit. I visited charnel grounds and ghats, and temples of all kinds. My ‘bird of prey’ was with me always, weaving in and out of my mind whether awake or asleep, in meditation or simple walking. One day, in a shop in Jaipur, I found a painting of Lord Garuda and knew him to be the constant companion I had lived with for decades. I explored the Hindu aspect of Garuda, the Garuda Purana etc. and was increasingly enthused by it.
I received a Highest Yoga Tantra empowerment within my Buddhist group. The night before is considered hugely important in terms of visions one may have. Predictably, my visions and dreams were full of Garuda, swooping low, calling and shifting shape and colour in what I thought must be a hugely positive prelude to the empowerment.
I now know that, far from a blessing, Garuda was warning me, seeking to call me away from that place.
The practices I later developed, firstly in the Gelugpa and then in the Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist Schools included Chöd, a ritual way of offering one’s body and being to the spirits, overcoming fear and attachment to the Self, often performed in places which many would normally fear, such as graveyards and lonely wild places. I also made offerings to deities, protectors and local spirits, but had yet to find my Garuda practices, even though at times I performed Chöd and other practices in India.
At that time I became very ill. Stranded in a smog-bound Delhi I decided I just had to relax and wait. At the airport, a Tibetan sat near to me on the bench and started chanting, using his mala. He seemed to glow with a radiance I had only ever seen among the Sadhus, a blissful sight of what may be called a blue ‘aura’ in the West.
On returning home (then Devon) I was feverish and wracked with agonising joint pains. The local doctors had no idea what to do, took lots of blood and shrugged lot. Eventually the fever subsided and after a few weeks the joint pains also lifted, albeit that it occasionally revisits me – or perhaps that is simply arthritis. Of course, I later discovered that at that time Delhi had an outbreak of Dengue Fever.
By then I knew Garuda to be a Buddhist Deity, known to have healing powers.
I now know that it is often the way that shamanic work begins with a calling (in my case by Garuda) and a life-changing illness. My fever was accompanied by many visions of Garuda and produced in me a faith that Garuda could help me, and that I could also work to help others. It was then the 1990’s and although considered weird, the UK was tolerant of Paganism and Buddhism, even beginning to accept that they may be valid paths.
The aforementioned faith in Garuda and a desire to help heal others took on a meaning far greater than my ‘day job’ and I embarked on mastering the few Garuda practices then available to me, together with formal training in Indian Head Massage.
Having set up practice I began to notice that I could sometimes diagnose problems in patients which manifested in the form of heat, easily detected when my hands passed over the affected area. I worked with the Garuda practices I knew and clients reported some success. The healing was again manifesting in my senses as fire directed at the part of the body which needed attention, burning away the damage.
Over the years, this has changed significantly as I now see all as forms of energy. Mahamudra and Dzogchen practice has opened me to working more holistically, balancing energy and the Elements as they affect the body. This has also been reflected in the way I interact with the spirits. As entities, I make offerings to them and believe that I receive their support when performing rituals.
I instinctively left behind the practices I had been given by my Buddhist group, although it took me time to sever the personal connections to it. This resulted in what I can only describe as an attack by the ‘Dharmapala’ supposedly protecting that group, whose demonic nature was eventually revealed to me, and which was dealt with by Garuda and another practice given to me by two Nyingma Dzogchen masters. It is perhaps relevant to note that the day before I received the Nyingma empowerment enabling me to perform the protective ritual, my father died – and other circumstances appeared to place obstructions in my way. I knew I had to heal myself if ever I was to help others.
Red Heat and Rainbow Light
It is hard to express the following aspect of practice without giving too much detail which I have promised not to reveal. The practices given to me I now categorise as ‘shamanic’ whilst at the same time I dislike labels which may indicate a limitation.
One ritual is that of Phowa, the practical ‘transference of consciousness’ after death of a being (person) from their ‘deceased’ form to a Pure Land or heaven. This requires bringing the consciousness to you in the shape of its previous living form, drawing out defilements and obstructions and destroying them through the use of a fire purification, and then sending the being through a deity to a Pure Land. In performing this remotely, relatives have consistently told me that the moment of such transference coincides in time exactly with their feeling that the dead person has finally gone from them and from the home, even across different time zones and many miles apart.
I have recorded some success in a similar way with healing rituals, although there are so many factors involved in someone’s recovery it would be arrogant to claim that my actions alone brought it about, although I may believe it to be so. Healing involves my transformation into Garuda (in one of several forms) and the practice is conducted in that merged form. It may also include what some describe as ‘journeying’ to find what is lost and restore it to the being who is suffering. The Garuda practices I have been given include rituals of varying length and purpose. Sometimes there are offerings, sometimes the spirits need to be led away from where there is harm which they cause or suffer. Sometimes there is herbal as well as ritual treatment. I also include some ritual aspects with regard to local spirits, different classes of spirits, and those from specific directions. I constantly have in mind the Elements (Space, Air, Water, Fire, Earth) in all I do.
Once I discovered that I was on a ‘shamanic’ path, I embarked on a quest to find objects with energies which may assist me – I particularly went hunting for a shamanic mirror. I bought a few mirrors online, but they were dead to me. I gave up. One day, casually meandering around a local market in Bath I came across ‘my’ melong. It was dirty and dull, but drew me immediately. It now never leaves me, close to my body at all times. I have since found another, over 800 years old according to an expert, and which has its origins in China, and came to me via Mongolia. I have a drum and bells, but it is my staff, kila and mirrors which I find natural to work with.
I also make use of my ‘melong’ (Tibetan) or ‘toli’ (Mongolian) mirrors in visualisation and in the attraction of spirits and redirection of their energy. There is also activity I may call divination, but so far this is yet to be developed enough to be reliable for others.
My obsession with Garuda has not been confined to my practices. I have compiled as much information as I can and placed it on a website:www.bluegaruda.com . I am pleased that some people have found it useful and informative, albeit that I am only the compiler of the knowledge it contains.
I have recently created a new website to draw together an online resource about Shamanism. I am amassing the information and including practices and people regarded by me as shamanic in nature, albeit that not all have the ‘shaman’ label. It is to be found at: www.fireshaman.net . I cannot describe myself as fitting White, Yellow or Black Shaman identities, so have used Red Shaman, which has no special significance other than to myself and the practices I have described.
And so here I am, performing fiery Garuda rituals with the help of the deities and spirits, still learning and still journeying, sometimes stumbling and sometimes soaring with the bird of flame and fire.
(aka Fire Shaman)
Stumbling and Soaring - My Path